My least favourite PC candidates, part 2

This post is a continuation of the list of PC candidates I hope will be defeated in tomorrow’s election.

Before I continue, I want to say that all of these candidates are likely good people. In fact, they probably truly believe in what they are doing and that their political ambitions and methods are admirable. As a progressive person, my own ideas, methods, and beliefs just happen to be different than theirs. Neither of us is necessarily more “right” than the other. It’s important that we try not to dehumanize politics so much that we are attacking people for their views, even though I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of it.

With that said, below are candidates five through one, plus a few honourable mentions.

  1. Stephen Mandel

    Stephen MandelStephen Mandel was the former mayor of Edmonton who Premier Prentice appointed as Minister of Health a-month-and-a-half before either of them had been elected to the Legislature. Eventually winning in a byelection in Edmonton-Whitemud late last October, Mandel has been Minister of Health for two major catastrophes (in just seven months!):

    1. Health Care Premiums: After Albertans stated unequivocally that they did not want to see health care premiums return (and instead wanted corporate taxes to increase), the PC government decided to reimplement health care premiums and leave corporate taxes as they are.
    2. Two-site Cancer Centre: Rather than improving the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, which is right next to the University of Calgary, Mandel as Minister of Health has decided to split the Centre and develop it in the far SE of Calgary. This expansion, which has already been delayed by the PCs for nearly a decade, has been slammed by both staff and patients.

    Do you remember in 2008 when the PC government decided to centralize health care in an AHS “superboard” to streamline care for patients? Mandel has decided to decentralize the board again. That’s two massive changes to health care bureaucracy in seven years; no wonder Alberta puts more money per capita into health care than any other province—PC mismanagement. Meanwhile, front-line workers take the brunt of it through cuts and increased workload demands (without adequate compensation).

    The race in Edmonton-Whitemud is not expected to be close, with the NDP polling almost two times ahead of the second-place Mandel.

  2. Rick Hanson

    Rick HansonA few months ago, Rick Hanson was the highly-respected Chief of the Calgary Police Service. Hanson worked with school boards to educate youth on the importance of positive relationships. He was Chief of Police when the Youth at Risk Development program was implemented to provide mentors to at-risk youth. Clearly, Hanson thought it important to deter youth away from criminal activity before they became adults.

    When the Prentice government announced it would be closing the Calgary Young Offenders Centre, recent PC nominee Rick Hanson was strangely quiet on the subject. Here was the man who had advocated for preventative and rehabilitative measures nearly all his career, and he had nothing to say? Much like Bruce McAllister’s silence on education after crossing the floor, it seems Hanson’s life-long beliefs take a back seat to the wishes of the PC party. Every other party has committed to keeping the Calgary Young Offenders Centre open, so only the re-election of the PCAA will see it shut down and the kids shipped 300 km away to Edmonton.

    Hanson’s riding of Calgary-Cross is currently a three-way race, with a slim lead going to the NDP. Hanson is a smart, committed man with values—it’s a shame he chose the PC party.

  3. Jagdeep Sahota

    Craig ChandlerI have no problem with Jagdeep Sahota, the PC candidate in Calgary-McCall.

    What I have a problem with is that Craig Chandler, perpetual loser in provincial and federal politics, is working on her campaign. This is the guy who, as CEO of the Concerned Christian Coalition, was vocally opposed to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. An executive director with the CCC, Stephen Boissoin, wrote a letter that the Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled broke human rights law and may have been connected to the attack on a gay teenager in Red Deer. In 2007, the Stelmach PC government refused to support Chandler’s nomination for the party. In April 2014, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told Chandler, “I would never let you be a candidate for [Wildrose].” In other words, the two right-wing parties decided Chandler was unsuitable. And yet, here is Chandler working on another PC campaign. “Progressive” Conservatives? How is that?

    In April, Chandler hosted a very creepy Ladies Night in which women were required to text or call Chandler on his personal cell for details of the location.

    Yesterday, Chandler engaged someone on Twitter who was questioning the Sahota’s recent silence and subsequent increase in communications from Chandler. His response?

    Good to know that Chandler is using the list of electors for his own political leverage on Twitter. Is this how PC campaign volunteers typically behave? A few days earlier, there were reports of a Sahota campaign volunteer becoming abusive while door-knocking. There’s no proof it was Chandler, but it nonetheless reflects poorly on Sahota, who refused to comment despite multiple requests by the media.

  4. Jim Prentice

    Jim PrenticeAlthough he is head of the party that has done one of the quickest dives in Canadian political history, Prentice only earns the no. 2 spot on this list—but not for lack of trying!

    During the leaders’ debate, Prentice (who was clearly flustered by NDP leader Rachel Notley) quipped that “math is difficult,” which was largely interpreted by the public as being condescending, sexist, and patronizing.

    In response to Dave Beninger on a radio talk show, Prentice declared that “In terms of who is responsible [for Alberta’s financial situation], we need only look in the mirror. Basically, all of us have had the best of everything.”

    The PC budget negatively affected virtually all Albertans—except for corporations; Prentice refused to increase corporate taxes despite implementing 59 other tax increases in the budget. One of those tax hikes came as a decreased charitable donation benefit (even while donations to political parties remained untouched). Although this decreased benefit would later be removed from the budget proposal, it reaffirmed Prentice’s commitment not to Albertans, but to Albertan corporations.

    The health care premiums, mentioned previously, are largely attributable to Jim Prentice.

    Although Bill 10 ultimately falls on him as Premier, I believe there is a bigger failure-to-act in Gordon Dirks.

    Overall, it is the perceived arrogance and lack of connection to the average Albertan that I believe will ultimately do in Prentice. His connections to big business haven’t done him any political favours—especially when corporate bigwigs publicly state that if Albertans don’t vote in the PCAA they will stop donating to children’s charities.

    There have been disputed reports of how Calgary-Foothills will go. Some put Prentice in first, while other reports have him trailing. Ironically, the worse the PCs do in the rest of the province, the more I want Prentice to win his seat. I’d love nothing more than for him to be the Leader of the Third (or even Fourth) Party.

  5. Gordon Dirks

    Gordon DirksWhat can I say about Gordon Dirks that hasn’t already been covered by a hilarious hashtag initiated by Marty Chan?

    As far as Prentice’s Ministers go, Dirks has proven himself least competent of the bunch.

    When Dirks was first appointed Minister of Education, his ties to Churches preaching that homosexuality is a sin were called into question. Fairly, he was defended by Kris Wells, who stated that his faith should not prevent him from serving in government. Dirks’ conflict between his faith and his responsibilities as Minister of Education would later come into question with Bill 10.

    When Bill 10 was introduced in December 2014, it seems completely counter-intuitive to its theoretical purpose. The bill, which dealt with GSAs in Alberta schools, seemed like a cop-out for the PC government. The bill made it possible to move GSAs off school property. The bill gave school boards the right to deny a GSA. The bill would require a student whose GSA request was denied to appeal to the courts to have a ruling overturned.

    Just to make sure that’s perfectly clear, the PC government was going to require a student—likely a junior high or high school student, 12-18 years old—to make an appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

    This was nothing like Laurie Blakeman’s GSA bill—Bill 202—which had been proposed earlier but was killed by Bill 10.

    Throughout all of this, Gordon Dirks was no where to be found. He did not table the bill. He barely said three words during the debate on the bill. He said nothing to support the details of the bill. As Rob Breakenridge wrote, we can only speculate that Bill 10 conflicted with Dirks’ religious beliefs. Since he wouldn’t speak on the matter, I can only agree with Rob.

    In March 2015, the PC government drafted an amendment to Bill 10 that did a much better job of protecting GSAs from the whim of a socially-conservative school board or school. Although Dirks and Prentice took a lot of credit for this, the real champions of that fight were the students and supporters who rallied the government during the Legislature’s winter break. It is quite clear that if not for this rally for the cause over the winter, Dirks would not have tabled this amendment and forced through Bill 10 as it was. In fact, when Dirks later took credit for making sure “every student who wants a gay-straight alliance will get one,” he faced quite a public backlash on social media.

    Dirks has made a number of lavish claims that are simply untrue. Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta Party and fellow Calgary-Elbow candidate, did a wonderful fact check on Dirks’ very own printed advertisement. In it, Clark calls Dirks out on his lies, silence on issues, and shady practices.

    On April 28, an education forum was held at Mount Royal University in Calgary-Elbow. That’s a forum in Dirks’ riding on the topic of which he is the government minister. Dirks failed to appear.

    Finally, Dirks has been accused by the Alberta Ethics Commissioner of “blatant political opportunism” for approving a number of developments at a school in his riding just days before the byelection that would see him elected to the Legislature. At that point, he was Minister of Education but not yet an MLA. The Ethics Commissioner’s declaration was ignored by the PCAA, with no apparent sanction or change of party procedure.

    Dirks faces a very tight race in Calgary-Elbow with the NDP and Greg Clark. The Liberal Party took criticism after adding an eleventh-hour candidate, who it is believed will steal votes from Clark. We shall see if this decision costs Clark his seat.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Christine Cusanelli

    Christine Cusanelli
    In 2012, Christine Cusanelli was forced to repay over $10,000 in expenses incurred within the first five months of joining Cabinet, including $4,000 for flying her mother and daughter along with her to the London Olympics.

    Cusanelli emailDuring this election campaign, Cusanelli appears to have accessed an email distribution list for Catholic schools in her Calgary-Currie riding for her own political gain. Her email to constituents—and the response from one of those constituents—can be seen in the attachment.

    Cusanelli sign at Richmond schoolThere were reports of Cusanelli campaigning on school property in 2012 and there have been reports of her campaign signs directly next to schools in this election. As a former principal and cabinet minister, Cusanelli should really know better.

    Cusanelli’s riding is currently very close, with a slight edge in the polls going to the NDP.

  • Thomas Lukaszuk

    Thomas LukaszukI am somewhat reluctant to add Thomas Lukaszuk to this list. In many ways, I think our social philosophies are closely-aligned. He has been the most vocal opposition to stupid policies from within the PCAA, including his open opposition to the initial drafts of Bill 10. He is witty, committed, and truly appears to care for his constituents in Edmonton-Castle Downs.

    However, he was the Minister of Advanced Education in the Redford government when they promised a 7.2% increase in funding and instead slashed funding by 2%—coming in at 9.2% less than promised. Those kinds of cuts will take years to recover from, although if the PCAA is re-elected more cuts are coming. Although Lukaszuk’s willingness to engage on Twitter during these times can be seen as admirable, his sassy “#winks” and tendency to block those with dissenting opinions put him more in the ad hominem category than the good debater category.

    Lukaszuk’s riding of Edmonton-Castle Downs seems to be favouring the NDP. In this case, I truly believe Lukaszuk’s affiliation with the PCAA is hurting him more than it’s helping.

My least favourite PC candidates, part 1

After 44 years of continuously forming the government in Alberta, tomorrow the Progressive Conservatives face a very real likelihood of being removed from power. The Alberta NDP is polling very high—not just in Edmonton, where they’re poised to sweep, but throughout Alberta. It also appears that Wildrose voters have learned from their mistake in 2012, when Wildrose went into the final campaign weekend way up on the PCs but many voters appeared fearful and switched to the PC party on election day.

Whatever happens, I will be content with anything other than a PC majority. Whether that means a PC minority, an NDP government, or a Wildrose government, I trust Albertans will show the PCAA that we are tired of the cronyism, paternalism, and lies.

With that said, I have compiled my list of the top 10 PC candidates I am most hopeful will go down in defeat. Below are candidates ten through six.

  1. Ric McIver

    Ric McIver

    In May 2014, McIver (PC candidate for Calgary-Hays) decided to run for the PC leadership. During that race, he was highly criticized after defending his attendance at “March for Jesus,” a parade highly regarded as homophobic (the website of the Church hosting the event called it a response to recent gay pride events in Calgary). McIver would later state that he stands for equality rights for all Albertans, despite his support for Sandra Jensen’s amendment to Bill 10 in December that would have seen students forced to appeal to the courts if their school board refused a GSA. McIver was later defeated handedly by Jim Prentice in the leadership race.

    Polls put McIver well ahead of both the Wildrose and NDP in this riding, which means this is a seat likely to go to the PCs.

  2. David Xiao

    David XiaoDavid Xiao, PC candidate in Edmonton-McClung, is one of those people who you have to ask why they’re in politics. Unfortunately, that proves next to impossible, as Xiao is typically nowhere to be seen. He refused to attend any debates during the 2015 election campaign, claiming he would be too busy door-knocking. This is the man who attempted to make the leap to federal politics, but his nomination bid was rejected by the Conservative Party of Canada. In 2012, Xiao incurred over $35,000 in travel expense costs—more than any other Edmonton MLA. Two weeks ago, Xiao’s campaign manager resigned after sending out a number of Islamophobic tweets. Where do the PCs get these guys (see also Jagdeep Sahota, below)?

    Edmonton-McClung is highly expected to go to the NDP, so don’t expect to see Xiao in politics any more unless he makes a feeble attempt to win federally as an independent.

  3. Jonathan Denis

    Jonathan DenisWhat can I say about Jonathan Denis?

    Turns out, not much, since his divorce case currently before the courts is subject to a publication ban. Denis was also central to the Jamie Lall controversy, which the public only learned of when Lall made his texts from Denis public. In one of them, Denis (Minister of Justice at the time) stated “Buddy, you are being set up [by the PCAA executives].” Suffice to say, it is hard to see how Denis is fit to be an MLA in Alberta—let alone his recently-resigned post as Minister of Justice.

    Denis, the PC candidate in Calgary-Acadia, made news a few weeks ago after his campaign signs were defaced to say “Jonathan Penis.” Although he denies these claims, the fact that he did the same thing while campaigning for student government in university doesn’t bode well for him.

    Denis faces a tight three-way race among the Wildrose and NDP candidates. Here’s hoping one of those two beat him.

    UPDATE [2015 May 4 at 9:45 pm]: This morning, the publication ban on Denis’ court proceedings was lifted. Some very chilling, disturbing allegations were made public, in which Denis was accused of abuse and intimidation by his estranged wife. Included in these allegations were claims that Denis kneed his wife in the face and that he “own[s] all the judges … own[s] the police” [referring to his position as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General] and that Palmer “can’t go to the police.” Denis alleges that it was common for Palmer to behave erratically and make false claims. Nothing has yet been proven in court.

    The judge, having lifted the publication ban, is satisfied that there is no immediate threat to the life of Denis’ wife, Breanna Palmer. That said, had I known this case would have involved such serious allegations, Denis would have been much higher on my list. Note that as of 9:45 pm on the night before the election, Denis is still supported by Prentice and the PC government (implicit in the fact that Prentice has not kicked Denis out of the party and revoked his nomination). The Wildrose has called for Denis to withdraw from the election.

  4. Mike Allen

    Mike AllenNot to be confused with the federal politician, this Mike Allen is the one convicted of soliciting a prostitute. In July 2013, Allen resigned from the PC caucus after being arrested in a sting operation in Minnesota. Allen, who was on government business at the time, was arrested by Minnesota police and later plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Luckily for Albertans, Allen paid back the expenses for the “government trip” (how responsible of him).

    Not even a year after resigning from caucus, Allen was invited back into the PC party. Allen continues to have the support of Premier Jim Prentice, despite the arrest and guilty plea. Meanwhile, Chestermere-Rocky View independent candidate Jamie Lall was disqualified from the PC nomination in March for reasons that seem to make sense only to the most faithful PC supporters.

    Polls in the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo race currently put Allen in third place, behind the Wildrose and NDP, respectively. Hopefully, both parties can draw off some PC support in this typically-PC stronghold, leaving Allen with his pants down.

  5. Bruce McAllister

    Bruce McAllister WildroseIf there’s one thing I can respect about Bruce McAllister, it’s his integrity. Until late-December of last year, McAllister was Education Critic for the Wildrose party and was a fervent advocate that Jeff Johnson and the PC party “fix [its] broken curriculum.”

    Now that he has unapologetically crossed the floor to be acclaimed as the PC candidate (amidst much controversy vis-à-vis Jamie Lall), I’m curious if McAllister continues his fight against the PC party to return to basics in K-12 education. If his backbencher record in March 2015 is any indication, I’m guessing not. I would ask him on Twitter, but he has blocked me, as he tends to do to anyone who even remotely calls him out.

    McAllister is struggling in the polls in Chestermere-Rocky View, where voters are likely extremely upset with his floor crossing and the recent PC nomination debacle. Maybe Global Calgary will hire him back as a news anchor?

The remainder of my top ten list can be found here.

Killing an industry

Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) have been in the news a lot lately. Almost two weeks ago, the federal government suspended the TFW program in the fast-food industry, citing abuses of the system. Other industries have also blamed the system for stealing jobs from Canadians and even killing their industry.

Canada expanded its Temporary Foreign Worker Program  in 2008, in an effort to ease the demand for unskilled labour. In many ways, these TFWs were brought in to perform jobs that Canadians didn’t want to do (janitorial work, fast-food, menial labour, etc.). This does not “take jobs” away from Canadians; rather, it frees up Canadians to perform more skilled labour—at higher wages—which boosts the economy. One argument I heard was that TFWs are coming to Canada and simply sending their money back home. Although they may send some money home—known as a remittance—the impacts on the economy of an increase to consumption (resulting from immigration of the TFW) far outweighs the amount of the remittance.

The link above points to an article about helicopter pilots who are complaining that the TFW program is killing the industry. If we look at hours pilots have worked per week over the past 13+ years, we actually see that hours have been steadily declining far before the TFW program was boosted in 2008 (from 36.6 hours per week in February 2001 to 30.2 in February 2014). Note that the decline also precedes the recession.

Canada including overtime Air Transportation

(Source: Statistics Canada. Table 281-0032)

Although I won’t deny that TFWs are probably being abused in the fast-food industry, that is another argument. To use them as a scapegoat—especially when the cause of a declining industry probably points elsewhere—is unfair.

The inquiry-based learning bandwagon

In December, a petition was created in Alberta by Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, which calls for a “Back to basics” approach to mathematics. It is nice to see parents analyzing the Alberta K-12 curriculum critically. The education of our children is very important, and not something we should accept if we are unhappy with it.

However, I question how many parents have actually looked at the curriculum. I doubt many have considered anything beyond anecdotal evidence. It’s one thing to read a story in a newspaper article or on a Facebook page; it’s a different story entirely to read it for yourself.

The story of the day—indeed, the focus of Dr. Tran-Davies’ petition—seems to be kids failing to learn multiplication tables. Here’s what the curriculum states as specific outcomes in grade 3:

Demonstrate an understanding of multiplication to 5 × 5 by:

  • representing and explaining multiplication using equal grouping and arrays
  • creating and solving problems in context that involve multiplication
  • modelling multiplication using concrete and visual representations, and recording the process symbolically
  • relating multiplication to repeated addition
  • relating multiplication to division.

These strategies sound awfully familiar to what I learned years ago in grade 3. But to those complaining, I ask: Where does it mention inquiry-based or discovery learning? Where does it suggest a student does not need to know how to do multiplication? I’m not asking what a biased politician or newspaper article claims. I’m asking you.

I’m unsure what it is Bruce McAllister (the Wildrose Education Critic, who has taken up this case in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly), Dr. Tran-Davies, and others are expecting in terms of teaching multiplication. Should we monotonously repeat the times tables after the teacher, ad nauseum, for hours on end like our grandparents did? That might work for some students, but not others. For those students that learn this way, great! But for others—those who would have been lost or considered “dumb” in my grandparents’ youth—this is no way to learn. Teachers are constantly learning and educating themselves on better and more complete methods of teaching; ways that let every student learn, not just a select few. The best teachers are the ones who make more than just one method of learning available to their students.

All the curriculum states is what students must learn, not how. The teachers who are doing what they can to engage the greatest number of students (those “accused” of inquiry-based learning—which, by the way, does not involve “skipping over” the times tables) have the best of intentions for your children. If anything, the teachers who pose the greatest risk to our children’s success are the ones dogmatically maintaining an I-know-best attitude. These are the teachers who are likely to reach the least number of students, with the stubborn mindset that there is only one way to learn.

For more on this topic, I invite you to read articles by Joe Bower and Dave Martin.

Which way is the bus going?

This is one of my favourite “elementary school” tests, which usually claim to be correctly solved by 99% of six year-olds but unsolvable by most adults. Regardless whether that’s true or not, give it a try.

Which way is the bus going: left or right?

School bus

The answer after the break. [Read more…]

Truth and opinion

It is a great disservice—and incredibly frustrating—when people try to pass off their opinions as the truth. Rather than moving toward some higher understanding (i.e., toward some objective truth, if there even is such a thing), it serves to block off all useful conversation and regress into partisanship and bickering.

Most Saturday mornings, I listen to a syndicated radio program called MoneyTalks. The host, Michael Campbell, is based out of Vancouver’s AM news station, CKNW. When I first started listening, I felt that Michael exuded an air of superiority; anything (or anyone) that didn’t agree with his fiscally conservative views would immediately be dismissed as irrational, poorly planned, or even dumb.

Initially, I was indignant: I would change stations or turn the radio off. I’ve now gotten to the point where I can listen for the whole show (although it helps that for a lot of it, I’m driving in my car and there’s nothing else to listen to).

There is nothing wrong with having a radio show that advocates fiscally conservative or libertarian views. It is not only Mr. Campbell’s right to advocate the economic and political policies he agrees with, but it is beneficial to all of society to have access to a wide range of different views. But therein lies the problem: Michael Campbell argues his opinions as fact. He denigrates those who disagree with him. Callers to his show simply regurgitate his mantras. (I have yet to hear one caller who disagrees with him; I’m not sure if his producer filters the calls or if only like-minded listeners call in.)

Mr. Campbell has the incredible opportunity to reach and educate a wide audience (and he clearly has a good understanding of what he talks about), but it is being squandered by an inability to recognize his own biases. He constantly passes off his arguments as “free of politicization,” when they are in fact anything but.

Misleading numbers on inflation

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of taking in a guest lecture by Todd Hirsch, Chief Economist at ATB Financial, author, blogger, and Twitter user. Todd packed a lot of great information into 45 minutes, including his warning that “average metrics” are often very poor indicators of the way things really are. He mentioned the analogy of a man with his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer—on average, he should be quite comfortable.

The Bank of Canada aims to keep inflation at 2%, a midpoint in its target range of 1-3%. Although inflation has been within that range for much of the past 5 years, it has spent the past 2 years at the low end—around 1% (CPI data).

Despite this, Todd made two very striking comments about inflation. First, as the CPI is an average, there are provinces both above and below the reported figure: Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island are all over 2%, while Québec is below 1% and British Columbia experienced deflation in February (year-over-year).

Second, and more important, is that the CPI is a single number that represents an average of many different goods. In Prince Edward Island, an inflation rate of 2.7% is within the Bank of Canada’s “target.” However, when one looks deeper, they will see that energy prices rose by 7.6%, clothing by 5.2%, and shelter by 4.5%. These are areas typically considered to be necessary areas of spending—you can’t put off your gas bill, no matter what it costs. The fact that the CPI is tempered by other baskets of goods and services (e.g., household operations, furnishings and equipment prices rose by only 0.3%) shows how poorly the CPI translates into actual price increases for the consumer. When demand-inelastic goods face large increases in price but are offset by low inflation in other goods, the CPI can no longer effectively represent the conditions faced by the average Canadian.

Put another way, try to explain a 1.2% inflation rate to a warehouse owner in Charlottetown, PEI, whose operational costs rose 10% over the past year.

[Update: Not even 2 hours after posting this, I saw this article—Enbridge’s 40% gas hike approved by regulator.]

The “dreaded” English degree

As a university student, I hear all the time about how “a degree in X is useless,” “courses in Y are so much more difficult than courses in Z,” and so on. X might be a humanities degree, Y a degree in business, and Z some social science.

Isn’t it often the case that what we do/know/study is immensely difficult and important, while what others do/know/study is trivial, inconsequential, or even a waste of time? Science students balk at the usefulness of a philosophy degree. Marketing students cannot grasp how an English degree might be monetized. Political science students joke that a history degree is in the past: there’s no critical analysis needed—only memorization. Computer science students see no purpose to a degree in fine arts, which is nothing but fluff and emotion.

It goes further than university. I see newspaper articles and comments—as well as comments on social media—exclaiming that certain degrees should be eliminated or defunded. It’s as if the sole purpose of a post-secondary degree is to get a job, with the “success” of the degree tied to one’s income after graduation. What an unfortunate life one lives when a job is their defining characteristic. The pursuit of knowledge used to be highly regarded.

Let’s be completely realistic. It’s possible for every subject to be summarized as very basic concepts, which can make it look easy; in reality, all of them take effort and offer a wealth of knowledge. As for the monetization argument, it is open for debate: outside of a few very specific fields (e.g., chemical engineering), employers are looking not for knowledge of particular course material, but rather an ability to learn, think creatively, and see the big picture. In many cases, the “soft” degrees (e.g., humanities and social sciences) teach these concepts extremely well.

Over the past year, the Government of Alberta has been very clear how it feels about post-secondary education. When he was Advanced Education Minister, Thomas Lukaszuk pushed Campus Alberta, an attempt at collaboration between universities and colleges in Alberta. The problem is, Lukaszuk and his government had little idea what they were doing and—in conjunction with massive cuts to education—aimed to oversee the direction of post-secondary education much like you would expect in the Soviet Union. The “hard” sciences—math, chemistry, physics—and degrees like business and engineering were promoted, as they are perceived as very transferable into the job market. Degrees such as humanities, child and disability services, and social sciences were not perceived the same way, and therefore the province did not look favourably upon them. Unfortunately, the direction taken by Lukaszuk and Premier Redford was extremely misguided, and their negligence and ineptitude will be felt for years as future politicians and citizens attempt to recover from their mistakes.

Perhaps we express the superiority of what we do out of xenophobia. We fear what is strange to us, and want to reinforce that we’ve made the right decision by doing what it is we do. I would hate to come to the end of my degree only to realize it is worthless, or that my time would have been much better spent doing something else.

I’ll conclude using the degree everyone loves to hate on: English. A common argument is, “What’s there to learn? I already speak English.” Yale offers an English course that is an introduction to theory in literature. The course includes discussions of semiotics, Derrida, and Lévi-Strauss. Anyone with even a cursory introduction to these topics would agree they’re anything but easy. There are intricacies to any topic of study that those of us with a basic level of knowledge (or less) cannot even begin to fathom.

Arguing that a degree in English is easy because you speak English is as apposite as saying a degree in Chemistry is easy because you are made up of atoms.

Anne Mulcahy was once the CEO of Xerox. Stephen Spielberg is one of the most famous directors of all time. Conan O’Brien is a long-time talk show host and comedian. Angelo Giamatti was President of Yale and Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Hank Paulson was CEO of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary in the US. Michael Eisner was CEO of Disney. Mario Cuomo was Governor of New York. Mitt Romney is a multi-millionaire and former Republican candidate for the US Presidency. Harold Varmus won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in cancer research.

They all have degrees in English.

Owen has it wrong

This morning on Kingkade and Kelly, a man named Owen called in to complain about Canada’s tax system. He was hard to decipher at times, but essentially he was complaining that on one of his paycheques, he worked more but earned $150 less than usual.

Roger and Erin were talking about something completely different at the time, so they essentially thanked him for calling and moved back on topic. Thankfully, Roger later pointed out that we operate in Canada based on a marginal tax rate, and that it is not possible to be taxed in a way that working more causes one to earn less.

These false myths are so often perpetuated about taxes that it’s easy to see why people believe them. But why? Many authors have discussed the idea of the Big Lie—from Hitler to Orwell—but the most applicable seems to be Belzer: “If you tell a lie … often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth.”

As Roger very correctly pointed out, it’s not possible to earn a higher gross income and end up with less after-tax income. (Well, it’s possible, but would require a marginal tax rate of over 100%.) To understand why, it helps to consider an example. Note that we will ignore provincial income taxes for brevity (though they work the same way, except in Alberta where there is a flat income tax of 10%). We will also assume only the basic personal tax credits (a fairly safe assumption, though including them would simply increase the amount of initial income that is not taxed).

Say Owen earns $60,000 per year. For the year 2014, the basic personal amount (the initial amount of income that is not taxed) is $11,138, meaning income is taxed as follows:

  • 0% from $0 – $11,138.
  • 15% from $11,139 – $43,953.
  • 22% from $43,954 – $87,907.
  • 26% from $87,908 – $136,270.
  • 29% over $136,270.

The crucial distinction is that Owen is not taxed at 22% on all $60,000! His first $11,138 is not taxed. The next $32,814 ($43,953 – $11,139) is taxed at 15%. Only the final $16,046 ($60,000 – $43,954) is taxed at 22%.

Imagine Owen gets a raise of $30,000, which would put him in a higher tax bracket. Although this “higher tax bracket” refers to the highest amount of tax he pays, he only pays it (26%) on his final $2,092 of earnings ($90,000 – $87,908). He still pays the relevant rates (0%, 15%, and 22%) on each group of earnings up to that point (as per the list and previous calculations above).

Owen’s fear that he will somehow bring home less money on a higher income is grounded in his mistaken belief that he will be paying the new tax rate on his entire income. Let’s consider a more extreme example.

Say I earn $11,138. As I am at the threshold of the personal basic amount (for 2014), I will pay no federal income tax. But now my boss wants to give me a raise to $12,000.

Owen would tell me to stop! An income of $12,000 would be taxed at 15%, meaning I would lose $1,800 to the government and only bring home $10,200. Clearly this is less than I made before; that damn government is “keeping me from getting ahead” (he said something along those lines).

Actually, my first $11,138 of income would remain untaxed. Only the final (remember, Owen—marginal) $862 would be taxed at 15%. The government would take its $129, meaning I bring home $11,871—clearly more than I made before my raise.

Essentially, when each additional (marginal) dollar you earn is taxed at a rate below 100% (which it always is in Canada), it is impossible for your net income to decrease.

Do *you* know your electoral riding?

I sure appreciate the clarity of the Government of Canada’s website on the redistribution of federal electoral districts. I mean, if you weren’t sure of your electoral riding, wouldn’t the following clear things up for you?

Consisting of that part of the Province of Alberta described as follows: commencing at the intersection of the east boundary of said province with the northerly limit of the Municipal District of Wainwright No. 61; thence generally northwesterly along said limit to the easterly limit of Beaver County; thence generally northwesterly, generally southeasterly and generally westerly along the easterly, northerly and westerly limits of said county to the easterly limit of Leduc County; thence northerly and westerly along the easterly and northerly limits of said county to Highway No. 21; thence southerly and generally southeasterly along said highway to the northerly limit of Camrose County; thence westerly and generally southerly along the northerly and westerly limits of said county to the westerly limit of Stettler County No. 6; thence generally southerly along said limit to the northeasterly corner of Kneehill County; thence generally westerly and generally southerly along the northerly and westerly limits of said county to Township Road 314; thence easterly along said road to Highway No. 806; thence southerly along said highway to Highway No. 582; thence generally easterly along said highway and Highway No. 27 to the left bank of the Red Deer River; thence generally southerly along said bank to the westerly limit of the Town of Drumheller; thence generally southeasterly along said limit to the westerly limit of Special Area No. 2; thence generally southeasterly, easterly, southerly and generally northeasterly along the westerly and southerly limits of said special area to the east boundary of the Province of Alberta; thence north along said boundary to the point of commencement.

Perfect! Thanks, Government!

Retrieved 25 February 2014.