Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Conversation overheard at a recent meeting of the International Currency Club:

EURO: Hey, Loonie! Good to see you again. Congratulations on finally reaching parity. You must be pleased with yourself.

LOONIE: Thanks, Euro, but this parity business is not all it’s cracked up to be.

EURO: How so?

LOONIE: Well, some folks back home are happy, especially the guys pumping oil out of the ground and the ones looking to go to Disney World this winter. But the folks who make cars and stuff are kind of upset.

EURO: I hear you. We can’t sell anything outside Europe anymore. And much as we detest those pesky American tourists, we do miss them. We really need their dollars. But now they can’t afford to come and bug us anymore.

POUND: Bloody hell! We could use a few of those greenbacks right about now.

FRANC: D’accord. We don’t miss zee Americains but oh how we miss zer dollars.

MARK: Yah.

LOONIE: I never thought I’d say it but I’d rather go back to our old 92.5 ¢ Diefenbuck. Those were the days.

PESO: Si, amigo. This is no good for any of us. Look over there in the corner at our Chinese friend Renminbi. He’s almost in tears.

YEN: I hear he got caught holding so much American currency that he’s taking the biggest financial bath since you devalued yourself back in ‘94.

PESO: Don’t remind me, senor.

LOONIE: How did this happen? I thought parity was going to be a good thing.

EURO: Me, too. Let’s ask Dollar. He should know.

LIRA: Itsa too late; we can’t. He left early. Someone said that they saw him laughing all the way to the bank.

LOONIE: I think we just got screwed again.

Monday, September 24, 2007

When Irish Eyes Are Lying

Like most Canadians, I was happy to see Brian Mulroney go. But now that he’s back with his autobiography Brian Mulroney Memoirs, it’s probably time to rethink matters. Given the scandals of the Chretien era and the micro-managing by Stephen Harper, maybe Mr. Mulroney wasn’t so bad after all.

First off, Brian Mulroney got things done. Unlike his wishy-washy successor Jean Chretien, the Baie-Comeau Bruiser pushed through his legislative agenda whether we Canadians wanted it or not.

Thanks to Mr. Mulroney, we got the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the GST. Never mind that we now have falling productivity, an ongoing brain drain and few homegrown corporations. That’s not important. What’s important is that we have the FTA, NAFTA and the GST. They may be regressive, anti-Canadian initiatives, but they’re our regressive, anti-Canadian initiatives.

Second, the Guy from Gucci knows how to spend a dollar. He might have claimed to be a fiscal conservative but he still managed to triple the national debt during his nine-year reign. And isn’t that what we need right now - some good old-fashioned deficit spending?

Third, Brian Mulroney knows how to suck up to the Americans. Let’s face it; our country is entirely dependent on the U.S. and we better get used to it. And who better to cement that dependent relationship than the quintessential American butt kisser, Martin Brian Mulroney? From singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling to Ronald Reagan to boat riding with George Bush the Elder, the Baie Comeau Bootlick knows the art of ingratiation.

Fourth, Brian Mulroney knows constitutional reform. With a deft and unmatched ability to compromise anything and everything, the Mount Royal Mauler can get us back to what we Canadians love best - never ending constitutional wrangling. Who didn’t enjoy the divisive debates over the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords? Isn’t it time to once again stir up the jurisdictional pot?

Fifth, Brian Mulroney knows how to deal with the federal public service. Not only is he skilled at cutting services, freezing wages and suspending collective bargaining, he also knows how to demean and belittle workers at the same time. We’ve had labor peace in the federal public service for far too long. It’s time for a change.

Sixth, Brian Mulroney knows how to deal with patronage. From political appointments to pork barrelling, the Iron Ore Guy knows that "there’s no whore like an old whore." There’s going to be patronage in Canadian government anyway so let’s have it doled out by an expert.

Seventh, Brian Mulroney knows scandal. Jean Chretien looked like a piker compared to the Laval Labor Lawyer. Remember Sinclair Stevens, Roch Lasalle, Michel Côté, André Bissonnette, Michel Gravel, Suzanne Blais-Grenier, among others? The Mulroney Cabinet didn’t just engage in penny ante stuff like $800 weekends or $36,000 contracts. They were experienced in the whole gamut of wrongdoing from large scale financial boondoggles to outright criminal convictions.

So let’s rethink our animosity towards the Gravel-voiced One. Maybe we were a bit hasty and harsh in our judgment. After all, if we have to put up with patronage, corruption and scandal, we might as well go first class. Welcome back, Brian. Here’s the knife; there’s Joe Clark’s back; you know the rest.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Republican Handbook

TO: Potential 2008 candidates
FROM: The Republican National Committee

As we rapidly approach the new year, it’s time to think about candidate comportment for the 2008 campaign season. To that end, please carefully review the latest revised version of "The Republican Handbook for Candidates":

1. Don’t mention W, George W. or George W. Bush. As Republicans, we, of course, support our President. No need to state the obvious.

2. Before leaving home, make sure to use the washroom. When on the campaign trail, avoid using public washrooms. If you absolutely have to use one, then do not use the stalls. If you have no other choice, then do NOT tap your feet, use a wide stance or run your hand along the bottom of the divider.

3. When describing your opponent, use the words "liberal" and "socialist" as often as possible. Don’t hesitate to employ phrases like "cut and run", "tax and spend" and "soft on crime."

4. Whenever possible, mention Bill Clinton’s sexual improprieties. However, if your own sexual dalliances may become public, take the high road. If in doubt, call Newt Gingrich for advice.

5. Immediately destroy any campaign photos showing you with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney or Karl Rove.

6. Avoid discussions about Iraq and Afghanistan. If pressed, claim progress in the War on Terror and paint Democrats as terrorist-loving appeasers. As a last resort, say: "We’re fighting them there so we won’t have to fight them here."

7. Pick a religion, any religion. Except maybe Islam or Scientology.

8. When stumped by a question or otherwise stuck for an answer, simply refer to 9/11. As in "My opponent seems to want to forget about 9/11" or "9/11 changed everything."

9. Always praise Ronald Reagan.

10. Don’t get divorced, at least not more than once. Don’t have sex with minors, particularly of the same sex. Don’t sexually harass others, especially if there are witnesses. Don’t cheat on your spouse, at least while in the continental U. S.

11. If you must withdraw, resign or otherwise step down, always claim it’s because you want to spend more time with your family.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Leap Day

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has reached into his bag of goodies and pulled out another pre-election promise: a new February holiday for Ontarians. Yet to be decided, however, is when the holiday will be celebrated and what it will be called. Liberal strategists are apparently hard at work assessing the following suggestions:

Groundhog Day
February 2nd is already recognized throughout Canada and the U. S. as Groundhog Day. Why not simply elevate its status to that of a statutory holiday? Like the movie of the same name, Ontarians could spend the day celebrating the fact that they have to relive the same political issues over and over.

Valentine’s Day
February 14th is traditionally for lovers but why not make it for all Ontarians? After all, if you don’t have to go to work, you’re definitely going to be more in the mood for love. We might even learn to love our premier.

Presidents’ Day
The third Monday of February is officially celebrated in the U. S. as Washington’s Birthday. But there’s no reason it can’t be adopted here as well. It’s a big boon to the retail industry south of the border and presumably could work the same magic in Ontario. To those uncomfortable with the American name, it could always be called Premier’s Day.

Public School Day
The first Friday of February could be a kind of "professional development" day for everyone. Ontarians could celebrate the strength and diversity of their public education system except, of course, for those who aren’t Catholic. For those unlucky folks, a new non-statutory observance called School Voucher Day could be marked on the last Tuesday of the month.

Election Day
Now that Ontario has regular quadrennial provincial elections, why not move election day from early October to the third Monday in February? If we have to vote, we might as well enjoy it and get a long weekend, too. Who knows? We might even get a voter turnout of more than 50%.

Leap Day
To those who complain that we can’t afford another statutory holiday, here’s a handy compromise. Instead of having a February holiday every year, we’ll only celebrate on February 29th. The anticipation of waiting four years will only heighten the enjoyment of Leap Day, especially if by then there’s been a change of government.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Tennis Solution

Sad to say, women continue to suffer financial discrimination in the workplace. Despite decades of effort, the average female still makes only two-thirds of what a man does.

But all that may soon change. As an occasional tennis fan, I have noticed a trend that should be encouraging to women everywhere.

This is the second week of the U. S. Open held in New York City. And for women competing in that tournament, there is no question of discrimination.

For many years, women have been offered the same prize money as men at the U. S. Open. And this is not a passing fad since the Australian Open does the same and Wimbledon followed suit this year and now also gives equal prize money to both sexes.

Some might complain that equal prize money is not fair. They might point out that the top female tennis player in the world could not likely beat any male player ranked in the top 10,000.

But surely that is not the point. If we are ever to have economic parity in this world, we must set aside such quaint notions as ability and physical superiority. How can we possibly eliminate discrimination if we are always giving greater rewards to the best performers?

The folks at the U. S. Open and other major tournaments have even gone one step further to ameliorate the situation. Not only do women compete for equal prize money, they do so for less work.

Men’s matches are best of five whereas women’s are best of three. Again, some critics would say this is unfair. They would undoubtedly espouse an outmoded concept like "equal pay for work of equal value."

Again, those folks have missed the point. Women were under-rewarded for years and it is only recently that they have attained equity in the world of tennis. Even if they play fewer sets against lesser opponents for the same pay as men, isn’t that simply providing reparations for past inequities? A kind of tennis affirmative action, if you will.

Finally, the world of tennis shows how women can achieve success not only through hard work and effort but also by the sheer dint of their fashion sense. While the men mainly rely on skill and brute force, the women have realized the marketing potential in the visual aspect of the court game.

By mixing and matching and changing outfits, women on the tennis tour have been able to obtain endorsements and promotional deals that often exceed their on-court income. There are those who gripe and grouse that women’s tennis is nothing but a soft-core fashion show. But that just sounds like sour grapes. It’s a level playing surface out there and the men are free to pursue the same opportunities.

So how does all this help women at large? Well, there’s no reason the principles that apply on the tennis court can’t apply elsewhere.

First, let’s ensure women make the same money as men. Next, in order to compensate for past wrongs, let’s have women work two-thirds of a man’s workday. Finally, let’s not forget the potential additional rewards that can be earned from good fashion sense.

Personally, I’d pay extra to see women wear revealing tennis outfits at work. And I’m sure I’m not alone. If that’s what it takes to make things right, I’m definitely prepared to make the sacrifice.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Whys of Surviving the Government

Recently, I wrote an essay imparting the lessons I have learned as a 25-year veteran of the public service to the next generation of government workers. For example, I told them about deferring tasks, always saying "yes" and the five-year rule which states that "new" initiatives and programs are recycled about every five years.

But my essay was basically a nuts and bolts approach to day-to-day survival in the bureaucracy. It didn’t answer the "whys" of life in the government. Today’s installment seeks to remedy that deficiency.

Perhaps the most common query is "Why don’t we know what’s happening?" For most government employees, this is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of their job. Despite working at or near the heart of power, they seldom have a clue as to what is actually going on. In fact, they are more likely to find out about government plans and initiatives from newspaper reports than from their employer.

The reason, of course, is that in government, knowledge is power. The more you know and the sooner you know it, the more status you have. The corollary to this rule is that communication in the bureaucracy goes up the ladder, not down. Despite hearing frequent paeans to transparency and openness in government, the average civil servant is more likely to get a buyout than actual useful information from above.

Another frequent question is "Why are they doing that?" with the emphasis on the word "doing." The reason follows from the one-way flow of information and the tendency to keep information secret. Rather than share their plans and proposals with those beneath them, senior mandarins prefer to gather information from below and use it to suit their own ends.

This means that many decisions are made with little or no input from the minions with actual expertise in the areas affected. A particularly dangerous version of this game is the annual budget exercise. Since the budget is a highly confidential document, there is virtually no top down communication during its creation. That means that any old proposal that’s still lying around in someone’s desk drawer or hard drive may get incorporated into the budget and become law no matter how ridiculous it is.

This begs the further question "Who is asking for this?" with the emphasis on the word "asking." Inevitably, whatever foolishness is being implemented originates from a command by someone senior in power, a minister or even the prime minister.

A minister asks, say, for a new program to streamline the government and that sets off a whole chain reaction. The task is divided between various deputy ministers who, in turn, divvy up their sub-tasks to their assistant deputy ministers. The job is further farmed out to director generals and directors and, before you know it, the new program to streamline the government has created its own mini-bureaucracy.

A question often heard in the public service is "Why is that person in charge?" with an emphasis on the word "that." And often the answer can be found in the government’s commitment to the principle of revolving executives.

Whereas years ago, the head of a department worked his way up through the ranks acquiring valuable hands-on experience, now deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers are rotated from department to department regardless of their lack of technical expertise. And since they are usually rotated out within two or three years, they’re seldom around to be blamed for the inevitable failures that their ill-informed decisions cause.

Among employees with more years of service, a frequent question is "Didn’t we do this before?" with the emphasis on the word "before." And the answer is, more often than not, "yes." Because communication is up, not down; because decisions are made in secret and because expertise is ignored, what was tried and failed five years ago is inevitably tried and fails again and again.

The public service is filled with questions like these and each question has an answer, although seldom a logical one. After all, the primary job of government is to make sure nothing much changes. And if you understand that simple principle, you’ve got a job for life.