Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Letter 2017


Another year has passed, and to quote one of Scotland’s sons, the late Keith McCoy, I’m still casting a shadow – albeit, perhaps, slightly wider. As a person matures or grows older, maturity is something I’ve never really wanted to lay claim to, one begins to wonder if they’ve contributed. I listen to CBC radio often, a man was being interviewed and he said when people have grandchildren it changes your DNA – as a grandparent, the focus seems to change from replicating DNA to making sure the DNA you’ve left behind has a safe world to live in. The task in 2018 is to attempt to ensure there is something other than blog ramblings and empty Scotch bottles in my wake; one must endeavour to add to these accomplishments a safe and rational world. The world, again this year, offers many ominous elements; it will take all our best efforts to gain an agreed course with the rest of humanity. Until a pan-world consensus is created, however, one must blog to move the needle, and medicate with Scotch to deal the incrementalism of progress.

In 1939, another of Scotland’s sons, Harry Thomson, lined up to join the Royal Canadian Navy – then he noticed the line for the Royal Canadian Airforce was shorter – so he became a pilot. I am grateful that he helped to quell the progress of fascism, I must say, however, I possess a degree of survivors gilt – my life efforts seem to pale in comparison to his. The threats to liberty now are as acute as they were when my father went to war against tyranny, the battleground, however, has changed – the war now is commercial, technological and takes place in cyberspace. There has been no Pearl Harbour or Poland; there has been an insidious progression of anti-freedom initiatives ushered in on the shirttails of one crisis after another. The price for freedom Tomas Jefferson once said, is constant vigilance; it follows then, the threat to liberty is apathy. When one peruses the political landscape, very little attention is given to the preservation and enhancement of choice, in fact, it is my observation there is a lot of effort being made to curtail choice. There is a propensity among some to excite the populous with the creation of an epic problem and then to offer the solution. One would never assert that all problems are created, nor would one ever assert that all solutions are there to manipulate the populous – but some are – the challenge is discerning which is and which is not.  The best way to discern which is and which is not, is in retrospect, once the dust settles who is better off and who is worse off.

Well, that’s politics out of the way, the next taboo – religion. My mother and her family were members of United Church, my father and his family were members of the Anglican Church. I’m a bit of a church nomad, or perhaps a hedonistic spiritualist or maybe one of those dreaded smorgasbord Christians. I have limited credentials as a theologian, perhaps more limited as a historian – be that as it may, one thing I am certain of is; the only thing worse than a world with religion is one without religion.  Neither of my parents were “religious” people or perhaps more accurately, neither were in anyway orthodox – a feature of my upbringing I am grateful for. Orthodoxy is the enemy of reason, to succumb to the directions of a monk who jotted some notes on a page thousands of years ago is like using a sextant to navigate a jumbo jet – it is just silly. It is silly because we have GPS now to get us where we are going. The desired outcome Christ had was to create a loving, joyful and beautiful place for humanity to exist; many of his followers have forsaken him.

Sixteen hundred years ago a bunch of “guys” sat around a table and picked stories about Christ that suited their purposes and called the outcome the “Bible”. Equally valid texts were omitted, texts, which in many cases were more representative of Christ’s intention. I think we should gather somewhere and write a bible 2.0, a revised edition that has greater contemporary significance. A document that can do what the Old Testament and the New Testament attempted to do with the best knowledge of the day, a book that attempts to offer direction, only the new book would be influenced by all the wonder of modernity and subject to constant revision. We are now on Windows 10; we got there via DOS, one iteration at a time. To stagnate around a book that was assembled with as much political motivation as it was spiritual motivation 1600 years past, is causing many very painful societal errors to play on repeat.

At Christmas time, I do reflect on Christ, I’ll say the name and admit an admiration for his teachings – the primary tenant of which is love and tolerance – a message so powerful not even politicking institutions can kill it. I love the Exodus story, the story of David and the story of Joshua, Jewish stories. I like Muhammad and the concept of Jihad, a noun meaning "to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to persevere.", a process I’m all too engaged in. Three religions, all children of the same god, all too often at war. Tribalism, hate, and intolerance are the enemy – there must be a way to find common cause. Until we do find common cause, until it is clear there is a peaceful path forward – we must strive to keep the upper hand so that we build a future from a position of strength.

On a personal note, if you want to get up-to-speed on my family you can go to Facebook; if you go to my page and scroll down really quickly you can watch my grandchildren grow – I’m a little prone to overshare.

Barks and Max are very healthy, Barks is 11 and Max 8 – since our association never has a day gone by that they’ve missed contributing joy to my day; there is no collection of words that can capture the beauty in a dog. We call Barks the matriarch of the canines and the mother earth channel, there is truly something magical about the dog, if you put your forehead hers all manner if ill is instantly removed from your being. Max we call, magnanimous Max, friendly to a fault, comical as a creature could be and the most observant dog I’ve ever seem – if he sees a spider on the wall he lets me know – incredible eyesight and he uses it.


Please hear this friends, THANK YOU, for your friendship and kindness – the world can be a harsh place, the only thing that helps to mitigate the trial and tribulations is kindness. May health and happiness be your companions in 2018 and however you choose to make peace for with the universe, I hope peace finds you.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Transportation & Housing Affordability – Odd bedfellows


There are a number of factors affecting housing affordability in the lower mainland. Certainly, speculation is playing a part, and foreign speculation is a large part of as well. There are other factors at play. The geophysical realities of the lower mainland, especially Vancouver proper constrain the supply of land. The unwillingness for government to bring more Crownland into play constrains the supply of land. The ALR has constrained the supply of land. Affordability for housing is affected by either a decrease in demand or an increase in supply. Seeking solutions related to increasing supply can be pursued absent any dramatic intrusion on market functionality, which it must be said, has served us quite well.



The solution lies in managing the development of the region in a manner that disperses the population in a healthy way and gives access to a larger land base.  So as I like to do, let us begin with the end in mind. I read a book when I was 17 years old called Small is Beautiful, my take away from that book is, that when it comes to community, small is beautiful. Small communities give people a place to live where everyone knows your name. As Schumacher said, in a community of 300 people, if you take someone’s shirt they’ll see you wearing it. Conversely, it is also true, that if you have something happening in your life, someone will know. The modern urban-scape tends to generate a multitude of ills that slices, dices and isolates members of the population in a number of ways. The built environment matters and everything I’ve learned about the built environment indicates it is healthiest to design human contact into the built environment.


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The first solution is to take a larger area and make it closer in time and in a manner that makes economic and environmental sense. This would be accomplished by building a rapid transit line from Vancouver to Hope, a rapid transit facility in the nature of Japan’s bullet trains – speeds up to 220 mph – Hope in under an hour. Primary terminals placed along the route will feed and be fed existing infrastructure. Cost for the project would come in at about 6 or 7 Billion. The government would open up the use of low-cost Crownland for the development of a number of communities that fit the overall regional plan or that permit modern and adjunctive development to the existing communities.  Cost recovery would come from fairs, a regional tax levied on new development and the sale of Crownland.

This is more than a housing affordability proposal, this is region-wide development proposal that fixes a number of things, one of which is housing affordability. It would also put us on a track that, over time, would build healthier communities and have people living in a way that permits connectedness and security without having a “bobby on every corner”.  It would bring people out of a geophysically constrained area, to a place where land is abundant and provisions a quasi-rural living experience. I would be very happy to leave my car in Hope and ride the bullet train into downtown Vancouver as a visitor from the interior, as would many people who commute every day from outlying areas near Vancouver.

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We have played long enough at attempting to make a patchwork of transportation solutions work, we have played long enough at finding a solution for the full gambit of housing options in the province’s busiest and most populated region.  While we have “cheap” money these sorts of infrastructure programs make sense, it is an investment in British Columbia’s future that will pay dividends in quality of life, air quality and an overall prosperous region.   


      

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fiscal Policy - Three Critical Elements

Fiscal Policy

Proposition

Whereas we are managing the province for today and tomorrow Balanced Budgets are necessary for the long-term health of the government.



Whereas we have resource wealth that represents a massive collective asset, and we are liquating said asset with every tree cut, every mineral extracted it behoves us to convert this asset to assets and avoid spending the proceeds from their sale on operations.

Solution

To satisfy this requirement we must trend toward clear delineation of resource revenue and ensure it is earmarked for capital acquisitions and new asset development – AND - effect a trend toward clear delineation of “operational revenue” and it being earmarked for “operational spending”.

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Whereas, prosperity builds prosperity, in BC we should seek to move the provincial growth to the top performing region in the G20 by aggressive use of region-specific stimulative policies that seed entrepreneurialism, provide a regional advantage and build the economy from the ground up.

Whereas in British Columbia, like many western economies, we are ageing and with an ageing population comes economic stagnation and to counter this trend we must initiate a stimulative policy that is executed at minimum cost to the government.

Whereas, the move of many into retirement has people seeking a safe place for their retirement funds and this is causing a massive amount of latent capital to sit in RRSPs generating very little good for capital’s holders and failing to find its way to the people that really need capital, entrepreneurs. Given this reality, it is necessary to engage in a form of quantitative easing that benefits in a significant way the retirees, builds out business opportunity and represents a limited cost to the government.

Region Specific Stimulative Policy

I propose the development of three bonds, BC Forestry Bonds, BC Municipal Bonds and BC Venture Capital Bonds.

The BC Forestry Bonds will be based on returns to the government gained through more aggressive forest management. There is a basket of silviculture practices that effect a 5% to 7% annual return by hastening the forest cycle to viable fibre. The proposal is to augment this return to sufficient degree that the bond offering competes effectively from the perspective of return and security. Cost recoveries come from the volume gained AND spin-off from forest improvement activity.

BC Municipal Bonds will provide a platform whereby, municipalities can at their own initiative, issue bonds to attain capital for infrastructure improvement. The Provincial government’s role here will be to supply the platform and to secure and augment returns to sufficient degree to permit the bonds to be completive in the investment space. Cost recovery is garnered to a degree through an immediate spinoff from increased economic activity and medium and long-term improvements to vital infrastructure.

BC Venture Capital Bonds will be a means by which people can issue bonds to raise capital for business start-ups. The Provincial government’s role here will be to supply the platform and to secure and augment returns to sufficient degree to permit the bonds to be completive in the investment space. Cost recovery in the short term comes from increased economic activity and regional advantage (an in-migration of capital) and in the medium and long term an innovation-based economy with a larger tax base.

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Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.
I have had some challenges with computer security, please notify me if you see anything untoward - thank you.
      

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Family Policy & Early Childhood Support

I will promote policy that generates family centred funding, gives priority to families having time together and supports them interfacing with society in a manner that is optimal for their specific needs. The British Columbian Family as an institution is quaking under the strain of post-war societal trends and contemporary economic realities.



There is an alarming trend in society whereby, every aspect of our existence is institutionalized. We are born in government institutions, we are educated by government institutions, every aspect of our life is affected by government institutions and we die in government institutions. In this heavily institutionalized environment, the individual and the family are withering, and they are being replaced by a monoculture. Proper support of families is one policy initiative that can protect against the industrialization of child rearing, the destruction of the family and the social ills that fall out of it – it is bad for the people affected and it is bad for British Columbia.

People ofttimes misinterpret my call for the maintenance of family as a call to take us back, oft times the term “family values” is interpreted by people in the feminist movement as a regressive assault on their cause. I am eager and think it is critical to support the advancement of women to full partners in all matters societally. So please understand that my interest in supporting families includes supporting women in their pursuit of careers outside the home or to bring the discussion into the gender-neutral space – support parents generally in their pursuit of life with family.

Why is it important for parents to retain influence over their children? There is a unique dynamic that occurs as parents come together and make a family, family cultures and genes merge and a phenotype emerges from the process. The children can only become steeped in the culture peculiar to their parent’s merger if their parents contribute to their rearing. From the merger of family cultures children are shaped in a unique way, that “phenotype” combines with the ambient culture to generate outcomes, this is the wellspring of diverse people and thought – we need to preserve it.

There is no substitute for love in the rearing of children. When I listen to people speak on the subject of early childhood development they use terms like “we need to get them early” – as if, the sooner children are in a government facility the better off they will be. I disagree with this premise entirely, however, there are instances where parents are unfit or uninformed – in those instances the family needs support. We should build policy that effects best outcomes for the mass of the population and generate measures to remediate deficiency – nowhere is this point more critical than with child development.

As we’ve institutionalized society we have effectively stratified society by age class. We do it in our school system and in various ways throughout society. This trend generally is troubling because as its intensity builds the family unit descends further toward full disintegration. This trend has become particularly acute at this juncture in our development, as postmodern realities come to bear on the “young families”.

Many young women encounter a high degree of distress in returning to work and leaving their young families in care – this is worsened in circumstances where the care is unreliable. This comment, to be clear, is a statement of empathy rather than an indication that women should remain with their children. I submit that a loved one should be with children and that any support offered by the government in the care of young children should support an option where family cares for family.

The situation is that women are in the workforce in record numbers and this will be our reality henceforth, there are challenges that have emerged out of this reality that has caused a call for government intervention. Governments are being pressured to provide young families with support. The most ardent advocates are women forwarding the issue is support of the overall liberalization of women. The bulk of the lobby is pushing toward a “universal government day-care system”. While I share the concern that is driving the lobby, the solution being posited is alarming to me. It is alarming because it by funding daycares we are funding children’s removal from the family unit and contributing further to an already damaging trend.

There is another option however, that is a child care subsidy. When parents receive a child care subsidy they can direct the funds as they see fit, to daycare, to a loved one doing child care or they can keep it and care for the children themselves.

For purposes of illustration, if the government expends approximately $9000 per year per child for daycare and the average home has two children, that is a total of $18,000 per year. The “marginal tax” assessment or the gross income required to net $18,000 is about $35,000 - $26,000 in income and $9,000 in employment-related expenses. For many households, one of the spouses would be better off with the subsidy than going to work. The subsidy may serve to augment a limited senior’s income should a grandparent care for the child. With the subsidy, the daycare option is open, family care is open. By building a government daycare system, people who want to pursue these other options are punished – they not only fail to get funding, they help pay for other people’s daycare.

($9,000 is the approximate amount for a childcare spot in Que. & an elementary school spot in BC - the initial amount would have to be less and find the right balance over time as other efficiencies facilitate the process) The subsidy could be started at a rate that is manageable and further federal support can be solicited. I am very mindful of the cost of government and this program would need to be addressed in the context of overall spending and other priorities.



     

Friday, September 22, 2017

Institutional Reform - better structures, better performance, happier people.

It is the case that many of our institutions have lost the ability to adjust to the realities of the modern world as they have evolved into existence, in some cases they have evolved over hundreds of years – we need organizations that are DESIGNED to deal with the reality that we exist in, an environment where technologies morph daily. Institutions need to be adroit and have the absorptive capacity to utilize the mass of new technologies available now and technologies that are on the horizon. The majority of our government institutions are just too big and the institutional inertia they are experiencing is preventing them from responding to demands; efforts will be directed toward their long-term financial sustainability, more adroit response to change, greater focus in their mandate, a drive to increase absorptive capacity, and better and more productive working environments for the people employed. Reforms will be effected by reducing the mass of large institutions, reconfiguring their organizational structures and introducing more opportunity for heuristics to come into play in the development of government organization. Stagnation is always a bad thing in an organization, there needs to be disruption to effect progress and improvement in the functionality of government organizations; this is especially true given the dynamics of the modern operational environment.



The key communication to make at the outset of institutional reform is to express clearly that reform is directed at better services and or more services at the same cost and or as starting the trend toward a smaller organization if warranted. For reform to find acceptance it is critical that the people who have dedicated their lives to serving the government are given full consideration, that is to say, they all need assurance that their situation will improve or be unharmed. The spirit here is to bring efficiency to the government to better serve the province and to manage costs, this is in no way an attempt at a callus reduction in the civil service. In fact, it may be necessary to consider as part of the cost of gaining greater efficiency over time to pay out people affected – at the point reform is implemented the costing would be done and pay-outs would be costed into the whole program – so rather than a cost they are an investment on an improved future circumstance.

For any given endeavour there is an optimum size of the organization. In the 1970s, the Midwest US  1400 acre family farm was considered the most efficient economic unit in the US. It was efficient because everyone involved was utilised completely and they had a complete vertical understanding of the organisation. In the early 1920s, Henry Ford built a completely integrated manufacturing plant, every aspect of the automobile was made in that plant. It was discovered over time that while it seemed a good idea, the complexity and variety of processes made the model very inefficient. This model was abandoned and the new models were developed which eventually lead to a highly integrated but segmented supply gain – so there are a series of plants doing specialized work that feed various assembly lines.

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As an example, the general hospital is similar in structure to the obsolete model that Henry Ford abandoned – it attempts to perform the full gambit of medical care under one roof. It is worthy to contemplate if the general hospital makes sense or not. They seem to exist the world over, but very few services have evolved in this way elsewhere in the economy at large. This is the critique we can begin to level at the existing structures in government. What is better, however, is to design solutions from scratch drawing on past experience and taking advantage of new technologies and exercising the new quality human capital. We may find, as has been the case in nearly every other area of the economy, that fragmenting the general hospital into various service types would bring efficiency – perhaps a knee replacement clinic – or more dispersed emergency services – or emergency services integrated with frontline care. One thing that is clear, there are structures in government that use to exist in the private sector, that have been eliminated under the rigours of market forces.

The requirement for institutional reform is clear, the challenge is that people often incur fear at the prospect and understandably so, their livelihoods are at stake in many cases. That is why the most important aspect of change policy is to extend security to all affected actors; this generates an atmosphere that gains people's help in change rather than their resistance. There must be a commitment to compassion in change.       

Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.
     

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Government Accountability - It matters regardless of where you reside on the political spectrum.

It is inherent in the mechanics of our political process that all actors avoid accountability. You say, but they are elected and voted out, that is accountability enough. The challenge is that there is no clear reporting on outcomes and so no clear means for the public to assess the success or failure of a given piece of legislation. Due to this reality, we are constantly getting spin because politicians attempt to conceal errors from the electorate. The process that emerges out of our present governance distorts the public’s perception of what legislation has worked and what legislation has failed. Absent clear reporting by a truly objective party it is impossible for the public to reward good work or punish bad work with their vote. As a result, legislation keeps getting propagated or remains in place when it should be altered or replaced. Worse, however, it drives fundamentally dishonest discourse, disingenuous discourse and misleads the public, people see this and government loses moral authority and credibility. 


In business we have a “dashboard”, it consists of a collection of indicators that are generated by a set of metrics that are derived from a mission or intention for any give business initiative. The dashboard gives a clear indication if our decisions were correct or incorrect. The government needs such a mechanism for the public that is reliable.

Every piece of legislation comes into being with an intended outcome. That intended outcome should be clearly stated in a plainly worded mission statement at the top of every statute – stating the intent of the legislation and the “spirit” of the legislation. There then should be a clearly stated set of metrics for that specific legislation and the indicators should be developed and documented as well. In this way, at the point of actuating legislation, there is baseline data (where we are) and where we are intending going.

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The next stage in the process is reporting, clear, concise and objective reporting. This task needs to occur at arm’s length from the government by an accountability officer. The accountability officer would be responsible for processing the metrics, updating the indicators and reporting the data to the public in an accessible way via a website. The outcome would have every element of government operation available to the public facilitating transparency. The accounting systems in government are electronic, so a member of the public should be able to access the “income and expense” sheet for any ministry or sub-department thereof. The accountability officer would be responsible for making this data available on the website.

We are working toward a more “democratic” electoral process that will eventually bring more “parties” into play in the political process. The outcome will be more minority governments and generally more responsive government – THIS IS A GOOD THING. Like many good things it comes with a side effect, in the majority of cases, it results in government growing relative to the economy, because, government attempts to please people by spending; a phenomenon that accelerates in politically competitive circumstances. This is just a reality to be managed as opposed to an argument to make government any particular size. There is an optimum size for government, the “right” size, the determination of the size of government is outside the scope of this communication, but accept if you will, that some limit on the size of government is warranted – I make this case with the average family giving up nearly half of their earnings to government now. 

The second task of the accountability officer would be to report on the size of government relative to the economy and to have the authority to constrain spending should government attempt to exceed optimum a given size as has been predetermined through input from various sources society-wide. There needs to be a degree of flexibility to allow for counter-cyclical spending and the like, this brings to life a similar function as the central bank – the central bank has a clearly defined mandate as it relates to inflation, it functions at arm’s length from the government. So to would the accountability officer have a clearly defined mandate which would permit opening and closing the fiscal tap depending on economic conditions as prescribed by their mandate.

The combination of these two functions at arm’s length from the government will usher in a new more effective and more responsive government. Myths will no longer govern, results will.

Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.
     

        

Monday, September 18, 2017

There should be no distinction between life and learning


We have a wealth of assets to bring to the education system into modernity; we have trillions of dollars’ worth of latent human capital in the form of idled and undereducated people and a mass natural resources on which to draw to move British Columbia to the next phase of its development as a leader in the knowledge economy. It is shameful and a waste to have so many of our people constrained from their potential by stagnated societal apparatus, outmoded education systems and poor capitalisation programs. Be clear on this point, the West's place in the world is threatened - it is threatened not by the absence of resources, not by our human capacity, not by the absence of ambition - it is threatened by institutional inertia, monolithic institutional structures and apathy. In order to draw on latent human capital and to close the applied technology gap, we must increase the velocity of knowledge transfer. This requires that we redesign the way we transfer knowledge and distribute credentials.


If Canada was faced with another world war, the most fierce competition humanity knows and someone suggested we take our most able and intelligent people and lock them all in a room for eight years - most would agree this would qualify as a stupid suggestion. Canada - British Columbia is in a new type of competition where we need our young people most of all, and we are locking them in education facilities for longer and longer periods of time. At university, they are TAUGHT what we think they need to know. In the world of innovation, the world that applies technology, the world that makes an idea work, they LEARN what they need to know.

The application of new knowledge or the creation of solutions emerges most effectively organically, the farmer that rigs an app for his iPhone that remotely controls his tractor - etcetera. We need specialized knowledge certainly, the challenge with what has emerged in BC and the country generally, is the complex of education and regulation has fragmented the elements of innovation - we have specialized and regulated organic innovation out of existence. By way of example, if a group of young people built an innovative car in their backyard and set about the task of building more and selling them, absent having had the requisite licenced personnel on board the regulatory complex would obstruct their progress – the fact the car is built and passed requisite objective inspection should be qualification enough. The education system can provide a forum by which to absorb and enhance this type of participation. 

We need to grant credentials from actions in concert with knowledge acquisition, credentials should flow from knowledge and its application, rather than time spent in a building. In concert with reconfiguring the education system itself and redefining what "credentials" are, we need to turn our colleges and universities into hothouses where applied science, knowledge, capital merge to generate real outcomes. Beyond the present co-opt programs to hothousing enterprise onsite or interfacing with the enterprise in some other venue.  With the aggressive merging of education and enterprise - creative capitalization programs can be developed augment returns and attract capital. Innovation is a heuristics game – if we want to garner the benefit of innovations we need to do a better job of accommodating failure and augmenting capital reward will help support the rigours of innovation.
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As the world's knowledge expands at a greater and greater pace and that knowledge needs to be applied, we need an adroit response to knowledge transfer requirements. We need faster credentials and to reconfigure what a credential is.  The present modalities of structured institutional based learning are very cumbersome and tend to trap human capital in a fruitless environment for extended periods of time. This is in no way intended to negate the value of the existing process, but rather to suggest augmentation of existing process & reconfiguration to include a "real world" adjunct. We can do this, we must do this – we have the resources to do this. 

Please notify me if you have suggestions or direction - thank you.