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Fixing a Broken Welfare State-Saving People and Saving Billions

Further to yesterday’s post here is a glimpse of the work that is occurring in Britain. In the picture is Iain Duncan Smith who since his time as leader of the Conservative Party in the UK has dedicated his life to helping craft a sane approach to social policy beginning with founding the Centre For Social Justice(CSJ).

Seriously….if you want to call yourself a fiscal conservative then you must take up the social issues seriously, because that’s where all the money is spent. But beyond that conservatives have long trumpeted the healing power of local initiatives, strong families and the power of citizens working together to make their country better. The CSJ offers some brilliant insights into how to make that happen.

As Canada’s Manning Centre noted earlier this year Canadians are hugely skeptical about the ability of big government to right social wrongs. Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff all have it exactly wrong on their advocacy for more Employment Insurance and massive state childcare initiatives. But neither is the Conservative government off the hook.

Within the tangle of Canada’s social programs lies dozens of examples of programs that perpetuate social breakdown at the cost of billions to taxpayers.

Finally of course “citizens” must be involved if they are to be worthy of the title.

Mr. Solberg Goes to Washington

I’ve just returned from a 20 minute walk down the very domestic streets of my neighbourhood in Calgary. I certainly could have walked longer but as the evening gets colder at some point walking ceases to be fun.

At any rate as Canadians know snow below a certain temperature gives a satisfying crunch when you step on it and it was crunching nicely this evening.

This is all a long way from the lovely fall-like weather of Virginia and Washington DC where I spent most of last week.

I had gone there at the invitation of Jennifer Marshall of the Heritage Foundation for an annual international conference that considers how civil society might be better harnessed to tackle those potentially soul destroying and expensive social problems like addiction, mental illness, unemployment, homelessness, disintegrating families, neighbourhoods and schools. The premise, which I know in my bones is correct, is that government is just ill suited to respond to problems that are so local and individual.

That’s not to say that governments shouldn’t have any role at all. I think governments can fund research. They can fund organizations that do good work, though I acknowledge that is tricky. For instance how do governments support these groups without killing them either with kindness or with the dead hand of government? I think I may write a column about that at some point, which may bore to tears 99% of readers. Hmm….maybe I’ll just blog about that.

Anyway governments can also organize safety nets, though too often they politicize those safety nets by making them too rich. That can cause the recipients to end up organizing their lives around government support, and of course it’s a massive rip off for taxpayers. Finally it is hugely damaging to the economy, and by extension government coffers.

This was my 3rd year at the conference. It is small. There are perhaps 20 of us who regularly attend including fellow travelers from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US and a small group from Canada. They are very good and dedicated people, and when I’m around them I can’t help but feel like a slacker. They do things. I play at doing things. Sometimes I write about other people doing things, and to prove my point in just a moment I’ll write about something the people at Heritage are involved in. But first I must digress and talk about lovely DC and beautiful Virginia.

My first morning in DC the sun was up, though barely, as I walked up to the Capitol at the end of the National Mall. The Capitol buildings are just magnificent, and the grounds bristle with wonderful statues of various kinds paying tribute to this or that hero. There is a great one to General Ulysses S. Grant set in front of the Capitol. At least I believe it’s Grant. I couldn’t find anything to identify it. He sits astride a great bronze horse 20 feet above. On either side are Union soldiers hauling canyons preparing to defend the seat of their government.

At one point the sun rose above the Capitol and lit up the Washington Monument a mile away, and the Lincoln Monument still yet another mile away.

The grounds contain all kinds of common and exotic trees and shrubs. There are DC’s famous cherry trees. There are greats oaks and cedars bordering the grounds. The yellow oaks were huge but I was surprised to see that they had leaves like a willow. There are sugar gums, which I didn’t know and dozens of others that I didn’t know unless they happened to be labeled. Robins sang that morning, and sounded all the sweeter because I didn’t expect to hear them.

One night after dinner our merry band went off to the Lincoln Memorial to pay homage to the Great Emancipator. If you appreciate the power of words then you can only love Lincoln, setting apart even his moral courage, wisdom and humility. Can you tell that I admire him?

The next morning at breakfast in the Hyatt I saw the slight figure of the new Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. He sat there with his wife reading the paper and glancing furtively around. I suspect he was on guard for interlopers looking to interrupt his meal to offer best wishes. I know that hunted look and didn’t even consider going over.

Friday was a highlight as Jennifer, our wonderful host, gathered us up and we drove across the rolling and forested countryside of Virginia to historic Richmond. There we saw how a new principal named Willie Bell, the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise with their Violence Free Zone initiative, and the Richmond Outreach Center (WARNING the ROC is a CHURCH!!) had turned around George Wythe Public School. Truancy rates, violence and criminal behavior have fallen dramatically.

The new principal made the outrageous demand that every teacher get to know their students personally. The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise provided the expertise on how to reach the most troubled kids. Local businesses have provided funding for the last three years to keep the program going.The ROC provided youth mentors who worked with those troubled kids and kept them in school. The results were dramatic. Good outcomes have shot up and bad behavior has been significantly reduced. Baylor University studied the program and raved about the results.

Wow, mediating institutions actually do help people succeed. People who care about their neighbours really do help rebuild troubled neighbourhoods. Local leadership does matter. And yes people who go to church have a lot to offer in helping communities get on their feet. (Btw…The Richmond Outreach Center is a remarkable church but I’ll let you look that up for yourself)

But then most of us knew this stuff anyway, so the next question is how do we reorient governments and the public to the great cause of engaging civil society to address that which ails us? I’ll let you ponder that while I shuffle off to bed to dream about warm days and great oaks under sunny southern skies.

Jim Prentice

I’m happy for Jim and Karen. They’ve decided to leave on a high note, and on their own terms. That’s the way it should be.

Jim was a top notch cabinet minister, a very good hockey player and an all around terrific colleague.

Lots of people will comment on his skill as a minister so I’ll set that aside. More importantly Jim is just a good man with a ready laugh and a generous nature.

In fact my favourite memories from my days serving with him are all about having a laugh in the dressing room after hockey, or around the cabinet table.

My favourite picture from the House was taken after the Conservative hockey team beat the Liberals in 2005. We were all wearing our jerseys when I rose to deliver a short statement on our stunning victory. Naturally I hammed it up and suggested that our victory on ice was the first step to a victory at the polls, which turned out to be true. Of course our guys all rose and cheered.

A lot of my favourite colleagues were in that picture including the smooth skating Jim Prentice. The same picture ran in newspapers across the country.

When Jim came to speak at a fundraiser in my riding I gave him a framed copy of that picture only to discover that he already had one hanging in his Calgary office.

I guess my point is that politics is about more than just public policy and elections. Inevitably its also about people and friendships.

I’m just very glad to have been able to serve with so many terrific men and women, many of whom became fast friends. One of the best of those people retired yesterday, and his colleagues will miss his friendship as much as his leadership.

World Series Politics

Big cheers in Texas tonight for the two Bush Presidents as they came out to the pitcher’s mound for the opening pitch.

I know it’s Texas, and I know there are many exuberant fans in the stands BUT it sounded to me like a particularly warm cheer for Bush the younger.

Go Rangers!

On Ezra Levant and Senator Nicole Eaton

I ran into Senator Irving Gerstein last week in Ottawa and he commended to me a speech by Senator Nicole Eaton on the oil sands.

People recommend books, articles and speeches to me all the time, especially those who disagree with everything I write. They would be thrilled if I read something, you know, “progressive” from time to time.

Progressive is essentially shorthand for massive wealth redistribution, but they never tell me I should read books about a massive redistribution of wealth. That doesn’t sound quite as uplifting as progressive. All of this is a big digression, and I must get through this because the ball game is on.

Anyway, in this case it was a friendly recommendation but I was busy and it took me a while too get to it. I finally read it the other day and I have to say Senator Eaton gave a very good speech. As I read it I immediately recognized that it was inspired by Ezra Levant’s great new book, Ethical Oil. The Senator did credit Ezra for the facts and arguments but she deserves credit for taking that important message to the Upper House.

I’m told it was even well received by Liberal members.

You see…ideas do have consequences as conservative icon Russell Weaver once famously pointed out.

Congratulations to Senator Eaton and my friend Ezra for taking up the fight directly against this oddly named “progressive” way of looking at the world.

In this instance what they call progress looks an awful lot like turning your back on terrible human rights abuses and environmental destruction around the world just because it’s easier to attack oil companies in the western world. As Ezra points out in his book the fact that western oil companies are improving their practices and are light years ahead of other oil producing companies and nations around the world doesn’t seem to matter to these progressives.

But don’t let me spoil it for you. Go buy Ezra’s terrific book.

The Liberal EI Plan

October 1, 2010 at 6:09AM

A year ago Michael Ignatieff wanted to give Canadians access to 50 weeks of Employment Insurance by reducing the qualifying period to 360 hours. That’s about 9 weeks of work, or 45 days. Work 45 days and then go on EI for 350 days. I see.

To say that was a backward looking idea is to insult backward looking ideas, who are not usually easily insulted.

Now Iggy says its no longer needed. He says its too expensive. As he attempts to escape now from his own hideous plan let me just point out that it was not needed last year either, and it was too expensive then as well. Even more to the point: it would have made things worse.

It would have undermined the incentive to work and to start businesses.

It would have artificially raised wages making it tougher for small businesses to hire.

It would have created an incentives for economies that courted seasonal businesses based on a rotating work force that move people back and forth between work and EI.

In other words it would encourage the worst aspects of our current system, a system that has been undermining workers and killing economies for a generation now.

Better late than never I suppose, but I suspect that Iggy knew from the get go that making the EI trap more of a trap was a bad idea. That said he probably didn’t know that he would get caught in it too!

Registered Volcanologist?

So I flipped by CNN just now and they were promoting an upcoming segment on, what else, the volcano. Goodness knows fire and smoke are great for TV. I want to see it too. What I thought was weird was that they promoted their volcano expert as a “registered” volcanologist. Registered?

Please God, don’t tell me that there is now a department of volcanoes where bureaucrats scan websites looking for volcanologists who haven’t passed the volcano bar, and have haven’t paid their yearly volcano fee. So unless we register, we’re not official volcanologists? Seriously, I hear stuff like this and I could just erupt!!

Well, I don’t care. Hear this Department of Volcanoes. I have decided to print up business cards stating that I am a volcanologist, even though my training in this area isn’t perhaps “complete”. Right this moment I am saying the word “magma” without proper authourization. See you in court Department of Volcanoes….or at least in the food court. Maybe we can grab some sushi.

Merry Christmas!

Dear Friends,

There is something special about this day that stands quite separate from gifts, Christmas trees or beautiful lights. Something in the Christmas air smashes cold indifference, heals hard hearts, and urges a warm respect for our fellow cosmic travelers.

May the Spirit of Christmas be with you and yours this day, and as a repentant Scrooge might say, all the days of the year.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless,

The Solberg family


As is my habit I arose at 4:00 this morning so that I could head out to the barn and milk cows and gather eggs and patrol the perimeter of the compound, but then I realized I don’t have a barn, cows or chickens. My compund away from my home compound is a townhouse in north west Calgary, which I can patrol in about 45 seconds. Seriously, why the 4:00 a.m. tap on the shoulder from God?

The good news is that I had a serious nap in early evening and now I actually have more energy than I think I’m legally allowed to have since the signing of the back of that napkin in Copenhagen. So what happens now that there is some kind of, ahem, deal? Do UN inspectors come and tell me that if I insist on being so well rested and energetic I will have to compensate Africa?

By the way I did make good use of my very long day. Especially pleasant was an hour plus hike through the burbs and along the base of the hills in Edgmont. The sky was so clear and cloudless that I couldn’t help but think of the pictures of achingly rich blue skies in ancient back issues of National Geographic that sat in stacks in the Centennial Library in Rosetown Saskatchewan where I grew up.

I suppose that warm memory is natural enough. No season carries us back to happy times like Christmas. May this be the best Christmas ever for you and yours. Merry Christmas!

Stop the Snow Job

The scandal at the University of East Anglia regarding fraudulent climate change data has now been broadly reported, and predictably has been named Climategate. Of course many people who have deeply invested in the point of view that the world as we know it is about to end because of global warming will not acknowledge the scandal, but that is also predictable.

You see while planet earth is still chugging along agreeably as though it was propelled by a great big gas guzzling V-8 engine, the world of those who gain by promoting the idea of human-created global warming is coming to a lamentable end. It is their credibility that has been submerged, not by melting ice caps, but by the flood of facts and the avalanche of admissions within the leaked report. In column after column my Sun media colleague Lorrie Goldstein has heroically laid bare the lies for all Canadians to see. On the Fleishman Political View blog my colleague Dietwald Claus has asked excellent and provocative questions about the CBC’s lack of coverage of the issue.

In the face of this fraud what should we call those people that maintain their position that humankind has caused global warming? I can’t bring myself to call them Climategate Deniers for that would be to try and cut off honest debate by labeling those with a different view as being like people who deny the reality of the holocaust.

Sure the global warming crowd smugly used the “denier” label on those of us who questioned their position, but they were unethical in doing it. We should be those happy weather warriors who follow the tracks of the facts up and over the drifts of rhetoric and across the frozen wasteland of sophistry until we reach that broad sunlit uplands of the objective truth.

So let’s not label our polar opposites as being anything at all. Instead let us point out that while they may wish to stomp their feet in protest at the inconvenient truths contained in the leaked report, they do so while standing on very thin ice. But the thinness of this ice isn’t caused by cars, cows or Al Gore’s jet. It is caused by some very proud scientists who lied about global temperature data in order to mislead the world about human created climate change. They generated far more heat than light, and now because of it they stand stranded on a tiny and ever shrinking ice flow.

I know you would like me to go on and on in using these hilarious weather analogies but I refuse to on the grounds that I am too sensitive to the feelings of those poor people on the ice flow, in danger of freezing to death or even worse being consumed by indignant polar bears, who also feel like they’ve been duped.

I cannot in good conscience talk about the blizzard of emails that revealed the breadth and depth of the global warming snow job. If I did I would deservedly receive a frosty reception. It would be an outrageous pun to note that the head of the university’s Climatic Research Unit, Phil Jones has now been forced out into the cold, so I won’t make that pun lest you freeze me out.

Instead let’s urge scientists to be scientific now that the data has been revealed to be more fiction than fact. Secondly, let’s demand that governments not crush a wobbly world economy under the dumb weight of a faulty premise. Now there are two environmentally friendly Christmas gifts worth wishing for.