Saturday, February 11, 2006

Welcome to the Era of Powerful MPs

When Stephen Harper announced his cabinet on Monday, he turned heads by announcing former Liberal David Emerson would become his new Minister of International Trade. Predictably Liberals reacted loudly to the decision, but I am surprised by the number of Conservatives who are concerned about the move.

Stephen Harper's cabinet looks strong with representation from cities because of his careful planning. He also has a person with a wealth of experience in an excellent position to help solve Canada's softwood lumber dispute with the USA.

I understand that the backroom deal making that was involved in putting this cabinet together was not very transparent, unfortunately that's today's reality. It's also true that David Emerson will have to explain to his constituents next election why he campaigned against the party he has now joined.

However, calls by MPs for laws that limit a member's ability to cross the floor are wrongheaded. Pierre Trudeau called Members of Parliament "trained seals", Jean Cretien and Paul Martin continued that tradition by forcing members of Parliament to vote the party line by refusing promotions or otherwise shutting the members out of the decision making process. Taking away the right to change parties would only serve to strengthen the central parties at the expense of individual members.

The Conservative Party has already advocated the use of free votes, add to that the simple fact that minority governments mean that every MP's vote counts and it becomes clear that politicians in this parliament will be more than trained seals. We live in a representative democracy it's a positive trend that our representatives are are able to make individual decisions.

Friday, February 03, 2006

It's Time to Stop Raising Interest Rates

In reporting on Michelin’s decision to close its factory in Kitchener, Greg Keenan and Heather Scoffield hit the nail on the head when they described the problem’s facing Ontario’s manufacturing industry.

“The manufacturing sector has lost more than 100,000 jobs over the past year, and about two-thirds of those job losses were in Ontario. The key issue is the Canadian dollar. The Canadian dollar has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, in tandem with higher commodities prices. The currency has appreciated about 35 per cent since 2002.”

Manufacturing is not the only industry to be hit. Canadian agriculture is reeling as exporting sections of the industry have first seen profits shrink, and then see losses mount as the foreign currencies in which their products are sold in buy fewer Canadian dollars. At the same time costs continue to increase. Sunk capital costs and stable wages are next to impossible to reduce.

To me it only makes sense that worse news is on the horizon. Even service based companies will find it difficult to compete with foreign companies at home or abroad. The 35% increase in the dollar means that Canadian companies’ costs, including salaries, have increased 35% relative to our American counterparts. At the same time it’s hard to notice any change in our standard of living.

I believe the Canadian dollar has risen too far too fast for the good of our economy. But what are our leaders saying?

Outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin said: “We leave a country in very strong economic shape, in fact, one of the strongest of the industrial world, a country that clearly has the wind in its sails. Canadians are optimistic, with every reason to be so.” He really is out of touch; retirement will be good for him.

At least Paul Jenkins from the Bank of Canada has the dollar on his radar screen. “Large segments of the manufacturing sector, because of their exposure to growing competition from Asia and because of the higher Canadian dollar, will expand less rapidly relative to other sectors.” 100,000 job losses this year, and the industry’s “expanding less rapidly.”

A lot of the dollar’s increase is beyond anyone’s control, but the Bank of Canada can still exercise some influence through interest rates. A higher interest rate generally attracts investment into the country, strengthening the dollar. Its time for the Bank to hold the line on interest rates to stop contributing to our stronger dollar. Unfortunately the bank seems committed to hurting our economy by raising rates. On January 26 the bank raised rates by ¼% and gave a strong indication that they will do it again at their next announcement on March 7th.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Why Don't Catholic Priests Marry?

Check out this bible verse:

An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32b–35 NIV

This was one of the readings in my church last Sunday. The sermon didn’t really focus on it, but as soon as I heard the words a light came on. So this is why Roman Catholic priests and dedicated religious people do not marry! I accepted and defended the Church’s teaching before, but this is clear cut and straight from the Word of God. Exciting.

The more I think about it the more the Catholic policy makes sense. There are so many demands placed on priests and pastors, having the added stress of worrying about a wife and kids would be a recipe for meltdown. Either meltdown or neglect of the parish; neither outcome is desirable.

Of course I’ve heard many critics say that if only priests could marry then the Church would not have faced the scandals it did a few years ago. It’s tempting to believe, but the hard truth is that if someone is predisposed toward pedophilia, marriage will not meet that desire. Those priests that have problems with sexual sin must confront the problem head on and seek help from their friends and superiors, just like any other person facing the same struggles. The biggest issue with the church scandal was an apparent effort to bury the problem and deny help to those who needed it. Fortunately I believe the Church has learned its lesson and that Pope Benedict is addressing the root of the problem.

I know that many protestant pastors seem to successfully balance the demands of leading a ministry and running a family. Certainly, they are to be commended as it can only be accomplished by the Grace of God. But the Catholic priesthood is an even higher calling. Priests must literally be married to the church; they administer the sacraments daily and are called to be personal examples of holiness; they are called to single handedly lead hundreds or thousands of faithful in their parishes; and they are always on call for emergencies. My prayers are with them.