Blog Posts by Steve Mertl

  • Balanced-budget law more political posturing than firm commitment

    Canada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver talks to the media after meeting with private sector economists in Ottawa, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick DoyleCanada's Finance Minister Joe Oliver talks to the media after meeting with private sector economists in Ottawa, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle
    Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver got an underwhelming response this week when he announced the Conservative government was finally going to table long-promised balanced-budget legislation.

    Criticism quickly dismissed it as an economically unnecessary political ploy intended to burnish the Conservative Party’s claim to be a careful manager of the public purse heading into the October federal election. Which, of course, is true. Lost in the spin is whether balanced-budget laws actually are useful tools to impose fiscal discipline on governments.

    Balanced budgets have become holy writ for governments in the last 30 years following decades of chronic overspending that added relentlessly to the national debt. Government expenditures consistently exceeded revenues, creating a structural deficit.

    The backlash began in the United States, where a conservative political wave in the 1980s led states (49 today), but not the federal government, to pass legislation requiring that budgets be

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  • Worst places in the world for Canadians to get arrested

    Canadian passport. (Canadian Press)Canadian passport. (Canadian Press)

    The fate of Neil Bantleman should be a cautionary tale for Canadians venturing abroad, whether as tourists, on business or to start a new life.

    Things we take for granted in Canada, such as a fair and impartial justice system, can’t be counted on in much of the world. Just ask Bantleman, a teacher originally from Burlington, Ont., now facing 10 years in an Indonesian prison for child sexual assaults he insists he didn’t commit.

    Foreigners, even if they’ve lived in a country for some time, can be at a huge disadvantage when they don’t understand its legal system and the culture underpinning it, says Lorne Waldman, a prominent Toronto lawyer who represented Canadian torture victim Maher Arar. 

    “So when they get engaged in a legal system, especially if it’s in a dispute involving other individuals who are from the country, they’re at a huge disadvantage,” Waldman told Yahoo Canada News.

    When that happens, the Canadian government won’t be riding to your rescue. The Department of Foreign

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  • Halifax plane crash raises questions about Canada’s airport landing systems

    TSB investigators and airport firefighters work at the crash site of Air Canada AC624. (Canadian Press)TSB investigators and airport firefighters work at the crash site of Air Canada AC624. (Canadian Press)

    There’s been predictable speculation about why an Air Canada jet touched down short of the runway during a snow storm at Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport early last Sunday morning, much of it focusing on the pilots’ actions.

    The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) wrapped up its investigation of the crash site Tuesday and now begins its analysis of the Airbus A320’s voice and flight-data recorders, as well as other evidence including weather conditions, condition of the plane’s flight systems and airport services.

    Barring an interim report or recommendations, it could be a year before the TSB issues its final verdict on what caused Air Canada flight 624, with 133 passengers and five crew aboard, to radically miss its approach to Runway 5.

    The jet collided with the runway’s instrument-landing system (ILS) array and touched down more than a thousand feet short of the runway threshold before briefly rising back into the air. It bounced onto the runway, losing its landing gear and

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  • Canadian anti-spam legislation off to slow start, but seeing results

    (via Entrepreneur)(via Entrepreneur)

    It’s funny how inured we’ve become to spam, the bane of our digital lives, in less than a generation.

    We’ve learned to be on guard not just for the equivalent of the junk that clogs our front-door snail-mailbox but also for cunningly disguised malware, akin to getting a envelope full of anthrax through the mail slot each day.

    It’s taken almost a decade for government to implement legislation designed to reduce it at least a little, but even the enforcers say it’s still up to us to police our own computers, smartphones and other vulnerable devices.

    Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL) came into effect last July, two years after it passed Parliament, which was preceded by nine years of work. The two-year gap gave the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) time to prepare for its new role as an Internet cop and for businesses using the web to figure out how to comply.

    So far the CRTC has concluded only two investigations, both announced in March. Compu-Finder

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  • ISIS mission in Syria: What happens if a Canadian gets captured?

    Kurdish peshmerga forces carry their weapons at outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015. (Reuters)Kurdish peshmerga forces carry their weapons at outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015. (Reuters)
    It’s a foregone conclusion Prime Minister Harper will win next week’s Commons vote to expand Canada’s military mission against Islamic State.
    Harper's plan is for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to attack ISIS targets inside neighbouring Syria. 
    Critics of the mission say besides being an illegal intrusion into a sovereign state, CF-18 air strikes increase the potential risk to pilots. Unlike Iraq, where allies are close at hand to help a downed pilot, Syria is entirely hostile territory.

    Last December, a Jordanian pilot whose aircraft went down in ISIS-held territory was captured and executed, but not before ISIS extracted maximum propaganda value from the incident.

    As of yet, there have been no Canadians captured by ISIS, despite the military missions in the region and Canadians choosing to join Kurdish forces independently. But after seeing what has happened to other foreign nationals, Canadians can’t help but wonderwhat would happen if it were one of their own citizens

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  • Get-tough policy for not criminally responsible offenders unnecessary, studies find

    The mother of Tim McLean, who was stabbed and beheaded by Li in 2008, is 'horrified' by freedoms granted to himThe mother of Tim McLean, who was stabbed and beheaded by Li in 2008, is 'horrified' by freedoms granted to him
    New studies that suggest a lot of success from programs for people found not criminally responsible for offences they commit due to mental illness have done nothing to sway federal policy makers on how they should be treated by the justice system.

    Four studies and an overview that are part of what’s known as the National Trajectory Project were published this week in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

    Among other things, researchers found the recidivism rate for patients classed as not criminally responsible due to mental defect (NCRMD) was 17 per cent, about half the rate of reoffending by prisoners released from Canadian prisons.

    The rate for NCRMD patents who committed the most violent offences was even lower, 0.7 per cent of the 1,800 cases examined from B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

    And yet there remains a perception, based largely on media coverage of the most shocking offences, that NCRMD patients are time bombs who shouldn’t be released back into society or are feigning mental

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  • Irish discount airline Ryanair prepares to cross the Atlantic

    We may be headed towards an air fare war on trips between North America and Europe after Dublin-based discount carrier Ryanair announced its intention to break into the transatlantic market.

    According to European media reports, Ryanair’s board of directors this week approved plans to fly between 14 European cities such as London, via Stansted, Dublin and Berlin, and 14 U.S. hubs, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Miami.

    “European consumers want lower-cost travel to the USA and the same for Americans coming to Europe,” the company said in a statement reported by the Guardian. “We see it as a logical development in the European market.”

    Ryanair’s transatlantic service won’t get off the ground for five years, as it works to acquire the aircraft it needs for the long-haul trips. But its reputation for deep-discount airfares on European routes will doubtless have competitors preparing to defend their share of the market.

    “That would put pressure on at least the very price-sensitive

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  • Ontario's 'Sunshine List': High-earning cops not just a Toronto problem

    Toronto police chief Bill Blair walks by officers at the memorial for constable John Zivcic. REUTERS/Fred ThornhillToronto police chief Bill Blair walks by officers at the memorial for constable John Zivcic. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

    More than half the 8,000 members of the Toronto Police Force earned more than $100,000 last year, including one constable who pulled in close to a quarter million dollars, according to figures released under Ontario’s so-called sunshine law.

    The data, released Monday by the department under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, shows more than 4,100 Toronto officers earned more than $100,000 in 2015. Roughly half of them were pushed into six figures thanks to things like overtime and paid duty — voluntary work on days off at events such as escorting funerals or providing security at sporting events.

    But with base salaries for constables ranging from roughly $90,000 to $98,000, it didn’t take much to push many officers above the $100,000 threshold required for disclosure on the province’s sunshine list.

    The head of the Toronto Police Association calls the list “irrelevant.” The $100,000 threshold dates from 1996 when the salary-disclosure law was first passed, said Mike McCormack.

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  • Countering ISIS social media offensive not impossible, says expert

    Social media has become a popular vector for Islamic jihadists to spread their message and entice recruits, as we’ve seen recently with ISIS’s use of Twitter to lure young men and women from Britain and Canada to Syria.

    But an argument has raged in intelligence circles on how to counter social media’s power, whether it’s even possible or even desirable.

    The co-author of a recent report by the Brookings Institution study on ISIS’s use of Twitter argues it’s not only possible but also effective.

    J.M Berger, a research fellow at the Washington-based think tank, said Twitter’s recent crackdown on accounts related to ISIS and its supporters did much to degrade its ability to reach outside the group’s smaller community.

    But there’s been little discussion on the topic among the companies that operate social-media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google Plus, government and others, including free-speech advocates and those working to counter violent extremism, Berger told Yahoo

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  • Jahanzeb Malik’s alleged bomb plot plays to Canadian fears of attack on home soil

    The strange case of Jahanzeb Malik does nothing to allay the Canadian public’s fears about a potential attack on our soil.

    Malik is accused of plotting to use remote-controlled bombs to attack the U.S. Consulate in Toronto and bomb buildings in the financial district. Authorities allege Malik presented a very real threat, although the landed immigrant from Pakistan so far is facing only deportation, not criminal charges.

    An investigation by Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP that began last fall turned up evidence Malik allegedly wanted to bomb the U.S. consulate in Toronto, as well as other buildings in the city’s financial district.

    Malik, 33, who came to Canada a decade ago as a student, is being held while deportation proceedings take place. Officials won’t say why he hasn’t been charged criminally, even though they claim he had received weapons training overseas and tried to radicalize an RCMP undercover officer.

    It’s likely the evidence fell short or sustaining a criminal

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