Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A gauche PQ blunders and bashes

For the longest time, Quebeckers have been shrugging off the concerns of fellow Canadians over the Parti Québécois’s so-called menace.

Despite the party’s quest for independence – which is far from shared across the population, as sovereignty is dormant on the Richter scale of pollsters – Quebeckers never doubted the PQ’s willingness to foster growth. Likewise, they could generally count on PQ premiers to soundly manage the province, though there were some notable blunders.

Former premier Bernard Landry has always defended free trade as a way to create wealth. Lucien Bouchard was obsessed with the province’s fiscal woes, fighting hard to secure a political consensus around the “déficit zero” target. Jacques Parizeau presided over the rise of a generation of French-Canadian entrepreneurs through his innovative Quebec stock savings plan.

Far from being anti-business, these PQ premiers bent over backward to court investors and create a favourable business environment. Which is why Quebeckers are now as stunned with Pauline Marois’s economic plans as the coyote in Road Runner who is hit by an anvil he didn’t see falling. Where did these retroactive tax hikes come from?

The PQ government that has regained power after nine years in political wilderness is markedly to the left of its predecessors, with key ministers held by green activists. It is also “gauche” in the figurative sense, as it clumsily and precipitously unveiled its plans.

In just the past week, the Marois government revealed that its tax hikes would be retroactive to Jan. 1. It hinted at a permanent ban on shale gas exploration, before the completion of scientific studies that will determine the safety of the hydraulic fracturing used to free natural gas from rock formations. And it announced the closing of Quebec’s only nuclear plant before meeting with the leaders of the Mauricie region where the Gentilly II plant and its 800 jobs are located.

Retroactive income tax hikes are rare. In 1993, Gérard D. Levesque, Robert Bourassa’s finance minister, controversially imposed two surtaxes of 5 per cent each on the “rich” Quebeckers earning more than $32,500 and $54,300, respectively.

But no one has ever increased the capital gains tax retroactively, an idea the Marois government is mulling, but may now abandon as its seeks a compromise. Imagine you sold your cottage in February and invested the proceeds elsewhere, to find out you owe money on that transaction? This flies against the basic fiscal principle that taxpayers should have certainty.

New Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau toured the most listened-to stations Tuesday to defend his plan. “I claim we were clear,” he said during a Radio-Canada interview, when asked why the PQ had hid the retroactive tax increases.

The PQ said that they would abolish the controversial health tax within 100 days of taking power, creating a $1-billion shortfall, argued Mr. Marceau. Quebeckers should have logically deduced that the only way to pay for this was to change the rules, the minister said.

No matter which way the new Finance Minister wants to spin this, the PQ lied by omission.
There are good reasons to amend the regressive health tax, a $200 yearly contribution that all taxpayers must pay, no matter what their income. There are also logical reasons not to upgrade the Gentilly plant. The refurbishment will cost between $2-billion and $3-billion, and the province is already flush with surplus electricity.

Yet it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Marois government is deliberately bashing Quebec’s highest-income earners, and its energy industry, in a populist bid to secure a majority government.

Who is going to defend the 140,000 plus Quebeckers who earn more than $130,000 a year? Who is going to defend nuclear energy and fracking? If you want to reclaim the ground to the left taken by the new Québec Solidaire party, there are no better targets. While this might play well in certain circles, this is now seen as a disaster by business leaders, who fear the PQ’s newstance will scare away talented professionals and investors.

Mr. Marceaus has been trying to reassure the business community. “Quebeckers will derive their prosperity from a faster economic growth and a business community which enjoys an attractive environment,” he said.
Fine words but all of the PQ’s actions since they took office speak otherwise.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Canada gets crucial win in World Cup qualifying

Skill and cunning proved to be a deadly combination for Canada on Friday night.

Dwayne De Rosario scored a historic goal (and the most important of his national team career thus far) to guide Canada to a thrilling 1-0 win over Panama in a crucial World Cup qualifier before 17,586 fans at BMO Field.

After Simeon Jackson drew a foul on the edge of the box, Atiba Hutchinson didn't wait for Panama's defence to set up, and delivered a quick free kick into the middle for an unmarked De Rosario to knock home past shell-shocked goalkeeper Jamie Penedo in the 77th minute.

With the goal, De Rosario moved past Dale Mitchell as Canada's all-time leading scorer with 20 goals in 70 appearances. More importantly, Canada put itself in a very good position to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying

Canada tops Group C with seven points from three games. Panama is second (six points), followed by Honduras (four) and pointless Cuba. The Canadians play Panama away next Tuesday, before closing out the group stage with matches in October against Cuba (at home) and Honduras (on the road).

Only the top two nations move on to "The Hex," the final round of the CONCACAF qualifiers where the best three countries in the six-team, round-robin group qualify for the World Cup. Canada has not advanced to "the Hex" since 1998, and even then it finished dead last.

One can't overstate the significance of this Canadian victory over a dangerous and technically proficient Panama, regarded as a rising power in CONCACAF. With the three points, Canada is in firm control of its destiny as it inches closer to "The Hex." It's far too early to talk about ending the World Cup drought (Canada's only previous World Cup appearance came in 1986) but this result gives the Reds a major boost, and if capitalized on, could be a turning point for the national team.

Canadian coach Stephen downplayed the win somewhat, stating that there's still plenty of work to do, although he did admit the win gives Canada the "confidence that (it) can play with anybody in CONCACAF."

"I think we can only gain confidence from this. Let's not fool ourselves -- Panama is a very good team. Extremely organized, technically they play the ball well, they have (some players) who can change the game at any moment," Hart stated.

Captain Kevin McKenna also sounded cautious, warning that Canada can't become complacent or dwell on the fact that it is the surprise group leader ahead of next week's game in Panama.

"Nothing changes. We go there and we play the same way tonight," McKenna stated. 

Scoring has historically been Canada's biggest problem and guile has been lacking, but not on this night. Maybe the Canadian side has finally learned that hard work only goes so far, and you need to be clever and crafty to grind out results in the cut-throat world of international soccer.

Full credit goes to Hutchinson for the heads up play that lead to the goal.

"I saw a perfect opportunity where there was nobody in front of the ball. They turned their backs and I really didn't think twice about. I just put the ball in. I saw Dwayne and he took care of the rest," Hutchinson said.
Hart didn't realize the historical significance of De Rosario's goal. Nor did he really care.

"You know what, I didn't even know that. ... I think it's good for him that he broke the record, but as a coach, I don't care who scores," Hart admitted.

Another positive is that Canada continues to expertly defend, recording its fifth consecutive shutout and tenth in its last 11 contests. And the Reds did look very comfortable in possession, confidently stoking the ball around and pulling off some intricate passing sequences.

Hart gave credit to the entire starting 11, and not just the defence, for registering yet another clean sheet.
"It's not just the defence. It's good work by the midfield. The (back four) got battered around. ... But we held out nerve, defended with some intelligence and we got the result on the back of good defending," the Canadian coach explained.

Hart certainly can't be accused of conservative tactics -- he fielded an attacking 4-3-3 formation, spearheaded by Olivier Occean up front with De Rosario and Jackson in support.

The opening half saw Canada carry the balance of play on the offensive end, using an effective pressing game that made it hard for Panama to work its way out of its end.

While Julian de Guzman provided the defensive foundation in midfield, Hutchinson pulled the creative strings, effectively linking up with Jackson.

But for all of Canada's bright play, it didn't come close to scoring, except when McKenna's bullet header off a corner kick slammed across the post in the 36th minute.

Tensions nearly boiled over late in the half, which saw the Costa Rican referee brandish several yellow cards. Panama's Alberto Quintero threw himself to the ground after the slightest touch from De Rosario, and players had to be separated before Quintero was comically stretchered off the pitch.

Panama came out strong to start the second half, but it was Canada who came closest to scoring, De Rosario forcing Penedo to parry away a powerful strike from distance.

Canada began to fade as the second half progressed, and Panama looked quite happy to play for the draw. But they became too comfortable, and Hutchinson took full advantage, quickly taking the spot kick and picking out De Rosario, who effortlessly slotted the ball home into an empty net.

"I'm just very grateful to be in this position, and most importantly to do it front of the home fans," De Rosario said of his record-breaking goal.