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This Blog has rumbled around in my head for some time; not nearly as long as the book I will probably never write, but some time. It was catapulted into existence by the SNC-Lavalin controversy in early 2019. I wrote a longish assessment of the events that I believe provides a different take from anything I had seen in the media. This piece was too long for conventional media so I compressed a selected aspect of it to 1200 words. “Policy Options”, the digital magazine of the Institute for Public Policy (IRPP) accepted it for publication. The short version is useful in setting out a complicated and controversial issue in, I hope, an uncomplicated way. However, it couldn’t analyse all the elements at play and capture the nuances involved so I chose to set up this blog to also tell the broader story, as I see it.

While I have tried to be “objective” in this first post, I did have to review conflicting accounts as provided by the testimony at the Commons Justice Committee, both written and on video, and after some analysis, decide which interpretation I believe. I, the jury, decided that Jody Wilson-Raybould did not convince me that her complaint was valid. There were some aspects of it that did not make sense to me as well as some inherent contradictions and her colleagues told a different story that was credible and persuasive. Most media treatments did accept her story but that was partly because it came first, and I’m not sure how many media commentators actually listened to the opposing testimony and engaged in a critical assessment of both positions, not to mention understanding the legislative background. The latter is addressed in a shorter published article at Policy Options.

I’m contemplating an update soon that applies more judgement and opinion to a few elements of this story and may be more provocative.

The future topics I hope to address will focus on things currently important to the country and the world—I didn’t want to risk running out of topics. However, I have been intrigued of late with the question of how it is that people manage to have such diverse opinions on many things—most notably, politics, but also issues like climate change, the existence of which appears to have overwhelming support from the scientific community yet also generates deniers and continuing opposition, including where it counts the most, among active politicians.

Being objective is not a trivial pursuit. If you google objectivity, you’ll get pages of results to browse through. Even the Merriam Webster definition has a number of meanings, surprising me by setting out the one adopted here as choice 3—“expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived, without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations”. Strangely, antonyms for objectivity do not include subjectivity. That is interesting and for me satisfactory, as Nero Wolfe might say, because it allows me to exercise judgement in some areas without constantly cautioning that politically, I put myself in a category currently referred to as “progressive” as opposed to the other common category “conservative”. In truth, of course, I am somewhere on a scale of these characteristics as, I believe, are many others. However, it is an unfortunate fact of human nature that when one regularly argues for some point of view, they often come to believe it more and more strongly. So we have today, a growing political divide as we generally choose a side and defend it on many fronts. In Canada, we once had a small conundrum, namely a political party called the Progressive Conservatives. Those clever rascals sought to capture both sides. Luckily they amlgamated with cousins and now are the Conservative party and in any case were always quickly identifiable  in conversation.

I should note that the term “liberal”, whose supporters view themselves as progressives, is not as straightforward as one might think. In Europe liberalism retains its historical roots as implying laissez-faire economics and limited government. These ideas are more closely associated with conservatism in North America. Liberalism here essentially implies acceptance of the importance and contribution of government to civil society, including the role of efficient regulation, and more recently, the potential need for government to address a growing inequality of income and wealth. This is an important distinction when reading commentary from European sources (or for Europeans, vice versa).

While I’m at it, I should caution our southern friends and neighbours, American Democrats (of which this blog may boast at least one reader), that their casual use of the term “socialism” is problematic as well. The usual definition of socialism includes state ownership and so, for people of a certain age, say 30-40+, the use of the term suggests support of state ownership of production and distribution. Younger Americans seem to use the term in the spirit of social democrats in Europe, where it essentially implies a system that accepts government intervention to achieve social objectives, but within an environment of capitalism (or private ownership of business, etc.). So some older American voters may reject proposals they might otherwise accept because they think the party supports socialism, a step away from the historical enemy—communism. Bernie Sanders, an otherwise impressive member of the over seventy crowd, did not help his cause by characterizing himself as a democratic socialist, rather than as a social democrat.

This caution also applies to the NDP party in Canada (who seem to retain socialism in their written philosophy) even though in practice they don’t generally push it. Words matter. Of course, a guy writing a blog would think that.

I am a liberal (or progressive) who believes in capitalism but not totally unrestrained capitalism. So I support something more akin to “guided capitalism” which has appropriate rules and regulations regarding how the private sector and its individual components work. Government has an important role in adopting and maintaining those rules and in (somehow) conditioning the distribution of income and wealth to offset the pervasive influence of power and chance in our society. I also acknowledge positive aspects of conservatism in both economic and social policy and do not find those necessarily incompatible with a broad progressive philosophy.

Academic economists of progressive and conservative persuasions reveal a narrower range of differences in many areas relating to how the economy works than political parties. That is because academic thinking is subjected to critical appraisal by peers, and more restrained debate, dictated by the need to back up opinions with evidence. The debate can still get quite ferocious since as the old joke about academics goes, “there’s so little at stake”! …… (except perhaps, if you’re one of the debaters).  In many cases, debate continues for a long time.  In others, as evidence accumulates there emerges some broad acceptance of a specific point of view.  However, somewhat settled issues may change with future evidence.  

I am a (mostly) retired economist who has been a consultant with an engineering firm, an independent consultant, worked with provincial and federal governments, and a major Canadian bank. Most recently, I was Member, Vice Chair, and Co-Chair of Alberta’s quasi-judicial energy regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board and Member of its successor organization, the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (12 years) and subsequently became the President and CEO of the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI–11 years). I am currently a Director of Colson Capital Corp., a Capital Pool company based in Calgary, Alberta.