Brian Lee Crowley

The Iran nuclear agreement: how not to do a deal

John Kerry and Barack Obama are travelling the US and the world vaunting their nuclear deal with Iran. Yet while any sane person hopes that this agreement will do all its negotiators claim, I think there is every reason to doubt that it will. In my July 17th column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers I lay out the case for thinking the US played a strong hand poorly and Iran came out of these negotiations the winner.

The Great Game and the Greek crisis

In the so-called Great Game, in which Western powers seek through espionage as well as soft and hard power to counter the influence of disruptors and adversaries like Russia, Greece is now an important pawn. There is little question that Greece has repeatedly abused its obligations to repay its vast debts. But, as I ask in my July 10th column for the Globe’s ROB, in a world where Russia seeks actively and unashamedly to extend its power and influence, can Western powers really afford to close the door on its troubled ally?

Papal deer in the headlights: Francis contradicts papal policy on human fertility

In my July 26th column for the ROB’s Economy Lab feature in the Globe I point out that in his recent encyclical on climate change Pope Francis wants to suck and blow at the same time. The pope was right to make protecting human life a goal, a goal moreover that is entirely consistent with traditional Catholic doctrine. The problem? Fossil fuel use has been an indispensable factor making it possible for the Earth to support its teeming billions….and alternative energy technologies are nowhere near ready to displace them.

All Japan all the time!

Thanks to the generosity of the Japanese government I have just returned from two weeks in the land of the rising sun. A fascinating visit that gave me a week’s briefings with government officials, think tanks, academics and others, plus a few moving days in Hiroshima and about 5 days in Kyoto, all during the time that cherry blssom season was slowly gathering way.

I put some of my impressions in two columns published last week.

In the first, written for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB, I wrote about my assessment of the chances of success of Abenomics. The summary: losing 250,000 people every year is a huge sheet anchor for the Japanese economy to drag along as the government tries to stimulate it into resurgence. And, well, Keynesianism on steroids is, after all, still just keynesianism, and its track record is dubious at the best of times.

In the second, written for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia urban dailies, I struck a more positive note, delving into the arguments behind my conviction that Japan remains a better partner for Canada in Asia than China.


I hate to say I told you so, but…

Yes, there is something deeply unattractive about the scold who smugly wallows in others’ debacles because he warned that the worst might happen. On the other hand, sometimes the scold is right and disaster today should be a warning to stop self-destructive behaviour that is still continuing in spite of catastrophe. That is exactly the case in the resource-rich provinces’ (step forward Alberta and Newfoundland, with a few others not far behind) dependence on resource royalties to balance their budgets. Tanking oil and gas prices have revealed just how shaky their budgetary assumptions have been.

Not only is dependence on such revenues ill -advised from a budgetary point of view (former Alta Treasurer Jim Dinning rightly notes “non-renewable natural resource revenues are non-reliable revenues”), it is deeply suspect from a moral point of view. Royalties are not income. They are the revenue from sales of an asset, and are therefore capital to be invested, not income to be spent, not least because the resources belong to generations yet unborn as well as the totday’s population. I lay out the argument in today’s column for the ROB’s Economy Lab feature in the Globe and Mail.

The legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald: He lives on in us….

In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen I celebrate the opening of Sir John A.’s 200th anniversary year with a paean to our principal founder and his vision for what Canada could be. 150 years after Confederation, Canada stands at the front rank of nations. Given the circumstances of 1867 and the unprepossessing materials he had to work with, you have to admire the guy’s vision and…chutzpah!

Interestingly, roughly a quarter of the Twitter response to my piece has been folks disparaging Sir John as the author of outrages against Indigenous peoples. To them I say that each generation must confront a two-fold challenge: first, to understand and appreciate the legacy we have received from the past; second, to pass that same legacy on improved to those who will follow us. Alas, you churlishly fail the first part of the challenge. Happy to work with you, however, to make sure we get the second part done, including the long overdue reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.


Why Saskatchewan is the place to watch in Canada

Canadians are so used to the economic action being in places like BC and Alberta (and once upon a time in Ontario!) that they have missed the dark horse coming up the inside track: Saskatchewan. The province feels like Alberta did 35 years ago. If you want to find out what’s behind the province’s rise to prosperity, read my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB.

America makes it hard to be friends, again

Nobody loves America as Canada does, but you know how the saying goes, to get a friend, be a friend. And in this week’s column for the Globe’s Economy Lab feature (in the ROB), I lay out the case why America is making it hard for its friends to support it in its push to negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership. Unless Congress agrees to limit its power unilaterally to rewrite any negotiated agreement, the 11 other parties at the TPP table won’t make their best offers. US bullying is not the solution. Trade Promotion Authority (whereby Congress agrees to vote any final deal up or down without amendment) is.

The viper in our bosom

Two soldiers dead within a week, killed by lone wolves professing to be inspired by jihadist Islamism. Many Canadians are stunned that other Canadians, people born and raised in Canada, could commit these cruel, heartless and destructive acts against our country. And yet treason and treachery are hardly new ideas. They have a long history in every society, including western democracies blessed with freedom and the rule of law. In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers I talk about the history of such betrayals and the unpleasant work we need to do to protect ourselves.

Breathtaking municipal hypocrisy over Uber across the land

Passengers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your dirty, expensive and surly taxi experience–at least that’s what I argued in my column today for the Ottawa Citizen (available here in a much expanded version to what appeared in the paper) as I looked at the truly appalling behaviour of cities across Canada in their struggle to keep Uber from spoiling their little taxi racket.

Uber is a smartphone ride-sharing app that allows people looking for a ride to connect instantly with available drivers. This technology is being rolled out around the industrialised world, including in various large Canadian cities.

High-tech ride-sharing represents a huge threat to the taxi industry, which is a cosy collusion between incumbent service providers and municipal governments. Cities limit the number of cabs, driving up the price of a taxi ride and creating inevitable shortages at periods of peak demand. In return the lucky owners of taxi permits give their political support to the chummy politicians who keep this game going. When Uber threatens their cosy racket, they cry “Attack on public safety” and try to shut ’em down.

But as I point out in the column, the problem is that Ottawa, like many cities, is an avid promoter of carpooling, which is indistinguishable from what Uber does, except Uber charges for its service and its drivers’ time. Oh, and Uber is much more effective at promoting ridesharing than cities are at promoting carpooling.

No wonder cities don’t like Uber but consumers do (-;

P.S. The reaction in the Twittersphere to my piece gave rise to the following, which is one of my all-time favourite exchanges:

Taxi guy: Your an idiot.

Me: I bow before your superior argument, but I will point out that at least I can spell (-;

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Brian Lee Crowley
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