Following the resignation of now-mayor of Vancouver Kennedy Stewart from his seat in the House of Commons, the seat has sat empty, awaiting a by-election. The seat represents the constituents of Burnaby South. Since September 14th, 2018, this seat has sat vacant. Therefore, the people of this constituency have had no say in federal Canadian politics for about two months. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to call by-elections for the four vacant seats currently in the House of Commons. The ridings in question are Nanaimo-Ladysmith, York-Simcoe, Outremont, and Burnaby South.
It makes sense that he would be hesitant to call these four by-elections. After all, not a single one of them previously held a Liberal Member of Parliament, following the federal election in 2015. The New Democratic Party controlled three of the seats, while Conservative Peter van Loan held the last. By-elections, hence, are unlikely to benefit Trudeau. Many believe, in fact, that his inaction thus far is meant to preserve the political benefits of empty opposing parties. If true, it calls the prime minister’s integrity int question. Will he let these constituents remain unrepresented simply because it doesn’t fit his political agenda?
The Burnaby South By-election
Of the announced candidates for this proposed by-election, we have Guy Champoux of the Rhinoceros Party, Jay Shin, of the Conservatives, and Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party. All seems in order, considering Trudeau has yet to call the election. However, one this simply does not make sense, when inspected with a cautious eye.
Jagmeet Singh is from Toronto, not Burnaby. He has only put himself into this by-election only because it is a certainty that he will end up in the House of Commons. Jagmeet Singh has never sat in the House of Commons, despite being the leader of the New Democratic Party since 2017.
It makes absolutely zero sense for the people of Burnaby South to elect Jagmeet Singh to their seat. It is meant to represent the constituents of that riding, not give a soapbox to a failing political leader. Jagmeet Singh is not from Burnaby South. He has no idea how to represent the people of Burnaby South, considering that he himself has never been one. He does not have the interests of these people in mind when putting his name in this by-election. That is for one simple reason: he has no idea what those interests are.
Jagmeet Singh: Not a True Representative
Singh is completely out of touch from the people of Burnaby South and their interests. In fact, Jagmeet Singh has spent his entire political career inside the borders of Ontario; he has not once been politically active in British Columbia. He is exploiting a by-election in an NDP stronghold, simply to give himself a soapbox to spread his views in the House of Commons.
In doing this, he is completely cheating the purpose of the Canadian parliamentary system. If Jagmeet Singh wins the Burnaby South by-election, the people of this constituency will not be represented. It will be like the election had never occurred at all, for the people will still have no voice.
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The Libertarian Party of Ontario has seen impressive growth over the past several years. I had the pleasure of interviewing new party leader Rob Ferguson to find out the party’s plan on how to improve, sustain and grow.
The party only fielded 5 libertarians in the 2003 election. This year, however, 117 candidates ran for office. This growth is immense and is the key to making a fringe party move towards legitimacy. In the 2011 race, the libertarians fielded 51 candidates out of a possible 107 and garnered 0.45% of the popular vote. But in 2014, improvements continued as the libertarians ran 74 out of a possible 107 and scored 0.81% of the vote.
With recent riding expansion, the 2018 election map for Ontario now has 124 districts. The Ontario libertarians were able to field 117 candidates (94.3%): almost a full slate. Even though the party only got 0.75% of the popular vote, they nonetheless picked up a record high of 42,918 voters across the province. The libertarians have now placed fifth in each of the last three provincial elections in Ontario. With the number of candidates that they ran last time, they are now a significant minor party in Ontario politics. I had the privilege of interviewing former deputy leader and now current leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party, Rob Ferguson.
Dubé: So, you’ve been a part of several political parties in the past, NDP, Family Coalition and now the Libertarians. can you go through how your experiences were with each party and how you came to the realization that the Libertarians are the best party for you?
Ferguson: I grew up in a conservative family and often helped to campaign as a youth for candidates in my hometown of Brantford. I can even remember our families home was turned into a campaign HQ on some occasions. As I grew up I decided to become a member of the New Democratic Party of Ontario. My stint with the party lasted less than a year after I realized my views didn’t fully align with the party. I found myself then exploring the Family Coalition Party of Ontario. I had always been about family values and the party initially seemed to align well with my views. During my time with the party I worked to train candidates, I even ran for office in the 2007 provincial election.
During the time leading up to the provincial election in 2011, I found that my views didn’t fully align with the party and following some disappointing circumstances I left the party and just hours later found myself in contact with some executive members of the Ontario Libertarian Party. I ended up coordinating and training 12 candidates in the 2011 provincial race, and I ran myself as well. I have always been about family values and the party’s positions on individual liberties, property rights and personal responsibility fit me perfectly. I felt at home with the party, I came to the realization that yeah, this was the party for me.
Dubé: How would you define libertarianism and who are some of your biggest political influences?
Ferguson: From a philosophical standpoint, libertarianism is so unique and when you start to apply the basic principles of libertarianism to issues we see brought up every election you see that yes, this makes sense. The notion of personal responsibility and property rights are key points within the libertarian ideology. One of my biggest influences is former Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. He is a prime exemplar of classical liberalism in Canadian politics. I also find myself often quoting Margaret Thatcher. One quote of hers I often find myself repeating is, “The problem with socialism is that eventually, you run out of other people’s money.”
Dubé: As the new leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party, how have you helped to ease the transition out of the Allen Small era? Also, how closely did you work with Allen Small during his time as party leader?
Ferguson: Allen Small did a ton for this party as its leader, and he has left us in a very good place going forward. I definitely worked as close as I could with Allen during his time as leader and we spoke with each other very often, maybe even on a day to day basis. Allen did a great job as the leader; he was always on top of things and he put a ton into his job. Now that I have taken the mantle from him I think that the number one priority should be to amend our party’s constitution and make it more coherent with the digital age. This would open doors to our membership and make things a lot better within the party.
Dubé: You once stated during a debate that the Liberals are about big government, the Conservatives are about big business, the NDP are about big unions and the Greens are about big trees, was this something you previously thought of before going into the debate?
Ferguson: This was something that just came to me during the debate. We were in a school for the debate and I looked to the back and saw some tree paintings on the wall and the “big tree” line hit me. Actually, this became kind of a coined thing, each debate I saw larger gatherings and people actually said they were coming out now to hear me finish with that line. It became a recurring thing, it was quite funny.
Dubé: What is your opinion on Maxime Bernier’s new party and would you advise Canadian libertarians to join them or stick with Tim Moen and the Libertarian Party of Canada in 2019?
Ferguson: Well it’s refreshing to see more and more liberty minded people putting their names out there are trying to bring legitimate change. I’ve ran many times here in Brantford and I’m seeing more and more liberty minded candidates also run here. However, I am skeptical of the party, what I say is simple, you can either join a new party that may or may not last or you can stick with a movement that’s been growing for 40 years and is seeing its absolute best growth now. I welcome Bernier and his new party to the table but if he was a true Libertarian he would have got up and crossed the floor in the House of Commons. People are free to join whatever party they wish, but as for me, I’m sticking with the Libertarian Party.
Dubé: It’s no secret that the Libertarian Party of Ontario has become well established over the past few election cycles. How can the party maintain and build on this growth?
Ferguson: We’ve seen incredible growth; over the last few elections we’ve seen votes go up, membership go up and candidates go up. To maintain our growth, we need to continue to aim towards running full slates. By updating our party constitution and by-laws and fixing internal policy we can help make modernize the party. A few of the ridings that we weren’t able to fill candidates in were up in Northern Ontario and by targeting those areas in 2022 and continuing to run full slates we can continue to see solid growth and work towards winning seats in the next few election cycles.
Dubé: You’ve run for office many times. What would you say is the most effective way to connect to voters and meet people in the community?
Ferguson: It’s always been tough for me because I am legally blind, so I do not drive. But I’ve found that attending as many events as possible and spreading the message is the best way. In the age now of social media when you spread the message to a few it can reach many so just getting out and speaking to as many people as possible is truly the way to best engage voters. Here in Brantford I think I have succeeded in that, just recently I was out at a store and an individual turned to me and said, “hey, aren’t you Rob Ferguson?” and I laugh because my wife says it seems like we can’t go out anymore without people coming up to me or recognizing me.
Dubé: The Ontario Libertarian Party just wrapped up its Annual General Meeting last weekend. Can you give us some insight on how things went and overall how enthused the members of the meeting were about the party going forward?
Ferguson: Overall, things went very well. We had a good turnout and nearly 70 delegates attended, which is good for our AGM’s. One of the best parts about it was seeing Allen Small come through the door and I realized after a little while that there were three past party leaders present. That to me is quite special; you never just have three past party leaders attend a party’s event. Usually, when you end off your time as party leader, it’s the end of your career and you step back a little. However, to see that these three were still eager to help make a difference and still impact the party was something great.
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Perhaps my problem is that having just spent seven years in Canada, single-payer universal healthcare ruined any possibility I would ever accept the Obamacare model. Be that as it may, after just a few minutes reviewing my employer’s healthcare package, I couldn’t help but feel I would be better off financially going without coverage in the US, at least in the short-term.
Paying $256 a month for a high deductible plan means that during the four months or so we have left until hopefully returning to Canada, we will need to spend more than $3,000 on healthcare before most services either my wife or I could possibly need even begin to receive coverage. For insurance to kick in for both of us, we must meet the family deductible. This pushes our total figure to somewhere just north of $5,000. Welcome back to the United States, where healthcare costs and in network/out of network headaches just might cause more strokes and heart attacks than the system prevents.
Even if we were staying full-time in the US, our plan would be a disaster. With it, our annual healthcare spending would have to be extraordinary for it to make any sense. We are unlikely to reach the $2000 individual/$4,000 family deductible alone, never mind the $5,000 to $7,000 in health related costs we would need to incur over the course of the year before this insurance plan finally began saving us money (deductible plus nearly $3000 in premiums). As people are fond of saying when stark financial realities confront them, just do the math.
In addition, it’s important to keep in mind the expenses described above represent a huge percentage of annual income for anyone doing the job I’m currently doing. Because we don’t plan on remaining in the United States for long, I haven’t sought jobs in my field here. I’ve just taken a temporary job at a convenience store to hopefully save up a little money before returning north. At that point, I will pursue a master’s degree and permanent residence in Canada. However, for many of my co-workers, the job is much more vital in both the near and long term.
I suppose some would say I should feel lucky to have any insurance at all under the circumstances (a very American response). As you might expect, working in retail doesn’t pay well. Frequently, it doesn’t come with any benefits at all.
I would argue that for all practical purposes, my job still doesn’t come with benefits. The insurance premiums alone knock roughly 15% off the earnings of a typical convenience store clerk. If that clerk or a family member were to experience serious health issues, the $2000 minimum they will have to pay out of pocket before the insurance even begins to provide some relief will quickly bump the cost of this “insurance” into the 25% of annual income range. This amounts to an extremely regressive tax on low income workers. There’s nothing economical, let alone right, from either an individual or social perspective about any of it.
Obamacare provides health insurance subsidies to those purchasing individual coverage through the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but not to those receiving health insurance through their employer. It did, however, require people to sign up for their employer’s insurance to avoid paying a tax penalty. However, even taking the tax penalty into account (about $695 in our case, assuming we’re in the US all year), the hit to a low income worker, making what I earn, is far greater. Regardless, the so called “affordable” plans offered via the ACA tend to also have high deductible policies. It’s difficult to justify huge government subsidies for plans that don’t really provide true coverage.
As was the case with the uninsured before healthcare reform, high deductible plans still often leave low-income workers choosing between food, shelter, and healthcare. No one in a nation as wealthy as the US should have to face those kinds of decisions. Medicaid might pick up some of the slack in many cases, but this imposes yet another layer of bureaucracy onto American healthcare that the poor are required to navigate and that healthcare providers must bill. This alphabet soup of private and public plans is primarily responsible for the high administrative costs of the US healthcare system. Yet, it just leaves patients feeling frustrated and confused.
Before my employer took it over, health coverage in Canada for my wife and I totaled $135. Enrollment, as I recall, involved a single double sided page of paperwork. Then, we got the same healthcare card that everyone gets, rich or poor. We also got the same benefits. There was no monthly, quarterly, or annual renewal. Our healthcare provider just swiped the card at the front desk and that was that.
Our monthly premium was high by Canadian standards. Because we lacked permanent residency or citizenship, we didn’t qualify for lower cost options. However, we did still qualify for Pharmacare, a benefit which reduced the expense of Canada’s already relatively cheap prescription drugs. Supplemental insurance, provided through my job, picked up whatever drug costs that remained.
As for hospital bills, while living in Canada I paid three visits to the emergency room and never saw a single bill. My wife had a specialist to help facilitate the best management of her Type I diabetes. We likewise never had to pay a dime for her doctor visits. In other words, that $135 a month was for a zero deductible plan, which is the only plan in Canada.
I did have to pay $80 for one ambulance ride, the maximum that a hospital can charge for this in British Columbia. It took them six months to get around to sending that bill, and there appeared to be no urgency on their part about seeing it paid. That said, we were happy to pay, given that we knew a similar ride south of the border would likely run over $1000.
For obvious reasons, and contrary to popular belief, Canadians aren’t exactly flocking to the US for non-essential services they might have to wait a little longer for at home. Even the single-payer system’s harshest critics estimate that only tens of thousands off Canadians come south to receive treatment. This amounts to a fraction of 1% of the entire Canadian population. Of course, no critic of the single-payer model ever cites the number of Americans that have moved to Canada at least in part because they find its system of universal coverage far preferable to the balkanized and expensive US alternative.
Regardless, virtually every Canadian we spoke with about healthcare during our time in their country could not grasp why so many Americans favor the right to go without health insurance altogether. It’s possible some of them insist on that right for the same reasons we’re exercising it, but most seem opposed to health insurance mandates on ideological grounds rather than out of financial necessity or practical budgetary reasons. Canadians, in our experience, were equally puzzled by the apparent willingness of so many of their southern neighbors to pay so much for coverage that provides so little in return. Indeed, government has told us the plan we’re being offered is “normal” both in terms of monthly premiums and benefits received in return, and that we should accept it. Again, having experienced Canadian healthcare, normal to me has become something quite different.
Sometimes it was necessary to explain what a co-payment was to our friends up north. The whole idea of networks was something of an enigma to them as well, given that Canada as a whole is just one big healthcare network. Explaining the benefit of a healthcare network to a Canadian is like trying to explain the benefit of a fish tank to a creature that’s spent their entire life swimming in the ocean. Why you and your neighbor should each have to choose different doctors because you have different insurance plans makes no sense at all from a Canadian perspective — or really from any serious perspective for that matter.
For all the talk about maintaining the right to choose your own doctor in the United States, it’s in America, not Canada, where your choice of doctor is limited by your insurance provider. In fact, unless you’re buying individual coverage, even your insurance provider is likely to have been chosen by your employer instead of by you. In other words, among the world’s developed countries, America probably offers patients the least freedom of all when it comes to choosing a physician.
So, it’s official: we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed until we return to our adopted home and resume following our chosen path to permanent residence and ultimately citizenship in Canada. It simply makes no financial sense to pay an arm and a leg for both health insurance AND visits to the doctor at the same time. As with millions of other Americans, the healthcare options for us seem little changed since our initial departure in 2010 before Obamacare had taken effect. Given the kind of choices US health policy still forces tens of millions of citizens to confront daily, I’ll take the “lack of choice” Canadians enjoy any day and look forward to getting back to not having it again very soon.