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Readers Advocate

Lies, damn lies and budgets

If you were a budget officer for any government in Canada, I’ll bet you would lowball your revenue estimate for the coming year. And (except during election years) you would plan spending based on those estimates.

I’m ready to bet the authors of a report written for the C.D. Howe Institute would do the same, if they were tasked with budget responsibilities.

And when revenues — surprise! — pan out better than worst-case, I’d bet both you and the people at C.D. Howe would have a list handy, of priorities for the extra cash.

So I have to take some exception to the snarky tone of both their report and the reporting done on their report, which gives half the provinces a failing grade for budget transparency, with most of the other half receiving a barely-passing grade.

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With credit cards, there are no free plane trips

Last week, the B.C. Supreme Court certified a class-action lawsuit against Canada’s banks and credit card companies, seeking billions in claims to repay what is called a civil conspiracy on transaction fees charged to merchants.

Similar suits in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec are being held in abeyance, pending the outcome of the action in B.C., which will probably take years to settle.

The B.C. suit was launched in 2011 — a year when credit card companies reported a profit of $18.5 billion, on credit card sales of $267 billion, with about $2 billion rolled over in monthly unpaid balances at usurious interest rates.

The part that’s involved in the lawsuit is about $5 billion a year, which is charged to merchants in transaction fees. The lawsuit alleges a conspiracy to keep fees unreasonably high.

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Democracy less than advertised

Canadians are rightfully proud that our system of running democratic, honest elections are a model for the world.

In fact, emerging democracies send delegations to Canada to study our electoral system, to help their own countries develop more free and fair government.

But as data mining becomes prevalent in our digital age, there are a few examples that raise red flags against copying our system entirely. Democracy here is becoming somewhat less than advertised.

And there doesn’t seem to be much will in the halls of power to improve safeguards. Just the opposite, in fact.

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Weighing in on a matter of health

I knew it. Well, I didn’t know it, but I suspected it strongly.

This week, medical science is publicly admitting there’s no link between the saturated fats you eat (butter, nuts, poultry, red meat, chocolate cake, etc.) and heart disease.

A lifetime of people telling you not to eat this or that evil thing, or conversely to eat something else much more virtuous — or you will die of a heart attack — is now known as bad science.

At least, this week, that’s the case. Scientific studies get released quite regularly, with alarming and sometimes contradictory conclusions.

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Caucus support essential

Beware the Ides of March. I really didn’t know what “Ides” meant until I looked it up one day. It’s the day of the ancient Roman calendar that coincides with March 15, and marks the celebration of the ancient Roman New Year.

You now, that time when the caucus kills the tyrant, and drags the country into a long and bloody internal war that eventually leads to the downfall of the empire.

As in Rome, so it shall be in Alberta.

It was a spring day in 2011 when the Alberta Progressive Conservative caucus told Premier Ed Stelmach to stand down. He made the announcement in May and his last day on the job was Oct. 1.

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