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Writer-s-Bloc

Gauging changing views on matters of morality

Moral majorities

When Canada was about to celebrate its first centennial, a collection of legislative proposals was being considered by the federal government. In 1967, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, early drafts designed to legalize divorce and remove birth control from the Criminal Code were being developed.

The omnibus bill that was ultimately approved by Parliament also dealt with matters such as abortion and homosexuality. At the time, Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau explained that the changes were meant to bring “the laws of the land up to contemporary society.”

Research Co. and Glacier Media ask Canadians every year about their moral views on 21 different issues. More than five decades have passed since the laws of the land changed, and most Canadians are not personally dejected by many of the practices that are no longer illegal.

More than two-thirds of Canadians consider four activities as “morally acceptable”:

• Contraception (75 per cent, down one point since we last asked in 2021);

• Divorce (73 per cent, down four points);

• Sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman (69 per cent, down three points) and;

• Having a baby outside of marriage (69 per cent, unchanged).

Two other issues are slightly more controversial in the minds of Canadians. While 59 per cent of the country’s residents believe sexual relations between two people of the same sex are “morally acceptable” (down three points), more than a quarter (27 per cent, up three points) consider them “morally wrong.”

The proportion of Canadians who express moral misgivings about homosexuality rises to 36 per cent among respondents of South Asian origin, to 39 per cent among those of East Asian descent and to 41 per cent among Conservative Party of Canada voters in 2021.

In a recent countrywide poll, we learned that Canadians maintain a high level of support for both the continuation of same-sex marriage (66 per cent) and the decision to ban the practice of “conversion therapy” at the federal level (62 per cent). Still, when looking strictly at personal morals, acceptability of same-sex relations is lower when compared with how Canadians feel about divorce and birth control.

More than half of Canadians (53 per cent) recently told us that they are not particularly keen on a new debate about abortion. When asked about their moral views on pregnancy termination, 55 per cent of Canadians (down two points since 2020) think it is “morally acceptable,” while 29 per cent (up four points) consider the practice “morally wrong.”

Again, the biggest differences are related to politics and ethnicity.

Abortion is “morally acceptable” for majorities of Canadians who voted for the New Democratic Party (NDP) (71 per cent) and the Liberal Party of Canada (60 per cent) last year, but only 47 per cent of Conservatives share this point of view. While 65 per cent of Canadians of European heritage have no moral qualms about pregnancy termination, the proportion falls markedly among East Asians (50 per cent) and South Asians (39 per cent).

Other topics related to the “bedrooms of the nation” are decidedly more divisive.

Fewer than a third of Canadians believe pornography (31 per cent, unchanged) and prostitution (30 per cent, down three points) are “morally acceptable.” Fewer feel the same way about polygamy (19 per cent, unchanged), married men and/or women having an affair (16 per cent, down two points) and pedophilia (four per cent, down one point).

On prostitution and pornography, the gender gap has remained consistent. Almost two in five men find each issue acceptable (38 per cent and 37 per cent, respectively). The numbers are significantly lower among women (23 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively).

There was no change when Canadians assessed the acceptability of using stem cells obtained from human embryos (55 per cent), suicide (18 per cent) and cloning humans (12 per cent).

On issues related to animals, few Canadians morally accept practices such as buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur (36 per cent, down two points), using animals for medical testing (25 per cent, up one point) and cloning animals (19 per cent, unchanged).

The needle moved on the moral appropriateness of gambling (52 per cent, down five points). The death penalty, which has remained a contentious topic over the years, is seen as “morally acceptable” by 40 per cent of Canadians (up one point) – including 57 per cent of Conservative voters.

Two other issues deserve a special mention. The federal government will have to figure out a way to discuss the reach of legislation that allows physician-assisted death and address the opioid crisis in a way that goes beyond the photo-op.

Now, more than three in five Canadians (61 per cent, down four points) believe physician-assisted death is “morally acceptable,” but only 18 per cent (down two points) feel the same way about using illegal drugs.

Canadians continue to look down at people who choose to use illegal substances. This partly explains why proposals to decriminalize all drugs for personal use have not been supported by a majority of the country’s residents.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 7 to May 9, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Public health suffers when pro sports goes all in on gambling

Sports betting problems

On this issue I am prepared to be called a prude, a fogey and a knuckle-dragger.

I am braced to be the wet blanket.

While we’re batting around clichés, I suppose I can add that I am here to rain on the parade.

But for crying out loud, for goodness sake, what have we done to permit this sudden surge of sports betting on the pre-game, during-game and post-game programming of live hockey, basketball and baseball in recent weeks?

Why have we held back this industry for decades, only to allow it to descend with such ferocity? Why have authorities subjected us to this unbridled deluge, this emergence from the underground, this saturation of our sporting airwaves?

What happened here? Hasn’t the pandemic disrupted us enough, distracted us enough?

Where were the powerful regulators who stood firm in recent years in clamping down on cannabis when it came to letting the genie out of the bottle on gambling?

Why are we – and by that, I mean not only the private firms but our provincial governments across the country – staging incessant commercials for the legal but dangerous glorification of gambling?

Why are our broadcasters permitted to carry segments before ball games with great communicators like Cabbie touting the betting lines or star athletes like Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, tacitly endorsing such risk to well-being? Why are once-interesting sport highlights channels like The Score now simply some sort of bettors’ din?

Enough questions. Let’s deal with statements.The sociological literature is clear on the connection between gambling advertising and problem gambling. The medical literature is clear that the brain chemistry triggered by gambling is little different than that triggered by drugs, sex, alcohol and eating, in that the release of dopamine is evident – no matter win or lose, just playing. The inducement of the easily placed bet, often aided by introductory bonuses for newcomers, is little different than the first free drug from the dealer.

Regulators and advocates that fought industry over legitimate health concerns and kept marketing pitches from inducing minors into weed, just as they had fought to push back on alcohol and cigarettes, were toothless when the single-game betting arrived with its tentacles into our temptations.

Now in the moments before a ball game, when we’re evaluating starting lineups and the pitching matchups, we’re also getting the odds on a victory, the over-under line on runs, the chances of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. launching one into the seats – if you wish to be all-in on the telecast by moving your money into play.

Let’s not be naive. Betting probably goes back to whether Eve would eat the apple. More than US$8 billion was legally bet in America on this year’s Super Bowl. The floodgates in Canada opened when single-game betting was legalized last August.

Many intelligent people study sports to the degree they feel comfortable that gambling is not much of a gamble; with open eyes, with methods, they choose their targets with some precision and confidence.

The challenge in opening the door to a near-unfettered environment is to separate the moral question from the public health question. Through the courts and our legislatures, we have decided as a society that there is no longer any moral question to debate. The illegal practice was so rampant as to be unenforceable, except perhaps at tax time on income, so it was deemed wiser to build some structure with transparency and accountability. And if gambling dollars could pay for socially beneficial services, all the better to soothe our consciences.

Of course, illegal gambling is bound to continue, largely because of easy access to credit, the evasion of taxes and lower commissions on the bets. Organized crime isn’t folding its tent all of a sudden.

But in the way we have assembled the public environment for the practice, we have left the public health question aside. What worries me is the brazen celebration of the bet for all to see. A Harvard University study indicates the percentage of pathological gamblers and problem gamblers amounted to about 5.5 per cent of Americans. In Canada, three-quarters of us say we gamble, while an Ontario study suggests problem gamblers amount to about three per cent of them. The new environment won’t reduce that.

If I were a parent of minors, I would be concerned today to have them sit through excitable, encouraging parlance on the parlay (actually, parlays have been legal since 1985, but you get the point). The prohibition of gambling ads where children can see them ought to have been a central provision of the expansion of the industry. Britain, with a richer history of bookmaking, has such a law.

Just as with cannabis, the serious investors have staked the pole position in the gambling business. The arrival of the more casual single-game bettor – the person with the favourite team who bets on them loyally, for instance – is found money for the inveterate gambler because the returns will be better when underinformed gambles are thrown into the fray. They’re mopping up in the early going, to be sure.

This is one of the best times of the year for sports: concurrent National Hockey League and National Basketball Association playoffs and early-season Major League Baseball are, frankly, great competition for getting outdoors. This year, as a big sports fan always eager for insight and a lot of trivia I will never use profitably – not just for gambling, but also in life – the experience feels shady. I would like my attention on thinking my team, and not the house, always wins. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



The world is running out of oil – vegetable oil

A different oil shortage

It’s funny how sometimes we take the simple things in life for granted. Cooking oil, or vegetable oil, is certainly one of them.

Our appreciation for vegetable oil will likely reach new levels in months to come. Oil prices have increased by 25 per cent in just the last six months. While palm oil went up 50 per cent, canola oil is up 55 per cent on average.

The world is slowly running out of vegetable oils.

Vegetable oils aren’t just about frying things. This ingredient is in many things we eat. All household kitchens and restaurants use vegetable oils. Major companies will buy vegetable oils to manufacture the food we buy daily. Pasta, cookies, chocolate, mayonnaise – many dry and baked goods contain vegetable oil. It’s one of the most universal and versatile ingredients we have at our disposal.

Palm oil is the big one, given how affordable it is. Recently, Indonesia, the largest producer of palm oil in the world, announced it would no longer export its oil. The embargo started on April 28. Indonesia accounts for 55 per cent of palm oil exports. That’s huge. Since the price of palm oil had increased by 40 per cent in Indonesia, the government believed it had no choice.

Malaysia, the second-largest exporter, is experiencing unprecedented labour shortages affecting palm oil production. The country accounts for 31.2 per cent of palm oil exports, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Although many condemn the use of this oil for environmental reasons, the fact remains that several companies buy this product. Nestlé, Mondelez, Ferrero Rocher – most big food companies need it and we eat it every day.

For sunflower oil, the situation is even worse. Ukraine, the victim of a brutal invasion, is the largest exporter of sunflower oil in the world. The country exports around 5.4 million tonnes of the oil, half of the quantities found across the globe. Russia, responsible for 25 per cent of sunflower oil exports, will have difficulty finding customers due to sanctions imposed against it.

For canola oil, Canada, the largest exporter, must contend with last year’s abysmal growing season. The drought was so severe that our country had to import canola to meet our demand for vegetable oil. So there are hardly any reserves to start 2022.

And finally, there’s soybean oil. Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil are among the largest exporters of soybean oil. These countries have also been hit by major droughts and anemic production in recent years, creating supply problems everywhere.

Even if other major exporting countries like Holland and Germany have good harvests in 2022, it won’t be enough to cover the anticipated deficit this year and possibly next year.

The importance of an ingredient that we have all taken for granted in our kitchens will then become much more evident.

What could help is to lessen the amount of vegetable oil used for energy. About 15 per cent of all vegetable oils are used to support the production of biofuels. We could see some countries divert some of that production for more food-related vegetable oil use, but that’s not a given – far from it.

As we navigate this global food crisis, we expect more countries to instinctively ban exports and even hoard commodities to secure supplies. Each decision will add more pressure to the market, raising prices across the board.

Over the next several months, things will most certainly get ugly to the point where many people will experience famine or acute hunger. In fact, more than 100 million people could suffer, and that would be devastating.

Despite all of this, Canadians are the lucky ones. Our grocer may ration vegetable oils, but we should feel lucky just to have access to them.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Underground economy shortchanging workers and the public purse

The underground economy

Dishonest construction contractors who under-report income or deliberately misclassify their workers to evade tax and employment fees are costing the B.C. economy at least $308 million a year.

That money could pay for the new patient care tower at (North Vancouver’s) Lions Gate Hospital. It could buy 45 new MRI machines. Or it could fund the entire Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions for almost eight years or the Industry Training Authority for three years.

We’re able to put a price tag on the cost of the underground economy in construction due to a new report from Prism Economics and Analysis, a leading public policy firm with extensive experience providing analysis on labour market trends, programs and policies.

Using data from WorkSafeBC, Statistics Canada and BuildForce Canada, Prism found B.C. and our booming construction sector are leaders, but not in good ways.

As a proportion of GDP, the underground economy is the largest in B.C. at 3.7 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. And residential construction accounts for more than one-quarter of underground economic activity, at 26.2 per cent. But what is the underground economy, exactly?

The underground economy is captured in a couple of different ways. It includes small repair and renovation work that is paid in cash and not reported by the worker or the contractor to the Canada Revenue Agency. This “cash economy” is typically confined to minor jobs because corporations have no reason to evade GST and PST, since these costs are deductible, and homeowners have no interest in omitting a paper trail on larger projects because they would have no recourse if a liability arises.

This aspect of the underground economy is minor. The larger problem and the main reason for Prism’s shocking findings is the misclassification of workers by unscrupulous contractors trying to avoid paying income tax, employment insurance and Canada Pension Plan contributions, workers compensation premiums and other obligations under the Employment Standards Act, such as statutory overtime, holidays, sick leave and vacation. No T4 is issued.

Indeed, the practice of styling workers as independent operators rather than employees is the No. 1 strategy of dishonest construction contractors to avoid tax and employment obligations.

And it’s a strategy that hurts real people, including the so-called independent operators who work without the protections they deserve and to which they are entitled, like workplace injury coverage. Workers are rendered precarious and vulnerable.

There are other casualties, too. The report, which was commissioned by the B.C. Building Trades, shows dishonest contractors save about 20 per cent on labour, which makes it difficult for honest contractors to compete. In an industry where bids are won and lost by fractions, these contractors lose bids and pay necessarily higher WorkSafeBC premiums to make up for the deficit to the system, while their workers miss out on opportunities to earn a legitimate income and support their families.

Meanwhile, consumers who participate in the underground economy soon learn that they can’t remedy a shoddy job without admitting their own part in the illegal exchange.

This is not just a case of a handful of regular folks saving a few bucks on a long overdue bathroom renovation. Prism’s $308 million estimate is a conservative one using measurable data from WorkSafeBC. Statistics Canada calculates the underground economy is a multibillion-dollar problem.

So we are calling on government to appoint joint compliance teams comprising officers from the Ministry of Labour, WorkSafeBC, the Employment Standards Branch and the Canada Revenue Agency to carry out spot checks and finally enforce our tax and employment regulations.

Let’s stop cheating the system, and more importantly, ourselves.

Brynn Bourke is executive director of the BC Building Trades, which represents 40,000 skilled tradespeople who belong to 25 construction unions.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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