Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ian Welsh writes that the Harper Cons have destroyed Canada's historic economic balance by scrapping the parts of the manufacturing sector which previously provided a buffer against low resource prices. And Bruce Campbell compares Canada's record on climate change to Norway's, and concluding that it isn't only in terms of royalties and heritage funds that we're far worse off for catering to big oil.

- Andrew Jackson comments on the role government investment should play in improving Canada's record on innovation. But Joseph Stiglitz and Adam Hersh flesh out what the Cons are pushing instead: "trade" agreements which serve mostly to entrench the existing advantages of the wealthy. And Annie Lowrey discusses the connection between tax evasion and inequality.

- Alex Boutilier reports on SumOfUs' work in exposing the connection between Con donations and patronage appointments.

- Toby Sanger offers a reminder that the NDP's track record of fiscal management is far better than that of any other political party.

- Alex Hemingway summarizes why C-51 and other civil rights concerns need to be at the forefront of the federal election.

- Finally, Suzanne Goldenberg comments on Tony Turner's role as the face of a suppressed public service. And Lana Payne echoes Turner's most famous theme by saying the election should come down to a referendum on the Harper Cons' woeful record. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Alex Himelfarb highlights the vicious circle the Harper Cons have created and driven when it comes to public services:
Today’s austerity is not a response to fiscal crisis. The 2012 budget demonstrated that it’s about redefining the purpose of government, about dismantling, brick by brick, the progressive state built by governments of quite different stripes in the decades following the Second World War. Implied is a very different notion of our shared citizenship, of what binds us together across language, region and community. The message was clear: government will ask less of Canadians and Canadians should expect less from government, a kind of bargain-basement citizenship.

We see this in the extent to which cuts target services for the most vulnerable: refugee claimants cannot get medical care; migrant workers cannot access benefits they’ve paid into; prisoners lose the meagre wages that might have helped them reintegrate when released; the unemployed have less access to employment insurance; veterans have less access to essential services.
We lag in tackling inequality and poverty.

We see this in the retreat from federal engagement with the provinces. Gone are the days of co-operative federalism, yes, often messy and combative, that nonetheless brought us pensions and Medicare. The tone was set when, among its first steps, the government cancelled the child care agreements signed with every province and the Kelowna Accord signed by the premiers and aboriginal leaders.

How did all of this get done without much political pushback or public outrage? In some cases, the cuts don’t kick in for years. In other cases — the gutting of our environmental regulations, cuts to basic science and statistics, weakened enforcement of health and safety regulations — the consequences are often subtle and play out in the long term or when things go wrong, and by then we may not make the link to austerity. In fact, our collective failures may simply undermine our trust in what government can accomplish.
- Joshua Ostroff discusses the importance of supportive housing - along with the desperate need for more investment in it. And David Ball turns to child care as another of the policies people are hoping for out of this fall's election.

- Murray Dobbin offers some hope that the era of precarious work is over. But Sara Mojtehedzadeh exposes how privatization and contract-flipping serve to undermine organized labour, suppress wages and eliminate job security. And Tyler Cowen points out that while the U.S.' employment numbers still seem relatively strong, they're once again failing to translate into any wage gains.

- Patricia Aldana describes how the Cons turned her into a second-class citizen. And Rick Salutin suggests that an election centred on the meaning of citizenship might be exactly what we need to confirm its importance - in contrast to the Cons' effort to make it something that can be stripped away for political gain.

- Finally, Rachel Browne reports that Canadian Muslims are understandably organizing in advance of an election where their rights are being shredded in the name of stoking prejudice. Aaron Wherry observes that the poll results pointed to as an excuse for a niqab ban are based on deliberately-false assumptions about the government's actual policy choices. The Globe and Mail encourages voters to get past the Cons' prejudice to decide based on real issues. Martyn Brown sees the Cons' hatemongering as demeaning Canada as a whole, while Tom Regan argues that it's the barbaric cultural practice we should be concerned about. Susan Delacourt rightly notes that we should expect all parties to want more than to win votes based on bigotry. And Martin Patriquin credits Thomas Mulcair for taking a much-needed stand against Harper and his strategy of fear and division.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Musical interlude

Young Rising Sons - King of the World

On distinguishing factors

The common personalities and strategies by tired right-wing governments are leading to some comparisons between the ongoing Canadian campaign and the UK's election earlier this year. But even as we treat David Cameron's re-election as an important warning, let's note that there's a rather crucial difference between the two.

In the UK, the Conservatives' sudden win seems to have been entirely unexpected, within prominent forecasters having seen the race as a dead heat rather than one in which Cameron had any prospect of taking a majority. And that likely affected coverage of the race as well as party strategies in the approach to election day.

In contrast, the fact that the Harper Cons have thrown out the dog whistles in favour of bullhorns well before election day has set a radically different course of events into motion. Yes, the Cons have been rewarded with an appalling bump in the polls. But that's come soon enough to leave time for both opposition parties and voters to react - both by countering the Cons' message itself, and raising the real spectre of more Harper government as a risk which voters may not have foreseen when a minority Parliament seemed like a relatively sure thing.

As I've noted, the one common denominator in this year's campaign has been a focus on preventing anybody from staying ahead of the field. Now, the Cons have managed to become the main target for all other parties going into the home stretch - and it would be entirely appropriate for the Cons' bigotry to backfire by causing a backlash Stephen Harper can neither control nor survive.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- The Equality Trust reminds us that economic inequality leads to harmful health consequences even for the lucky few at the top of the income scale. And Matt Bruenig observes that a basic income would provide workers with far more scope to avoid employer abuses and other stressors.

- The Council of Canadians points out how the Trans-Pacific Partnership could block any path toward a national pharmacare plan and more fair prescription drug prices. And Andy Blatchford highlights the secrecy surrounding the agreement even as it should be the subject of electoral scrutiny.

- Following up on yesterday's column, Andrew Coyne, Naheed Nenshi and Peter Wheeland just a few of the many voices pointing out how appalled Canadians should be by the Cons' attempt to win votes by denying basic rights to minorities. And the Montreal Gazette reports on the expected consequences when politicians decide to start declaring groups to be something less than full participants in society. But BJ Siekerski reports that the Cons are hinting at making matters worse by looking for new areas in which to discriminate, including employment in the public service.

- Meanwhile, Desmond Cole writes that the Cons' Unfair Elections Act likewise strips Canadians of basic rights (in this case the right to vote) without serving any purpose whatsoever.

- Finally, Scott Gilmore points out that people are suffering unconscionable poverty and deprivation daily in an area of federal jurisdiction - and thus calls for leaders and voters alike to pay far more attention to the plight of Canada's First Nations in the election and beyond.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

New column day

Here, on how we should call out the Cons' bigotry surrounding the niqab for its own ill intent as well as for its effect of distracting from more substantive election issues.

For further reading...
- The Supreme Court of Canada's decision confirming that the niqab is a matter of religious freedom protected by the Charter is found here. And the Federal Court trial court and appeal decisions involving Zunera Ishaq are here and here, respectively.
- CBC reports on just how few people are being singled out for deliberate and gratuitous discrimination, while also providing some background on the issue.
- Finally, Kirby writes that the Cons' niqab ban is a classic matter of stoking fear of an "other", while Dr. Dawg likewise recognizes both the political implications and the prejudice behind the ban.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Rosemary Barton discusses why it's in Canada's best interest on the global stage to work on building strong multilateral institutions (including the UN) rather than counting on bluster to make a difference. But Gus van Harten notes that we're instead signing onto trade deals including the TPP which transfer power from governments of all types to the corporate sector. And Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood examines what's at stake in the TPP in particular, while Susan Delacourt questions why such a major agreement is shrouded in secrecy rather than being subject to any meaningful public assessment.

- Marc Lee rightly criticizes Stephen Harper for taking wholly undue credit for greenhouse gas emissions reductions caused entirely by economic downturns and provincial action. 

- Ned Franks tells Abbas Rana that a Con defeat on a throne speech will mean the opportunity for another party to form government rather than another election. But Bill Tieleman adds a twist to the possibility of the Cons trying to cling to power despite an inability to win majority support in the House of Commons by wondering whether they might seek to hold a leadership convention rather than reconvening Parliament. (And I'd note the risk is greater than Tieleman himself identifies, since for all Harper's spin about "most seats wins" there's theoretically nothing stopping him from following that path based strictly on incumbency no matter what the election result is.)

- Meanwhile, Andrew Mitrovica writes that the media has long been used as a tool for dispersing propaganda - even if the Cons are somewhat more blatant than their predecessors in valuing it as nothing more than that.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg follows up on the Munk debate, including by pointing out Justin Trudeau's continued lack of an even remotely reasonable explanation for backing the Cons' terror legislation - even as his melodramatic attempt to change the dubject was somehow treated as a victory for him.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Political Prisoner's Dilemma

Let's double back to Karl Nerenberg's take on the opposition parties' messages in Canada's federal election and point out how it relates to a classic decision-making hypothetical, the prisoner's dilemma.

In the case of the federal election, here's how the dilemma plays out for anybody whose primary goal is to see the Cons replaced. (And as in any of these types of discussions, I'll leave aside what I see as the important distinctions between the parties which ensure that I'm not in that group - while also noting that the parties themselves likewise have every reason to focus on their own campaign over other considerations.)

The NDP, the Libs and their supporters surely want to see a change in government. And the more resources the opposition parties collectively dedicate to challenging the Cons rather than each other in both values and campaign strategies, the more likely that is to happen.

But both parties also want to position themselves to win power in this and future elections. And the benefit of being the sole defector rather than the sole cooperator is obvious: a party which dedicates its resources to making the case against the Cons while leaving itself vulnerable to attacks from the other figures to end up in third place, watching the other take power as the reward for its relative selfishness.

Of course, the prisoners' dilemma involves an absence of communication and trust between the two affected parties. And there's where there could be a difference in the election campaign.

I've argued before that it should be possible for our opposition parties - or at least their supporters who want to see a change in government - to work on coordinating messages to keep Stephen Harper on the defensive and avoid themes which might benefit the Cons. 

And to be fair, most of the policy contrasts being drawn between the NDP and the Libs at least avoid reinforcing the Cons' values: a contest as to who's most progressive certainly doesn't lend itself to promoting a small-c conservative worldview.

But the campaign has been defined not by policy, but by parties throwing mud at whoever appears to be gathering strength at a particular moment - with an emphasis on blowing up any trust which might otherwise build up in any competing leader. And a recent window in which a few polls placed the Cons in third place seems to have started a particularly vicious conflict between the opposition parties which shows no sign of abating.

So what are options are available to ensure that a change in government is one of the positive outcomes of the election? I'll follow up in a bit more detail from both the party level and the individual level in future posts. But for now, suffice it to say that I'd hope we can agree not to be needlessly imprisoned in another term of Con government.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan sees the Volkswagen emissions test cheating as a classic example of the dangers of relying on business to do anything toward the social good without facing strong and effectively-enforced regulations. And George Monbiot describes just a few of the preposterous new forms of waste we're generating and buying rather than addressing serious social problems.

- Steve Paikin interviews Mariana Mazzucato about the proper role of an active state:


- Paul Hanley points out that the Leap Manifesto represents an important expression of mainstream Canadian values which deserves a prominent place in our federal election. Cathy Crowe reminds us of the right of homeless Canadians to both a vote and a home. And David Ball reports on some of the people hoping for a much-needed living wage as a result of our upcoming vote.

- Duncan Cameron wonders why we're not hearing more about the oil industry's exploitation of the public as the gap between oil prices and gas prices increases.

- Melissa Newitt makes the case for a national pharmacare plan, while Robyn Benson writes that the need for pension security is one of the most important reasons to vote out the Harper Cons. 

- Finally, Charles Smith laments the Cons' use of the niqab to stoke baseless cultural fears in an effort to win votes through xenophobia. And Dr. Dawg highlights how the Cons may have found their perfect scapegoat for public flogging.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Slumbering cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Miles Corak writes about the spread of economic inequality in Canada:
Companies like ATS epitomize the underlying tide driving jobs and incomes when the computer revolution meets global markets. This tide never went away, even if until a year or so ago a swift current of oil made it easier for some of us to paddle in the opposite direction. It’s a tide offering prosperity to a lucky few, creating proportionately fewer jobs than Canadians need, and leaving many hanging on tight to whatever jetsam floats within reach.

But this tide was always there, even when it looked like we were richer than others. And it will continue to leave many Canadians standing still, waiting, and hoping for the promise of prosperity.
- Paul Mason examines the costs of disposable labour and theorizes that a new era of better treatment for workers might be approaching. But Tony Atkinson argues that we'll need a major shift in public policy as well to share in any future economic gains - and offers a few policy prescriptions to reverse the trend.

- Josh Zumbrun discusses Gabriel Zucman's work in determining how much wealth has been siphoned into tax havens.

- Kaylie Tiessen points out that we can learn from past child care programs while developing a national model.

- Finally, Neil Macdonald rightly argues that Stephen Harper's cynical attacks on women who wear niqabs represents a repudiation of the very concept of individual rights. And Richard Gwyn highlights Thomas Mulcair's courage and honesty in fighting back against the Cons' bigotry rather than playing along for political gain.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Robert Reich writes that the most important source of growing inequality in the U.S. is a political system torqued to further enrich those who already had the most:
The underlying problem, then, is not just globalization and technological changes that have made most American workers less competitive. Nor is it that they lack enough education to be sufficiently productive.

The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it, while average workers have steadily lost bargaining power -- both economic and political -- to receive as large a portion of the economy's gains as they commanded in the first three decades after World War II.

Reversing the scourge of widening inequality requires reversing the upward pre-distributions within the rules of the market, and giving average people the bargaining power they need to get a larger share of the gains from growth.

The answer to this problem is not found in economics. It is found in politics. Ultimately, the trend toward widening inequality in America, as elsewhere, can be reversed only if the vast majority join together to demand fundamental change.

The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress.
- Alexander Kaufman interviews Gabriel Zucman about the role of tax havens in entrenching a new aristocracy. And in a related (if dated) story, Rajeev Syal reports on how the Cons' hired gun Lynton Crosby sheltered income through an offshore trust even while running the campaign of a party which feigned concern about exactly that type of abuse.

- Michael Harris slams the Cons for a foreign policy oriented toward war, profiteering and political gain rather than any principle worth pursuing. And Haroon Siddiqui highlights what we've lost in becoming associated with that mindset around the globe, while Steven Chase and Shawn McCarthy report that the Department of Foreign Affairs is well aware of Canada's fading reputation.

- Shannon Gormley writes that contrary to the Cons' spin, the only bogus element of Canada's relationship with refugees is the mindset used to attack people in need of a home.

- And finally, Aaron Wherry takes the Cons to task for their politicking around the niqab as a threat to the very idea of individual rights.