Monday, April 20, 2015

On radioactive proposals

Never mind Brad Wall's hand-picked group of nuclear industry shills using public money to further their own profits found that nuclear power is not price-competitive even among an artificially limited set of options absent a substantial carbon price - and that Wall himself refuses to set one.

And never mind that a subsequent public consultation found that "the overwhelming response...was that nuclear power generation should not be a choice for Saskatchewan".

When it comes to locking in a high-cost, high-risk nuclear plant just as renewables are emerging as a viable large-scale alternative, Wall won't take "no" for an answer. But if Wall is telling us that he insists on having Saskatchewan pay for an expensive nuclear toy with the rent money saved by living in Ontario's basement, that's all the more reason to ensure he isn't in a position to make the call.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Jay Baron Nicorvo discusses how the myth of U.S. meritocracy serves largely as a means of funneling profits toward the 1%. And Mary Hansen points out one way of fighting back against evolving forms of corporate power - being the development of new, cooperative alternatives to businesses designed to exploit workers.

- David Korten highlights a few of the most obvious dangers in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as just the latest and most draconian agreement intended to lock anti-democratic principles in as a restriction on government decision-making. And ICIJ and the Huffington Post shed needed light on how past attempts to account for the public interest in trade arrangements - in this case through the World Bank - have proven to be miserable failures due to a lack of interest in enforcing rules which protect people rather than profits.

- Meanwhile, Louis-Philippe Rochon notes that even the International Monetary Fund is admitting that decades of constant attacks on workers have served solely to drive down wages rather than doing anything to improve economic performance.

- Steven Zhou writes that the Cons' politicization of the Canada Revenue Agency to attack groups who disagree with their corporatist message represents a serious threat to democratic discussion.

- Finally, the Broadbent Institute highlights just a few of the ways the Cons are deliberately making inequality worse. And Scott Clark and Peter DeVries comment on the Harper Cons' catastrophic economic record:
At the end of 2014, the unemployment rate was higher than at the end of 2008. The labour force participation rate was lower than in 2008. The employment rate (the percentage of the adult population employed) was lower than at the end of 2008. The youth unemployment rate was higher than at the end of 2008. The share of total employment made up of full-time jobs was less than in 2008 — and the quality of jobs had sunk to its lowest level in a quarter of a century.

Then there’s Oliver’s claim that his government has put money back in the hands of Canadians through its commitment to reducing taxes. This government has definitely cut taxes for high-income, single-earner families with children under 18 — just 15 per cent of all families. They’ve been very good to families with teenage children who — somehow — still need ‘child care’. They’ve been generous to families who can afford to put their kids in sports leagues and summer camps, and they’ve cut taxes for high-income seniors who can split their pension income with a spouse.

The government has announced it will double the contribution limits for Tax-Free Savings Accounts, despite research by the PBO and others indicating this will — again — overwhelmingly benefit high-income Canadians and leave a growing unfunded liability to be paid for by all Canadians in the future. Oliver and Harper claim to be doing this for our grandchildren. Somehow we don’t think they’ll be grateful.

All of this, of course, came after the government’s biggest and most foolish tax cut — the two point cut in the GST which every economist warned them was a terrible idea. Sure enough, it was a major factor in putting the government into deficit.

The key thing to remember here is that these tax cuts accomplished nothing for the economy. None of them contributed to economic growth or job creation. They certainly didn’t contribute to tax fairness.

Numbers don’t lie, but people do. It’s one thing to spin your failures as successes — it’s another thing entirely to try to present a decade of fiscal failure as one long triumph.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On guesswork

Shorter Bob Rae:
Some people actually believe voters deserve a meaningful idea what political parties plan to do before choosing between them? That's crazy talk.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Paul Krugman laments how faith-based economics which value unmeasurable market confidence over any meaningful outcome continue to form the basis for disastrous austerity policies around the world.

- Bill Curry reports on the PBO's latest study showing that the only reason the Cons are in a position to brag about a nominally balanced budget is their continued siphoning off of EI premiums which are supposed to be for the benefit of the many workers who have lost their jobs. And Andrew Jackson puts the Cons' miserable jobs record in context.

- Meanwhile, Eliza Anyangwe points out that we shouldn't expect the fortunate few who profit from policies designed to destroy working classes to accept a change in direction without a fight. And Jon Queally discusses the prospects of building a U.S. progressive populist movement.

- Finally, Daniel Tseghay comments on the connection between C-51, security certificates and race-based fearmongering. And Craig Forcese and Kent Roach discuss the real purpose of the Cons' terror bill - being to create an open-ended permission for CSIS to disrupt the private activities of Canadians without any meaningful oversight:
In recent weeks, we have been speaking to counterparts in comparable nations—notably the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. None of these countries appear to issue their CSIS equivalents with an open-ended, indefinite power to break the law. In Australia, for instance, the CSIS equivalent may disrupt a computer system, but it can do so only pursuant to a detailed warrant issued under the provisions of a tightly administered legal framework that itself is subject to review by an inspector general, as well as potential scrutiny from a special security committee of the Australian parliament.
The United Kingdom, meanwhile, has just witnessed a vigorous debate about what steps its agencies may take to limit re-entry of UK nationals who have become foreign paramilitary fighters. It has not given its security services—either MI5 or its foreign service, MI6 (of James Bond fame)—special new powers to break the law or violate human rights.
None of that informed debate is occurring (or, it seems, will occur) in Canada, because our government has chosen simply to provide a virtual carte blanche to CSIS, allowing it to pick from a long menu of surveillance and “disruption” techniques. These new powers are subject to judicial approval processes only when they would violate Canadian law or the Charter, in a proceeding in which the government is the only party, there is no possibility of appeal, and no public disclosure of any warrant issued.

We consider ourselves to be moderate-minded academics, not activists. We aren’t conspiracy theorists, and we generally believe that CSIS officials do not have malign intentions. Indeed, we don’t think CSIS really wants to be in the rendition game. We don’t think CSIS has any interest in running a detention facility, either at home or abroad. We don’t think CSIS wants to perform a political function by steering foreign environmental foundations away from funding local protest groups. But this is a law that may persist for a long time, and as with any government agency, the intentions of CSIS may well change as internal cultures evolve and, even in good faith, the service tests the bounds of its new powers.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Canadians for Tax Fairness offers a checklist to allow us to determine whether the federal budget is aimed at improving matters for everybody, or only for the privileged few. And Andrew Jackson argues that the Cons' focus should be investment in jobs and sustainable development:
Business investment is likely to fall even further due to the resource slump and halted mega projects. This might be offset a bit by new investment in the hard-hit manufacturing sector and in high tech, though there is no sign of that in the most recent numbers.

In this context, the federal government should be doing everything in its power to boost a slowing economy and to help set the stage for a more durable, investment driven recovery.

Ottawa has been advised by the IMF and many prominent economists, from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to former federal deputy minister of finance Scott Clark, that it can and should boost public investment, especially in mass transit and basic municipal infrastructure.

Since the economy is operating with a significant and growing slack, such spending would boost GDP by more than the actual increase in investment. The federal government itself has cited figures showing that the boost to infrastructure investment in the recession had a multiplier impact on the economy of 1.5, meaning that GDP rose by $1.50 for every $1 spent.

The case for public investment is even more compelling now that the Government of Canada can borrow long term at interest rates well below the rate of inflation to finance projects such as mass transit which demonstrably have a positive economic return in terms of boosting long-term productivity.
There is also a need to focus our research and development efforts on industries which will transition us to much more environmentally sustainable economy, such as renewable energy, the construction of a national power grid to displace coal-fired power, and the promotion of much more energy efficient technologies throughout the economy.

The federal Budget will likely pay lip service to boosting investment through small additions to existing commitments. But the current government has given the real priority to costly tax cuts such as family income splitting and doubled TFSA contribution limits, leading them to cut spending on direct government programs to balance the books.

Lack of real attention to investment will leave our sluggish economy dangerously dependent upon growing household debt, and ill-prepared to face the economic and environmental challenges of tomorrow.
- But David Olive reminds us that the Cons are actively working to demolish the government's ability to serve as more than a conduit for corporate interests. And Seth Klein notes that the use of tax-free savings accounts to line the pockets of the wealth at the expense of the rest of us also serves as compelling evidence as to who's intended to benefit under the Harper Cons.

- Meanwhile, John Lorinc reports on the use of community benefits agreements to ensure that good jobs are available to the people who need them, offering an important reminder that role of government shouldn't be limited to handing out money without considering how to maximize its effect.

- Thomas Walkom calls out the Ontario Libs for trying to use a sideshow of beer sales to distract from the reckless selloff of Hydro One.

- Bruce Johnstone notes that the Cons' corporate giveaway of what's left of the Canadian Wheat Board is happening despite a glaring lack of answers to major questions, while Mia Rabson offers a eulogy for the CWB. And the National Farmers' Union points out that labeling what's left as "Canadian" is a matter of spin and wishful thinking.

- Finally, Doug Cuthand rightly slams the Cons for trying to blame First Nations men alone for Canada's shameful legacy of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Musical interlude

The War On Drugs - Red Eyes

And as a bonus, Lon Borgerson and the Prince Albert Riding - Heave Steve

The democratic alternative

Some time ago, I put together this list of principles worth considering when talking about structured cooperation between political parties. And consistent with Ian Gill's own warning about his lack of connection to party structures, his proposal for a secret pre-election pact manages to fail on nearly every front.

But while there's some reason for question about Gill's intended direction, the bigger issue is his presumption that we need our political parties to drag us there. So let's clarify the options available to Canadians who want to further an "ABC" agenda in the lead up to this fall's election.

While our votes are necessarily limited to choosing from among the options available to us in our home riding, every other form of political involvement can be done wherever and for whichever party an individual sees fit.

Is your priority to donate to and volunteer for the candidate with the strongest perceived likelihood of defeating a Con in your home riding? You're welcome to do so and organize others to join you. And you can be pretty well assured that whichever candidate you ask to support won't turn you away.

Are you enough of a party loyalist to want to make sure your efforts elect a candidate of your partisan stripe? You can choose which candidate and riding you help out with - whether local or not.

Or are you enough of an anti-Harper activist that you don't care who you're helping or where, so long as you maximize your marginal contribution to defeating Con MPs? Again, you don't need a party operative's approval (or worse yet, a backroom deal) to determine where your efforts are best applied.

And with all of those options available to every Canadian, there's absolutely no need for parties to strike hidden deals, declare candidates to be sacrificial lambs, or alienate core supporters by telling them they're supposed to direct their efforts toward electing adverse parties.

If enough people share the viewpoint that defeating as many Cons as possible is the top priority, they have the capacity to seek out what appear to be the most important ridings and systematically tilt the balance in favour of opposition parties. (And while the same option may not be available for actual voting purposes, a strategy based on working to persuade people now will have far more impact than yet another hastily-assembled vote-swapping scheme.)

So the message shouldn't be to hold your nose and do as you're told based on a backroom deal to divide up volunteer efforts. Instead, everybody has the opportunity to influence the election in a way that allows them to hold their head up high. And we should be encouraging progressives to get in the habit of doing just that.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jeffrey Simpson lambastes the Cons' determination to slash taxes and hand out baubles to the rich for the sole purpose of undermining the fiscal capacity of government to help Canadians. And Jeremy Nuttall highlights how a cuts to the CRA are allowing tax cheats to escape paying their fair share with little prospect of detection.

- Jacquie Maund makes the case to include dental care as part of a full public health system. And Carolyn Shimmin discusses the connection between childhood poverty and poor health which can impose burdens lasting a lifetime:
2. There is a direct link between socioeconomic status and health status. Robust evidence shows that people in the lowest socioeconomic group carry the greatest burden of illness. This social gradient in health runs from top to bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. If you were to look at, for example, cardiovascular disease mortality according to income group in Canada, mortality is highest among those in the poorest income group and, as income increases, mortality rate decreases. The same can be found for conditions such as cancer, diabetes and mental illness.

3. Poverty in childhood is associated with a number of health conditions in adulthood. More than one in seven Canadian children live in poverty. This places Canada 15th out of 17 similar developed countries, and being at the bottom of this list is not where we want to be. Children who live in poverty are more likely to have low birth weights, asthma, type 2 diabetes, poorer oral health and suffer from malnutrition. But also children who grow up in poverty are, as adults, more likely to experience addictions, mental health difficulties, physical disabilities and premature death. Children who experience poverty are also less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to live in poverty as adults.
- Michael Spratt writes that the Cons' posturing on crime isn't intended to produce legislation which is viable from a policy standpoint or even constitutionally valid, serving instead to generate a steady stream of grievances to rile up their base.

- Craig Forcese debunks the spin that the Cons' terror bill has anything to with matching international standards rather than racing to the bottom when it comes to civil rights. Dr. Dawg reminds us that even before C-51, we have dangerous laws on the books allowing Canadians to be detained or to have freedoms severely restricted based on nothing but speculation. And Andrew Mitrovica notes that due to the Cons, even the federal government is less able to exercise oversight over CSIS than it was before.

- Finally, Ryan Meili interviews George Lakoff about some of the ways progressives can better challenge political messaging from the right. And Cass Sunstein highlights new research on the values which motivate voters of different political persuasions.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New column day

Here, on Brad Wall's appalling admission that the Saskatchewan Party's plan for a low-carbon economy is to move into Ontario's basement rather than pursuing sustainable development in Saskatchewan.

For further reading...
- Wall's comments and other provincial positions in the lead up to this week's premiers' meeting can be found here.
- Geoffrey Vendeville reported on the earlier cap-and-trade agreement between Ontario and Quebec. And Yasmine Hassan discussed the massive Quebec climate change rally.
- The Saskatchewan greenhouse gas bill which has been passed but never proclaimed in force can be found here (PDF).
- Joe Romm reports on the new cost-effectiveness of electric car batteries here. And Tom Randall and John Lippert both point out that storage costs are also plummeting for solar power generation.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Henry Mintzberg rightly challenges the myth of a "level playing field" when it comes to our economic opportunities:
Let’s level with each other. What we call a “level playing field” for economic development is played with Western rules on Southern turf, so that the New York Giants can take on some high school team from Timbuktu. The International Monetary Fund prepares the terrain and the World Trade Organization referees the game. Guess who wins.

The rules of this game have been written by people educated in the economic canon of the already developed West. The “developing” countries of the world are supposed to open up their markets to global corporations that stand ready to enter with their manufactured goods.
Now, just as the international economic agencies are waking up to the consequences of their levelling, a new set of rules is making the playing field even more level: companies can take on government themselves.

Thanks to intense lobbying, a host of bilateral trade agreements provide for special courts of arbitration that enable private companies to sue sovereign countries. This has been made necessary, so the argument goes, to protect companies from governments that renege on contracts. Fair enough.

But instead, these courts are being used by global companies to do something quite insidious: stop legislation, even on matters relating to health, culture, and environment, that they claim to reduce their current or expected profits. “Today, countries from Indonesia to Peru are facing investor-state suits.”1 In fact, companies needn’t go that far: just by threating [sic] such lawsuits, which may require legal costs the countries can’t afford, some countries have been bullied into cancelling proposed legislation. And, by the way, in this version of the game the goals are scored at only one end: governments cannot use these courts to bring claims against the companies.
- And thwap reminds us of the essential connection between democratic mechanisms and popular activism as a counterweight to the outsized influence of wealth.

- Meanwhile, Charles Rusnell reports on both Alberta's appalling instructions forbidding workers from participating in the province's election campaign even on their own time without management notice and approval, and its hasty retreat only after the attempt to silence the province's civil servants was exposed.

- Michal Rozworski highlights the complete lack of policy merit behind the Cons' false-balance bill, while Frances Russell points to Manitoba's experience in particular as demonstrating its damaging effects. And Karl Nerenberg offers a few suggestions for alternative legislation which might actually do some good.

- Finally, Amira Elghawaby discusses why Canadian Muslims have particular reason to worry about the elimination of civil rights under the Cons' terror bill. And the Canadian Journalists for Free Expressions are keeping up the pressure against C-51.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Eric Morath points out that a job (or even multiple jobs) can't be taken as an assurance that a person can avoid relying on income supports and other social programs. PressProgress offers some important takeaways from the Canadian Labour Congress' study of the low-wage workers. Angella MacEwen writes about the spread of the $15 minimum wage movement in Canada.

- Meanwhile, Carol Goar writes that while we should be looking to improve our social safety net, we need to do so while taking into account the real experience of the people relying upon it.

- Jason Warick reports on Eric Howe's findings that Saskatchewan is severely limiting its own future by failing to boost aboriginal participation in our economy. And Mitchell Anderson reminds us that Alberta (among other Canadian jurisdictions) has turned resource development into little long-term gain:
Which place is doing a better job of capturing public value from a public resource? Dividing resource revenues by production reveals some shocking figures. Norway realized revenues of $87.69 per barrel in 2013. Alaska managed $38.54. And Alberta? Just $4.38 -- one-twentieth what our Norwegian cousins managed to rake in.
Alberta has already produced 15 per cent more conventional oil and gas than Norway, and didn't have to go 200 kilometres out in the North Sea to get it. Even at current depressed prices, Alberta oil, gas and bitumen production to 2013 would have a combined market value of $1.7 trillion. So where did the money go?

The answer is not economic nor political. It is cultural. Albertans have accepted a consistent and repeated message from a number of vested interests that taxation is bad, government is inept, and public resources should be privatized. Once voters believe that, effective government oversight is politically impossible and industry gets to keep a larger portion of Canada's resource pie -- estimated to be worth some $33 trillion based only on our inventory of petroleum and timber.
So what does Norway do to ensure their private sector partners don't walk away with most of the resource wealth?

• Norway acts like an owner. Companies doing business in Norway are under no illusions about who is in charge. Misleading or lying to Norwegian authorities can lead to forfeited tenures or even jail time.

• Norway taxes to the max and makes no apologies about it. Taxation on oil profits is currently close to 80 per cent. One former energy minister even chewed out his bureaucrats in full view of enraged oil executives when they threatened to pull out of the country after taxes were raised. Noting that none had actually walked away, he told his underlings "we should have taken more!"

• Norway taxes profits, not extraction. Alberta instead sells oil and bitumen by the barrel, creating virtually zero incentives for efficiencies or value added. The Norwegian government wants companies to make money because for every dollar they make, Norway makes four. With such clearly aligned interests, companies are lining up to do business there.

• Norway captures and distributes wealth. Petroleum helps finance some of the most generous social programs in the world and every Norwegian knows it. With public buy-in like that, companies have certainty their investments are welcome and their product can get to market. Companies spending billions in the oilsands have no such assurance given the pitched battles around resource policy here in Canada. No public buy-in, no certainty. Sorry fellas, there's no free lunch on that one.

• Norway stashed the cash. All petroleum revenues go into a stand-alone oil fund administered by the Norwegian Central Bank -- not their government. This firewall prevents elected officials from getting lazy about budgeting since they can only access four per cent each fiscal year. This now-massive pot of money is also only invested outside of the country to avoid inflating the currency.

• Norway put public players on the field. One of the first things Norway did was start Statoil, the first of their two state-owned oil companies. They now own about 40 per cent of its production and 50 per cent of its reserves. These investments and risks have richly paid off and typically now bring in as much revenue as taxation. What stake does Alberta own in its production? Zero, and the balance sheet shows it.
- Finally, L. Ian MacDonald writes that the Cons' environmental irresponsibility looms as a leading cause of the death of pipeline expansions. And Barbara Yaffe slams the ineffective response to the English Bay oil spill by multiple levels of government.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cornered cats.

The petulant son

Shorter Justin Trudeau:
When I say I plan to do politics differently, what I mean is that I'm willing to leave Stephen Harper in power based on the most petty and frivolous excuses anybody's ever heard.
No longer is there any pretense that a flat "no" to a coalition with the NDP is based on policy differences (however implausible). Instead, Trudeau is ruling out the possibility of cooperation based on personal hostility toward Thomas Mulcair - which of course couldn't be further from matching the public's perception of the NDP's leader, particularly among people with whom Trudeau supposedly shares the goal of ousting the Harper Cons.

And in related news, Leadnow's commitment to bringing down the Cons is once again reflected by its willingness to back a party which places Trudeau's personal hangups over the good of the country.

Update: Josee Legault has more

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Krugman highlights the policy areas where we need to look to the public sector for leadership - including those such as health care and income security where we all have a strong interest in making sure that nobody's left behind. And Andre Picard reminds us of one of the major gaps in Canada's health care system, as expensive prescription drugs can make for a devastating barrier to needed care.

- Meanwhile, Paul Buchheit duly criticizes the combination of increasing wealth for the lucky few in the U.S., and increasing poverty at the bottom of the income scale.

- Warren Bell looks back at the years of deliberate attacks on environmental protection that led to the English Bay oil spill crisis, while Tim Harper argues that Canada's federal government would be a great place to start cleaning up the mess. Kai Nagata notes that public outcry over exactly the types of issues raised by English Bay may have succeeded in stopping the Northern Gateway pipeline. And Andrew Leach rightly makes the point that Stephen Harper bears personal responsibility for Canada's pattern of delay and denial on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector:
Over the course of the prime minister’s time in office, oil prices have gone from the $50s to the $140s, down to the $30s, back above $100, back to the $40s and sit around $50 today. We’ve had proposals for regulations, cap-and-trade, and regulations again, but it seems that no policy which would restrict GHG emissions from the oil sands can get to the finish line. Why? It’s not prices, and it’s not the oil and gas lobby. It’s one thing – a prime minister who, to use MacDougall’s words, hasn’t seen fit to instruct, “the entire team (to put) its shoulder to the wheel until victory is achieved,” and a policy is imposed.

Stephen Harper is happy to see these difficult policy choices pushed to a later date and, in so doing, will have us make exactly the mistakes he said we wouldn’t make again – promising aggressive action and not delivering it. When the world meets in Paris in late 2015, Canada will still likely not have policies imposed on its oil sands sector and, despite the oil price crash, will still expect emissions to increase far beyond our Copenhagen commitment. Will the world, again, be willing to take the word of a prime minister, whoever it may be, who says we won’t make the same mistake three times?
- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries see the Cons' false balanced budget legislation as being absolutely hilarious in light of their track record of fiscal mismanagement. But Rick Smith notes that the Cons' anti-labour zealotry is rather less amusing - particularly as C-377 gets pushed through the legislative process yet again (minus the amendments which would have made it at least somewhat less toxic).

- Finally, Brent Patterson offers yet another example of how trade agreements can severely limit democratic decision-making, as Argentina stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars for prioritizing usable water above a profiteer's revenue stream.