Saturday, March 04, 2006


For those readers who haven't yet discovered it, a few Saskatchewan progressive bloggers (including myself) have joined forces on a new group blog, the Saskatchewan Citizens Federation. I'll be placing most of my city- and province-related posts on the new blog, and Chad and Mike are already off to a good start on SCF content as well. Take a look, and enjoy.

On knowing the dangers

The CP compiles a story on "cyberlibel":
Whatever the readership, libel lawyers and technology watchers say as more people use the Internet, the number of people getting in trouble for electronic words whether on websites and blogs, e-mails or electronic bulletin boards is also rising...

Marc-Andre Blanchard of Gowling Lafleur Henderson said such cases are more prevalent, particularly in labour law, where collective agreements may make it difficult for a company to sue an employee they consider to be slandering them.

But that doesn't prevent disciplinary action...

“It's seldom worth it to chase these people down because at the end of the day, there ain't anything there,” said Randy Pepper, a partner with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and a veteran litigator in the areas of defamation and misleading advertising.

However, he said there's an indication that courts may start awarding high damages for online material determined to be defamatory because of its broad potential readership.
The examples cited by the article seem to range from the most egregious of SLAPPs to much more reasonable actions such as the U of S firing a prof for anonymously criticizing his colleagues. The article doesn't draw any strong conclusions, but it serves as a useful reminder that there are plenty of ways in which organizations can take action against bloggers for what may seem to be highly dubious reasons...and that as a result, bloggers generally post anything substantive at their own risk.

On making culture available

From the "retailers worth supporting" department, Costco will now be stocking Inuit carvings and artwork at some of its Canadian locations:
Ontario salesman Jack Lobos has convinced Costco to erect booths to retail caribou antler, ivory and baleen carvings at 10 locations. At home in London, Ont., Mr. Lobos took the carvings to a local frame shop and had them mounted in shadow boxes. Then he asked Costco's buyers if they would like to go into business. "It's a very unique Canadian art form," he told the CBC. "They realized right away, this is a great way we can help promote -- that's what the buyers told me -- we can help promote this form of Canadian art."
We'll see how much Costco does to follow up. But at the very least Costco deserves credit for making the effort to stock Inuit art - and both the artists and the store have plenty to gain if the arrangement works out.

Improvement vs. closure

The Globe and Mail points out that Canada is almost alone among Western countries in not calling for the closure of the Guantanamo gulag:
British, French, German and Italian leaders have all pushed for Guantanamo's closing in recent weeks after a damning UN report that found it falling far short of meeting international standards of justice...

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says close it. So does Louise Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court judge who heads the UN Human Rights Commission. The Bush administration's policy of holding detainees in secret and offshore prisons and shipping them to third countries has "an acutely corrosive effect on the global ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," she said.

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Marie-Christine Lilkoff said the government understands the need for Guantanamo. "Canada is sensitive to the need to ensure that persons who are a danger to international peace and security not be provided with the opportunity to resume a direct part in hostilities or re-engage in terrorist activity," she said in a written response to questions.
I'll readily join the crowd demanding changes, particularly in light of the recent reports of abuse. But it seems that there should be room for a more effective form of pressure which Canada should be well-positioned to initiate.

While Guantanamo may now operate as one of the best-known symbols of Bushco's excesses in the war on terror, it's far from the only example. And there'd be no point to closing Guantanamo if the effect will simply be to have the current prisoners pushed further underground.

Moreover, to the extent that the U.S. is able to make a reasonable case that a given detainee is in fact a danger to international peace and security, there's certainly a basis for continued detention, whether at Guantanamo or elsewhere. But that doesn't mean that the U.S. is entitled to treat those detainees as it sees fit with no regard for even the most basic human rights or its own anti-torture obligations - and that's a fact that even a good chunk of Congress has acknowledged.

The problem is that nobody has yet stepped up to press for a compromise providing for the sorely-needed oversight and respect for human rights. And with the current debate focusing merely on whether or not to close the centre, Canada may be able to play peacemaker by demanding more meaningful changes.

It seems highly likely that those now calling for Gitmo's closure would be agreeable to a revamped centre with proper controls in place. And a consensus that places the focus on the U.S.' arbitrary treatment of the detainees rather than the mere place of their detention is one that Bushco would have a much more difficult time ignoring.

Of course, it appears all too likely that Canada will instead stay out of the fray, offering its tacit support for even the worst of the U.S.' abuses. But if Harper really wanted to make the best possible use of Canada's ability to build consensus, this is one debate where a slight change of focus could lead to far better results.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Still in the picture

When David Emerson was first named to Harper's cabinet, at least a few Con supporters theorized that Emerson's appointment would be quickly forgotten.

Today, Bernard Shapiro made it all the more clear that Emerson's floor-crossing won't move away from the public eye anytime soon:
The federal ethics commissioner says he is opening a preliminary inquiry into conflict-of-interest allegations against Prime Minister Stephen Harper concerning his formerly Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson...

Ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro says he will look into what influence Harper wielded to convince Emerson to cross the House of Commons floor.

In a letter to three MPs who complained about the switch, Shapiro said he will issue one report on the conduct of both Harper and Emerson, who is now international trade minister.

"Although the subject of this inquiry is the prime minister, given that the actions of...Harper and Emerson in this incident were intertwined, questions will no doubt be raised during the course of the preliminary inquiry on the conduct of Mr. Emerson as well," Shapiro said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Canadian Press.
Now, it may well be that Shapiro will conclude that none of the actions surrounding the floor-crossing technically violated Parliamentary ethical norms. But even if so, that won't result in anything approaching vindication in the eyes of anybody except the most .

What isn't in doubt is that with Shapiro investigating the issue and anti-floor-crossing legislation heading back before the House, Emerson will stay centre stage for the time being...and Harper won't be able to avoid criticism for his party's hypocrisy anytime soon.

Update: And now Harper's office has declared its intention not to cooperate with the investigation. Which not only says far too much about Harper's regard for ethics, but also ensures that when any report does come out, it'll be as adverse to Harper as possible.

On open-and-shut cases

Larry Brown eviscerates the claim that there's any merit to reopening the debate on private vs. public funding for health care:
(T)he pretence that there hasn't been a debate about the role of the for-profit sector in health care, that Canadians have somehow refused to discuss it, is preposterous.

As one example only, what was the Romanow Report if not the most intensive democratic public debate about health care that we've had since the origin of the Canada Health Act?

We've had the debate, repeatedly. Repeatedly, public non-profit care has been shown to be the overwhelmingly better choice.

It still is, for everyone except those who want to make a profit from this change, or those who believe, as an ideological principle, that profits always trump people.
Of course, the value of those profits is bound to make some eager to retread old ground in search of some new argument in favour of profit-based care - or at least to claim that there's a need to revisit decided issues. But our experience since Romanow reported shows only that the publicly-funded system is more than capable of becoming more long as it receives enough resources to do the job. And the more energy we're forced to divert to point out the flaws in the for-profit reasoning, the less is available to enable the current system to become all the better.

On real democratic reform

I've discussed many times the likely futility of trying to tinker with Canada's Constitution. But with Dalton McGuinty suddenly taking up the longtime call of the federal NDP by declaring that he's like to see the Senate abolished, is there actually a chance to reach agreement to eliminate the upper chamber?
Ontario's premier says it's time to either abolish – or change – the Senate since it does not adequately represent his province.

"My preference is that we eliminate the Senate," Dalton McGuinty said Thursday night in Toronto after attending an Ontario Liberal party event.
Naturally, the reasons for wanting to get rid of the Senate will vary. McGuinty's argument is based on Ontario's lack of representation by population, while the NDP position is based more on eliminating patronage and waste. And Stephen Harper, who would likely have to take the lead role in seeking consensus, may well be stirred to action to overcome the Liberal dominance of the chamber.

Of course, all the reasons for wanting to be rid of the Senate have been around for ages. The question now is whether the country's leaders can reach a consensus on the issue without dragging other constitutional amendments into the picture. And it's the latter factor which appears to be the more difficult: while it's hard to see much basis for anybody mounting a strong defence of the Senate on principle (though the federal Libs might try in order to preserve their influence), it's far more likely that the process could be torpedoed by provinces making extra demands in exchange for their support.

That said, at the very least the need for the Senate is properly coming into question. And the more attention the upper chamber receives, the more likely it is that Canada's leaders will finally decide we're better off without it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Spot the glaring flaw

A Fraser Institute report on preventing terrorism reflects the institute's usual depth of thought, claiming that would-be terrorists will be foiled if Canada adopts a values oath for immigrants. Stay tuned for the institute's miraculous new corruption-fighting plan, which includes forcing all government employees to write "I'll be good" on a blackboard at the start of each work day.

A tale of two responses

Penny Priddy's response to Ralph Klein's health privatization plan is clear and to the point:
New Democrat MP Penny Priddy, a former B.C. health minister, said any proposal that places the main cost of medical treatment on a patient violates the federal health act.

"I would think most people would not need to do an assessment of whether it violates the act or not because they would know that it does."

Ken Dryden's statement from the same article is...well, rather less so:
"We can all deal in words but what we're always looking for with people in terms of their intentions, their real intentions, it's the whites of their eyes, and the way in which you get to the whites of their eyes is in their tone, and that's what I found difficult."
In other words, Canadian voters have a choice as to who can best fight for health care on the federal scene. The NDP offers a former provincial cabinet minister in the area making an apt policy critique (and that's leaving aside the even more polished official statement). In turn, the Libs counter with a leadership contender whose statement going to his core area of responsibility wouldn't look out of place in a book of Bushisms.

Of course, it seems all too likely that the comparison will be largely ignored, especially in the context of an article that merely lumps them together. But for those watching what the parties actually have to say, there should be little doubt who has a message worth listening to.

On rebalancing

Jim Stanford points out that there's more than one fiscal imbalance currently in play in Canada, even if the second has received little to no attention so far:
Since spring of 2000, Canadian corporations (excluding banks) have been generating far more cash flow (after-tax profits plus capital depreciation) than they spend on new investment. As a result, they are piling up cash at a rate of almost $60 billion per year. That's seven times as large as Ottawa's average budget surplus since 1997 (when the budget was first balanced).

What is driving this corporate money machine? Corporate profits have surged to record levels. Prices for energy and mineral exports are sky-high. Labour costs are stagnant (except for pipefitters in Fort McMurray). And corporate taxes have been cut deeply. All this produced a 50 percent surge in after-tax cash flow since 2000.

Unfortunately, the investment response to this inflow has been uninspiring, to say the least. Corporate capital spending has grown less than 20 percent since 2000, declining as a share of GDP (despite record profits). Companies now reinvest only about 70 percent of their cash flow...

Record cash inflows, combined with ho-hum investment, mean that corporate coffers are bursting at the seams. Some of this largesse has been siphoned off to fat dividends; some has been invested overseas. But lots of it just sits there. Canadian businesses currently sit on $280 billion worth of cash, foreign currency, and short-term paper.
Note that while the federal surplus which has given rise to so much discussion has at least been put into paying off the debt, there's no indication that the money held by businesses is being put to any positive use whatsoever.

Of course, corporate Canada is entitled to run itself as it sees fit within the law. But based on the low reinvestment rates in the wake of the massive tax cuts earlier this decade, there's no reason at all to pretend that yet more corporate tax cuts will somehow lead to any economic expansion - and plenty of reason to take a closer look at Stanford's suggestions to try to get a few more of those idle resources back into Canada's economy.

On poor growth

So how many poor Ontarian children might be directly affected by the rumoured benefit clawback? The Star reports on the latest poverty numbers, and points out that despite all the talk about eradicating child poverty, the rate went up through the '90s and hasn't been reduced since:
The federal government promised in 1989 to eliminate child poverty by 2000. The child poverty rate in Ontario reached 16.1 per cent in 2003, compared with 11.6 per cent in 1989, today's study by Campaign 2000 found. The network of more than 90 organizations is devoted to ending child and family poverty in Canada...

Parents aren't "finding jobs that provide enough hours at a sufficiently high pay or any benefits to lift their families above the poverty line," Maund said. Thirty-three per cent of children living in poverty had at least one parent who worked full-time year-round in 2003, the study found.

Another reason the child poverty rate has remained steady is "huge holes to our social safety net have not been adequately repaired," Maund said.

Cuts to social assistance in the 1990s, combined with inflation, caused a 40 per cent decline in the past decade of what people on social assistance can afford to buy, the report said. "A family of four on (social assistance in Ontario) would receive a monthly benefit of $1,250 in 2005 — one-half of what a four-person family needs to purchase the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter and transportation."
As the article notes, the money coming from the federal Cons would itself go only a small part of the way toward meeting the needs of Ontario's poor families...and indeed more child-care spaces, along with additional social housing, a higher minimum wage and better worker training, would go much further in giving families a chance to move out of poverty. But in the absence of funding to those ends, McGuinty's Libs will have a lot of explaining to do if they conclude that poor Ontarians shouldn't have the opportunity to improve their lot with Harper's (however slight) contribution.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

On habits of entitlement

I'm not sure if anybody still believed that the Libs' federal election loss would make the party aware that it isn't perpetually entitled to form Canada's government. But for anybody who held out hope until today, it's time to give up.

On declawing

While poor Ontario families are left in doubt as to whether or not their child-care payments will lead to losses in other benefits, their Saskatchewan counterparts at least won't have that added to their concerns:
The Saskatchewan government has decided it will not claw back child-care money from the province's poorest families.

Although the federal government plans to send families $100 a month for each child under six, anti-poverty advocates were worried that money might be counted as income and deducted from welfare cheques.

However, Premier Lorne Calvert now says that won't happen.

"That money will come to them as it comes to every other family with children under six in our province," Calvert said. "It will be for them to use to provide for child care for their family members … there will be no claw-back from their welfare."
Calvert's announcement appears to rule out Saskatchewan taking a lead role in trying to turn Harper's giveaway into actual child-care spaces. But Saskatchewan has at least done the next best thing by continuing with its plans to expand child care while making sure that its poorest residents aren't cut out of the benefits of the Con scheme. Hopefully it won't take too long before parents in other provinces receive at least that much assurance from their provincial governments as well.

On wake-up calls

The CP gives Harper far too much credit, claiming that he'll wake up the sleeping Senate with his plan for elections over the next few years. While Harper may have awoken the Senate, surely the credit goes to both his campaign challenge against it to keep him in check, followed by his decision to make it the sole body with the ability to question a cabinet minister who couldn't be bothered to face an election. And any future elections will merely give the current Senators a chance to point out whether or not they've met the challenge.

On bad investments

Throughout the campaign and indeed into this week, the Cons claimed that one of the major problems with the gun registry was its cost, and that by "doing away with the registry" and diverting the money elsewhere, it would be possible to fund other law-enforcement priorities.

Now CTV reports on the actual Con plan - and the grand strategy appears to be to make the existing registry even less cost-effective:
The Conservative government plans to gut the gun registry by granting an amnesty to rifle and shotgun owners, CTV News had learned.

As a result, the registry would only apply to handguns and automatic weapons.

The government is also expected to waive a $60 fee that more than 1.5 million Canadians must pay this year to renew their firearms registrations.
To sum up what the plan appears to entail: the same registry will still exist in substantially the same form - except that it will hold less data than expected (and indeed lose the data on long guns that police want to see kept), and it will bring in $90 million less in processing fees than it would have otherwise.

Needless to say, there's no reason at all to think the result will be any less cost to the Canadian taxpayer - and it's clear that Canadians will get less for their investment in the registry. And if promoting such inefficiency is the top priority for the newly-elected Cons, one shudders to think of how much more waste is in store.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On making do

After going out of his way to alienate the rest of the country earlier today, Dalton McGuinty seems tempted to try to alienate a good chunk of Ontario voters as well by exacerbating the anti-poor bias of the Cons' "child-care plan":
Ontario's poorest families might never receive a monthly child-care allowance proposed by the new federal government because the province might claw it back, poverty advocates warn...

(T)he Ontario government has refused to rule out the possibility that it might deduct the federal funding from social assistance funds for the poor or disabled.

Wilkey (a lawyer with the Income Security Advocacy Centre) pointed out that the province already deducts the National Child Benefit Supplement from social assistance and disability cheques, even though Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals promised to stop the clawback during the last election campaign.
It should be fairly obvious that the last thing poor Ontarians need is to see their federal pittance taken away along with the child-care spaces that were on the verge of being created. But the idea of having the provinces claw back the Cons' handouts does give rise to another possibility.

After all, does anything stop the provinces from simply raising their income tax levels by the same amount as the Con reduction, and applying that amount to the planned child-care programs? The effect would be a double gain until next March while both programs are in effect, then roughly the same amount of money as the provinces expected to receive under the deals after that (though the distribution might change somewhat).

The result might well be preferred by the provinces as compared to the Libs' deal, since it wouldn't come with federal strings attached. The Cons wouldn't get their "child-care plan", but they would manage to offload some tax capacity onto the provinces. And parents who want to see child-care spaces created rather than receive a minor stipend would get their wish as well. The end result would be the type of patchwork system that federal involvement is designed to avoid - but better a patchwork than nothing at all.

Would it actually happen? I'm not sure how many premiers would be willing to bear the stigma of raising taxes. But by keeping up a public expectation for child-care spaces, at least a few may be able to sell such a policy as the lesser of the evils. And that may be the best we can hope for until next time the Cons and Bloc don't hold more than half of Parliament between them.

On being heard

While the Libs focus primarily on getting media attention, a group of child-care workers took its message directly to the PM today in trying to preserve the child-care agreement:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had no comment Monday night as he walked past about 50 protesting child-care workers in Charlottetown on his way to the East Coast Music Awards.

The workers are upset that the federal Conservatives plan to get rid of the funding agreement for child care promised by the former Liberal government.

The child-care workers were hoping to speak to the prime minister before he attended Monday evening's music awards gala.
It shouldn't be much surprise that Harper wasn't particularly interested in hearing an opposing viewpoint. But the workers deserve credit for trying to get their message heard within Harper's isolated bubble, rather than operating within one of their own.

Hush money

The latest Bushco strategy appears to be to spend its way away from any need to defend its actions:
The U.S. government has agreed to pay $300,000 (U.S.) to an Egyptian man who was detained for nearly a year following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but was never linked to terrorism, his lawyer said.

The settlement was filed in Brooklyn federal court on Monday, said lawyer Haeyoung Yoon, who represents Ehab Elmaghraby. She said she believed it was the first settlement involving the claims of people detained after Sept. 11.

Mr. Elmaghraby said he was shackled, shoved into walls, punched and called a terrorist at the facility. Ms. Yoon said he was subjected to repetitive strip searches and a correction officer penetrated his anal cavity with a flashlight.

While in custody, Mr. Elmaghraby's thyroid condition was misdiagnosed as asthma, worsening it, Ms. Yoon said. He wanted to continue with the lawsuit but settled because of his mounting medical costs, she said...

A federal judge in September, 2005, rejected a claim by Mr. Ashcroft that the lawsuit should be dismissed partly because the threat of foreign terrorism exempts the government from following rules made in peacetime.
Needless to say, the Justice Department wasn't commenting on the settlement, and one presumes that the administration will generally avoid saying much. But the settlement makes clear that Bushco will go to great lengths to avoid either formally admitting fault or having its actions held up to judicial scrutiny. And the more money gets thrown away trying to compensate the victims of the administration's abuses, the more likely Bushco (or at least its Congressional allies) becomes to face accountability at the ballot box instead.

Monday, February 27, 2006

On a lack of progress

Shorter Jim Prentice: After eighteen months of trying to wring any additional financial support out of the federal government finally led to a deal thanks in large part to a rare burst of media attention, what First Nations really need now is more talk and less action.

(And the next time Prentice mentions paying for the cost of that talk will be the first.)

No news is good news

One of the hallmarks of a bad idea is that the best possible outcome is a relative lack of harm. Fortunately, from the sound of the coverage so far, Justice Rothstein's questioning before Parliament today resulted in just such an outcome.

From the looks of the coverage, every answer from Justice Rothstein was either to the effect that issues must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, or to the effect that every controversial issue has two sides. These appear to be fairly obvious answers from someone well experienced in the role of neutral arbiter - and indeed it would be shocking if any judicial nominee would answer otherwise.

But the flip side of the proceeding is that the questions and the answers both seem to have been utterly devoid of meaningful content. Nobody appears to have emerged from the hearing with any better idea about who Justice Rothstein is, let alone how he would handle his role on the court.

Which means that the process proved ultimately to be a waste of time rather than a long step toward a politicized judiciary. And while it's the best that could have been hoped for, it's not something that Canada needs to see repeated anytime soon.

The sound of silence

The Globe and Mail is hosting its forum on Canada's role in Afghanistan today. And while all three other parties in Parliament participated in the Q&A with Globe readers, the Cons' contribution doesn't seem to have changed from many of the events during the past campaign:
The Globe invited Mr. O'Connor and External Affairs Minister Peter MacKay to join the discussion, or to nominate a representative to speak for the Conservative government. However, they declined to take questions from readers. Mr. O'Connor said Sunday the government intends to provide an update to Parliament when it meets in April but will not allow a vote on the issue.
I suppose there's at least an internal consistency since the Cons took office, in that they're matching their unwillingness to deal with the issue in Parliament with a refusal to address the concerns of Canadians in the Globe's forum. But that's certainly a turnaround both from the Cons' general theme of more accountable government, and from their specific promises on defence as pointed out by Dawn Black. And it'll be tough for Canadians to conclude but that the Cons' unwillingness to defend their plans on Afghanistan and other issues must be based on reason to question whether those plans are defensible.

On vision failure

Alberta's finance minister is expected to announce an eight-digit surplus for 2005, even after taking into account King Ralph's scheme to randomly throw money at the voters. Yet despite the city of Red Deer having identified a desperate need to expand its services for the homeless in 2004, the city's current shelters are now turning away record numbers of the working poor for lack of beds. Think there might be some parts of the province still in need of some visionary investment?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

On the will of the people

The Globe and Mail reports that while the Libs may have assumed that their mini-budget income tax cuts were a popular measure, groups of Canadians chosen to test that theory said otherwise:
Focus groups conducted by Decima Research Inc. to study reaction to the Nov. 14 mini-budget gave Canadians in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver machines with dials that could be turned from zero to 100. Respondents were asked to turn the dials up when they liked something they heard in former Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale's economic update speech. And they were told to turn the dial down when they disliked what they heard.

The personal income tax cuts were poorly received as respondents listened to Mr. Goodale's speech.

“When announced, in all of the cities, real-time impressions actually went down by 20-25 points,” the Decima report said.

Focus group discussions found that respondents were cynical about the personal tax cuts. “Most felt that the measures were motivated primarily by political objectives,” the Decima report said...

The Decima focus group report advised the Finance Department that, given the reaction, the government should “minimize discussion of the tax cuts to the extent possible” and highlight other aspects of the mini-budget including the education and skills training spending.
To me, the most interesting contrast is between the public cynicism over tax cuts as compared to the apparent trust from the focus group participants that added investment in education and skills training actually would lead to positive results. While far too many pundits take as gospel the view that tax cuts are invariably a popular policy, it seems clear that those polled on the Libs' cuts felt otherwise. And while there are certainly dangers in reading too much into just this one sample, a government looking to keep the trust of Canada's voters would do well to at least consider the possibility that Canadians still value positive governmental action more than indiscriminate tax cuts.

On maintaining equal access

The AP reports that the U.S. telecoms who operate the infrastructure of the Internet are sick of how egalitarian the structure is, and want to start charging for priority matter how inefficient that might be for all concerned:
On the Internet, the traffic cops are blind — they don't look at the data they're directing, and they don't give preferential treatment.

That's something operators of the Internet highway, the major U.S. phone companies, want to change by effectively adding a toll lane: They want to be able to give priority treatment to those who pay to get through faster...

To the opponents, abandoning the "network neutrality" principle opens up the prospect of the carriers blocking sites that don't pay up or that compete with the carriers' own services — for instance, by providing phone calls...

Another objection to packet prioritization is technical.

The Internet2 association assumed that prioritization was the way to go when it started building a super-fast next-generation network connecting universities.

However, engineers abandoned that notion after a few years, concluding that it's more effective simply to expand the network's capacity for all traffic — adding lanes to the highway instead of a parallel toll road.
It may be difficult to blame the telecoms for seeking an extra way to make money. But there should be no doubt about the consequences of a priority structure: in addition to boosting the telecoms, the effect would be to undermine access to all those not willing to pay the premium.

This would be in part due to technology likely developing at the pace of the premium speeds, leaving large numbers of users behind; and in part due to the telecoms' own incentive to reduce the quality of standard service to encourage their customers to pay more. And aside from the new disparity in service, there's also the risk that an Internet built to more closely sort all data would also leave far more opportunity for surveillance of content - which could be particularly problematic if the U.S. Congress wants something back from the telecoms in exchange for the privilege of implementing a tiered system.

It's easy to assume that the Net will always be as efficient a source for the flow of information as it's been to date. But a tiered system could do nothing but undermine the decentralization and democracy that make the current model so effective. And it's in nobody's interest to gamble on the telecoms' word when the potential losses are so high.

On shaping the market

Alexander Duncan discusses the unfortunate tendency on the left to assume that markets are the enemy rather than a potential force for positive as well as negative change:
Many financial planners, including myself, are inspired by a vision and a mission that, to us, seems personally empowering and socially progressive. To others, however, money making seems conservative and antisocial. I experience this attitude all the time. I find it disappointing though, because it means that those people have bought into the notion that they are oppressed and exploited and, by buying into that idea (even if true), they perpetuate the conclusion that they are powerless and can do nothing.

By eschewing active participation in the social economy that we all create we have turned the control of the economy over to the gatekeepers.
I don't agree with all of Alexander's analysis. But it's tough to dispute that there's plenty of potential to shape the economy through progressive investing - and that many of the opportunities are now missed, despite the massive investment clout wielded (for example) by pension plans whose owners may largely support progressive policies.

That said, I'll note that progressive investing isn't the only way to try to shape the market, and I'm curious to see to what extent readers of this site try to buy their own necessities so as to send a message to sellers and manufacturers. There are certainly some efforts in the U.S. to reshape purchasing patterns based on political donations. But I'm not aware of any similar movement in Canada, and the focus on political parties seems to miss the point in any event, as the largest influence held by most sellers has much more to do with corporate operations rather than political donations.

With that in mind, a few questions which I'd like to see people consider a bit more often in their personal purchasing decisions:

1. What is your standard for making a purchase to begin with? Do you buy based only on need, or do you spend significant amounts of money based on impulse or on replacing goods which are still useful?

2. Do you buy goods and services based solely on product and price, or do you also take into account other factors such as local ownership, treatment of labour or environmental reputation in your buying decisions?

3. Assuming that you do consider more than just product and price, which of the following statements accurately describes your buying habits? (More than one may be true.)
(a) I avoid sellers with the worst reputations, particularly where there's an organized boycott designed to bring attention to that seller.
(b) I consider the relative merits (to the best of my knowledge) of the available sellers, and consider that as one factor in my purchasing decisions.
(c) I buy only from the sellers with the best reputations, even if that means paying more for a product.

4. How much research do you do in determining how to evaluate sellers? Do you rely largely on news stories and word of mouth, or do you actively seek out information from consumer groups and the sellers themselves?

My own answers are rather middle-of-the-road: I plan to avoid unnecessary purchases, but can certainly find a good number that wind up being far from necessary; I do take added factors into account in buying; I try both to avoid the absolute worst corporate offenders and include corporate reputation as a factor, though I haven't yet taken the leap toward buying only with the absolute best corporate citizens; and I do a bit of research as to different vendors, though more out of general interest than as a precursor to a given purchase.

That said, it's clear that there's far more that I could do to direct my spending toward better social outcomes...and even the current amount tends to raise some eyebrows. Which speaks to the degree to which the current assumptions about when, what and how to buy go unchallenged - and the need to try to develop a deeper analysis of what effect our purchases have on the market generally.

Alexander rightly warns that one of the surest ways to ensure the success of conventional market wisdom is to act as if it were true. In contrast, a focus on progressive priorities (both in financial markets and in purchasing decisions) can work wonders in helping to modify corporate long as progressives recognize the opportunity to shape the markets, and are willing to put their money where their principles are.

On root causes

The Star reports on the (latest) arrival of the Guardian Angels in Toronto. But it gives rather short shrift to the main reason why there's any perceived need to have private citizens doing more police-type work:
By the 1980s, police brass and those who study them were realizing officers had to get to know their neighbourhoods again. A concerted push began to put more uniforms on the street, more offices in strip malls.

At the same time, police were supposed to take on a greater social role, promoting drug awareness, working with schools and implementing restorative justice programs.

Budgets didn't increase, though, and it became clear the police could not hope to play every role. That's why private security has exploded all over North America. And it's why Alberta is going to arm lesser-paid special constables to patrol highways.
It's fair enough that over the past couple of decades, citizens have thus played a larger role in the "eyes and ears" function of policing. But if we now lack enough officers to fully engage in community policing, that's a reason to ensure that we have enough police officers to perform what has to be the central feature of police work - not a reason to privatize or to turn over core policing functions to the Guardian Angels.

As noted in the article, Toronto's municipal structure recognizes the dangers of turning over community policing to the Guardian Angels. With that acknowledged, the onus then falls on the city to make sure that its police force includes enough officers to meet the city's needs - and to reject the neoliberal view (taken as a given in the article) that the force has to make do with less resources than are needed to keep the city safe.