Saturday, September 09, 2006

On reassessments

The Globe and Mail reports that although Canada likely won't respond directly to NATO's call to ramp up the military presence in Afghanistan all the more, the number of Canadian troops in Afghanistan is nonetheless expected to rise through an "internal assessment":
More Canadian soldiers will likely be sent to Afghanistan to bolster a reconstruction team in the dangerous southern province of Kandahar...

Canada, which already has about 2,200 soldiers in Afghanistan, is unlikely to directly meet NATO's call. Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said in an interview from New Zealand yesterday that he expected the additional resources requested by the alliance to come from other countries.

But the number of Canadian troops on the ground still seems destined to climb.

"About a week ago when I was in Afghanistan, I asked our military to look at our situation to see whether we can improve the effectiveness of the Provincial Reconstruction Team or any other adjustments and they are looking at that now," Mr. O'Connor said. "When I get back to Ottawa next week I will get their initial assessment of what should be adjusted. So it's a matter of internal assessment as opposed to NATO."
Not that this is the first time that the number of Canadian troops at risk has gone up despite the Cons' claim at the time of the vote in Parliament that extending the mission in time wouldn't lead to an increase in the numbers. But once again, it seems clear that the only part of the mission that seems to have been planned ahead is an ever-expanding scope in time, danger, and the number of troops in harm's way. And that should leave no doubt of the need for a real debate on the quagmire before any more "internal assessments" make matters even worse for Canada's troops.

On disinterest

While the rest of the Saskatchewan Con caucus has at least recognized the obvious problems with PMS not keeping the party's promises on equalization, Saskatchewan's lone federal cabinet minister apparently isn't particularly concerned about (or interested in) the issue:
Last month, Brian Fitzpatrick, the Conservatives' caucus chair in Saskatchewan, said the equalization problem is going to cause the government "no end of political difficulty" in the next federal election.

However, National Revenue Minister Carol Skelton says that she rarely hears about it in her conversations with her constituents...

(T)he deal in question could mean some $800 million a year to the province, money that could be used for health care, highways and education.

Skelton says she understands the significance of this, but "the average person on the street doesn't understand it." As for whether it will cause the party any political difficulty, Skelton says: "I don't know. I guess I haven't thought about it that much."
PMS may well be banking on the issue being one that isn't all that easily understood. But aside from the ease of understanding the loss of $800 million in provincial resources, there's also that small matter of trying to be seen as a government that keeps its promises. And when Saskatchewan voters go back to the polls, they'll have plenty of reason not to believe the Cons have any intention of following through on their new platform if the party's main previous commitment to Saskatchewan gets scrapped.

Taking the bait

Craig Cantin points out the pattern of political defections often taking place around conventions or other times when there's plenty of media attention. But perhaps most interesting in the linked story is the completely contradictory set of reasons why the few Dipper defections have taken place:
The co-president of the New Democrats' Quebec campaign in the past election, Carl Hétu, and Pierre Laliberté, the NDP candidate in Hull–Aylmer the past two elections, have both accused Mr. Layton of spending too little time in the province during the election early this year and of centralizing power at the expense of the party's grassroots...

Economist Paul Summerville, who ran for the NDP in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's, said he was leaving the party because the leadership would not counter the strong “anti-market rhetoric” from the grassroots.
So is the problem that the NDP is too centralized, or that it's not centralized enough? And is it plausible that the party could have simultaneously gone in both directions in the last few months?

Of course, individual perceptions may not reflect the wider reality, and the people involved are entitled to their differing reasons for the choice. The sad part is that other newsworthy stories from the convention have momentarily taken a back seat to reporting on the defections: surely a trail-blazing Afghan parliamentarian making the case that the existing NATO mission is only contributing to repression, or a plan to deal with the AIDS crisis, should deserve more attention than the transitory nature of party participation.

While the media feeding frenzy seems unduly tilted toward red herrings for now, there hasn't been any apparent lack of more substantive fare at the convention. The question now is whether that fact will receive its due attention.

Friday, September 08, 2006

On gatherings

A quick roundup of coverage surrounding this weekend's NDP policy convention:

- The convention figures to be the biggest since 1987. Needless to say, we'll have to hope that reflects an opportunity similar to what the NDP had then...and that this time, the result will be more benefit from that opportunity.

- One notable non-attendee is Paul Summerville, who has jumped ship based on his apparent conclusion that the NDP's economic views (a) don't respect the benefits that can come from the free market and (b) have changed dramatically since the last campaign where he was one of the faces of the party. I'd think he's wrong on both counts, but he's certainly entitled to the opinion. Of course, the danger now is that the help which the NDP contributed to building his profile may now come back to haunt the Dippers.

- The CP appears either to be unfamiliar with the flow of time, or to think Layton is clairvoyant in timing his initial call to bring home the troops the week before a spate of deaths in Afghanistan.

- For those looking for more attention to the NDP's fiscally-responsible premiers there's plenty of good news, as Gary Doer delivered a keynote speech today and Lorne Calvert also figured prominently in the proceedings.

On necessary fights

Meanwhile, as the Libs declare their intention to fight on softwood lumber only after it's too late, their leadership frontrunner has announced his intention to be nothing more than a bystander in one of the few even bigger fights facing Canada:
A federal Liberal government under Bob Rae would staunchly defend Canada's universal, taxpayer-funded health care system, but would not oppose increased use of the private sector to deliver those health services, Rae suggested on Thursday...

At a news conference in Toronto, Rae for the most part steered clear of the country's ongoing debate over public vs. private medicine.

But, when asked, he did not reject the notion of more private delivery of medical services that are paid for by tax dollars and available free to everyone.
Rae's provisos might provide a veneer of universal accessibility for the moment. But they plainly ignore both the ease with which a system which moves further toward private delivery could be shfited toward a pay-for-faster-service model under a future government, and the effect on the public system where practitioners take their services elsewhere. And that kind of short-sighted thinking is the last thing Canada needs to fix a system which is just now nearing reconstruction following the Libs' cuts of the mid-90s.

On a wider scope, much of the discussion around the Libs' leadership race has surrounded the potential for the party to move to the left. But any actual momentum, on a range of issues ranging from Ignatieff's plan to ignore Kyoto to virtually the whole slate's insistence on quagmire-building in Afghanistan to Rae's announcement today, has been squarely in the opposite direction. And with health care now added all the more clearly to the list of key issues where the Libs don't seem interested in defending progressive interests, the door is wide open for the NDP to provide the voice needed to do so.

On irrelevance

A day after the Bloc effectively made the issue moot, the Libs have finally declared their intention to vote against the softwood lumber sellout. Meanwhile, the same party which refused to support the industry while tariffs were being collected illegally has apparently decided that support is necessary only now that the deal looks set to go through:
LeBlanc said the Liberals will seek help for workers in the industry. He said the government should craft an aid package for industry to help it cope with the tariffs they will not get back as part of the Conservative deal.

"We believe the government should implement (a package) immediately to assist the Canadian lumber industry adjust to the fallout from this bad deal."
Needless to say, the turnaround nicely avoids the fact that earlier support would have put the industry in a strong enough position not to have had to give in to the Cons' pressure. But it's all in a day's work for a party which seems perfectly willing to stand up to Harper as long as it knows its position doesn't matter.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Look over there! A diversion!

While PMS' eagerness to appear before the Senate may be explained in large part by his perennial urge to play political chicken, one has to figure he was also eager to push Michael Donison's appearance out of the news. So let's take a moment to note that the Cons' executive director continued to spout the implausible theory that anything goes as long as a convention doesn't turn a profit, then avoided the media afterward:
Donison also responded to a controversy surrounding the party's failure to declare delegate fees from its 2005 policy convention. He said the party interpreted party financing rules to mean that if the convention broke even or lost money, it did not have to declare delegate fees as contributions.

"This is one of those situations where it is very much a matter of interpretation, and I said that matter is with Elections Canada," Donison said. "As far as we're concerned, we complied with the law and we will comply with it in the future, whatever is determined is fair."...

He would not answer media questions following the committee appearance about the party's nomination process, which has come under fire from several grassroots party members attempting to run for riding nominations. One group of members is seeking a judicial review of the process.
Sadly, the Libs seem eager to give Harper the chance to deflect attention from his own party's questionable interpretation of both its own rules and those of Elections Canada. Which is a shame, since the Cons continue to give Canadians plenty of reasons not to trust them - if only those reasons managed to get noticed amidst Harper's sideshow.

On long-range commitments

I suspect a lot of Canadians must have missed the vote where Parliament approved a five-plus year extension to combat duty in Afghanistan. But based on a new statement from the Department of National Defence, we can look forward to massive military expenditures with a minimum of oversight - and an Afghanistan mission dragged out to match:
Canada's military will streamline a cumbersome buying system to ensure personnel are given modern equipment for the battle in Afghanistan, a senior bureaucrat promised Thursday.

Dan Ross, assistant deputy minister of materiel, told a defence industry audience in Halifax that he is the midst of a “transformation” of the military's purchasing arm, in part to buy hardware for troops fighting in Kandahar province...

They (department staff) aren't dragging along the old process, the 15-year process,” Mr. Ross said during his speech, referring to the traditional period of time the military has required for major expenditures...

In an interview following his speech, Mr. Ross said he expected major purchases to take less than five years from conception to first delivery...

Military procurement will see a massive ramping up in the next two or three years, said Mr. Ross.
Now, the move toward a shorter procurement time in and of itself wouldn't be a problem. But based on the deals being offered as precedents, it looks like less transparency and competition will also be part of the streamlining.

In the meantime, while procurement may become less transparent under the Cons, the long-term plans for indefinite involvement in Afghanistan couldn't be much more clear. A concerted effort to spend large amounts of money on resources specifically targeted toward Afghanistan can only lead to claims that we'd might as well leave our troops in harm's way to get some use out of the new equipment. And if the Cons are going to make commitments with that effect, then it's definitely time for a full debate about whether Canadians want to be carrying more than their weight in the mission in either the short term or the long term.

On sellouts

Gilles Duceppe has announced that the Bloc won't bother defending Canada's softwood lumber industry against the Cons' attempt to sell it out. Between this and the Bloc's inexplicable decision to support PMS' budget earlier this year, it's hard to see why any progressive Quebecker would want to keep supporting the party which is actually providing the votes to enable the Cons' demolition of both social and economic interests alike. Which should make the NDP convention and the Lib leadership race all the more interesting, as both parties look to take up some of the votes and seats now held by the one party in Parliament which truly has proven itself to be useless.

(The NDP is already criticizing Duceppe's move - though I'd disagree with Layton's statement that this is only "strike two" rather than the last straw.)


Olivia Chow rightly criticizes the lack of representation for advocates of provincial participation and public-sector investment on the Cons' new advisory committee on child care:
Daycare advocates slammed the federal Conservatives yesterday, saying a new ministerial advisory committee on child care is unnecessary and biased against non-profit daycare.

MP Olivia Chow (NDP—Trinity-Spadina) said the nine-member committee appointed this week by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is "packed" with private-sector appointments while provinces, and not-for-profit experts in child-care delivery are marginalized.

"The advisory committee is unbalanced, unaccountable and shows the minister's extraordinary unwillingness to work with the provinces and experts to create real sustainable child-care spaces," said Chow...

Chow said five committee members are on record or work with organizations "which are on record supporting the Conservative child-care scheme as opposed to public, not-for-profit child-care spaces."

She questioned the appointment of the head of Syscon Justice Systems Ltd., Floyd Sully, saying he "has expertise in developing computer programming for prison systems; perhaps Mr. Harper has a prison model in mind when it comes to child-care spaces for Canadian children."
About the best that can be said about the probable outcome of the committee is that it may not make a whole lot of difference in any event given the Cons' consistent track record of ignoring any advice which doesn't fit their own plan. But it's clear that the Cons are once again refusing to offer more than token representation to the large number of Canadians who see a positive role for all levels of government in meeting the glaring need for child care.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On setting goals

When I first started up this blog last year, I noted early on my frustration at the federal NDP's unwillingness to discuss any possibility of forming government. In the 2006 campaign, things changed only slightly for the better, as any mention of a potential NDP government was reluctant at best, and sometimes entirely absent. This year, there has apparently been some talk in meetings free of media coverage.

But now, the change in message is finally complete, as the NDP's policy convention will include an explicit focus on forming government:
On Sunday, NDP Leader Jack Layton wraps up convention with a major keynote address. Through two elections under Layton’s leadership, the NDP has doubled the size of its caucus, tripled its national vote, and become the effective opposition in the House of Commons. Addressing delegates on Sunday, Layton calls for progressives to unite to form a NDP-led government in Ottawa.
Needless to say, there's still a long way to go before the goal can be achieved. But while there's still plenty to be done, the NDP's newfound willingness to aim toward forming government at least removes the largest internal barrier to further progress. Which means that the next order of business is to begin convincing the wider public that the Dippers are headed in the right direction.

On political will

CTV reports that the public isn't buying the PMS/Ignatieff defeatist line on greenhouse gas emissions, as three-quarters of the respondents to a McAllister Opinion Research poll believe that Canada can and should meet its Kyoto targets:
Climate change has jumped dramatically on the scale of Canadians' worries over the last year and most people want the government to meet Kyoto targets, according to an environmental poll.

Global warming is second place as a top-of-mind environmental issue, next only to air quality, says McAllister Opinion Research, an international firm known for its research on environmental issues...

McAllister's poll suggests that the great majority of Canadians don't agree with that stance. It found that 77 per cent believe Canada should meet or exceed its Kyoto targets for cutting emissions.

More than 90 per cent of Canadians said climate change will be a serious problem if not addressed, and 75 per cent believe that a "good amount" or a "great deal" can be done to fight the problem...

McAllister said there has been a resurgence of concern about environmental issues in general, after a long period in the '90s when they virtually disappeared from the "top of mind" list.

He said environment is now at the top of the list in Quebec while in the rest of Canada it is third place after health and governance, but rapidly moving into second place.
So much for the supposed "consensus" that Canada should give up on Kyoto and start setting targets 40 years down the road. But the more interesting question is whether the current naysayers will recognize that Canadians want to see their government put solutions in place to enable Canada to reach its existing targets - not plead a lack of popular support as excuse to do nothing. And when the actual public mood is so squarely in favour of real progress, it'll take an awful lot of wilful ignorance for even PMS to follow through on a plan to do nothing.

Symbolism over substance

One would think that the repeated "friendly fire" incidents in Afghanistan would lead to a real effort to minimize the conditions which lead to such tragedies. Instead, there apparently hasn't been any substantial improvement in communications between soldiers - which would seem rather fundamental to maintaining sufficiently coordination to avoid inflicting harm on one's friendly troops.

But while there's no apparent will to deal with the actual causes of friendly fire, the U.S. hasn't left the most recent incident completely unaddressed. Instead, it's decided to switch the airplanes it'll be providing at a Canadian air show so that a Warthog similar to the ones used in last weekend's incident won't be shown.

Which should help in putting last weekend's carnage out of mind for the moment - and may well be worthwhile to avoid further suffering for the families of the wounded soldiers. But it won't help in the least at what should be the more important goal of preventing similar harms in the future. And the all-too-consistent focus on appearances rather than substance only seems likely to result in yet more real tragedies.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Judging from the precedent set by Alan Riddell, a substantial portion of the Cons' Calgary West riding association may soon face banishment for having the nerve to try to enforce the Cons' own rules:
In Calgary West, where MP Rob Anders is the incumbent, 11 members of the riding association have asked a provincial judge to review the nomination process that took place there over the last month.

They complain that the party did not widely enough advertise the date of a nomination meeting, did not hold it within the minimum 30-day guideline, and also failed to do a search for qualified potential candidates — all part of the organization's rule book.

The members say they tried to get the party to address the problems through its own arbitration process, but for two weeks got no response. During that period, however, party brass found the time to disqualify a would-be candidate in the riding, Walter Wakula, and also to reject his subsequent appeal.

“The integrity of the process is paramount because that is what people trust, and what they have to trust,” Calgary West party member John Knox told Calgary's popular Rutherford radio show on Tuesday.
Needless to say, the Cons' central command is likely to blame the whole thing on the riding association and try to ignore the criticism, rather than acknowledging any problem in refusing to apply rules fairly and evenly. But for a party which won power on promises to be open and accountable, yet another war against democracy within the Cons' riding associations can only cut into both base and soft support when the Cons face an unavoidable check in the next federal election.

On Libs who cried wolf

John at Dymaxion World has already thoroughly eviscerated a Lib blogger's attempt to claim that any difference from the Libs' position on every issue represents agreement with PMS. But let's take another look at an as-of-yet-undemolished portion of Lobster Thermidor's diatribe:
(C)learly Harper is more dangerous than Manning or Day, since they never came close to winning, and he has won. The danger a politician poses is not just a measurement of his views, but the chances he has of implementing them. For example, Ernst Zundel is a pretty serious ass-hole, but he poses no danger of forming a government.
Which makes for a rather fun effort in post-hockery. But shouldn't it stand to reason that if Manning and Day really were lesser threats than Harper, the Libs should have treated them as such at the time?

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at whether the Libs were any less set on demonizing Manning and Day than Harper. And the answer is "not for a second". Take for example the Globe and Mail's discussion of the 2000 campaign:
The 2000 campaign, said by many observers to be the nastiest in recent memory, saw the party leaders or their key lieutenants make accusations of racism, hidden agendas and criminal activity...

Liberal Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said that some Alliance supporters were "racists" and "Holocaust deniers" and that Mr. Day should be judged by the support he attracts.
From Making Sense of the Vote (PDF):
When Prime Minister Chrétien called the election on October 22, he immediately launched into a forceful appeal to voters to think about their values and beliefs. The election call was framed as an opportunity for Canadians to choose between different visions and different values: “This election” Chrétien declared, “offers two very different visions of Canada, two crystal clear alternatives. The nature of that choice is clear and the right time to choose is now” (CBC, The National, October 22). And if there was ever any ambiguity about which parties spoke for each of the “two visions”, clarity on the matter was supplied by the Liberal Minister of Finance at the end of the first week of the campaign. “Never has there been an election in the history of this country” claimed Paul Martin, “where the line in the sand has been drawn as clearly as it has been between the Liberal vision and the Alliance vision” (CBC, The National, October 29). The Liberals portrayed the Alliance as a party appealing to “narrow interests” and as a party that would “Americanize Canada” (Globe and Mail, October 28, A8). Meanwhile, the Liberals presented themselves as the champions of “the values that made Canada what it is today” (Globe and Mail, October 26, A10) and they argued that it was important to “keep working on that because we never know when there will not be a force who will come and appeal to the dark side that exists in human beings”(Globe and Mail, October 31, A4).
And finally, Wikipedia highlights the Hidden Agenda ad about Day.

In sum, the Libs quite clearly used exactly the same rhetoric against Day in 2000 that they reheated as the basis for their 2004 and 2006 campaigns against Harper. And the phrasing was no less apocalyptic as to the potential consequences of voting for the then-Alliance.

But never mind what the Libs actually said and did at the time. In Lobster Thermidor's view, the Libs' 2000 campaign was in fact completely out to lunch since the Alliance didn't end up winning. And in true Lib fashion, LT figured that rather than noticing that assumed error in judgment, Canadians should simply have forgotten all about it, then accepted the same tired lines a second time (and indeed a third, since by LT's definition Harper wasn't actually a "danger" in 2004 either).

In reality, of course, the problem with reciting the same lines over and over again is that they naturally become less believable with each passing recitation - which combined with the public's justified fatigue with the Libs unfortunately served to put the Cons in power now.

But enough about what the Libs actually did. Let's look at this from another angle dealing with what they could have done to prevent a Harper government.

Surely any realistic analysis of a political system as complex and diverse as Canada's has to acknowledge that no one party can hold power indefinitely. Which means that if the Libs really wanted to keep the current Cons and their predecessors out of power in the longer term, the Libs should have taken some radically different courses in the '90s - such as, say, holding their fire from the NDP to allow it to emerge as the leading alternative, or implementing a PR system which would have ensured that the majority of Canadian voters who support parties from the Libs leftward would have that consensus reflected in Parliament.

Needless to say, the Libs weren't the least bit interested in sacrificing an iota of their immediate power to take actions which would actually have minimized the ability of Harper and his ilk to take power in the long run. Instead, they desperately clung to power by claiming that each succeeding election was closer to the end of the world than the last - and now they blame the NDP for the fact that Canadians eventually wised up.

I certainly agree with John (and indeed disagree with a good chunk of Libs) that the Harper government is an undesirable development, and that the sooner the Cons can be booted out of office the better. But that doesn't mean that Canadians need to settle for the barely-lesser of two evils either. And if the NDP can keep up its positive movement, then it may not be long before it gets the chance to put in place exactly the kind of PR-based check on right-wing power that the Libs refused to countenance.

Delay tactics

CBC reports that the Cons' strategy for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions looks eerily like that of their predecessors, consisting of a multiple-year delay to allow for yet another massive round of consultations while emissions continue to grow in the meantime:
The federal government could hold consultations for up to five years before it finalizes new regulations for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, CBC news has learned.
And lest there be any doubt who's happy with the move:
David MacInnis, president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association in Calgary, said he's pleased to hear the government is considering holding consultations.

"I think, at the end of the day, they'll be able to come out with something where everyone buys into the process," he said.
Presumably part of the reason for any delay would be to present the prospect of future environmental action by the Cons to induce voters to give them more time in office. But that could easily backfire, as the Cons will likely be seen only as continuing a decade of Lib dithering on the file. And by trying to push any action back, the Cons are making it likely that a party with a genuine desire to tackle the issue could put legislation in place long before PMS finishes asking his oil buddies whether they're ready to accept a small part of the cost of reducing the emissions resulting from their industry.

Monday, September 04, 2006

On preventable harms

A Leader-Post Viewpoint from Saturday rightly lauds the philosophy of Safe Saskatchewan, a new effort to reduce preventable injuries within the province:
Safe Saskatchewan is a partnership between the province's public and private sectors led by the Saskatchewan Safety Council. It was established in 2005 with the goal of "achieving a continuous reduction in the number of unintentional injuries in Saskatchewan."

You'll notice the use of the phrase "unintentional injuries" rather than "accidents". That's because one of Safe Saskatchewan's immediate goals is to change the prevailing public attitude that most injuries are the result of accidents.

In fact, most injuries are not the result of accidents. An accident, by definition, is when something goes wrong suddenly and unexpectedly. But studies show most injuries are predictable and preventable and occur because of risks that people take. And this doesn't just apply to the job site, it also applies at home and at play.

Safe Saskatchewan hopes that through education and awareness initiatives, it can convince people that preventing injuries is something over which they have control. As a result, they will then be in a position to take steps to avoid putting themselves at risk.
It's hard to disagree with that philosophy. But it would be nice to see it applied somewhat more evenly. For example, how about a bit more attention to the preventable nature of the latest "freak accident" in Afghanistan?

Adapting to lose

The Telegraph suggests that the debate over global warming may soon take a turn, as the issue may soon become one of whether to actually try to prevent the problem, or merely to try to minimize the resulting damage:
Developing drought-tolerant crops, constructing flood defences, improving building insulation or banning building close to sea level are as important as cutting emissions, according to Frances Cairncross, the president of the British Association and chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council.

"We need more sheltered public spaces. It is going to be either sunnier or rainier," she says. Plants, insects and animals that need to migrate north away from hotter climates should be provided with species corridors, among many other measures.

"Adaptation policies have had far less attention than mitigation, and that is a mistake," says Miss Cairncross. "We need to think now about policies that prepare for a hotter, drier world."...

"We cannot relocate the Amazon or insulate coral reefs — so we need mitigation too. But the Government could and should put in place an adaptation strategy right away."
Unfortunately, it's probably true that some effects of global warming are indeed unavoidable. And that will necessitate the type of planning proposed by Cairncross, though hopefully not at the expense of a real effort to minimize such effects as well.

But the lesson to be taken from that outcome shouldn't be that similar issues can be safely ignored until the consequences become unavoidable. After all, the adaptation strategy appears likely to cause far more disruption than would have been needed if substantive action had been taken to reduce emissions when the need to address global warming first became obvious. And we can only hope that the costs of inaction on global warming lead to greater efforts to deal with global issues more quickly and decisively when they arise in the future.

Harbouring apathy

There's been plenty of talk about the need for a deep-water port in Canada's Arctic, and the movement forward on that front is certainly a plus. But a new report points out the need for multiple harbours to enable economic development across Nunavut:
A federal report has recommended a series of small-craft harbours across Nunavut, saying they could cut unemployment in some of the poorest communities in the country by more than a quarter.

But no money has been budgeted for the project and there’s no guarantee the territory will get facilities other Canadians take for granted.

“There’s no money set aside for it,” said Alan Kathan, who commissioned the report for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“It’s not funded.”

Nearly all of Nunavut’s 26 communities lie on the coast.

But in contrast to the 1,240 government-owned harbours used from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, the only way Nunavummiut have to dock their boats is to run them up on the shore.

Even in the capital of Iqaluit, supplies shipped in from the south must be loaded from ships onto barges and hauled up onto the only Coast Guard-administered beach in Canada.

Tourists on cruise ships must cross sometimes choppy waters on tiny inflatable boats if they want to visit the communities they pass. Fishermen must offload their catch onto small boats.

“It’s limiting their economic activities, it’s limiting their subsistence fishery, it’s limiting their tourism,” says Kathan...

Kathan’s report, just delivered to the federal cabinet, recommends seven small-craft harbours in Nunavut, costing Ottawa $41 million over five years.
It's hard to see how it wouldn't be worth the relatively modest cost to enable access to multiple points in Nunavut - particularly compared to the Cons' plan to spend over $5 billion for military reinforcements in the Arctic generally. But it looks like PMS and company will need some convincing that it's worth investing both in the current population of Nunavut, and the potential for future expansion once a reasonable level of infrastructure is in place.

On declining shares

While Paul Moist discusses the more general imbalances and injustices facing workers as they celebrate Labour Day, a couple of CanWest stories from this weekend suggest that the impending economic downturn will come about just in time to keep workers from sharing in most of the benefits.

Mind you, the first article suggests that the question is simply one of a trade-off, claiming that workers have avoided increased wages by valuing job security instead:
Canadian workers this Labour Day are basking in the greatest job security most have ever known, thanks to record levels of employment and an unemployment rate that is hovering near a more than 30-year low of just 6.4 per cent.

Yet, their share of the income pie has been shrinking...

Figures released this past week show that Canadian workers got 62.9 per cent of the income generated by the economy in the second quarter of this year, down marginally from 63 per cent a year earlier, and down significantly from their 64.9 per cent share in 2002 when the latest leg of the current economic boom took off.

Their share is also well below the all-time high of nearly 70 per cent reached in the early 1990s, although the increase in their share then was more a reflection of the weakness in profits during what was a long recession.

In contrast, the share of income going to corporate profits has climbed almost steadily since the beginning of the latest economic boom four years ago to 17.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year.

That's up from 14.8 per cent four years ago, and also just shy of the all-time high reached at the end of last year...

"We're starting to see some indication of upward pressure on wages, especially in Alberta," Porter said.

"But I'm not expecting anything dramatic, as it still seems to me that unions are more concerned about securing job certainty than pushing for big wage gains."
From that conclusion it might sound like wages are likely to move upward as workers finally start to share in the long-ballyhooed economic improvement. But then, the other article published the same day suggests that the job market is set to cool off just as it was in danger of actually pushing wages upward:
Workers in manufacturing and construction will bear the brunt of the coming economic slowdown, the TD Bank forecast yesterday.

However, overall job growth will continue but at a more normal pace than in recent years, it added in a report.

That slowdown in job growth is underway, it suggested, noting that the past two labour market surveys by Statistics Canada showed small job losses.

Analysts expect the slowdown in the U.S. economy, which is being driven by the end of the housing boom in that country, will act as a drag on Canada's economy as well since more than 80% of Canadian exports go to the U.S...

(T)he impact of the U.S. slowdown will likely be felt most by Canadian industries that are the most heavily dependent on the U.S. for sales, especially manufacturing, which has been struggling with a strong dollar and has already suffered massive job losses, it said. Industries that support exports to the U.S., such as transportation, as well as tourism, are also likely to feel some impact from the U.S. slowdown.

Meanwhile, the Canadian construction industry will be hit by the impact of the increase in interest rates over the past two years and the ensuing slowdown in the Canadian housing market, especially in Central and Eastern Canada, it said.

Employment growth will also be dampened by increased labour productivity, it said, noting that Canadian companies have been taking advantage of the strong dollar to upgrade their operations by importing more productivity-enhancing machinery and equipment.
So, having seen their share of economic production decline during a growth phase due to a shift away from sectors which have historically offered greater wages and job security, Canadian workers can now look forward acceleration of the same shift as the economy cools. Which makes yet more stagnation in inflation-adjusted wages look all the more likely, particularly since job security will start to look even more important as job growth dwindles.

It remains to be seen whether workers will notice the gap and recognize the potential for greater influence through better organization. But it looks for now like the deck is once again stacked against workers. And on Labour Day, it's worth asking what can and should be done to turn that trend around.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


The Globe and Mail reports on the possible global effects of the all-too-likely coming crash in the U.S. housing market. And you can be sure the problem is a severe one when the best anybody can say about the future of the economy is that the changes resulting from that crash (a) are probably necessary harms, and (b) may not be quite as damaging in Canada as elsewhere:
(T)here may be a glimmer of hope in this sobering scenario, according to Morgan Stanley's Mr. Roach. He said the global economy, like the U.S. housing market, is badly out of kilter, and needs to be rebalanced to ensure its long-term health. The housing correction could go a long way to erasing these global imbalances.

And if there's a silver lining for Canada it is that we may not be as vulnerable to a U.S.-led recession as much of the rest of the world.

Economist Clement Gignac of National Bank Financial Inc. in Montreal argued that the price boom in oil and other commodities may keep Canada from following the United States into a recession. He said Canada escaped U.S.-driven downturns three times in the 1970s, and this time could be the same. He puts the odds of a U.S. recession at 40 per cent, but just 15 per cent north of the border.
Not that Canadians should be celebrating a relatively high likelihood of recession here either. And of course the precarious state of both the U.S. and economies who rely on American consumer spending may make it difficult for Canada to grow significantly in the near future even if it can avoid a recession.

Of course, there's a chance the U.S. will manage to avoid a recession of its own despite what already looks to be the start of a downturn. But it's hard to be optimistic that the same system which produced the problem will manage to avoid the worst possible effects - and nobody should be looking forward to the potential downside if the readily foreseeable ends up happening.

Globalism vs localism

A couple of stories today offer a useful contrast between the NIMBYism which all too often gets mixed up with genuine environmental concern, and a strong effort to manage resources better on a global scale.

On the NIMBYish side, the AP reports on a battle brewing in Vermont, where attempts to generate substantial amounts of wind power are running into an effort to prioritize the state's landscape over the environmental benefits of the move:
For a state that normally prizes environmental initiatives, the debate over wind power poses a thorny dilemma. Eager to embrace clean energy but leery about spoiling views, some communities are putting up stiff opposition to plans for new wind projects.

"It's a reflection of the deep environmental consciousness of this state," said environmentalist Bill McKibben, an author who has written about global warming. "People are rightly deeply attached to their landscape and they've done a terrific job in protecting it over the years."

In the 1930s, Vermonters rejected plans to build a parkway across the top of the Green Mountains, similar to Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway, that was intended to create jobs and draw tourists. In the 1960s, the state was so concerned about its mountain vistas that it banned billboards, and later passed a landmark development review law to preserve ridge lines as Vermont's ski industry began expanding its resorts.

"One of Vermont's most deeply held environmental ethics is the protection and preservation of our mountaintops and ridge lines," said Jason Gibbs, a spokesman for Gov. Jim Douglas. "While the governor supports renewable energy . . . he cannot support the commercialization and industrialization of our mountaintops."

Environmentalists say that stance is unrealistic. They say large-scale wind towers must be part of the mix as the state seeks renewable energy alternatives in an age of global warming and rising fuel prices...

"For us to say we don't want wind turbines in Vermont is irresponsible," said James Moore, an environmental advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. "If not wind, are we going to be supporting coal and mountain top removal? Are we going to support oil and aging nuclear power plants and nuclear waste?"
While an argument could plausibly be made that the state should be looking to conserve power as well rather than focussing simply on generation, that doesn't seem to be part of the debate. That's in part due to the amount of power which needs replacing (roughly 2/3 of the state's power is imported through contracts set to expire soon). But even more significant is the state's apparent perception that preserving its own skyline is worth the wider degradation caused by more damaging forms of electricity generation.

It may well be that there's sufficient support solely for that local perspective to make it the more effective at slowing down wind-power development in the short term. But by offering only a refusal to accept an environmentally-friendly project rather than any alternative, the state is in effect inviting other jurisdictions to look at their example of prioritizing local aesthetics over global environmental concerns.

In contrast, the Star reports on the latest developments in the battle over water in South America. There, Maude Barlow is leading a charge not only to keep water resources in public hands, but also to allocate existing resources to make clean water available to everybody:
In March, a British study called Pipe Dreams found that the private sector has done an abysmal job of connecting poor people to water.

Meanwhile, anti-privatization movements have posted an increasing number of victories.

Country by country, Suez is abandoning South America. Another multinational, RWE Thames, is divesting itself of all its water operations outside continental Europe.

At the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City last March, even the most enthusiastic supporters of privatization — the World Bank and the multinational water companies — spoke about privatization's failures.

"We have a really strong global social movement, and we need to step in with our own alternative," says Barlow. "We want to get water established as a human right in a United Nations' convention, one that also demands that water be delivered as a public service."...

She argues that for the half the money the World Bank has sunk into failed privatization schemes it could fund a transfer of best practices within the public sector. (Public systems manage the vast majority of the world's basic water services.)
Of course, the effort to keeps public goods in public hands is generally one worth making even on its own based on both increased efficiency and superior public representation. But the clean-water movement's message goes well beyond that level, by emphasizing both the need for local improvement and the transferrability of best practices. And it's simply an added bonus that that universal good can be achieved with currently-available funding - which makes for improved management of all of the resources involved.

None of the above is to suggest that local issues shouldn't also be given a great deal of attention, both for the sake of improving local conditions, and for the potential to discover wider issues which haven't yet been addressed. But those issues properly carry weight when their resolution is worthwhile in the larger scheme of things - not where a desire to avoid local development is detrimental when the bigger picture is considered.

A lack of leadership

It's a plus to see the federal government finally moving forward in regulating organic foods. But was there really any reason for the move to wait until a deadline set by the EU?
Faced with a year-end trade deadline from the European Union, the federal government is moving to regulate and certify organic foods.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is proposing national regulations that would allow agricultural producers to display a “Canada Organic” label on their food products...

The European Union has passed regulations that will shut its members' borders to Canadian organic food exports on Dec. 31 this year unless the federal government comes up with a national certification regime...

There are about 4,000 organic farms in Canada certified by various bodies, producing about $1 billion worth of produce or livestock. The sector is booming, with growth estimated at between 15 per cent and 20 per cent annually for the last 10 years...

Consultations on a new certification regime have been under way since early 2004.
Based on the timing since the consultations began, both the Libs and Cons bear some blame for failing to move forward on the issue. Hopefully the grudging action now will make sure the sector is able to keep growing in the future - both for the immediate good of the farmers involved in organic production, and for the longer-term sustainability of the industry. But it would be all the better if the federal government was willing to be proactive in boosting the organic industry, rather than doing nothing more than the bare minimum required to make exports possible.