Saturday, June 05, 2010

On journamalism

While I criticized a number of CanWest's obviously-biased op-eds on health care privatization yesterday, let's give them this much: flawed though they are, at the very least they roughly fit the definition of the type of material that's supposed to appear in their format. And that's more than one can say for what's passing for news on the same topic.

So what's wrong with the Leader-Post's excuse for a news article about private health services? Let's start with the basic premise before going into the details.

My impression would be that most news stories are intended to actually reflect news of some sort. So let's ask: what news value is there in the fact that a service provider has provided services? Or put another way, how often has the Leader-Post printed news stories about, say, happy welfare recipients as an argument for improved social services? Or people who received excellent care in the public sector and don't much want to see a privatized system?

The main answer is that they wouldn't bother, because things functioning as they're supposed to aren't generally considered to have any particular news value. But apparently CanWest makes an exception where it suits its editorial slant. And that brings us into the jaw-dropping degree of bias in what's supposed to be a matter of news rather than opinion.

Want any context comparing public and private services? Counterarguments in anything but the flimsiest of straw-man form? You'll find none whatsoever, just an article-long homily to privatization. Indeed, while I don't have a hard copy of the Leader-Post in front of me, I'd be shocked if there weren't some ads in the paper that are more balanced in their treatment of their subject matter.

And all this over services which themselves could just as easily have been delivered in the public sector as the private sector. But again, any actual context would be entirely unhelpful in serving the corporate purpose.

But wait, there's more! Scroll down to the end of the article, and you'll find out just who it is that's been called on to pass off their opinion as news:
Hopkins is speaking out, not as the CEO of the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce, but as a grateful parent.
Now, most of us would have the sense to treat an article along the lines of "President of Domestic Auto Dealers of Canada: Ford Offered Me A Great Car At A Great Price!" with the level of skepticism it deserves. And I'd like to think most journalists would do the same in deciding how to frame an article.

But the Leader-Post's choice to offer a corporate spokesperson free rein to spout uncontradicted pro-privatization blather amounts to effectively the same thing. And it's combined with just enough subterfuge to lull the reader into thinking there's something more to the article, before mentioning the interviewee's pecuniary interest as an afterthought.

Now, it's sad that this is what passes for media in our province - and it's never a plus to be up against such widely-distributed propaganda. But let's close with a look on the bright side: we can safely say that the privatization movement is completely devoid of any intelligent thought if this is what's passing for a sales job.

Off target

With all the talk over the last couple of days about the impending vote in the House of Commons on C-391, it's worth a bit of a reminder as to how we ended up in a position where the only options are to do nothing or to scrap the gun registry entirely.

When C-391 was first discussed, it actually didn't take long for the NDP and the Liberals to reach a public consensus that the best outcome would be to improve the gun registry rather than eliminating it. And supposedly that agreement within the Lib caucus made for part of the reason why Lib MPs wouldn't challenge a whipped vote on the bill.

From that starting point, one would have expected the Libs to try to actually work toward amending C-391 based on the principles that all opposition parties could agree on. But they've done nothing of the sort: not only have they apparently declined to present or discuss any amendments to the bill, they were the ones to move the motion that prevented the committee from doing so. And that's why we're now facing an all-or-nothing vote on the bill as presented by Candace Hoeppner, not an amended bill that preserves the registry while eliminating some of the irritants associated with it.

With the Libs having ensured that there's no possibility of a productive compromise, I'd think the NDP has less reason than ever to deviate from its longtime policy of allowing MPs to vote their conscience - even if the Libs have joined the Cons in making a mockery of the concept. And having chosen not to work with willing partners to preserve the registry in a form that could win support in the House of Commons, the Libs will be as culpable as anybody if C-391 passes as a result.

Simple answers to simple questions

Referring to the Sask Party's elimination of Saskatchewan Savings Bonds, Trent Wotherspoon asks:
Why would the Wall government at this point in time prevent Saskatchewan people from investing in their own province and providing, subsequently, Saskatchewan people with a safe, secure investment?
Because the sooner the Saskatchewan public forgets the very idea of "safe, secure investments", the more likely it'll be to put up with the Sask Party's brand of casino capitalism.

The reviews are in

Bruce Johnstone points out that while the Wall government's handling of Saskatchewan's Crown corporations may be utterly indefensible, it's far from unprecedented - and in fact looks to be torn from the playbook of the Devine government:
(T)he Sask Party government has interfered with the Crowns perhaps more than any government since the Devine era (when political cronies were regularly installed as heads of Crowns and Crowns were forced to borrow to pay dividends to their cash-strapped shareholder).

To be fair, the Sask Party has been more subtle than the Devine-era Tories and have couched their interference under the guise of high-sounding initiatives, like the Saskatchewan First policy.

But make no mistake, the Sask Party government has imposed its political will on the Crowns just as surely as Grant Devine did in his day.
Under the former NDP government, Crowns paid dividends only after a portion of their profits was set aside for reinvestment and debt repayment. And dividends were based on the corporation's debt-to-equity ratio or similar financial measure.

That dividend policy is apparently gone out the window. Also out of the window is the rule (part of the now-repealed Balanced Budget Act), that proceeds from the sale of assets not be used to pay for government operating expenses.

Many of the checks and balances that prevented political abuse of Crown corporations have been systematically removed. In their place are heavy-handed policy initiatives, like the Saskatchewan First policy, that require all Crowns (except for SGI Canada) to divest themselves of their out-of-province investments, good, bad or indifferent.
When you combine the tight leash of the Saskatchewan First policy with confiscatory dividend practices, the Crowns are looking less like state-owned businesses than cash cows to be milked dry.
Edit: fixed label.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Musical interlude

Iris - Whatever

On coalition building

Rob Silver suggests that the Libs have three options in talking about the possibilities for a post-election coalition: ruling it out, saying nothing about it, or offering "clarity" defined as a relatively detailed statement of principles. But I'd argue that there's another option which is more likely to produce positive results than any of those.

Off the top, I'll agree with Silver that ruling out a coalition would be entirely counterproductive, and that the Libs won't be able to avoid talking about it. But why would the Libs want to offer the juicy target of a "five-point statement of principles", knowing that any detailed principles are bound to be both attacked directly, and ignored by the Cons when there's a stronger attack to be launched by pretending they've never been mentioned?

Simply put, the Cons' attack is going to be based on the idea that all possible coalitions are evil. That may be a tougher sell than the Cons might think, but it means that it doesn't matter how well a single possible form of coalition is framed: the Harper narrative will involve slamming the worst aspects of any possible coalition imaginable, and refusing to listen to any pleas that a set of principles will actually limit what the Libs will agree to.

So the only sensible countermeasure looks to me to be to take the opposite position on the broad principles of coalition politics. Rather than implicitly accepting any of the Cons' arbitrary factors which supposedly make a coalition illegitimate (and allowing that type of language to dominate the discussion), any party interested in participating in or supporting a coalition to take down the Cons should be talking up the value of cooperative politics: pointing to the many examples of coalitions which the Cons themselves seem perfectly happy to accept, highlighting areas where the Cons are isolated both in Canadian politics and around the world, and creating an underlying narrative that everybody in Ottawa agrees that it's possible for parties to work together to produce better results for Canadians - except for Stephen Harper and his insular, secretive Con government.

With that type of message, there's actually some positive content for all potential coalition parties to rally behind, while Harper will be forced on the defensive as the lone defender of the partisan buffoonery pushed by his government. And that looks like the best hope for a result that satisfies both the Libs' internal concerns, and the desire of many Canadians of multiple partisan stripes to remove the Cons from office.

You can't do that in Parliament

Ah, the wacky ideas coming out of the NDP these days. Voluntarily implementing non-binding ethics recommendations? Encouraging public participation in the drafting of legislation? Consultations with citizens to support future policy development? If this kind of thing doesn't stop soon, people might start getting the idea that politics can and should be taken seriously.

On private interests

A few weeks back, I noted how odd it was that Brad Wall looked to be raring for a fight to privatize health care even when the issue wouldn't seem to be a winner for the Sask Party. But in retrospect, the move was likely aimed far less at the public than at a corporate media audience. And sure enough, the province's major newspapers have served up a giant steaming pile of Canwest love for Wall's effort to push public services into the private sector.

So let's take a few minutes to deal with the most ridiculous of the Sask Party claims which are being repeated unquestioned by the province's two main print media outlets.

First, nobody is arguing against providing better health services or dealing with waitlists. This has been the favourite strawman of the press in mischaracterizing the NDP's position - but the next argument that the province shouldn't address the need for improved surgical capacity or CT scan availability will be the first.

But that leads into the second point: there's a choice to be made as to how to deal with health care improvements. And it's on this point that the media has bought the Sask Party's spin hook, line and sinker - bashing the NDP for having a preference which it actually defends with some reasoning, even as it's the Wall government which has stated without justification that it's looking for any "opportunity" to push private-sector delivery.

In fact, there's absolutely no reason why improvements can't be made within the publicly-operated system - and the Sask Party's defenders haven't even tried to provide one. At most, there's been some tangential observation that some of the usual efficiencies associated with single-location health care delivery (e.g. CT scans on hospital sites) won't apply. But even if it's taken as a given that a CT scanner can't fit into one of Regina's current hospitals, that doesn't answer the question of whether we should prefer public or private operation of a new scanner to be set up on another site.

But what about the cost of setting up a publicly-run scanner? Welcome to point three, which has been negligently omitted by the media at every turn: privatization is not a free lunch. Even on the Sask Party's own account, privatized service delivery may well cost as much as the current public model. And that's ignoring both the real possibility that a privatized system will in fact make the public system less efficient, and the reality that once a private interest is relied on to provide vital public services, it'll have plenty of leverage to raise the price later on.

And that in turn leads to point four: privatization has real structural consequences, as more decisions about public health are put in the hands of actors whose primary interest is to increase their own market share and profit margin rather than to achieve the best possible health outcomes. Murray Mandryk's column manages to unwittingly make this point in using past examples of privatized services to suggest that we shouldn't worry about just one more (or two more, or however many more the Wall government can jam into the next year and a half). But if past governments didn't sufficiently take into account the reality that corporate actors may create warped incentives within the health care system (and yes, the NDP can take some blame here), that's hardly an argument to continue to ignore the dangers now.

In sum, the Sask Party's case has been based entirely on lowballed costs, dishonest assessments of our options and straw men. But while that deception has unfortunately been parroted by observers who should know better, it's still an open question whether Saskatchewan's voters will be so easily fooled.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

The reviews are in

It shouldn't be news that the Harper Cons have no interest whatsoever in being anything but an obstacle to any action on climate change. But it's not such a bad thing that Jeffrey Simpson has noticed:
According to the government’s own numbers, actual emissions will grow in absolute terms in every year from 2009 to 2012. All the government’s many and expensive policies will have done is to slow the increase, and then only slightly – by 10 million tonnes in 2012, against countrywide emissions of more than 700 million tonnes. At this rate, Canada will not achieve even the Harper government’s modest reduction target: a 17-per-cent drop in absolute reductions by 2020 based on 2005 emissions, a softer target than the 20-per-cent drop the government had previously promised.

The numbers show how useless and expensive are some of the government’s policies. For example, Ottawa is going to throw $1.5-billion into biofuels, largely ethanol, over the next nine years without a significant decline in emissions, because, as is obvious, the biofuels program is an agricultural subsidy program rather than a serious measure against emissions.

Or how about the absurdity of the transit tax credit, announced in an election campaign as a climate-change-fighting program? That all-politics-all-the-time program is estimated to reduce emissions by just over a risible 3,000 tonnes. And then comes the big Clean Energy Fund and Clean Air and Climate Change Trust Fund, together worth $2.5-billion, which the government admits “are not expected to result in quantifiable reductions by 2012.”

Maybe these funds will produce some reductions later, but then that would be entirely in keeping with the Harper government’s leisurely approach to climate change, an approach best summed up in the document’s statement that the government focuses on “long-term results.” As students of governments know, when they say everything is focused on “long-term results,” it usually means the government in question is not serious.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

On personal service

Apparently Dimitri Soudas is hiding from a bailiff trying to serve him with a Parliamentary summons. But I can't see this ending well for somebody who tends to have to make predictable public appearances: wouldn't the smart response be to serve him in person next time he's on live TV?

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Deep thought

Sure, the $50,000 price tag for Sask Party candidate Kevin Doherty's moving expenses might seem outrageous on its face. But in fairness to Doherty, it's a delicate operation to move a moat.

On commercial significance

As expected, Michael Geist's first response to the Cons' new DMCA is worth a read (and some followup action). And Geist is right to draw primarily a distinction between a needlessly complex series of exemptions, and a single, strict rule about digital locks which trumps any consumer-based considerations. But let's note another aspect of the bill - and in fact the digital lock provision - which truly gives away the Cons' priorities:
41.1 (1) No person shall
(b) offer services to the public or provide services if
(ii) the uses or purposes of those services are not commercially significant other than when they are offered or provided for the purposes of circumventing a technological protection measure...
A similar standard applies to the provision of any "technology, device or component" under the proposed section 41.1(c)(ii).

So what makes that wording important? In order to escape prosecution for making available any product or service which has any potential to circumvent a "technological protection measure", an individual has to demonstrate that the product or service has some "commercially significant" uses or purposes. And that means in effect that any defence based on the fact that a product or service has valid, legal purposes other than infringement is available only to business interests - as a product or service which is made available freely rather than for profit wouldn't seem to fit the definition of "commercially significant".

In other words, the Cons' bill turns the development of freeware or open-source software into a source of potential legal liability, even if it's developed and distributed for a generally valid purpose which only has incidental potential for infringement. But the development and distribution of the exact same software for profit is considered to be above reproach.

So C-32 reflects a stark division between commercial interests which are given top priority, and all other interests which are seen as insufficient to justify any relaxation of the media industry's demand for total control over content. And the fact that the same theme is pervasive throughout the bill should offer reason for this latest attack on consumer interests to be met with just as much outcry as the previous ones that have been stopped in their tracks.

On open seats

As Kent has already noted, Sask Party MLA Joceline Schriemer has decided not to run again in 2011.

While the move is far from unexpected based on Schriemer's lack of interest in the job, it confirms that the Wall government will have to start from scratch in a seat where the NDP boasts one of its strongest challengers in Ryan Meili (along with three other nomination contestants). And it'll be worth watching who gets saddled with the responsibility of carrying the banner for the Sask Party in a race where the NDP has such a significant head start.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

John Baird: Enemy Combatant

A handy hint: anybody who goes out of his way to invent new categories to avoid the application of rules that govern all possible subjects doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

On competitive destruction

Leftdog has already discussed the Wall government's inexplicable determination to privatize the delivery of CT services in Regina - and my previous posts on other privatization efforts also cover some of the problems with the latest move, particularly given Don McMorris' eagerness to jump at every possible "opportunity" to push delivery into private hands. But let's note an extra issue with the CT scan plan in particular.

Here's the supposed rationale for putting public resources into private CT scan delivery:
The region currently has two CT scanners at Regina General Hospital and one at Pasqua Hospital that are running at maximum capacity doing 75,000 scans a year.

If one new CT scanner is added to the region, it will be able to provide 10,000 more scans, officials with the Regina-Qu'Appelle Health Region said.
But those estimates come with an important "all else being equal". And there's reason to think that for a privatized form of service delivery in particular, that assumption won't hold up.

After all, in order to operate a new scanner, a private firm will naturally need to recruit staff with the technical expertise required for the job. And the most obvious source of trained local staff will be...the Regina-Qu'Appelle Health Region. Which will presumably lose the ability to operate its scanners at full capacity if enough of its staff decide to leave - and will have no control over who gets poached by a private operator.

As a result, the resources used by a private firm to operate a scanner will all too likely be cannibalized from RQHR, resulting in little actual increase in capacity. And the private firm will have no incentive whatsoever to avoid damaging RQHR's ability to deliver services; in fact, its long-term interests will be best served by forcing the region to rely on it more and more.

In contrast, another scanner operated by RQHR in a new location would allow for the region to determine where its staff are best used, moving over only those health care professionals needed to get a new scanner up and running - with the end result that the capacity from the new machine would actually be added to the region's existing capacity. But in the Sask Party's haste to sell off everything it can, it apparently isn't even looking at that option.

In sum, the Sask Party's excuse about wanting to build capacity only highlights the futility of privatization as a strategy to deal with the areas of Saskatchewan's health care system that can stand to be improved. And if the Wall government is indeed in a rush to privatize as much as it can over the next year and a half, that should make for all the more reason to ensure it isn't in a position to keep up the damage at the end of 2011.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Con transparency at work

I for one did not know that the contents of the Hill Times are considered extremely sensitive information. Somebody should really crack down on the national secrets being leaked through its website.

Wednesday Morning Links

- I'm not sure that Alex Himelfarb doesn't contradict himself in saying there's no room for left-wing parties to promise more effective government while pointing out the layers of rules and control that makes it difficult to accomplish much in the civil service as it stands. But Alex Himelfarb's defence of public service is definitely worth a read:
An unrelenting and escalating assault on government is changing public attitudes. We rarely hear people talk anymore about politics and public service as a noble calling. We are more likely to hear derision. Even many of those in the private sector who now take such comfort and pride in the performance of our financial sector were not so long ago deriding politicians and bureaucrats for “not getting it” when they opposed bank mergers or the conglomerations of banks and insurance companies. We quickly lose sight of the fact that our regulatory system and the “bureaucrats” who uphold it were key to our performance. In this climate, politicians and private sector leaders instead too often compete in government bashing. When is the last time we heard a speech here in Canada on the importance of government and the value of our public service?
- Not shocking: the millions of litres of spills in Canada's Arctic which had previously gone unreported. Shocking: the fact that the news was actually allowed to see the light of day.

- After using the existence of developing states as an excuse to avoid action to slow down climate change, the Harper government is now being shown up even by its closest neighbour in that group. But needless to say, nobody among the Cons seems the least bit interesting in changing course as a result.

- Electoral reform still seems to be receiving short shrift even as it's become one of the centrepieces of the UK's coalition government. But at least Chantal Hebert has noticed that it's something the Libs should be looking to get in on.

- Finally, David Climenhaga duly slams Alberta's media for excluding left-wing voices.

On public safety

One more follow-up on this post, as there's another comparison worth drawing between the Cons' billion-dollar G8/G20 boondoggle and their actions in 2008. Do we know what, if anything, the federal government did to ensure the safety of opposition MPs in the wake of behaviour that it considers to be terrorism? How much money was put into that effort - which actually would have required a rush deployment of resources - compared to the cost of providing security for foreign leaders which could have been prevented through better planning?

And needless to say, if the answer is that the Harper government did nothing to keep opposition members safe from what it considers to be terrorism perpetrated by Con supporters, then its ability to claim with a straight face that it doesn't see any human-rights problems in countries like Colombia makes a lot more sense.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Well said

Linda McQuaig rightly notes that while even the Cons' claims to want to prevent political violence with their ridiculous G8/G20 expenses ring hollow, the actual summit security measures will restrict far more activity than anybody could reasonable justify:
There's been much well-deserved anger over the Harper government's absurd plan to spend almost a billion dollars on security at the summit (and the G8 summit in Huntsville). For the same price, we could have all ridden the TTC free for an entire year.

But there's been little anger that a good part of this money will be used to intimidate and terrify those who challenge the status quo.

The University of Toronto, falling in line with this new security-state mentality, plans to lock down its main campus during the summit, forcing the cancellation of G20 related events, including one featuring Maude Barlow, Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein.

It's hard to imagine a more inappropriate response. Universities should be centres of critical thought, where students are encouraged to scrutinize the current orthodoxy and challenge the Establishment. That's hard to do when they shutter their doors at the first whiff of controversy.

One man's terrorist

So far, the closest the Cons have come to an explanation for their billion-dollar G8/G20 boondoggle is to point to a single incident last week:
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews cited the example of a fire bombing at an Ottawa bank last week as a reason for tight security, after the anti-establishment group that claimed responsibility warned it will attend the summits.

"This is a prime example of the reason we need to prepare, to face thugs and terrorists who threaten our safety," said Toews.
But it's worth noting that the Cons' main area of concern seems to be the "at (a) bank" part. After all, last anybody checked, they saw no problem at all when their own friendly "thugs and terrorists" carried out the same type of vandalism against an opposition MP who they believed had it coming. So a billion dollars of public money are being spent to prevent exactly the same actions the Cons have implicitly encouraged - at least, as long as they're directed toward their political opponents.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

History corrected

EFL rightly takes Jane Taber to task for writing the widespread support for the 2008 progressive coalition out of the history books. Which means at least this once, I won't have to.

Not too late

Following up on my review of the limited amount of committee review of the Cons' dumpster bill, Alice tells the rest of the story so far by examining the path the bill has taken so far in the House of Commons (as well as the frequently-inaccurate reporting on its progress). But let's note the most important message as to where matters stand now: with the NDP's amendments still up for debate and presumably headed for votes in the near future, there's still time for the House of Commons to pull the most egregious abuses of Parliamentary process from the bill.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Guest Post - Introducing Don Hansen

I've posted a few times about the NDP's nomination race in Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, where Don Hansen is squaring off against Brian Sklar for the opportunity to challenge the Cons' Tom Lukiwski for the seat. Today, I have the privilege of presenting a guest post from Don Hansen about his reasons for running - which could have saved Lukiwski plenty of trouble if he'd been patient in trying to learn about Hansen.
I have always been wary of those who seek political power with too much zeal, as I tend to think there is often a less benevolent motive behind those who desire it too greatly. I never trusted the backroom gangs in politics, whose job is to protect the interests of those they serve, rather than doing the just and proper thing.

Last October, I received a phone call from an old friend that I met as a teenager asking me to consider seeking the nomination for Regina Lumsden Lake Centre. (Many years ago when I was much younger, I imagined how it would feel to be a Member of Parliament; then I would lie down until the feeling passed.) I told my friend that I would think about it and get back to him. I spoke to those whose opinions and blessings I value. Every closed door I imagined that could prevent me from seeking the nomination opened. There were no reasons other than my own fears and apathy that could prevent me from making the effort.

Now it is not so much a matter of wanting to do this, but rather something that I feel I must do.

Saskatchewan has not had a Member of Parliament who demands from the government full employment and the eradication of poverty for many years. I am also not happy with the way in which the Christian Right has been monopolizing Christian activism. There is a need for a left wing Christian philosophy based on social justice to prove there are other faith experiences than what the ultra-conservative televangelists present. I can fill those needs.

I remember at my very first NDP convention, meeting Les Benjamin. A man who was already a 6-year veteran of the ins and outs of politics and a titan within the New Democratic Party approached me, and introduced himself and welcomed me to my very first party convention. He reached out his hand to mine and then gave me a smile that immediately made me feel that this was a party where I was welcome; a party where all were equal – this man who was already becoming a legend within the House of Commons and this young boy from a small farm off the Manor road.

So, who exactly am I? I was born in Oxbow and raised on the family farm north of Glen Ewen.

- I am a graduate of the University of Regina and the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.

- I have been an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for twenty-five years. I have served parishes in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and North Dakota. I am currently serving the parish of St. John and Norrona in Strasbourg and Bulyea.

- I was a military chaplain for just over three years and I am a United Nations peacekeeping veteran.

- I was a board member of Circle of Life Native Ministry serving the residents of North Central Regina.

- I have been an activist in the Philippines for the past six years, confronting the issues of the child-sex tourist trade and human trafficking.

- I have been a life long member of the New Democratic Party and have served many provincial and federal constituencies throughout Canada.

- I am an associate member of the National Farmers Union and a life long member of the cooperative and credit union movements.

I am a person of faith but I am also pro-choice. I am pro-choice because I know that my faith does not give me simple and easy answers to complex and difficult questions. My faith does not promise to spare me from making tough decisions. It just promises me that I will not have to face those choices alone. I know that the whole question of foetal personhood is a deceitful, and often malicious, attempt to distract us from the real issue - which is that the woman has rights. And while various religious traditions may teach various things about when, if, and how we should sacrifice ourselves for others, no one - not partner, nor politician - no one gets to decide what is, or is not, an appropriate sacrifice for someone else to make.

I am outraged at the repressive and mean-spirited policies of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. I have no doubt that his agenda is to move Canada towards a far more conservative society both economically and socially than what Canadians want.

Tom Lukiwski's record as our Member of Parliament is deeply troubling to me. Even those who supported him view him as an ineffectual Member of Parliament. And while I might be prepared to forgive offensive comments from many years past (after all, who of us has not said stupid and offensive things at some point?), I find it much harder to forgive the fact that he has made no effort to keep the commitments that he made when he apologized for his comments about the LGBT community. He has consistently refused to meet with representatives of the LGBT community, and has refused to reach out to those people who he had so thoughtlessly hurt and dehumanized.

What's more, Tom Lukiwski sees his job as defending the Conservative government's interests in Regina Lumsden Lake Centre rather than the other way around. He and Stephen Harper broke their solemn promise to remove non-renewable resource revenue from the equalization formula. They want to weaken the Canadian Wheat Board and go to war against organized labour. They want to force their anti-choice position upon the poorest women of the world. Due to their mismanagement of the economy, our pensions are in jeopardy. They want to start privatizing our health care system. And we need to start un-electing the Members of Parliament who back that agenda in order to stop them.

There are a number of policy areas that are of particular interest to me.

- I will defend the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. I will press government to honour the standards and conventions established by the United Nations' International Labour Organization.

- I will work to entrench the Canadian Wheat Board as the single desk marketer for Canadian wheat and barley, and commit Canadian policy to the principle of orderly marketing systems for commodity sectors. I will work with farm organizations to help implement income stabilization programmes, tailored for each commodity sector and focused on the family farms that most need the support. I will encourage the development of more producer-run cooperatives to act as a counterweight to the power of multinational agribusiness giants, and to encourage more value-added processing and jobs in Canada.

- The protection of our air, land, fish and wildlife must be a priority. We must address the issue of climate change not with idle words or by taxing you and your family, but with tough laws that force polluters to clean up the mess they have made and to stop tax giveaways that reward corporate polluters.

- Canada must provide robust support to the United Nations and its work in conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and global co-operation, and re-establish Canada as a leader in global peace and development.

- As a Member of Parliament, I will always put the interests of the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged foremost in all that I do, keeping the interests of working people and small farmers a top priority. I am not afraid of those goliaths of wealth and privilege.

If you want to learn more about me and about where I stand on the issues, please check out my website and my Facebook page. Both pages also provide contact information so that you can reach me directly to discuss your priorities and concerns.

If you think that I might be the person you want to be the NDP candidate for Regina Lumsden Lake Centre then please support me at one of our two nominating conventions. The first one is in Lumsden on Wednesday June 23 at the Dew Drop Senior’ Centre and the second one is in Regina the very next day, Thursday June 24 at the Italian Club - 2148 Connaught Street. Registration for both conventions begins at 5:30 PM.
Thanks to Don for taking the time to introduce himself to readers. And I'll encourage anybody interested in giving a voice to those who are currently marginalized in Ottawa to help Don's campaign through the links above.

On top-down communication

It's noteworthy enough that after the spring session of the Legislature, the Sask Party government felt the need to go back to the drawing board with a new - or at least reworded - set of mandate letters. And I'm not inclined to allow the Wall government to change the subject from its own incompetence (and the resulting movement for change) for too long.

But there are a few points from the mandate letters that themselves speak volumes about the Wall government's warped priorities. And I'll take the opportunity to highlight a few that stand out.

For now, let's take a look at one of the tasks found in the letter to Wall's own deputy minister, Doug Moen:
Facilitating coordination and delivery of all government communications by providing effective strategic direction and implementing a new organization model that better aligns ministry communications activities to the Executive Council.
Now, I'm not aware of anybody in Saskatchewan expressing concern that Wall wasn't quite controlling enough, or that the province needed more top-down messaging. But the instruction to Moen seems to signal that after a session where his government has been rightly slammed for refusing to consult or communicate with Saskatchewan citizens, Wall is doubling down on a Harper-style system where his office strictly limits what the rest of the government says and does. And it's doubtful that either the ministries or the people who deal with them will appreciate the move toward centralized control.

Sham. Wow. Tony.

Shorter Tony Clement:

Can we agree that we won't be able to have any useful discussion about our new copyright legislation until we've all had a chance to see it? Good. With that in mind...Hi, it's Tony with DMCA! You’ll be saying "eh" every time you try to get at your favourite content!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Make haste, for the hour has grown late

For those in Regina Coronation Park and Regina South who haven't yet renewed or signed up for an NDP membership, Friday is the membership cutoff date for the nomination meetings later this month. So even if you haven't yet decided who to support, now might be a good time to pick up your membership so that you'll have the chance to vote.

On targets

In his comment on Angus Reid's findings about the best possible leader for an NDP/Lib coalition, Jeff unintentionally points out the reason why no replacement leader for the Libs can be expected to substantially improve the odds of taking down the Harper Cons - and why Canadians looking for change should cast their attention elsewhere:
And the X factor, of course, is the multi-million dollar demonization campaign the Conservatives unleashed on Ignatieff, and you can be sure one is sitting in a drawer on Bob.
Of course, it's undoubtedly true that any possible replacement for Ignatieff as the face of the Libs will face a similar blitz from the Cons. And the newer and less prominent any replacement is, the more devastating a campaign by the Cons is bound to be, as a consistent negative message sticks easily to a leader who lacks much public definition.

But there's a corollary to that view: a leader who's already well-defined and has a proven strategy for dealing with Con attacks makes for a far less juicy target. And while the Cons' strategy has been effective in smearing new leaders at a point where they aren't yet household names, it's been less so in attacking Layton in the past.

Remember that the Con response to the 2008 coalition included all-out slams on Layton and the NDP as coalition partners - which managed to affect Layton's numbers only temporarily. And with Layton now back on top as the most popular federal leader based on his work over the course of seven years at the helm of the NDP, it seems safe to say that the Cons will have a much tougher time tearing him down than anybody the Libs can present to the country.

So the case for putting Layton front and centre in any discussion of coalitions is based on more than just the fact that his current numbers are higher than the Libs' contenders. There's also a far stronger likelihood that Layton's positives can withstand the worst the Cons can throw at him - and that staying power may be the key to the change Canadians want.

Monday Morning Blog Links

Too many tabs to clear off all of them at once, so let's start with a quick run through some blog posts of note.

- Scott's suggestion for the Libs' coalition message may be a bit wordy, but it gets close to what looks to be the best possible starting point where all options are on the table.

- Steve is right to note how ridiculous the Cons look for claiming that the big meanie Liberals made them spend hundreds of millions of dollars on G8/G20 security. But let's note that the Cons aren't done digging, with a spokesflack spinning as a gratuitous "passing jab" as if that's supposed to be a reasonable explanation.

- It didn't take long in the wake of this morning's Angus Reid poll for Three Hundred Eight to crunch the national numbers on coalitions led by Ignatieff, Rae and Layton. But it's worth noting that in all three scenarios, either the Cons or the Libs would need the support of the Bloc to govern - meaning that all parties may have reason to stop the gratuitous Bloc-bashing that's remained the most problematic part of any coalition discussion.

- Finally, the back-and-forth between the gang at the Progressive Economics Forum and Stephen Gordon over tax policy has been a staple of the Canadian blogosphere for some time now. And it took one of its most interesting turns yet over the past week, with Gordon's slightly questionable list of sources allegedly supporting a corporate-first agenda getting promptly shot down by Marc Lee.

On media access

LRT is right to note that there's far less actual demand for right-wing propaganda than one would think from the sheer amount of it available. But at the same time, we also shouldn't underestimate its reach or ignore its dangerous effects.

After all, the number of people reached by even a relatively unpopular broadcast outlet may well be enough to sway public opinion by influencing what gets discussed and how. And there are plenty of examples of wealthy owners taking a loss on media outlets in order to better serve their interests elsewhere - e.g. by shouting down any talk of a progressive tax system, or (as in the current brouhaha) fomenting anger at workers.

That's why the likes of John Gormley will perpetually have access to a substantial audience, even if truly market-based decisions would see them turfed. And it's why we can't afford to let his ilk get too extreme without being called out through the more modest media that we have available.

A leadership moment

During the 2008 parliamentary showdown, the NDP went out of its way to avoid having any insistence on top cabinet positions derail the progressive coalition, explicitly ruling out any demand for posts like finance minister or deputy PM in order to assemble a team that could take down the Harper government. Now, we may get to find out whether the Libs have any interest in doing the same:
Si une coalition PLC-NPD était offerte aux électeurs, elle pourrait prendre le pouvoir. Toutefois, les conservateurs réussiraient à défaire une coalition dirigée par Michael Ignatieff (40% au PCC contre 34% au PLC-NPD). Dirigée par Bob Rae, la coalition arriverait à égalité avec le PCC (38% de chaque côté).

Seule une coalition pilotée par Jack Layton remporterait les élections (43% contre 37% pour le PCC). Cette coalition serait tout aussi populaire au Québec. Elle y récolterait 44% des suffrages, soit 10 points de pourcentage de plus que le Bloc québécois. «Jack Layton est aimé au Québec, mais plusieurs ne votent pas pour son parti, car ils savent qu'il n'a pas de chance d'être élu. Avec une coalition, cela change les intentions de vote», estime M. Mukerji.
Mind you, there is another way from point A to point B. After all, if the apparently-substantial number of Quebec voters holding off on voting NDP due only to the fact that they don't know their own strength can be brought together by the next election, then the Libs might well be cut out of the picture entirely.

But there seems to be little room for doubt that the strongest possible coalition would feature Layton as its leader. And how the Libs respond to that possibility may determine whether or not there's much hope of bringing down the Harper government in the foreseeable future.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

On lost perspectives

It's a sad day for the Canadian blogosphere when leading sources of snark and perspective alike decide to go dark. All the best to both CC and Dan Gardner in their continued work - and I'll hope the pull of the blogs is strong enough to bring both back in time.

Take two

Yesterday, Jack Layton suggested that the opposition parties use the fact that the Cons won't want to see a vote of non-confidence before next month's international summits as an opportunity to press for better policies than they'd have on offer otherwise. That might be limited to slowing down or diverting some of the garbage tossed into the Cons' dumpster bill - or with a strong opposition push, it might well mean getting some genuinely positive policy put in place as the price of allowing Stephen Harper his much-sought-after photo ops. (How about, say, getting the Climate Change Accountability Act through the Senate?)

Since Layton made the suggestion, I've seen plenty of Libs respond by labelling it a stunt or by criticizing Layton's wording. But I've seen exactly zero consider the possibility on its merits.

So let's put the idea out there again. Is there some reason why the opposition parties in general (or the Libs in particular) wouldn't try to get some results with the leverage that comes from the Cons wanting to avoid an election? And if not, then what can they work together to get done?

The reviews are in

Following up on this morning's post, here's the Montreal Gazette editorial board with its own well-justified concern about the Cons' dumpster bill:
The measures are not of prime importance - except maybe the environment one - but this practice simply guts Parliamentary debate.

And they're getting away with it. No party wants an election now, and the public wants one even less. But an election would be triggered if MPs defeat the budget, the cornerstone of the government agenda. So the budget is sure to pass, meaning anything included in it has a get-out-of-jail-free card: no cranky opposition, no careful study, no public airing. The whole budget bill got just seven days of House debate, and five in committee.

This is a shabby and unreasonable way to do the public's business.
One passed in the House, the budget bill faces the Senate, where some senators are threatening to separate one or all of the measures listed above before passage. The argument against that is that the Senate, with so little democratic legitimacy, ought not to interfere with the public will as expressed by the Commons. But an omnibus bill like this is in itself plainly a circumventing of MPs' authority (and duty) to express the public will on various matters.

Stephen Harper and his troops have resorted to this gimmick after about half of their legislation, in recent years, has been stymied one way or another - either by their own artful prorogations or by the opposition. We can understand ministers' frustration, but respected political scientist Ned Franks had this right when he told the Hill Times that this kind of "end run" is an "abomination" and a good example of "how not to do legislation."

On rush jobs

Not surprisingly, the Cons are making up excuses as to why their dumpster bill should go unchallenged. But let's see just how well the excuse holds up to scrutiny.

Here's the Cons' spokesflack explaining why nobody should bother looking at 880 pages worth of Harper-driven legislative amendments, many of which have nothing to do with the budget they're tied to:
“The all-party House of Commons Finance Committee has scrutinized C-9 and passed it without amendment,” Mr. Chisholm noted.
So what actually happened at the Finance Committee, which covered those 880 pages in a grand total of seven meetings? Let's take a look to see if anybody can reasonably claim that concerns about the bill were actually given proper scrutiny.

The first meeting to study C-9 took place on April 22. On that day, the Finance Committee received approximately 80 minutes to ask questions about the first three parts of C-9, covering 97 sections of statutory changes. And Finance Committee Chair James Rajotte helpfully described the workload associated with the bill as follows:
Okay, it looks like we've finished 3 of 24 parts today.

I do want to very much thank the witness for being here.

Colleagues, you may want to hear this. We have 21 parts left of the bill. We have 62 witnesses who have been requested on this bill. There are some time sensitive issues here that need to be done, at least in the government's view, by June.
Not surprisingly, at least some opposition members were somewhat concerned with having to jam that many witnesses in along with the sheer size of the bill. But when NDP MP Pat Martin suggested splitting up the bill, here's what he was told:
Mr. Pat Martin:
My only observation, on the NDP's part, is that you could always split the bill as a third option. You didn't have to stuff in all of these controversial things that have really nothing to do with the budget, like the environmental assessment review, etc.

Break out the time-sensitive parts of this bill and I think it would pass speedily, and leave the controversial stuff for further analysis later on.

The Chair:
I appreciate that, but as you know from reading your O'Brien and Bosc book, a committee has to deal with a bill as sent to it by the House of Commons. So we have no choice as a committee other than to deal with the bill in its present form.
So in case there's any doubt as to whether the fact that the bill wasn't split up at the Finance Committee level means that anybody actually approved of having it rammed through all at once, the answer is a flat "no".

The Finance Committee's April 27 meeting, which lasted two and a half hours (including a forty-five minute break for a vote in the House of Commons), finished off only two parts of the bill. But since one of those parts was the massive Part 5 dealing with customs tariffs, the meeting made for MPs' lone opportunity to deal with a grand total of 1,548 sections of C-9. So shall we ask if anybody honestly believes that an average of four seconds of scrutiny per section is plenty of time to evaluate the Cons' budget legislation?

Thanks in large part to Rajotte's admonitions that MPs "be as brief as possible in our questions" and "try to get many parts as we can today" as well as a decision to limit questioning to five-minute rounds, the Finance Committee's two-hour meeting on April 29 managed to breeze through parts 6 through 14 of the bill, covering 136 sections. (And they'd have made it further if the Vice Chair's attempt to simply declare five parts dealt with without any questions had succeeded.) As part of their effort to give the budget implementation proper scrutiny, MPs received helpful answers such as these ones dealing with the Cons' claim to have saved a bundle of money by eliminating positions which didn't actually cost anything:
Mr. Robert Carrier:
At how much do you estimate the real savings from the elimination of these positions?

Ms. Claudette Lévesque:
We did not evaluate that... It was not just a computing exercise, it was an exercise to try to evaluate the efficiency of the various boards and to ensure the best governance. If all 245 positions had been filled, we estimate that the costs — this is a very rough estimate that we did with Treasury Board — including the per diems, the honorariums, travel costs and everything associated with these boards, would be $1,000,000 to $1,250,000 for the 245 positions.

Mr. Robert Carrier:
That is assuming these positions would be filled. Is that a realistic assumption? Could these positions, even though 90% of them are presently vacant, be potentially filled or are these rather useless positions that you want to eliminate in the interest of efficiency?

Ms. Claudette Lévesque:
I am unable to comment. Obviously, these positions are filled by Governor in Council appointments. So this would be on the advice of the minister in charge of that portfolio. I could not say regarding any given position whether it could have been filled, but as a result of the assessment it was decided that they were no longer necessary.
At the Finance Committee's next meeting on May 4, Rajotte helpfully signalled that he wanted to be done dealing with the bill by the end of that week. The two-hour meeting dealt with Parts 15-19 of C-9 (266 sections in total), including the thorny issues of Canada Post and AECL.

Along the way, the Cons decided that any information about what effect the amendments might actually have on Canada Post had to be withheld from the MPs assessing the bill:
Mr. Thomas Mulcair:
As an elected member, I want to see those analyses that have been done by your department. Can I have them?

Ms. Katherine Moynihan:
I imagine the studies will be subject to the Cabinet confidence policy.

Mr. Thomas Mulcair:
The thing is, the Cabinet in question is asking us to vote for or against a bill, based on information we don't have. It is a great pleasure to meet you this afternoon, Ms. Moynihan, but you are giving me nothing that clarifies it for me and enables me to make that decision.

Mr. Ted Menzies
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Go ahead.

Mr. Ted Menzies: Having been a minister, Mr. Mulcair would know that there is cabinet confidentiality.

If you wish that information, rather than asking this witness, I would suggest that you ask the minister—
Mr. Thomas Mulcair:
We've just been told that studies and scenarios and modelling have been done as to the potential costs. The member of Parliament who is sitting in the corner over there decided that he knows that they're cabinet documents. We have no such information. If he has been given access to cabinet documents, we should be given the same access, because he's just a member of Parliament, as we are.

The Chair:
As the chair, I will make the request that if there are any documents that can be made available to the committee, please make them available to the clerk and they will be made available to all members.
The May 5 meeting began with Rajotte declaring his intention to complete the committee's review of the five remaining parts of the bill, including Part 20 dealing with environmental assessments, Part 21 making changes to the Canada Labour Code, and Part 23 amending Canada's telecommunications ownership laws. The committee didn't quite make it to the end, but managed to skim over Parts 20-23 (32 total sections) in two hours.

The two-hour May 6 meeting covered Part 24, then got started with the first six organizations on the committee's witness list. On May 11, a three-hour meeting dealt with 11 organizations' views on the environmental assessment and nuclear issues. On May 12, a 95-minute meeting dealt with a panel of six organizations on a grab bag of issues within C-9.

Finally, the May 13 meeting raced through votes on all sections of the bill in under half an hour - with a number of provisions passing thanks only to the chair breaking a tie in the absence of a full Lib slate. A statement by NDP MP Pat Martin made for the only substantive discussion - but it led to this response from Dean Del Mastro:
(A)s the member would well know, bills are often brought before the House. We don't presuppose at committee whether a bill would pass or not; that's why we have standing votes in the House of Commons.

The member presupposes that the absence of a given member is in fact determining whether these clauses or this bill would succeed or fail. I'd suggest that it's not fair to project onto anyone whether something would pass or fail if the membership were in fact somewhat different.
So in committee, the Cons told the NDP that it shouldn't worry too much about what happened there since the House would have its say. But now that the bill has passed committee, they're claiming that the House has no business doing just that.

To sum up, then, the 2208 sections of C-9 were dealt with in committee for a total of roughly 18 hours - meaning that on average 122 sections were dealt with per hour, or over two per minute of committee time. That amount includes questions to officials, outside organizations' presentations and comments from the MPs involved. And needless to say, the breakneck pace came due thanks in large part to the Cons' constant demands that the process be sped up and the level of detail pared down - and with the usual obstacles put in the way of other parties' attempts to gather information.

So the only available conclusion is that the Cons have been working at all turns to make sure that C-9 doesn't receive the type of scrutiny it deserves. And the fact that they managed to strongarm the Libs at a previous point in the process most certainly doesn't entitle them to declare that there's no point in changing that reality now.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On showing up

Update: This post has been removed and retracted in its entirety. My apologies to Tom Lukiwski for any harm to his reputation caused by this post or its contents.