Saturday, June 12, 2010

On quarter measures

The NDP's response to Jim Flaherty's pension proposal is duly skeptical. And the fact that the Cons are looking for the provinces to settle for extremely modest improvements makes a lot more sense as a means of minimizing the more ambitious plan passed unanimously by Parliament (presumably since the Cons didn't want to be on record opposing greater retirement security):
Mr. Flaherty’s proposal is a partial response to the four-part plan to provide retirement security for Canadians included in a NDP motion of June 16, 2009, which was adopted unanimously by the House of Commons. That motion called for:

* Increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to end seniors’ poverty.
* Strengthening the Canadian Pension Plan/Quebec Pension Plan, in consultation with the provinces, with a goal of doubling benefits.
* Developing a national pension insurance program, funded by employer pension plans, that will guarantee pensioners up to $2,500/month in the event of bankruptcy and plan failure.
* Creating a national facility to adopt workplace pension plans of companies in bankruptcy or in difficulty and keep them operating on a going-concern basis.
Which isn't to say that the Cons were ever likely to live up to their supposed support of the NDP's plan. But the provinces should be hesitant to give Flaherty cover to back away from the greater improvements already agreed to in the House of Commons - and should respond by looking for more improvements to be included in a consensus deal, rather than concluding that they can't do better than Flaherty's effort to do as little as possible.

The reviews are in

Jim Meek nicely points out how the Cons could accomplish all of their supposed goals for media at the G8 and G20 summits for far less cost:
Harper says the fake lake isn’t a fake lake, despite the canoes and the phoney docks. Harper insists it is really a reflecting pool that is part of a $2-million marketing pavilion to promote Canadian tourism.

This means the media centre for the G8 summit isn’t a media centre, but an element in a marketing campaign designed to transform 3,000 international financial journalists into tourism ambassadors.

So the media centre that is not a media centre, housing the fake lake that is not a fake lake, will allow reporters to experience the simulated joys of the G8 summit site — which they cannot visit.
(L)et’s use digital technology to take the story to the world, instead of bringing the world’s journalists to Toronto — only to hold them hostage inside a virtual Muskoka.

No reason those 3,000 reporters can’t be back in their home offices, looking at a virtual, fully-digitalized, cheaper fake lake on their computer screens. What this country needs, Mr. Prime Minister, is a faker fake lake.

Regina Qu'Appelle Valley - Steve Ryan Seeking NDP Nomination

I've been wondering for quite some time how long it would be before a nomination race started up in Regina Qu'Appelle Valley, which was the NDP's closest Regina loss in 2007. Now James Wood has the answer, as Steve Ryan has put his name forward:
Steve Ryan, a former University of Regina Rams football player and brother of Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan, announced this week he would run for the party's nomination in Regina Qu'Appelle Valley.

Ryan was drafted by the NDP to run in Wood River in 2007 after the party's original candidate dropped out. He lost to long-time Sask. Party MLA Yogi Huyghebaert.
While Ryan's 2007 result isn't exactly one he'll want to point to (as he received the lowest vote total of any NDP candidate in the province), it's certainly to his credit that he was willing to put his name on the ballot. And he's had some public involvement in the meantime as well which bodes well for his dedication to the NDP's efforts.

Of course, it'll be a surprise if there aren't more candidates yet to come. But Ryan's entry in the race should help push them to make up their minds as well - so we should have another strong nomination contest heating up just as the current ones in Regina South and Regina Coronation Park come to a close next week.

On extremism

As part of their panicked response to a possible coalition government after the next federal election, the Cons have regularly shrieked about how the NDP is too far outside mainstream opinion to hold a place in the federal government. And unfortunately, they've received far too much help from Canada's corporate press.

But this looks to be another area where the Cons' dogma - even where it's far too often repeated by ill-informed columnists - bears absolutely no relation to the actual views of the public. Here's Aaron Wherry citing the 2008 Canadian Election Survey:
Is there any Federal political party that is just too extreme for you?
Liberal 4.1%
Conservative 16.1%
NDP 7.7%

Is there a party you would absolutely not vote for?
Liberal 14.4%
Conservative 25.6%
NDP 11.6%
Of course, the NDP does have further to go in actually winning votes to its column. But it's the Cons that are rightly seen by more citizens as dominated by extreme views that make them completely unacceptable as a possible voting option. And the more the Cons invite discussion about who's actually beyond the boundaries of Canadian public opinion, the more likely they are to suffer for that comparison.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Musical interlude

Serge Devant feat. Hadley - Addicted (Radio Edit)

Total recall

There's been no lack of talk about Blair Lekstrom's resignation from the B.C. Libs over the HST. But it's worth noting exactly how Lekstrom has framed his departure, and what it means for his former caucus-mates:
"It is clear to me that the residents of Peace River South are opposed to the harmonized sales tax and are unhappy with the way in which our government moved forward with this policy," he said in a statement released Friday morning.

"This is not about being right or wrong; in fact, I firmly believe that government is making a decision they believe will help the province, but as we have been unable to bring the public along, I acknowledge there is a need to re-evaluate this decision," he said.

"In light of the widespread opposition to the HST, I believe it would be prudent to bring the move toward the HST to a halt and immediately engage British Columbians in a dialogue about our taxation policy.

"This is a major tax policy shift, and it is time to engage British Columbians with a series of discussions about our province's future."
Lekstrom, who was a key leader in Premier Gordon Campbell's cabinet, also said he was quitting the Liberal caucus but will stay on as the MLA for Peace River South in northeastern B.C.

He has yet to say whether he plans to sit as an Independent or perhaps even join the rising B.C. Conservative Party as the fringe party's first MLA in decades.
So what's noticeably missing from Lekstrom's message? Strikingly, he isn't actually criticizing the HST in substance, or substantially contradicting the B.C. Libs' party line as to how it came to be - which looks to distinguish Lekstrom from politicians whose resignations from cabinet or party have been based on actual disagreements in principle.

Rather, Lekstrom is merely refusing to vote for the HST in the next little while pending future "discussions". And that suggests to me that his goal isn't to serve as the face of the B.C. Conservatives or otherwise take a front-and-centre role fighting against harmonization. Instead, his resignation looks to be aimed primarily at allowing himself to vote against the HST for the short term - presumably avoiding becoming one of the first victims of this fall's expected recall petitions in the process - while leaving the door open for a return to the Libs' fold after the HST storm passes.

Of course, only so many MLAs can get away with that type of move without costing the Campbell government its legislative majority. And now that Lekstrom has set the precedent, it'll be interesting to see who's next in line to try to avoid an immediate recall at the expense of their standing in caucus.

Regina South and Regina Coronation Park - Virtual Document Drop Ahead

With two Saskatchewan NDP nomination meetings set to take place in Regina next week, there seems to be plenty of effort going into a final message from many of the nomination candidates. With that in mind, I'll plan to post Virtual Document Drops for both ridings next week so that readers can see what the candidates have put together.

For those candidates interested in having their materials included, please send them to the e-mail address in the right column. I'll plan to run the Regina South materials on Monday, and those from Regina Coronation Park on Wednesday.

Insecure locations

It figures to be some time before stories stop circulating about smaller pieces of the Cons' G8/G20 billion-dollar boondoggle. But for all the problems with fake lakes, boats that don't float and random gazebos in the middle of nowhere, the most telling sign of the Cons' incompetence can be found in the spending which makes up the bulk of the cost of the summits.

The news that the security firm responsible for the summits isn't even licensed to do the job - and is scrambling to staff the event - seems to have mostly been considered as a sidelight to the main story. But it's worth noting that the Cons' supposed focus on security doesn't seem to be reflected at all in what's actually been done.

For all the talk about the importance of planning, what can it say about the ability of either the Con government or Contemporary Security Canada to plan for event contingencies when neither seems to have put any thought into making sure CSC could legally work the event?

Likewise, for all the moves to shut down public activity in and around Toronto in the name of security, what could make for a more golden opportunity for a would-be saboteur (with enough foresight to be licensed as a security guard) than to be brought on-site by a firm desperately trying to assemble temporary manpower at the last minute from a limited pool of applicants? And what happens if the lack of preparation means that CSC isn't able to provide as many bodies as it's planning to have available?

So what's the catch?

It's remarkable that Jim Flaherty's initial position on pensions actually includes some (albeit "modest") improvement to the Canada Pension Plan, rather than relying solely on a model to benefit Canadians who have plenty of spare money to sock away.

But this being a Con government, no seemingly reasonable policy can be presented without important caveats. And there are indeed a couple of problems with Flaherty's presentation of the CPP idea.

First, there's the fact that it's tied to a perceived need for "balance" between private- and public-sector pension changes. In other words, Flaherty looks to be willing to pay off the financial industry with the promise of increased profits among those who already don't lack for subsidized saving opportunities as the price of actually improving the CPP. Which makes for a far more costly fix than would otherwise be necessary, and likely gives Flaherty an excuse to cry poverty when anybody points out that his plan completely neglects old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.

More important, though, is Flaherty's apparent insistence that he'll require "significant provincial support" before considering any changes to the CPP - even though that's the part of his plan that can be implemented solely at the federal level. In effect, that seems to signal that Flaherty doesn't want to do any of the work making the case for the CPP publicly, instead leaving the issue for the provinces to pick up if they so choose - and planning for his main contribution to be taking credit if the provinces take up the cause.

In sum, while the CPP increase makes for an unusually positive policy idea from Flaherty, it's wrapped in the Cons' usual layers of waste and neglect. But hopefully Ontario and any provinces who do decide to push the idea will also help to shape it into a better end result than what Flaherty has put on the table so far.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Facepalm moment of the day

Yessiree, if there's anything the Libs can do to help the cause of accountability in opposing a government determined to stonewall at every turn, it's setting the example that committee orders don't need to be followed.

Put to the test

I don't tend to comment on each and every federal poll as it comes out due to the sense that most of the movement tends to reflect noise rather than much of substance. But it's worth noting when the results do have more meaning than usual - and the next batch of polls, starting with the recent one from EKOS, may be highly significant in testing public attitudes about possible coalition governments.

If the Cons are right to cling to the idea that any talk of coalition is toxic (and they've certainly wasted a lot of breath trying to claim just that), then we'd expect them to receive a major bounce in the wake of Michael Ignatieff's announcement that he'd be open to one following the next election. And conversely, if the public's immediate reaction to coalition talk isn't a boost for the Cons like the one they got in December 2008, then we can probably conclude that the idea is far more acceptable than the Cons want to believe.

So far, the results show no backlash at all either from the polling period as a whole or the days after Ignatieff's statement - which can only suggest that the Cons' coalition fearmongering has long since outlived its usefulness even without much pushback from any of the other parties. And the more the opposition parties can contrast a positive message about cooperative politics against the Cons' ineffective demonization of coalitions, the more likely future polls will be to turn decisively against the Cons.

Going it alone

Campbell Clark reports that the Cons' attack on global financial regulation has managed to make "screw you, we've got ours" into the leading theme going into the G8 and G20 summits:
(European states) have been the most resistant to Canada’s proposal for common interim deficit targets, according to officials from several G20 countries. In meetings of G20 sherpas, they say they’ll deal with deficit targets inside Europe. Other participants say it’s a response to Canada’s bank-tax opposition. “The Europeans quite easily say, ‘Just like you said on the [bank tax] issue, you can do that if you want, but we don’t need to,’ ” one official from a G20 country said.
The pattern could set a precedent. Many in the G20 want China to spend more and increase the value of its currency. A low currency helps China export more and import less. The United States pressed the issue at a meeting of G20 officials in Calgary two weeks ago.

But China doesn’t want to be the summit’s focus, and doesn’t want to shift its currency policy under international pressure. The G20 set up a process for issues such as China’s currency values, and it’s supposed to come in two phases: The IMF submits reports on economic forecasts and regional issues for G20 leaders to review in June, and a second phase will deal with national policy such as currency rates.

China is against the whole second phase. And they may be able to find lots of precedents for going their own way.
Now, one might be tempted to ask whether this is really what the Cons intended to provoke. But the answer is probably that they're perfectly happy undercutting agreements on other issues as long as it means they've used their ability to stonewall global action to rein in corporate excesses to the greatest possible effect.

Well said

Brad Lavigne points out that while the Libs are again looking for a quick fix to make up for years of ineffective opposition, Canadians don't have to settle for the same old politics:
While there is a growing desire to stop Mr. Harper, there is also a decreasing capacity of the Liberal party to play that role. In the last three elections, the Liberals have lost a million and half votes while the NDP has gained a million and a half. In the last few years, the Liberals have lost a net total of 41 seats to Mr. Harper while Jack Layton has actually taken a net total of three seats away from Mr. Harper.

A majority want Mr. Harper's minority government brought to heel. Many progressive Canadians despair at the Liberals' failure to conduct themselves as an effective opposition.
Today, Canadians are faced with a government that's growing ever more arrogant, more provocative. Mr. Harper rode into office on bold promises to be more transparent; now he presides over the most secretive government in history. After swearing he'd reform the unelected Senate, he's already appointed more friends to that crusty chamber than any other prime minister.

New Democrat MPs are focused on replacing both Mr. Harper and his agenda. All session long, they've shown their commitment to a better way. Their agenda balances fiscal responsibility with first steps toward better income security -- such as fixing EI and improving child benefits. Last Friday, Jack Layton joined Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter to outline a fresh approach to modernizing public health care. This week, he's promoting a new deal with aboriginal Canadians. And next weekend, he'll be in B.C. promoting practical solutions to the retirement savings crisis.

In short, Mr. Layton is out there articulating an alternative agenda that matches what the overwhelming majority of Canadians say they want from Ottawa. To give every Canadian a chance to vote for that is the NDP's electoral strategy.

On misplaced faith

Bob Hepburn is right to note that Stephen Harper seems to have reached the point of having "grown too arrogant, too uncaring and too obsessed with (his) own image" to avoid a significant popular backlash. But it's worth noting why exactly Harper is reaching that point so quickly, as this looks to be another example of the Cons' insularity leading them to incorrectly assume that public opinion will find their spin to be reasonable.

For a mere ordinary Canadian, the concept of fabricating a fake lake - or spending upwards of a million dollars on backdrops alone - as part of a government's PR strategy in a time of supposed austerity can only reflect an appalling lack of judgment.

But the calculation probably looks entirely different to a group of people trained to operate as the Prime Minister's personal cult: Harper's true believers aren't about to suggest that there's any limit to what the Dear Leader can do to promote himself. And Harper's consistent pattern of shutting down or shutting out any dissenting voices can only exacerbate the gap between what the public will see as acceptable limits on self-promotion, and the lengths the Cons will go to for the greater glory of King Steve.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

On social status

Sure, the back-and-forth as to who (if anybody) besides Warren Kinsella is pushing a merger is still very much in progress. But there's surely one lesson we can take from the exchange so far: that Lib President Alfred Apps is the life of any party:
Over the past two weeks, I have listened to arguments in favour of some arrangement with the NDP from only two Liberals (sic) pundits (including Warren) and engaged in friendly banter with a couple of New Democrats over drinks (e.g. will you renounce socialism?).
If that doesn't send Apps and his hand-picked leader to the top of the list of political figures Canadians want to have a drink with, what can?

An alternative explanation

Now that the story from "many Liberal insiders" about alleged merger discussions with the NDP has been denied by all sides, it's worth asking exactly what led to the possibility being mooted in the first place. And while Jeff's theory about leadership machinations is plausible enough, I wonder if the answer may instead lie in another of the Libs' internal hangups.

After all, part of the Libs' legacy to which they cling so proudly is that of putting mushy-middleness over leadership in any particular direction - from the "do nothing by halves which can be done by quarters" credo of days gone by, to their "party of the centre" definition as perpetually stated by their current leader.

With that self-image, it might be difficult for the Libs to accept a coalition deal after the next election when it's being portrayed as an extreme position by a powerful Con message machine - and when nothing more is apparently on the table. But discussion about an all-out merger could make it a lot easier to portray a post-election coalition as representing relatively comfortable middle ground rather than an extreme possibility.

Of course, the fact that the Libs' dealings with the rest of the country are so firmly grounded in their own internal neuroses makes for all the more reason why any party should be wary of taking on their weaknesses. But at the very least, I'd hope it's at least possible that the merger rumour might serve some useful purpose, rather than counting solely as the latest volley in the Libs' perpetual civil war.

Saskatchewan Nomination Roundup

A few notes on provincial and federal nomination races around the province...

In Regina South, Yens Pedersen has focused on membership sales lately, and is announcing that his campaign has brought in 65 new members as of last week's deadline. Meanwhile, Heather McIntyre is pointing out Kent's timeline of the race.

In Regina Coronation Park, last month's debate has been followed by a surprising lull in apparent activity. Roger Bucsis has yet to put up any apparent public presence, and Tory McGregor and Fred Kress have combined for a single Facebook wall post since then. That's left Jaime Garcia and Tamara Harder as the two candidates still making an effort to keep voters interested and informed online - though it's possible the others have simply turned their focus elsewhere.

But at least the NDP can claim that its provincial nominations are being contested. In contrast, Sean notes that city councillor Gord Wyant has been acclaimed as the Sask Party's candidate in Saskatoon Northwest.

Meanwhile, the Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre continues to see plenty of online activity, as Brian Sklar is making an effort to match Don Hansen's steady stream of posts. But does anybody know exactly what Brian means when he says he wants to "elect the first "Western Senator""?

A Very Special Midweek Musical Interlude

JimBobby - The Ballad of Fake Lake

And as a bonus...

Jennifer Smith - If I Had A Billion Dollars

On foregone conclusions

Lest there be any doubt, the Libs deserve all the criticism they've received (and more) for allowing the Cons' dumpster bill to pass. But it's worth noting that there was no real chance of anything different happening yesterday, when the sole vote was on C-9 in all its bloated glory.

Instead, the real chance to change matters came on the NDP's motions to strip some of the more egregious parts out of the bill to be dealt with separately - which would have actually addressed the concern about needing more time to consider the problematic parts of the bill, without necessarily provoking a confidence test since it wouldn't actually have resulted in any substantive government measures being voted down. But once the Libs voted en masse with the Cons to avoid separating anything out of C-9, there was never any realistic prospect that the Libs would find a spine when it came to the budget bill in its entirety.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

One step too far

Apparently just a week after anybody within the Libs first dared to suggest that any type of interparty cooperation was possible, we've already reached the point of merger talks. To which I can only say: let's try actually running an election as separate parties where the Libs don't rule out cooperating afterward before we get into the mess associated with folding the two parties together.

Update: Greg is even more skeptical. And Pogge's comment on earlier rumours is also worth keeping in mind:
And if the Liberals did merge with the NDP, I suspect it would be a matter of weeks before the announcement of the formation of a new party on the left.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

- Brian Topp nicely describes the effect of talk about a possible coalition:
The truth of it is that Harper does not like talk about coalitions because he has no friends in the House of Commons, and is therefore not in a position to form one.

That is a permanent vulnerability. The issue is whether his opponents will have the collective wit to exploit it.
And with the Libs now seeming to have figured out that they're better off not letting Harper trap them in a two-party confrontation (and the public onside), it's obvious why the Cons are reversing course themselves rather than upping the ante.

- Peter Julian rightly notes that there's been far too little coverage of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. And hopefully he's right in believing that the issue isn't going to go away:
The lies of the Colombian government are widespread—denying the abuses of their secret police, excusing the military killings of African Colombians and aboriginal Colombians, and pretending that labour organizers are killed in so called "love feuds." The lies are constant, unerring, and slick; yet the lies haven't been able to convince members of the US Congress that this new government in Colombia has any respect for human rights. Apparently, The Harper government and Ignatieff's Liberals are much more pliable.

There is more to the Canada-Colombia FTA than meets the eye. It will continue to be a part of public debate for some time to come, despite Conservative and Liberal attempts to cut off debate and to shut out the public.
- For all the problems surrounding the G8/G20 summit, it's particularly noteworthy that the Cons seem to have abandoned what was supposed to be their good-news story from the meetings.

- And unfortunately, Greg is right to point out the latest Afghan detainee document deadline that's passed. And particularly with the Libs still pretending that the Cons have the slightest interest in reaching agreement rather than stonewalling at every turn, there's effectively no reason to think the Cons' efforts to drag out the Afghan detainee document negotiations will be anything but completely successful in keeping the truth hidden from opposition MPs.

On failed consultations

ShamWow Minister Tony Clement tries to reassure one of his Twitter questioners that he'll look into the question of whether his government's copyright legislation effectively outlaws open-source software:
Relax-looking into it RT @abramh @TonyClement_MP refuses to acknowledge that #C32 bans Linux/Android/OpenSource/FreeSoftware
And of course it's completely to be expected that Clement would have absolutely no clue what impact C-32 might have on open-source content. After all, it's not as if the bill was drafted following a consultation process where that exact question was front and centre.

An instant classic

But this will obviously reach a larger audience if it's actually recorded. So who's up for the challenge?

The verdict is in

It's a source of endless mystery that right-wing governments manage to carry a "fiscally responsible" brand even when their consistent track record is one of unsustainable tax slashing leading to mountains of debt. But Murray Mandryk points out that the Wall government is on the verge of having its popular image reflect its public mismanagement, with particular thanks to a rare opportunity to directly test the Sask Party's spin:
(W)hat might be more troubling for the Saskatchewan Party government's reputation as fiscal managers came as a result of blasts from a couple sources with expertise and objectivity on financial matters.
(M)ore damning, however, was what (Acting Provincial Auditor Brian) Atkinson had to say about "inappropriate accounting policies" that have resulted in the government reporting "net debt and annual surplus inaccurately." Had the government properly accounted for all transactions, the government would have recorded a net debt of $8.07 billion instead of $3.85 billion and a surplus of $1.62 billion instead of $2.39 billion in 2008-09, the acting auditor said.

Atkinson's criticism come at a time when both the Sask. Party and the NDP are running advertisements with diametrically opposing claims on the government's debt record. If one views the auditor as the arbiter, his recent report certainly comes down in the NDP's favour.

In fact, the auditor's report pretty much buttresses the NDP's complaints about massive deception in that Sask. Party flyer that landed on your doorstep recently, in which it claims provincial debt under the NDP was $6.8 billion, but is now only $4.1 billion under the Sask. Party government. The debt graph Wall strategists drew up in their propaganda was (at best) misleading or (at worst) downright deceitful, as it tries to pass off general revenue fund debt as being the same thing as overall provincial debt (which is again on the rise).


When Jason Kenney's lies about calling staffers before committees were exposed, I pointed out an extra factor which aggravated the dishonesty, as Kenney used a tone and words designed to convey personal memory and opinion to spout talking points which apparently had nothing to do with his actual experience. And at the time, I considered that to be reason for complete distrust in anything Kenney has to say.

Little did I know just how systematic that pattern might be. But the CP's must-read series on the Cons' message control includes this sad reality:
CIDA, meanwhile, tried to put forward its returning Kandahar-based employees for interviews to highlight development efforts. “First-hand accounts by Canadians who have lived and worked in Afghanistan add credibility to Canada's role,” states one MEP.

Helene Kadi, in Kandahar from September, 2006, to August, 2007, was cleared to do several interviews. “Helene has gained experience and confidence in giving on-air statements,” says a Feb. 5, 2008, MEP.

The document laid out the desired “headline” for a proposed 10-minute interview by Ms. Kadi on a CBC Radio morning show in Thunder Bay: “Perspective from the ground: Canada makes progress in terms of development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.”

Ms. Kadi's MEP contained the same key messages – word for word – as one prepared for another CIDA employee.

On Feb. 12, 2008, returning CIDA manager Kevin Rex gave an interview to weekly Alberta newspaper the Airdrie Echo.

The separate MEPs for Ms. Kadi and Mr. Rex specified the same “key message:” “As a returned CIDA field staff, I have seen and experienced first-hand the accomplishments and results achieved in Afghanistan, thanks to Canada's role in that country.”
Needless to say, this particular MEP looks to have backfired so as to do about as much damage as possible. Now, it's public knowledge that the concept of "individuals speaking from experience" - even among employees presented for their independence - has been harnessed as a distribution mechanism for dishonest boilerplate talking points.

In effect, the MEPs make for official documentation that a purported "first-hand account" from anybody under the Cons' thumb is bound to be no less scripted than a government press release. And the result is that the right answer to supposedly personal stories can only be thorough skepticism as to who's actually put the words into the speaker's mouth.

Monday, June 07, 2010

On selective addition

Shorter Con coalition spin:

It's an antidemocratic abomination to add up voting outcomes which could possibly reflect different preferences to achieve a majority result. Except when we do it.

The reviews are in

The Province takes note of the NDP's pension legislation that's making its way through Parliament, and gives it a thumbs-up:
The NDP portrays itself as the party of regular working people and for good reason.

The list of New Democratic Party initiatives for workers over the years is long.
(John Rafferty's C-501) proposes to change federal bankruptcy rules to give pensioners and laid-off workers of bankrupt companies "secured" creditor status.

As workers at distressed Canadian firms know too well, they are sent to the back of the line with other unsecured creditors and face ruined retirement years. This isn't the case in other countries where pensions are protected.

Rafferty's bill makes sense. It is only fair and just that people who have worked their whole lives receive a pension that has been promised, in the same way they received wages, medical coverage or other agreed-to benefits.
(Edit: fixed typo.)

Fake plastic lakes

Most of the commentary on the Cons' Lake Boondoggle has talked about it in the context of the appalling mismanagement surrounding the G8 and G20 summits. And there's good reason to make sure that it's classified as an egregious example of the Cons' misuse of public money. But there's another side to the story which should also be highlighted.

After all, Canada is home to over 30,000 lakes - and as JAWL notes, one of the Great ones is found within walking distance of the Toronto event site.

But the Cons' tourist strategy is based on the belief that there's no point in directing conference visitors to any actual nature. Instead, the minister from Muskoka seems to have decided that everything he wants to promote about its wilderness can be captured in a temporary indoor structure.

So what does it say about how the Cons value Canada's natural beauty if they think it's possible to experience the majesty of our natural environment using a wading pool and a TV screen? And if the Cons think they can build a reasonable facsimile of Canada's great outdoors anytime they want to, doesn't that bode rather poorly for how well they'll bother to protect the real thing?

Update: The Council of Canadians pairs a similar observation with a campaign to name the fake lake "Harper's Folly". About my only worry is that the many other name-that-lake suggestions will be keep any one from sinking into the public's consciousness - but the Council's suggestion looks like one worth sticking with.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Wait and see

With the political scene in British Columbia seeming to have been significantly reshaped by the HST petition campaign, it was only a matter of time before the issue was raised again on the federal level despite the Harper Cons' attempts to distance themselves from the tax. And the NDP has found a key area where the Cons can obviously make important decisions one way or the other despite their protestations to the contrary:
Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton sent a letter in April to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging him to put off implementation of the tax until the referendum process is complete.
(NDP MP) Don Davies said there's no rush to bring in the tax before a possible referendum takes place, especially in light of the petition, which he called “one of the greatest expressions of public democracy in British Columbia history.”

“The least that Mr. Campbell and Mr. Harper can do is respect that by not proceeding with the HST on July 1,” he said.

“We think that the only democratic thing to do and the only smart public policy thing to do is to stop this tax now and let's wait and see what the people of British Columbia decide to do.”
Of course, the agreements signed to implement the HST seem to have been nicely structured to allow each side to claim that it's locked in by the other. But there can't be any room for doubt that the governments involved can override their agreement to impose the tax without considering the views of the public if they're both willing to do so. And it makes all the sense in the world to keep the status quo in place while the petition/referendum process plays out, rather than converting the province's tax system so as to make it costly and complicated to de-harmonize sales taxes again.

That is, unless the Harper Cons plan to hold B.C. to the terms of the agreement even in the face of a massive popular revolt against the HST. But if that's their choice, then it's only fair that they'll have to face the political consequences. And the NDP is nicely positioned to speak along with the public in condemning any decision to force the HST ahead.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Deep thought

Normally Potemkin politics work better when you don't advertise your own fakery.

Red ink hidden

I've already highlighted Bruce Johnstone's commentary on the Sask Party's mismanagement of Saskatchewan's Crown corporations. But let's also note the background story - with particular emphasis on the contrast between the NDP's history of responsible management and the mountain of debt that the Wall government is merrily racking up in the Crown sector:
Schwartz said when he was CFO and vice-president of finance and administration for CIC in 1990s and early 2000s, the government's policy on Crown dividends was based on commercial practice. "The policy (the previous government) had had a commercial basis and there was predictability and the policy was stable," Schwartz said. "It did take into account, until this year, the internal requirements of the Crown corporation for reinvestment and any debt reduction it had to do."

Schwartz, who holds a masters degree in economics and chartered financial analyst designation, said the new policy seems to be anything goes. "If you take 100 per cent of the profits, you're going to have to find the money for reinvestment or debt reduction somewhere else. And, since there's no money for debt reduction, I guess their debt's going to going up."

In fact, CIC's debt is nearly doubling -- to $5.9 billion by fiscal 2013-14 from $3.1 billion at the end of March 2010. At the same time, government debt (versus Crown debt) is forecast to remain flat at $4.1 billion. "If you're going to keep (government debt) at the same dollar figure, it seems like some of the debt is being loaded into the Crowns."

Schwartz said the Wall government's policy seems to be pile up the debt on the Crown side and keep the taxpayer-supported debt relatively low. The problem is that someone has to pay the debt.

On bailouts

Kathleen Ruff points out that the serious problems with Canadian asbestos exports are on the verge of going away on their own due to declining markets for a toxic good. But instead of letting that happen, the Charest and Harper governments are using public resources to artificially extend the lifespan of the industry:
Apart from the moral issue of exporting asbestos disease for profit, taxpayers might want to take note of how two supposedly business-minded political leaders are risking public funds and Canada's international political capital to resuscitate an industry that is notorious for its record of economic disaster and public health tragedy.
The industry tried unsuccessfully to get financing from private investors. Last year it seemed that a Chinese investment company might do so, but it withdrew at the last moment. Now Charest is stepping in with public funds where private enterprise refused to go.

If the negotiations currently underway succeed, the new mine will open shortly. It will export 200,000 tonnes of asbestos every year for the next 25 years to Asia and, the industry hopes, to Africa, where protections are virtually non-existent and resulting suffering and death will be enormous for decades to come.

With Charest providing financing, Harper has promised to provide international political protection to stop the industry being regulated. Harper is the only Western political leader and the only national Canadian leader to support asbestos. There seems to be no limit to the help he is willing to provide to the industry, including sabotaging a UN convention.

While ruthlessly cutting funding from scientific research on climate change and aboriginal healing programs, when it comes to the annual quarter of a million dollar funding for the asbestos industry's lobby group (the Chrysotile Institute), the Harper government gives the funds without a moment's hesitation, dismissing appeals by the Canadian Cancer Society and health experts.
Harper has given the industry his commitment that, as long as he is Prime Minister of Canada, he will support export of asbestos and will block a UN environmental agreement, the Rotterdam Convention, so as to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on a list of hazardous substances, as repeatedly requested by the convention's expert body.

Blocking the Rotterdam Convention is an important gift to the industry and one the industry has lobbied the government hard for, using its government-given funds. Sales would suffer if countries were informed of the hazards of asbestos and the necessary safety measures, such as a national inventory of every place where asbestos-containing products have been placed, and specialized equipment, training and processes whenever renovation or demolition takes place.
Premier Charest and Prime Minister Harper are about to give the asbestos industry a new life for the next quarter century. History will not forgive this betrayal of our country and of common human decency.

If we, as citizens allow them to do this, we will be seen by the world as the ugly Canadians.

Healthy choices

Apparently I should have held off in highlighting a few of the federal NDP's efforts to bring some substance and openness back into the political scene. Not that the steps last week weren't noteworthy ones, but the health care push revealed this weekend looks to be a far more significant move both in pushing federal discussion toward meaningful policy possibilities, and positioning the NDP within that conversation:
NDP Leader Jack Layton laid out the planks Friday for a major policy initiative aimed at reforming Canada's health-care system.

Speaking before a partisan crowd at the Nova Scotia NDP's annual general meeting in Antigonish, N.S., Layton said it is time to move on to the next phase of the public system devised by socialist icon Tommy Douglas.

"Our caucus has decided to make this a top priority for the next election — equal access for everybody to health care," he told the delegates.

"That requires some real leadership. And if we don't take it, the privatizers are going to come at it."

With Canada's demographics shifting towards an increasingly aging population, Layton said it is time to develop a national home care strategy, describing it as the "next essential service" in health care.
Layton also said the New Democrats would establish a national pharmacare program to fight the rising cost of prescription drugs.

He said it would include catastrophic drug coverage to ensure Canadians are covered against financial ruin in the event of serious illness.

A bulk buying strategy would also be part of the package, something he said would result in major savings.
Layton also advocated initiatives that would address the shortage of family doctors and nurses and improve health promotion for young people.

The NDP leader didn't provide details on the cost of his party's sweeping program, but he told reporters that work on a new federal funding agreement should begin immediately.

"That agreement comes to an end in three-and-a-half years . . . and we're going to have strategies that save us money on the one hand but provide the care and services that people need on the other," said Layton.
Just in case there's any doubt, the ideas proposed by Layton aren't particularly new ones for the NDP. But any focus on health care has been largely scaled down on the part of all federal parties over the past few elections, meaning that there's a significant opportunity for the NDP to be the leading voice on the public's top priority.

What's more, the move figures to create a direct clash with the Cons' message that they've emptied the federal coffers so completely that Canada can't even consider improvements to social programs - signalling that the NDP is rightly looking to change the playing field of public debate rather than accepting the Cons' terms as to the limitations on what we can hope for. And that should answer the question of just what we're hoping to accomplish in working to topple the Cons.

Moving forward

I won't be quite as effusive as some about Michael Ignatieff's latest coalition comments. Granted, he's taking some important steps toward leaving the door open, and deserves credit for that. But he's still well short of the positive message that it'll take to turn the issue into a net plus for the Libs or any other opposition party. (For something closer to the right tone, see Paul Dewar from his Power & Politics appearance on Friday: "Countries around the world embrace coalitions. It's called working together for the greater good.")

That said, the most interesting response seems to be that coming from the Cons - who through MPs and media proxies are ratcheting up their level of smug self-satisfaction, based on the seemingly unfounded belief that Canadians agree with their internal view that "coalition" is and will remain a dirty word.

At best, one could argue that the strategy reflects a desperate attempt to get the Libs to repudiate any possible coalition again. And I suppose one can't rule out the prospect of Ignatieff getting spooked and capitulating once more.

But it looks more likely that the Cons' strategists are pouring all their energy into re-fighting the last battle, clinging to outdated talking points about the structure of the last coalition and failing to notice that unlike in 2008, the public has time to work through the weak points in their bluster. And the more effort they waste trying to frame the concept of parties working together as an evil to be avoided at all costs, the higher the price they'll pay if the opposition parties can offer a strong message in favour of cooperation.