Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Doug Saunders nicely describes how centrist brokerage parties across the developed world have undermined their own relevance by putting their efforts into a failed corporatist experiment:
(T)he parties of the centre-left, like the Liberals in Canada and Labour in Britain, attempted an experiment in the 1990s and 2000s that they hoped would bring both rising equality and rising prosperity: A largely free and unfettered market economy, combined with low government debt and big investments in social services. The idea was that the booming economy would finance a state-supported rise in equality. The experiment mostly failed: While life did improve for the poor in the West, it didn't change at all for the middle class, and often got worse, as they watched the wealthy become ultra-wealthy. The increasingly angry “squeezed middle” are the people who tend to vote in elections, and many were driven to distrust the big parties whose experiment failed them.
The new, more open and borderless world of the past 20 years has meant that the big centrist parties continue to work well for the winners, for the in-groups that benefit from their specific programs. But for those who become disconnected or distanced from the state, who have no daily need for government (as the very poor do) but also do not feel its benefits (as the wealthy do not), the big party no longer means anything.

“Since the opening up of the world after the end of the Cold War, we've see that mainstream parties find it increasingly difficult to present political programs that address winners and losers at the same time,” says Mr. Cramme. “You basically have both left and right-wing mainstream parties essentially speaking to winners – and all those who are left behind due to globalization, technological change, cultural disaffection, are not adequately represented by mainstream political parties, so we see a surge of extremist parties on both the right and the left.”
- Boris catches Stephen Harper playing dress-up once again, this time with a uniform normally reserved for trained military air crew members. But I suppose after a campaign where he successfully convinced the media to portray him as a "steady hand" despite his track record of getting his party and country into trouble for no particular reason, Harper can't see much limit to the false labels he can wear.

- Bruce Johnstone criticizes Gerry Ritz for his anti-democratic plan to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board:
Ritz's comment about respecting democracy is a bit rich, considering that he has done everything in his power to undermine the CWB since taking over as minister responsible for the board in 2007. This includes issuing "gag orders" on the CWB from promoting the benefits of the single desk in director elections, to arbitrarily changing voters' lists on the eve of director elections, to allowing Tory MPs to disseminate anti-single desk propaganda during election campaigns.
The act says if the minister responsible for the CWB wants to change the single desk or the types of grains the board markets, he must first consult with the CWB's board of directors and hold a vote among producers. In Goodale's view, that means asking producers two simple, straightforward questions: "Do you want the CWB's single-desk marketing system for wheat: yes or no?" and "Do you want the CWB's single-desk marketing system for barley: yes or no?"

No trick questions, like the barley plebiscite in 2007 that asked three questions, including whether farmers would support a strong, voluntary CWB - a red herring designed to muddy the waters around the single-desk issue.
So why would the Tories risk breaking the CWB Act by not holding a plebiscite, or killing the single-desk by ramming legislation through Parliament with their majority? Because they know they wouldn't win a plebiscite, a fair plebiscite that asks farmers to vote for or against the single desk, nothing more, nothing less.
- Finally, Orphaned Voter provides a nifty cartogram of Canada's 2011 election results in noting that a stunning 71% of votes failed to contribute to the election of any MP.

On shared values

One of the main attempts to downplay the long-term significance of the NDP's Quebec breakthrough has revolved around the theory that the party's new wave of support involves a set of voters with unreconcilable values. But a recent CROP poll suggests that the NDP may actually have a more unified base of support than its main national rival:
Sur l'axe droite-gauche, les électeurs du NPD s'inscrivent dans la moyenne québécoise, 61 % d'entre eux favorisant la répartition de la richesse, une position identifiée à la gauche, selon le sondeur, contre 39 % qui encouragent la création de la richesse, une idée dite de «droite».
Parmi l'ensemble de la population, la droite recueille 41 % d'appuis contre 59 % pour la gauche. Il est intéressant de noter que 56 % des électeurs du Parti conservateur se classent eux-mêmes à gauche de l'échiquier politique, contre 44 % qui se disent de droite.
So while the NDP's support does include a substantial number of voters classified on the right side of the spectrum, its 61-39 split makes for a more consistent position than either Quebec as a whole or the Cons as a competitor. And in fact, it's the Cons - even after being reduced to what would seem to be their core voters - who face both a more even split in the composition of their vote, and the reality that a majority of the party's supporters disagree with its policy direction.

Of course, it's worth noting that Leger obtained some radically different results with a question based on self-identification rather than policy preferences. But given that the parties figure to be far more likely to talk about underlying policies and values than left/right labels, there's some reason to think that by focusing on the inequality generated by the Cons' corporate-first economic policies, the NDP will actually have an easier time keeping its current Quebec support together than its main national competitor.

On dropped priorities

In case there was any doubt that Stephen Harper has officially abandoned any commitment to making the Senate anything other than a patronage factory, his party's spin in the wake of his latest set of appointments should put the matter to rest.

Yes, at least one Con is trying to pretend that some kind of change is still on the table, if only by claiming that his party's past lack of past action should be taken as evidence of good faith in the future:
Tory senators had a majority in the Senate before the election call and made no effort to pass a bill in front of them that set out a process for the election of senators.

Now with a 10-member Senate majority, (Tim) Uppal suggested his government could be trusted to pass its reform bills — one which sets senators' term limits to eight years and another that deals with election of senators — before the end of its mandate in 4 1/2 years.

Uppal would not commit to passing the two Senate reform bills before then, saying it was not at the top of the government's agenda and the Tories' budget and crime bills would come first.
But even Uppal's position is based entirely on the view that doing anything to change the Senate is at most a minor priority which can be delayed indefinitely. (And no, a focus on two bills which the Cons have promised to pass within 100 days doesn't offer the slightest excuse for delaying other legislation for over four years.)

But then, a spokesman from the top makes it absolutely clear that Harper sees constant partisan appointments as the status quo:
Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said that as long as the legislation wasn't changed, if Manning or any other senator resigned again to run as an MP in a federal election and was defeated again, he might still be re-appointed.

"I can't predict the future. It depends on whether the other Senate bill has been passed. If it hasn't, the law of the land is still the land of the land. And I'm not going to guess what the prime minister would or wouldn't do in that scenario," MacDougall said.
Remember that with majorities in both houses of Parliament, the Cons face exactly zero barriers to changing the legislation surrounding the Senate. Which means that if a bill hasn't passed, it will be the result of the Cons' choice not to bother.

Yet a PMO spokesman is openly musing about continuing to have the option of handing out seats to rejected candidates after the 2015 election. And as long as they're delaying any legislation, they're also showing no shame whatsoever about continuing to dole out seats on a purely partisan basis - cementing an anti-democratic majority to prevent any future government from enacting policies that reflect the will of voters - as 25 current Senators reach their retirement dates in the meantime.

All of which looks to firmly establish that Harper's new plan for the Senate is to use it to further entrench his own power, past promises and democratic principles be damned. Which means that rather than giving him a pass for even a second, anybody who actually believes that its a problem for unelected nonrepresentatives to wield veto power over Canada's government should be starting to work now on ensuring Harper gets removed from office in 2015.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Musical interlude

Apoptygma Berzerk - Until The End Of The World

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Trish Hennessy finishes up her election post-mortem with a call to action:
Now is not the time to play small. Condition the field for progressive governance to stick as a natural way of doing politics.

Don’t leave it just up to the politicians (though feel welcome to throw your support behind politicians when they do take a progressive stance).

Don’t stay in the familiar comfort of critique and opposition. We Canadians ask more of you. Democratic government should be of and for the people. That’s you and me. It’s up to us to build the Canada we would be proud to hand over to the next generation. Starting now.

That takes our active engagement. It takes you and I getting out of hyper partisan mode, or out of couch potato mode, talking beyond the converted and doing new things in fresh ways. The more people we bring into the progressive fold, the easier it is to face our deepest fears and move forward, together, to secure and build the Canada we want.
- As part of the Hill Times' coverage of the Canadian Association of Journalists' conference last weekend, Elly Alboim nicely sums up the problem with far too much election coverage:
Mr. Alboim, meanwhile, also chastised the media’s analysis of polling data throughout the election. Few polls indicated a Conservative majority, but he said the results wouldn’t have been a shock had more members of the media made a genuine effort to sift through the data to come up with accurate seat projections, particularly in areas like the GTA where the Conservatives picked up 18 new seats that were essential to securing a majority government.

“The core problem for journalists is that they treat election campaigns as news events. From my perspective, it isn’t structured that way,” Mr. Alboim said. “It’s an incremental process in which nothing really happens—the electorate makes up its mind. It’s like watching paint dry, and journalists don’t know how to report on the drying of paint.
- With Stephen Harper having already found new and worse ways to break his previous promises about not appointing cronies to the Senate, would anybody be surprised if his fixed election date promise is the next to be re-broken?

- And one of the main components of the Cons' current structure may be the next to learn just what the party's promises are worth.

- Finally, David Olive writes about the U.S.' new role as sweatshop to the world:
U.S. and a few Canadian manufacturers have long been relocating in the low-wage U.S. South. They’ve now been joined by European multinationals, most of which also operate in Canada. The Euros leave behind the social-justice practices of their homelands, as keen to squeeze blood from a stone as the most avaricious business operator.

A stunning Human Rights Watch report from last September describes systematic exploitation of U.S. workers by such familiar European names as Ikea, Sodexo, BMW, Siemens, Daimler and Volkswagen.

“Even self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ companies can and do take full advantage of weak U.S. laws,” says Arvind Ganesan, HRW’s human rights program director. “The U.S. needs to close the loopholes in the country’s woefully inadequate laws to protect workers.”
China is no longer the “off-shoring” jurisdiction of choice. With annual wage gains now averaging 15 per cent to 20 per cent, combined with stagnant wages in North America, China will lose its labour-cost advantage over North America in just four years time, according to a report this month by the Boston Consulting Group.

From Hamburg to Lyon to Stockholm, the question is why aren’t we serving the North American market from lower-cost facilities there? Which means that “guilt-free shopping” will soon mean avoiding “Made in USA” labels on products made by workers denied a decent living wage.

Double standard of the day

Horror of horrors: at least two NDP MPs may not be absolutely certain as to how they might vote in a hypothetical future referendum! Stay tuned for a panel discussion featuring Jean Lapierre and Darrel Stinson on how this proves the NDP's disloyalty to Canada.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PLG highlights the less-discussed dangers resulting from the Cons' majority government:
A lot of people have been commenting that no matter what evil Harper would, in his heart, love to wreak in the upcoming Conservative majority, it won't really be that bad. The idea is that Conservatives will be wanting to position themselves for the long term as a natural governing party, and so they will act like safe hands and not do too much damage. There is something to this. But I think there are things such people are overlooking when they discuss how a Conservative majority will govern.
(T)he bottom line for me is that these Conservatives are basically bad at governing. They have no interest in or respect for governance as a concept.

It's partly that they don't think government should be doing most things it does in the first place. And it's partly that even to the extent they acknowledge government might have a role, that's not what they're there for--the basic purpose of modern Conservatives is to defeat enemies and amass power and wealth for themselves and the class they identify with. Presented with a lever of power, that's what their instincts say it's there for. So they just basically have no patience for careful policy-making or administration with an eye to the public good.

As a result, only part of the dangers of a Conservative government have to do with their pre-planned intentions to enact austerity or So-Con measures. Much has to do with what will happen as they are hit with the need to make policy decisions about governance on an ongoing basis, and they react according to their instincts and ideas about what it is to be in government. Which is to say, hamfistedly, incompetently, and in ways irrelevant to the needs of the country.
- Which seems like a particularly maddening danger following an election where the Cons were lauded by 95% of the country's press as somehow being stable or safe. But Dan Gardner explains the obvious source of that impression, as editorial boards seem to have happily mistaken Harper's "decisiveness" for competence:
Successive prime ministers have all but erased parliamentary governance. In its place is a pyramid, at the top of which is the Prime Minister’s Office. Enthroned in the PMO, the PM is a pharaoh.

Blame the PMs. But blame also ourselves. In our political culture, a leader who acknowledges uncertainty and encourages experiments is “indecisive.” A leader who permits dissent is “weak.” A leader who changes his mind in response to new evidence is a “flip-flopper.”

A real leader is one who centralizes power, is certain of everything, who breaks the knuckles of anyone who disagrees, who never admits to being wrong, and who will deny to his last breath ever having changed his mind about anything. A real leader is a Great Man issuing orders from the top of a pyramid.

And so, inevitably, we get a Great Man standing in front of a backdrop repeating the idiotic mantra: “Leadership. Certainty. Leadership. Certainty. Leadership ...”

Incidentally, in 2008, when the Great Man stood in front of that backdrop, he said with absolute certainty that he would never run a deficit. It seems he didn’t see the financial crisis coming. Or the recession. Or the deficit he’s been running ever since. That’s the thing about Great Men. They can’t see nearly as far as they think.
- As plenty of commentators have pointed out, one of the main questions surrounding the future of Quebec politics is that of whether sovereigntists will seek to retake partisan territory by rebuilding the Bloc, or instead look for other outlets. And so far, the latter choice looks to be winning out.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan points out that in the wake of the Daily Show's skewering of Canada's asbestos industry, Canada will once again face a choice as to whether to keep standing in the way of international agreement:
The Daily Show segment can only be seen a yet another serious international humiliation for Canada carefully crafted by Stephen Harper. Mr. Stewart’s devout fans around the world have to be asking: What kind of people run Canada anyway? Canadians themselves will simply watch and cringe, mortified.

By coincidence, we will know a lot more about the people who run our country very soon. On June 20, a meeting convenes in Geneva of the 143 nations, including Canada, that have ratified the UN’s Rotterdam Convention. The little-known but vital convention covers pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons.

Delegates will vote on a recommendation of the convention’s expert scientific body to put chrysotile asbestos (the only form of asbestos traded in the world today, and the form mined in Quebec) on the its list of hazardous substances. As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has repeatedly joined with a handful of other countries in blocking this recommendation, putting the interests of the asbestos industry ahead of global health. As of now, he is pledged to continue this remarkable stand.

Here is the perfect issue for the Official Opposition NDP to pursue immediately and loudly. Happily enough, 76 per cent of Quebeckers oppose government financing for an asbestos mine with only 14 per cent in favour. Shamefully enough, this tiny minority includes most Quebec trade-union leaders.
Given the Rotterdam meeting, Stephen Harper must within weeks make clear exactly what kind of foreign policy he intends to conduct with his unassailable majority, and what kind of Canada he intends to show the world. Is Canada back? Or is Canada going backwards?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alice's CPSA wrapup is well worth a read in general, but one bit of post-election analysis looks to have plenty of potential to carry over into the new Parliament:
From Ipsos-Reid’s work on leadership, Michael Ignatieff had been so far behind both Harper and Layton prior to the campaign, it begged the question for Darrell Bricker as to why the Liberals had pushed for an election at all. On key questions about preference for a coalition versus a Harper government, voters split 50:50 prior to the election (and the Conservatives finished up with 40 of the 50, and a majority government). But when asked whom they believed – Harper who said the opposition would form a coalition, or Ignatieff who said they wouldn’t – survey respondents sided with Harper 62:38.

And when asked pre-election who would have made the best prime minister of a coalition government, 59 per cent picked Jack Layton, while 27 per cent preferred Ignatieff and 14 thought Duceppe would. Moreover Layton was winning on every measure of likeability (including as the leader respondents would most like to have a coffee or a beer with), though Harper always topped the list on measures of competence (“who will get things done”). Bricker said the Liberals must have been seeing the same numbers, and said it was no surprise the NDP would have wanted to go to an election if they saw the same thing as well.
Of course the Libs no longer have to worry about public perceptions of Ignatieff - and it may be that an interim leader will avoid the worst of the ad blitzes that undermined their previous two standard-bearers. But there's little indication that they'll be able to avoid a leadership disadvantage for a long time to come, which may only help to entrench the election alignment going forward.

- Scott Stinson recognizes that Stephen Harper's political strategy is based on playing Canadians for suckers - leaving only the question of whether he'll remember the lesson by the next time Harper puts on a facade for electoral gain:
Over the last five years, anyone inclined to rationalize Stephen Harper’s latest foray into decidedly non-conservative territory always had the minority government to point to. His hold on power was tenuous, one could say, so there were times he just had to choke down his principles and take action to protect his party’s station.

So, when David Emerson crossed the floor in 2006, it was only so B.C. could have an experienced voice at the Cabinet table. When the Conservatives created a regional slush fund — sorry, economic development agency — for southern Ontario in 2009, it was simply a way to shore up votes in a key area. And when he began appointing partisans to the Senate in 2009 — in big blue dollops — it was just so his government could ensure that House legislation wasn’t held up by an unelected body.

He didn’t like doing these things, you see, but they just had to be done. Couldn’t be helped. Hold your nose, look away, and await the day when this unpleasantness was no longer necessary.

That day was supposed to have arrived on May 3. But as Wednesday morning’s events in Ottawa have made brazenly clear, the Prime Minister is not about to do a damn thing differently. Those of us who thought he might? There’s a word for that: suckers.
- But in fairness, Kady notes that the history of Conservative Senate reformers abandoning their principles when the opportunity for patronage arises is as old as Canada itself.

- Finally, Andrew Leach is right to note that reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions will require some significant action (which the Cons are only exacerbating by ruling out a cap-and-trade system). But the more important message is that continued delays out of the Harper government will only make matters worse:
Mr. Kent’s decisions will determine whether or not we are in a position to meet our Copenhagen commitments, and determine either the costs we incur to meet our targets or the costs we incur as a result of not meeting them. Meeting them will require the most aggressive GHG reduction efforts undertaken by any economy in the world, and the challenge gets tougher with every day we do not act. Not meeting them may limit access to markets for our exported products and access to capital for our investment projects. Inaction could also provide other nations with justification for the imposition of low carbon fuel standards or border adjustment tariffs on our products.

If we are not going to meet our targets because we are not prepared to impose the regulations which would be required, then we need a significant shift in our strategy internationally. We should recognize that the gold standard for global effort on GHGs, the EU, has imposed a carbon price on their economy which only amounts to about $20/ton today. Canada would be much better served by committing to match our effort to theirs, rather than committing to do more and delivering less.

With a majority government in hand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mr. Kent can and should set a clear path forward for Canada on GHG emissions. Whatever choices they make, they will not be easy ones.

Oh, the humanity!!!

A shocking revelation from Jane Taber: one of the new MPs elected this month doesn't know how to tie a tie! Clearly this is evidence of an unqualified candidate in far over his head! And pity the leader who has to babysit him!

Oh wait, it's a Conservative cabinet minister. So anything Peter Penashue has left to learn is a "compelling story", rather grounds for than hysterical shrieks about his lack of fitness for public office. Sorry for the confusion.

On changed interests

Andrew Potter offers up a few theories to try to make Stephen Harper's take on the Senate look consistent over time. But I'm not sure they make as much as sense as an overall conclusion that his Senate stance - much like many of his other - has in fact changed now that his party holds power.

Keep in mind that until last year, the Senate had been controlled by a Liberal plurality or majority since 1941 - with the exception of the end and aftermath of Brian Mulroney's second term in office, when the PCs too were seen as an enemy of the developing Reform movement. Which means that at every turn, the Senate had served as a barrier looming in the way of what Harper and his political allies hoped to accomplish in politics.

That goes a long way toward explaining the constant drumbeat about a need for reform of some kind, as well as the enmity normally expressed toward the Senate as an institution. And indeed, even as Harper took power in 2006, he publicly portrayed the Senate primarily as an obstacle to his ability to control the country's agenda.

But now, the tables have turned. Harper holds an outright majority in the Senate already, and has four years to keep on appointing his cronies to publicly-funded positions which they can either use to launch future electoral campaigns, or instead occupy for decades to impede any future government's effort to chart a different course for Canada.

So an institution which Harper long had reason to view as a bulwark against his efforts now serves instead as a convenient means of propagating his own movement, even (and maybe especially) where it contradicts the will of the public. Which may explain why Harper's view of the prospect of reforming the Senate might have turned around completely - and why those of us who see the dangers of an unelected chamber being used to subvert democratic decision-making may have to be the ones to take up the cause of demanding change.

New column day

Here, on the Wall government's choice to do nothing to limit the dirty tricks which rose to prominence in this month's federal election in advance of this fall's provincial campaign.

For further reading, see:
- Paul Boin on the complaints raised after the federal election.
- Rob Ferguson on the response from Ontario's government.
- And a few of my previous posts on the voter ID requirements that have now been passed at both the provincial and federal levels without an iota of evidence that they serve any purpose other than to suppress the vote.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Adam Radwanski points out that Stephen Harper's latest round of Senate patronage figures to play into the NDP's hands as it looks to build public opposition to politics as usual:
If Mr. Harper was looking to signal once and for all that he’s abandoned his populist roots, he could scarcely have done better than Wednesday’s Senate appointments. Little more than two weeks ago, Josée Verner, Larry Smith and Fabian Manning were all rejected by voters in their ridings – the latter two after biding their time with supposedly temporary gigs in the Red Chamber. Now, all three will have the opportunity to serve in Parliament anyway, at what is theoretically a higher level, courtesy of the leader who only a few weeks ago was still extolling the virtues of an elected Senate.
(F)or the New Democrats, this is a dream issue – and not just because it distracts from their own post-election foibles. It will give Mr. Layton, who has argued that the Senate should be abolished altogether, an opportunity to continue positioning himself as the outsider standing up for ordinary Canadians against Ottawa’s culture of entitlement – a message that will be key to any future success east of Ontario.

The Conservatives spent much of the recent campaign enjoying the NDP’s surge, because it mostly came at the expense of the Liberals. But for all that Mr. Harper might relish the prospect of his only national opposition coming from a party firmly to the left of centre, he might enjoy it a little else if that party starts challenging him on what was once safe Conservative turf. A few more announcements like Wednesday’s, and that might start to be a real concern.
- John Geddes comments on how the NDP's strong labour base may play into its opposition strategy:
It’s the public impression Layton’s caucus creates that will largely determine if he can prevent the Liberals from reclaiming their traditional centrist political turf. Appearing to be too close to organized labour could be a liability for the NDP. After all, only a minority of working Canadians belong to a union, about 30 per cent last year, down from 38 per cent in 1981. Unionization rates are lower still in the private sector, making the influence of public sector unions in the NDP a potential issue. And that influence is substantial and looks to be growing, with the election of potential caucus heavyweights like Nycole Turmel, the former president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and Robert Chisholm, a former Atlantic regional director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The clout of these and other advocates for government unions could be significant in the coming battle over departmental budgets. Harper has vowed to find $4 billion a year in cuts to direct federal spending, not including transfers to the provinces and individuals. Dewar says the NDP is sure to oppose any job cuts proposed to achieve those reductions. But he argues the NDP is uniquely positioned to try to bring government unions into discussions about saving money without shrinking the bureaucracy. “We can actually talk to public sector unions,” he says, “about finding ways to innovate.” And doing more than merely combatting restraint at every turn, he adds, will be vital to solidifying the NDP’s election gains. “The stereotype,” Dewar says, “is that we’ll just oppose cuts and that’s it.”
He was scheduled to give his first speech since the election this week at a CLC convention in Vancouver. The event was planned long before the Tory minority fell and the election was on, but the symbolism is potent. He can’t afford to drop what Brian Topp, one of his key strategists—and executive director of the performers’ union ACTRA in Toronto—has described as Layton’s formula of “optimistic, sunny idealism” and “fiscally prudent pragmatism.” Those may not be themes traditionally used to rally a union audience. But as the politician who has just brought Canada’s labour movement closer than ever before to federal power, Layton is in a position to set his own tone.
- Dwayne Winseck highlights some of the myths behind the demand for more restrictive copyright laws:
The music industry is not in decline. In fact, the “total” music industry has grown from roughly $1.26-billion in 1998 to just over $1.4-billion today. Worldwide, the growth has been even more impressive, especially in the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS).

But the reshuffling of new and old elements in the industry has not been kind to the traditional big four global record labels, EMI, Universal, Warner Music and Sony. A few massive concert promoters – Live Nation (Ticketmaster), AEG, etc. – also threaten to usurp their place at the centre of the music universe. Bands such as Radiohead, the Arctic Monkeys and Pearl Jam now go straight to audiences with their music, while picking up whatever slack ensues through concerts.
So, copyright reform? Absolutely.

Picking up where the last Parliament left off will deliver important advances with respect to user created content and limited liability for ISPs. However, the crackdown on users, attempts to turn ISPs into ‘gatekeepers’ on behalf of the music industry and permitting digital locks to trump people’s rights, will lead us down a bad path.
- Finally, Erin compares the relative effects of wages and profits in contributing to economic growth:
The key insight is that, since the relationship between profits and investment is relatively weak (a point often noted on this blog), the balance hinges on the significance of trade flows. Since net exports are zero for the world as a whole, the global economy is wage-led. Big economies like the Eurozone and United States are also wage-led. But small open economies tend to be profit-led because trade flows loom large.

Stockhammer’s analysis helps explain the generally poor performance of neoliberal “trickle down” economics for the world as a whole. It also sheds light on Europe’s economic policy paradox.

For individual European countries, it seems rational to pursue pro-capital policies to gain a competitive edge. But since the whole Eurozone is wage-led, member countries would enjoy more growth if they all pursued pro-labour policies.
The presentation also got me thinking about smaller economies (like Canada), for which the policy implications are less straightforward. Progressives should still support pro-labour policies to achieve a more equal distribution of income and we should not aspire to provoke a competitive “race to the bottom” by pursuing pro-capital policies.

However, simply boosting wages in a small open economy would not add to its growth. More domestic consumption could be more than offset by diminished export competitiveness (unless wages simultaneously rose elsewhere through international coordination).

To me, this analysis underscores the need for progressives to articulate alternative strategies to promote investment and exports, especially in smaller economies that may not be wage-led. Instead of accepting pro-capital policies across the board, we should advocate investment in public infrastructure and targeted support for actual private investment as well as policies focused on higher wages and income redistribution.

On gratuitous appointments

Following up on this post, let's note that there's one factor which makes Stephen Harper's latest Senate stacking even more of an embarrassment than his previous few rounds.

After all, Harper has tried to excuse his previous appointments by pointing to supposed obstruction (however fabricated) as creating a need to push for a party advantage in the upper chamber, while claiming that his new appointments are required to facilitate reform later on. But with his previous set of appointments, Harper's party had already reached a majority which allowed it to push through whatever legislation it wanted.

And if Harper temporarily lost that majority only because two of his previous appointments were using their publicly-funded positions as a launching pad for failed campaigns, that hardly seems to offer any excuse for reappointing them - particularly when he'd have once again reached a majority by September on retirements alone.

Which means that there's no excuse about needing to appoint more cronies in order to be able to pass legislation - whether related to Senate reform or otherwise. Instead, this is the most glaring example yet of patronage appointments for their own sake, with absolutely no pretense that they offer any greater ability to govern. And while it may not be much surprise that Harper is starting his first majority by replicating that pattern from his previous terms in government, the fact that he's managed to reach a new low in rewarding his cronies looks to confirm that a majority will only see more and worse of his previous partisan excesses.

Tomorrow's Conservative Slogan Today

Join Stephen Harper's Conservatives - where failure has no consequences.

Wednesday Morning Links

Assorted content for your midweek reading.

- It's tough to disagree with Jamey Heath's view that a united Canadian left is a long way off. But perhaps more important than his recognition that it will take awhile to reach that end goal is his rightful identification of the process most likely to get there:
Many left-leaning Liberals are Liberals for no reason other than it used to be a viable alternative to Conservatives. They would find a happy home in the NDP if they accepted its invitation.

But they are leery. They fret the party's success may prove shortlived and worry it has not taken on board enough lessons from successful Prairie cousins, or the not-sosuccessful Bob Rae experience in Ontario.

Convincing them the NDP can form the base of something new -able to work with Quebecers -will take more than a welcome mat. It also depends on more introspection from Liberals who mistake being in the middle with avoiding the polarized politics their party long fed.
- Alice's latest chart comparing the riding-level two-party races in 2008 and 2011 is definitely worth a look. But it's particularly worth noting that the two largest blocks of ridings involve races where the NDP seems well positioned to take over Con territory - including the 50 where the NDP came second to the Cons in both 2008 and 2011, and the 43 where the NDP eclipsed the Libs as the second-place party. And indeed, an even split of the 148 ridings where the NDP and the Cons were the top two contenders would result in the NDP ranking at the top of the federal party standings.

- Thomas Walkom points out what the Conference Board of Canada's report on health care really says - contrary to the media spin about it somehow serving to justify further privatization:
(The report) makes the obvious point that health involves more than doctors, hospitals and drugs. It suggests that Japan’s high life expectancy is related more to diet than anything else (the Japanese are far less obese than Americans).

And it points out that the countries with some of the worst health outcomes are often those with the most poverty.

That Canada has the second-highest level of infant mortality among advanced nations may have little to do with our health care system and much to do with the fact that our poverty rate is almost as high as America’s.

The second question the Conference Board looks at is why U.S. medical costs are so high.

Its findings here won’t give much solace to the National Post.

The study attributes much of this extra spending to America’s reliance on private medical insurance. Administration costs in the United States are twice those of its nearest competitor, France.

Incidentally, Canada already has the third-highest rate of private health spending among the countries surveyed, a fact that should give pause to those who claim that privatization leads to lower costs.

The study also fingers another panacea of the right: market incentives. It notes that outpatient surgery and diagnostic testing in the U.S. are skyrocketing — in part because pricey tests (such as MRI scans) are needlessly duplicated and in part because fee-for-service billing encourages specialists to schedule more operations.
- Shorter Charles Moore: Better to redefine "democracy" as meaning something other than government supported by voters than to acknowledge that a distorted first-past-the-post system doesn't live up to the standard.

- Finally, pogge notes that at least some of the lessons from Maher Arar's abduction seem to have been wilfully ignored by CSIS in identifying Canadians as "suspected of terrorist-related activity" based on nothing more than distant association.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Stretching cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- Trish Hennessy's election discussion continues with a review of how the NDP managed to counter the Cons' fear campaign:
Fear can be paralyzing, but fear is usually looking for someplace to go, and sometimes the antidote to fear is hope. It certainly helped some Canadians view Jack Layton differently in this election. Jack, with his warm smile. Jack, with his Canadien hockey shirt, hoisting a beer. Jack, risen from his sick bed to do what we all hope in the face of health adversity: fight the beast down with grace, with pride, with the fortitude it took to become an electoral David to Harper’s Goliath. In Quebec, le bon Jack.

Jack Layton had captured, if for a brief moment in time, the aspiration that resides alongside the slow simmering worry in Canada: the hope that we can overcome adversity and thrive. That cane he hoisted above his head at rallies became a symbol of strength; of defiance against long odds.

And, for a few days, Canadians sat on the edge of their seat wondering whether a phenomenon no pundit or pollster had predicted, this NDP tide of support dubbed ‘the orange wave’, would crescendo into an ‘orange crush’.
Election campaigns are designed to tap into emotion. In the 2011 federal election, worry was a strong undercurrent – and the politics of fear drove some new voters toward Stephen Harper, in search of economic stability. But it also drove some new voters toward Jack Layton, in search of a counterpoint to the politics of fear.

They voted based on deep Canadian values: pragmatism, fairness, caring. For some voters, Harper tapped into the first value. Layton tapped into the second two.
- Greg points out how eager the Cons and their surrogates seem to be to try to erase Quebec from Canada's map.

- Thomas Axworthy notes that one of the easiest ways to balance the federal budget may be to stop the trend toward hiring temporary and contract workers to do permanent jobs:
The length of time and number of hoops a manager has to go through to make a hire has led to an explosion in the number of temporary workers and consultants. The Public Service Commission in a 2010 report found that temporary help services "were improperly used to address long-term resourcing needs." Instead of coming in to temporarily fill jobs left vacant by a serious illness, for example, nearly 20% of the "temporary" hires were for durations exceeding 52 weeks, with the longest being 165 weeks.

The use of temporary workers to get around complex human resources system is also expensive. I have interviewed several "temporary" consultants, whose daily rates are consistently higher than the normal cost of the job. Expenditures for temporary help tripled in the past 10 years, rising to an annual cost of over $300-million in 2008-2009. Harassed managers needing to fill key spots are judged on the speed and quality of the people they find, not rising costs to the taxpayer. With a budget gap of $28-billion, such perverse incentives for the public service human resource systems are all wrong.
- Murray Mandryk rightly questions the Sask Party's interference with union decisions:
Lost on the government MLA is that union dues and how the union conducts its affairs is none of her business. After all, would Heppner dare tell a businessman how much he should pay his employees or that his social club fees are too high?
it's the absolutely height of hypocrisy for government MLAs to be criticizing anyone for taking the wages of others "to pay for a political agenda they don't support" when the Sask. Party does the exact same thing with taxpayers' money to pay for caucus political ads. Hell, the very political press release in which Heppner registered her complaints against the SGEU comes courtesy of ever-increasing tax dollars going to caucus staff to produce political propaganda.
- Finally, Dan Gardner points out the consistent test the Harper Cons seem to apply to drug policy:
(H)eaps of evidence suggests Insite saves lives, while the federal government has acknowledged before the Supreme Court of Canada that it hasn’t evidence to the contrary.

From the moment the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they insisted that the decision on Insite’s future would not be guided by politics or ideology. The evidence would settle it. But as the evidence of Insite’s effectiveness steadily mounted, the Conservatives’ hostility to the facility never wavered. They wanted to close it then. They want to close it now.

And so what we witnessed last week at the Supreme Court was nothing less than a naked admission that Stephen Harper’s government doesn’t give a damn about evidence.
In a paper published a few years ago, Peter Reuter, one of the world’s leading experts on drug policy, summarized the evidence: “Research has almost uniformly failed to show that intensified policing or sanctions have reduced either drug prevalence or drug-related harm.”

No matter. Every year, huge sums are spent trying to deal with illicit drugs and the vast majority of that money goes to law enforcement.

And Stephen Harper is fine with that. In fact, he wants more of the same. But that modest, inexpensive, rigorously studied, scientifically validated, life-saving program in Vancouver? He wants it closed.

Which says so much about Stephen Harper.

Double standards

Last December, two Con cabinet ministers called a press conference to invent an "iPod tax" - going out of their way to cite numbers fabricated by their party which to this day haven't been traced to any reputable source. Jane Taber's review:
It was the perfect pre-Christmas shopping announcement designed to put a smile of the face of consumers and a frown on those of songwriters. A little opposition-bashing was even thrown in for good measure.
Today, the NDP called a press conference, introducing its new arts caucus and proposing increased support for the arts without delving into specifics. And based on the lack of invented numbers, here's Taber's contrasting review:
When you’re no longer the third party but the government-in-waiting and you hold a news conference about nothing, you will be criticized. And the NDP was on Tuesday.

The press conference was convened to talk about arts and culture – no announcements, no numbers – but it was really aimed at showing off the party’s impressive new strength from the arts community. Unimpressed, reporters asked NDP MPs why they were even holding a news conference and accused them of being ill-prepared – a taste of what may be in store for the party in its new role as Official Opposition.
Which leaves one of two lessons to be learned by the NDP now that it's in the spotlight. Either back up points with fabricated numbers, and stick with the conjured-up figures no matter how many times they're debunked. Or, expect once again to be held to standards which don't apply to the party which actually holds power.

On value judgments

One last note from yesterday's Angus Reid post-election polling, as an election which changed so much in terms of Canada's party standings doesn't seem to have done anything to diminish the gap between Canadians and their governing party:
The polling company's survey also revealed that Canadians generally hold liberal values, except when it comes to serious crime.

Almost four out of five Canadians, but slightly fewer British Columbians, say the courts "need to give much tougher sentences to all those convicted of criminal acts."

However, most Canadians balked at jailing people for minor offences such as breaking and entering, saying: "It does more harm than good."

The live-and-let-live views of Canadians came out strongly on sexual morality, with 83 per cent of Canadians agreeing "the lifestyles of gay and lesbian people are just as valid as those of heterosexual people."

However, Canadians aren't opposed to government intervention on non-bedroomrelated (sic) issues. Three-quarters of Canadians want stricter environmental regulations, saying they're "worth the cost."

Another 68 per cent of Canadians believe governments need to provide more financial aid to the poor, suggesting most Canadians don't oppose political action for the common good.

Finally, even though a majority of Canadians supported various tax cuts, only one out of five agreed that "government debt should be reduced, even if it means cuts in health care."
Of course, the latter three points all reflect areas where the Cons tried to at least feign interest during the course of the election campaign, so they may not serve as evidence of future party preferences. But they surely figure to limit how far even a majority government can go in then opposite direction.

Meanwhile, the one issue where public opinion seems to clash meaningfully with that of our political class is that of criminal sentencing - where even with little partisan pushback against five years of Con posturing, a majority of Canadians don't buy the claim that the proper response to any criminal offence is to lock up the offender and throw away the key. And with that many respondents recognizing the problems with mandatory minimums on their own, there would seem to be ample room for the NDP to give a stronger political voice to that position.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Arash Azizi argues that the NDP's youthful caucus should be seen as a plus in better representing a wider range of voices:
That the New Democratic Party has fought to challenge (the) status quo should come as no surprise. After all, when Tommy Douglas founded its predecessor, the CCF, the political fable of “Mouseland” was his guiding principle. He thought mice should stop electing “a government made up of big, fat cats” and fight for a government of themselves, by themselves, for themselves. His was to be the party of “mice,” the party of the common folk.

The battle Douglas began has just reached a whole new stage. For the first time, the party of common folk has emerged as the official opposition. Why then should it come as a surprise that a large part of its new caucus is comprised not of political players but of youth, students, waitresses and single parents?
The mainstream media have raised a hue and cry in targeting the humble origins of all these new NDP Members of Parliament. After all the earlier fuss about low voter turnout, especially among youth, pundits now seem unhappy that young people actually have been elected to Parliament.

Our new MPs in Quebec are under attack every day because of their age, their “inexperience” and their humble origins. Often the $157,731 salary of a MP is mentioned in a condescending way as if they were not talking about our elected representatives but some kid who has just hit the jackpot in a casino!

Young New Democrats in Ontario and around the country welcome this new swath of MPs who are much more of an “exact portrait” of us and the working people of this country.

It is our fervent hope that after the hours of bureaucratic “preparation” they are currently undergoing they will not forget the sense of purpose and guiding principles that led them to join the NDP.
- Yes, Greg Weston's story about the Chretien Libs' duplicity on Iraq calls into doubt what had been one of the few examples of his government supposedly paying heed to progressive Canadians. But there's another side of the story that's even more significant in defining where we should go from here:
(A)fter all the fuss, the Americans didn't seem to care whether Canada contributed a lot of military might to the Iraq mission.

A former senior Canadian bureaucrat said: "The Americans knew we were stretched to the limit on the military side, and they really just wanted a political endorsement of their plan to go into Iraq."

Former U.S. ambassador Cellucci concurred: "We were looking for moral support. That's all we were looking for.… We were looking for 'we support the Americans.'"
Which raises an obvious question: after five years where Canada has been an obstacle to action on climate change and a surrogate for Republican Party messaging, would anybody value Canada's moral support on any international issue as much as the Bush administration did back then? (Here's one strong hint.)

- Barrie McKenna tears into the Cons' politically-motivated tax giveaways:
In the case of the Conservatives’ proposed family tax cut, the benefits would flow mainly to wealthier Canadians. A family headed by someone in the top 2011 income bracket ($128,800) would save more than $6,000. Working families in which the top earner makes less than $41,544 wouldn’t get anything. Nor would single people, including divorced parents.

The plan would also tilt the tax system in favour of single-income families, including childless ones, which are typically better off than other Canadians.

The families most in need are headed by single parents with children. But there’s no break coming for them.
- Finally, Richard Wolff points out the necessary alternatives to having an economy based on meeting the every whim of the corporate sector:
there are always two possible responses to any and all threats. One is to cave in, to be intimidated. That has often been the dominant "policy choice" of the US government. That's why so many corporate tax loopholes exist, why the government does so little to limit price increases, why government does not constrain corporate relocation decisions, etc. No surprise there, since corporations have spent lavishly to support the political careers of so many current leaders. They expect those politicians to do what their corporate sponsors want. Just as important, they also expect those politicians to persuade people that its "best for us all" to cave in when corporations threaten us.

What about the other possible response to threats? Government could make a different policy choice, define differently what is "best for us all". In other words, it could persevere in the face of business threats, and to do so, it could counter-threaten the corporations. When major corporations threaten to cut or relocate production abroad in response to changes in their taxes and subsidies, or demands to cut their prices or serious enforcement of environmental protection rules, the US government could promise retaliation. Here's a brief and partial list of how it might do that (with illustrative examples for the energy and pharmaceutical industries):

• Inform such threatening businesses that the US government will shift its purchases to other enterprises.
• Inform them that top officials will tour the US to urge citizens to follow the government's example and shift their purchases as well.
• Inform them that the government will proceed to finance and organise state-operated companies to compete directly with threatening businesses.
• Immediately and strictly enforce all applicable rules governing health and safety conditions for workers, environmental protection laws, equal employment and advancement opportunity, etc.
• Present and promote passage of new laws governing enterprise relocation (giving local, regional and national authorities power of veto over corporate relocation decisions).
• Purchase energy and pharmaceutical outputs in bulk for mass resale to the US public, passing on all the savings from bulk purchases.
• Seize assets of enterprises that seek to evade or frustrate increased taxes or reduced subsidies.
Of course, a much better basis than threat and counter-threat is available for sharing the costs of government between individuals and businesses.
Corporations have used repeated threats (to cut or move production) as means to prevent tax increases and to secure tax reductions. Likewise, they have made the same threats to secure desired spending from the federal government (military expenditures, federal road and port building projects, subsidies, financial supports and so on). In effect, corporate boards of directors and major shareholders seek to shift tax burdens onto employees. Their success over the last half-century is clear. Tax receipts of the US government have increasingly come, first, from individual rather than corporate income taxes and, second, from middle and lower individual income groups rather than from the rich.

In worker-directed enterprises, the incentive for such shifts would vanish – because the people who would be paying enterprise taxes are the same people who would be paying individual income taxes. Taxation would finally become genuinely democratic. The people would collectively decide how to distribute taxes on what would genuinely be their own businesses and their own individual incomes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On mandates

Following up on this post, here's another interesting tidbit from Angus Reid's post-election polling:
In addition, almost two out of three Canadians (and British Columbians) favour "mandatory voting" like in Australia.
Which makes for a striking finding, considering that somewhat less than two-thirds of Canadians actually voted in the absence of an obligation to do so. But it also suggests that the mandatory debate happening elsewhere may have some resonance with the general public - and also suggests that despite the Cons' efforts to paint even minimal compulsory contributions like the long-form census as being beyond the pale, the current public mood may in fact support greater government action to ensure public involvement in shaping our country's direction.

On hopeful signs

There are a few noteworthy developments in Angus Reid's post-election polling. But let's start with what looks like the most significant theme, as a large number of voters look to have rejected any attempt to diminish either the election or the political system in favour of a far more positive outlook than they held just weeks earlier:
Vancouver-based Angus Reid pollsters have discovered Canadians became more hopeful about politics as the decisive election campaign raged on.

Canadians' revved-up regard for the democratic process held firm even after Stephen Harper's Conservatives won their first majority and the New Democrats for the first time became the official Opposition.

More than 61 per cent of the population told Angus Reid pollsters after the election they were "proud to be Canadian."

"The respect for politicians actually went up during the election campaign. People got engaged," Angus Reid pollster Andrew Grenville said.

Almost half the population agreed a "Conservative majority will be good for Canada," with a solid 64 per cent applauding the NDP's Jack Layton moving into Stornoway, the Opposition leader's official residence.

Soon after the May 2 election, more than seven out of 10 people agreed that "federal politicians are working very hard to help create a better Canada."
Of course, the question for the NDP now is how to tap into that positive sentiment - both toward it in particular, and the political system in general - to build its movement going into 2015. But a more optimistic populace looks to be a great place to start, particularly when the main opposing message is one that looks to devalue both government and democratic participation at every turn.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Trish Hennessy calls out the Cons' fear campaign - while hinting at the reality that their insistence on gambling more and more of our prosperity on faith-based market schemes only serves to reinforce their message that we can hope for nothing better than a state of constant panic:
In the lead-up to the 2008 recession, during the best of economic times, Canadians were taking on epic levels of household debt.

Research from Statistics Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and elsewhere documents a disturbing rise in income inequality over the past generation, reversing what, post-World War II, had become a more egalitarian, compassionate Canada (though not a perfect Canada).

Research also showed that Canadian households were working longer hours, toggling multiple jobs and relying on multiple income earners in the household just to keep afloat.

A concentrated number of elite Canadians were getting so rich from economic growth that it was starting to look like the 1920s all over again — for the lucky few.

But a growing number of Canadians were admitting to pollsters they were one or two paycheques away from financial disaster. In essence: They were one piece of bad news away from having the dream of a middle class lifestyle fall to pieces.
The thing about insecurity is that it breeds fear – fear of change, fear of chaos, fear of decline.

The politics of fear exploits, rather than protects. It distracts at a time when we need focus. It divides when what we need is unity.

What we saw in Canada during the 2011 federal election was a master at the politics of fear – Stephen Harper – playing the game like his life depended on it. And he won.
- But at least when it comes to workers' rights, the Star for one isn't buying the line that we should immunize businesses from all laws and obligations in hope that they'll reward us with a few more jobs:
Workers at the bottom of the pay scale have long been among the most exploited. Their desperation to keep a job they can’t afford to lose makes them easy targets for unscrupulous employers.

But the extent to which vulnerable workers in Ontario are being ripped off by some employers, as outlined in a new study, is startling.

One in three low-wage workers has had wages unfairly withheld or outright stolen by employers, according to the Workers’ Action Centre report. For some, it’s paycheques that are short hours, for others it’s being denied vacation pay or forced to work copious overtime hours for no pay at all.

This amounts to “wage theft” and an indictment of the government’s ability to enforce its labour laws and regulations on behalf of those who need the protections the most.
When a substantial complaint of wage theft is verified, that should trigger a broader labour investigation into the company involved. And the ministry needn’t wait for complaints to roll in. Inspectors should more proactively target employers in high-violation industries.

On paper, Ontario has strong laws. But they need to be enforced in a way that offers real protection for the poorest and most vulnerable workers.
- Harvey Oberfeld describes the real tradeoff at play in British Columbia's HST referendum:
(The HST) may be smart, from a corporate point of view, but how fair is it really for a company, let’s say, that measures revenues in millions to enjoy an EXTRA tax break at the cost of single parent families, young couples struggling to buy their first home, single people unable to even afford an unshared apartment or seniors struggling to make ends meet?

What the Tax Alliance doesn’t seem to realize is that the HST was not a tax break: it was tax SHIFT … from business to individuals.

Over the next few weeks, the public will see and hear Smart Tax Alliance ads, featuring “financial professionals” saying the HST helps business re-invest and acts as the “engine for economic growth”, cutting administrative costs and headaches.

We get it.

But all this is accomplished … not by getting rid of the costs and headaches … but by passing them on to the rest of us … many, many people with much less money than the companies that now get the savings. How is that justifiable, especially in a province that was already boasting BEFORE the addiitonal HST savings, that BC had some of the lowest corporate taxes in North America?
- Finally, now that the initial media rush to scrutinize and criticize Ruth Ellen Brosseau seems to be winding down, the media is starting to cover a few more of the NDP's new MPs. And Daniel Leblanc's profile of Mathieu Ravignat paints exactly the picture the NDP figures be looking to develop among all of its elected members:
Mr. Ravignat is focusing on local issues for now, such as economic development and protecting the pensions of workers, including those in the forestry industry in the Pontiac region. But he says he entered politics on behalf of Sophia and Gabriella, his two daughters,

“I’ve long been politically active, but running as a candidate was something else,” he says. “That decision was made for my kids. There is a future to build for them. They are so precious, and I want to make sure they still have access to education and health care.”

Change for the better

In case there was any doubt whether the NDP was looking to improve on the performance of past opposition parties, Mitchel Raphael's overview of the party's strategy looks to confirm that it's ready to take on the Cons on all fronts.

To start with, after years of the Cons setting and manipulating the rules (all too often abetted by other parties willing to see how their changes played out), the NDP is ready to fight back:
Since they have always been an opposition party (though now with a huge increase in resources), NDPers have fine-tuned every trick in the book to force delays and fight procedural wars on issues dear to them. Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow says her party, over the last four years, helped delay the free trade deal with Colombia and a transportation bill. However, NDP deputy leader Libby Davies says watch for the Conservatives to work hard to erode their ability to challenge bills within the current system.
And more importantly, the NDP looks to recognize that its place in the spotlight can best be used to challenge the Cons on values rather than merely looking to prod them about the scandal du jour:
NDPers also say to watch for a different kind of question period. After the G20 in Toronto, the Liberals hammered the government over items such as the infamous “fake lake,” while the NDP went after the Conservatives on the trampling of civil rights. Re-elected NDP MP Don Davies, who was his party’s public safety critic last session, says he expects there will be more focus on substantive issues in QP rather than simply a bunch of scandal questions, a strategy the Liberals had turned into an art form. Former Liberal MPs told Capital Diary in the past they were literally harassed by their own party to help when mud throwing was needed.
Of course, it remains to be seen how well those principles get applied in practice. But for now, the plan looks to be exactly what's needed both to establish the NDP as the leading alternative to the Cons in the longer term, and to help define the territory where future elections will be fought.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On permanent brands

Perhaps the most telling part of today's story on permanent self-promotion for the Cons is the source of the request for a program to administer the strategy:
Those temporary Economic Action Plan signs promoting federal stimulus projects have proved so popular with Conservative cabinet ministers that some want to make them permanent.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press reveal that a formal recommendation for a "permanent signage" program went to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last Dec. 17 — at the request of his ministers.

"Interest has been expressed by Ministers in the placement of permanent signage at selected, completed Economic Action Plan (EAP) project sites," says the opening line of a 12-page memo to the prime minister dated Dec. 17, 2010.

"If you agree, we will work with departments and your Office to ensure implementation of the guidelines."
Now, the fact that the ministers involved aren't apparently named in the recommendation should make for a rather interesting set of follow-up questions as to who exactly put the idea forward - and whether anybody among the Cons disagrees with it.

But either way, it seems fairly clear that as thoroughly as Harper has clamped down on his party, he's been far from the only one looking to wring the maximum possible political advantage from every public dollar supposedly intended to stimulate Canada's economy. And even if the centrally-controlled signage was only temporary, the blight on the Cons from their politically-motivated stimulus distribution and promotion looks to be permanent.

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Will Falk points out how the right's calls for health-care privatization are both aimed at largely fictitious problems, and likely to make any genuine concerns far worse:
What the authors of (Fraser Institute and C.D. Howe Institute studies) don’t say is that the decade before last had a much lower rate of spending and from 1991-96 averaged just 0.9 per cent growth. We actually had real spending declines on a percentage-of-GDP basis for most of the 1990s.

Yes, we have had spending growth over the past 10 years, but what did we expect when we guaranteed the provinces 6 per cent more a year? Privatizing health financing would just add more fuel to the fire. The Fraser Institute does Canadians a disservice when it produces a political conclusion based on such nonsensical projections. C.D. Howe’s authors did a better job over a longer time frame. Their projections were age-adjusted with a variety of important variable factors around technology, relative price and GDP growth. However, their projection is at heart another neo-Malthusian straight line.

The political elites are engaged in a game of self-fulfilling prophecy. Straight-line cost projections and guaranteed federal revenue increases will ensure the cost increases they project.
(O)ur challenge this decade is different. Then it was about fixing hospital care; now, we must harvest productivity gains from new technologies and virtualization of care. From a human point of view, this time will be easier. We have very low nursing unemployment — a third of new nurses come from abroad. It is a difficult task but not so challenging we shouldn’t try.

Let’s stop talking about how we finance 6 per-cent-plus increases or privatize health care and instead tackle improving the system to preserve it for the next generation.
- While the Wall government is no longer quite so eager to portray itself as following in the footsteps of the collapsed Irish economy, there isn't much doubt that it's still sticking to the same direction regardless of what lessons we should be learning from Ireland's financial meltdown. Which means that we too can all too likely look forward to being next in line to have our pensions raided in an effort to spare the corporate sector any of the cost of rebuilding from its destruction.

- Which leads nicely into the Mound of Sound's observations as to how it is we're considered powerless to shape our own destiny:
The question becomes how did major corporations gain the power to threaten our governments, our societies - the power to write our legislation? The answer is simple. We gave it to them.
Yes, corporations threaten us when we want to do something they don't like but that's only because we've loaned them the knife. Why don't we take that knife back? Why aren't we the ones able to threaten corporations? Why don't we reclaim our sovereignty so foolishly surrendered by people of the ilk of Reagan and Mulroney? All we have to do is call their bluff. There will be "repercussions" initially but, then again, haven't we been living with the horrible repercussions of Free Trade for decades?
- And the likelihood that we'll end up bearing the cost of blindly following corporate wishes is all the more reason to want to make sure our policy choices are based on real evidence and logical assessments as to how to develop our economy, rather than faith-based appeals to the market gods.

On track records

It apparently took the NDP's sudden ascent to Official Opposition status for Haroon Siddiqui to notice its history (or at least consider it worth discussing). But his discovery is well worth highlighting since it nicely mirrors the message the NDP should be looking to establish for a wider audience over the next four years:
It was Tommy Douglas’s NDP government in Saskatchewan that pioneered medicare. It was the NDP that put pensions and unemployment benefits on the national agenda. It was the NDP in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia that ushered in affordable public auto insurance, which we could use in Ontario.

The NDP also has had a solid track record of fiscal prudence.

Allan Blakeney in Saskatchewan (1971-82) produced 12 balanced budgets. When his successor, Tory Grant Devine, left a huge deficit and a $14 billion debt, the NDP’s Roy (Romanow) (1991-2001) balanced the books. In Manitoba, Ed Schreyer (1969-77) produced surpluses in eight of his nine budgets. When his successor, the Conservative Sterling Lyon, racked up a deficit of $200 million within four years, his NDP successor Howard Pawley cleared it and created a surplus. (Pawley’s memoir, Keep True: A Life in Politics, published by the University of Manitoba Press, has just been released).

Only Bob Rae in Ontario (1990-95) left a big deficit, a legacy of a debilitating recession as well as poor management.

By contrast, look at the conservatives’ record — the deficits and debts created by Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper and Mike Harris.