Saturday, June 18, 2011

Light Posting

For those who hadn't noticed, I haven't had a chance to post on #vancon2011 yet. But you can get some updates from my Twitter feed - and there looks to be no lack of noteworthy material to discuss once the convention is over.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Yes, Chantal Hebert is right to point out the glaring disconnect between the help the media has offered the Cons, and the constant scorn it's received in return. But there's even more glaring evidence of the Cons' manipulations in how the party is currently being covered:
In an odd quirk, even though Mr. Clement is now Treasury Board president, who is responsible for the secretariat that prepares government spending estimates for Parliamentary approval every year, he cannot answer questions in the House of Commons about the G8 spending because he is no longer Industry minister. Mr. Clement had that position when he and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird (Ottawa West-Nepean, Ont.), Transport minister and responsible for infrastructure spending, approved the riding largesse.

Mr. Clement, who sits right beside Mr. Baird in the Commons, has remained silent over the past two weeks as Mr. Baird, who Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) depends on to field sensitive political questions in the Commons, has answered all of the questions about the Muskoka G8 spending.
The above is from Tim Naumetz, who from my observation generally does great work for the Hill Times.

But for some obscure reason, he's entirely willing to buy the spin that Clement's shift in position renders him unable to answer for his own actions, rather than even slightly questioning the cynical politics behind Clement's silence. And never mind that the questions about the G8 are instead being answered by a minister who's likewise been moved out of the cabinet position which had any relevance to the questions, and whose sole purpose in responding is to "field sensitive questions" regardless of who actually bears responsibility for the underlying issue.

Which looks to signal as much unjustified credulity in the face of blatant deception as the Harper Cons could possibly want - and also make it clear that however much the Cons want to try to demonize the media, their real opposition lies elsewhere.

New column day

Here, with my first commentary on a subject which I'll plan to discuss plenty more in the future: the need to protect our freedoms of speech, conscience and assembly from private as well as public intrusions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

All according to plan

Oh, that poor, unfortunate Stephen Harper.

If he could have counted on his party's Senate majority to allow its own institution to be reformed, he might have faced some pressure to make the composition of the Senate somewhat less out of touch with the country.

But now that his party's majority is balking at any plans for Senate reform, what choice does he have but to keep right on handing out patronage appointments - to insiders who will of course help run his party's campaigns and support him on every other issue - until he can override the current turncoat quota?

Parliament In Review: June 14, 2011

With the debate over Libya taking up the time for debate, yesterday didn't see quite as much of a range of issues discussed as some previous days. However, there's still plenty of material worth noting from the day's events.

The Big Issue

Obviously, the main issue for the day was the extension of Canada's participation in the UN mission in Libya. But while most commentary seems to have painted the three official parties as having substantially the same position, the debate in fact featured both some noteworthy statements and some important differences.

In the pleasant surprise department, John Baird's response to Paul Dewar's question is noteworthy in highlighting at least one difference between the Cons and their cousins to the south:
The issue of rape being used as a weapon of war I think is abhorrent to every Canadian. The government would like to put some effort not just on the social side of providing assistance to victims of this heinous crime but also at the International Criminal Court. We must send a message when this is coordinated as an act of war that the international community will hold those accountable. That is something every Canadian strongly believes in and which this government will work with the International Criminal Court to support.
Which makes for a nice contrast against the Republicans' reflexive abhorrence of multilateral institutions generally and the ICC in particular - even if its practical effect is unclear.

In addition, some kudos go to Chris Alexander for asking as reasonable a question as one could possibly hope for - querying the NDP's Hélène Laverdière based on her professional experience as to which organizations could contribute to the effort.

On the down side, the Libs staked out some rather stunning ground for themselves. Not only did they completely dismiss the NDP's concerns about Canadian corporations having a role in building prisons for the Gadhafi regime, but Stephane Dion managed to assert that we should consider the presence of corporations which worked with a repressive regime as an advantage in rebuilding following its ouster.

And another obvious difference in position arose on the question of how long the Libyan mission would be expected to last. For the NDP, Libby Davies questioned the Cons as to whether there was any exit strategy, while Joe Comartin set out the NDP position that the extension voted on yesterday should be the only one. In contrast, the Libs' positions ranged from advising against talking about pulling out, to demanding a commitment that Canada remain involved until the institution of "democracy and the rule of law in Libya".

Vote of the Day

Meanwhile, while the nature of the votes on the extension has been well documented (with Elizabeth May as the only MP voting against each of the subamendment, amendment and motion), it's well worth noting how the votes came about in the first place. After all, the subamendment had already passed on a voice vote - meaning that MPs whose side had already won the vote made the effort to require a recorded vote anyway.

Poor Planning of the Day

It's not at all uncommon for the Cons to answer an opposition question about an issue related to a single constituent with a dismissive "we can't talk about individual cases". But I'd think it's much less common for them to give the same answer to one of their own planted questions - as happened when David Wilks criticized a Federal Court decision.

In Brief

While the day's debates were limited to Libya, there was still a couple of other noteworthy content from the members' statements and question period. In the former category, Robert Aubin's opening statement in the House of Commons included a call for proportional representation, suggesting that at least part of the NDP's Quebec contingent which took advantage of the quirks of FPTP is nonetheless committed to electoral reform. And in question period, Linda Duncan raised what would seem to be a rather chilling issue of covert CSIS surveillance of First Nations activists.

Note that I likely won't get a chance to post Parliament in Review for the next couple of days due to some travel.

On timelines

August 2009: The NDP's federal convention in Halifax votes to have the party's executive draft a new preamble to the NDP's constitution.

May 2011: The NDP achieves unprecedented success in Canada's federal election, forming Canada's Official Opposition for the first time.

June 2011: The revised preamble is made public.

June 2011: Concerned citizens everywhere commence kvetching as to how the new preamble serves as evidence that the NDP's rise in popular support has radically changed its focus.

Truly, concern trolling defies the laws of physics.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Crawford Kilian interviews Linda McQuaig on inequality, including this comment on how to handle the damaging effects of inequality politically:
On whether inequality is becoming a serious political issue:

"Eventually it will be, especially if we continue on our present trajectory of the next few years. But what kind of political issue? Will we deal with it in a constructive way, or will it be hijacked by the right, as it was with the Tea Party in the U.S.? The Tea Partiers are feeding on resentment of inequality.

"Education as a solution would take generations. In the book, we argue for a progressive tax system that would redistribute income immediately. At the moment, 59,000 Canadians earn more than $500,000 a year, but they're taxed at the same rate as those making just $128,000 a year. Two new top rates on those 59,000 would bring in an addition $8 billion without affecting anyone else.

"Progressive forces have an attractive issue in inequality if only they pick up on it."
- Errol Black and Jim Silver point out in response to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case that the benefits of a union go far beyond wages alone, noting that in high- and low-profile matters alike employees may have much greater ability to report abuses when they have union protection:
The initial focus of the media's coverage of the alleged sexual assault charge brought against Strauss-Kahn was on the implications for him, and on his arrest and treatment by the New York police and justice system. Subsequently, questions were raised about the implications for the IMF. The media were largely silent about the situation of the New York hotel worker and the circumstances that motivated her to report the sexual assault.

A piece posted on Alternet, May 19, 2011 (see:, titled "Accusing DSK of Sexual Assault Took Guts - But Union Protection is Essential”, reports that the victim of the alleged assault is an African woman from a former French colony who works as a housemaid in the Sofitel Hotel. It is, of course, a story far from over. But the author observes that there would be no story at all if the housemaid were not protected by her union contract. "There's a reason why most rapes go unreported. But there was one thing the housekeeper knew could not be done to her for reporting her account. She could not be fired for having done so, because of the contract between her union, the New York Hotel Trades Council and the Sofitel Hotel at which she works."

An editorial in the New York Hotel and Motel Trades paper also stresses the importance of union membership. "In the worldwide hotel industry, New York City has the highest proportion of unionization (75%), and hotel employees here have the strongest union with the best contract. They enjoy the highest wages in the industry, excellent benefits, strong job security, good working conditions, and powerful grievance rights. They also have a militant union - their own organization, governed and funded not by wealthy donors but by themselves - that aggressively enforces those rights."

..."(T)he union does make us strong," both collectively and individually, by creating the conditions that allow workers who suffer abuse in the workplace to retain their dignity and seek redress and justice for the harm done them.
- On a rather more mundane note, I wouldn't have thought that the addition of a new area code would make for an obvious source of inefficiency. But since we're apparently now looking at 10-digit local dialing (including what's sure to be confusion as to which local numbers fall under each code), isn't it worth asking whether there's any particular point to maintaining some nebulous sense of comfort at the expense of unnecessary inconvenience?

- Finally, Dan Gardner once again highlights the difference between the principles Stephen Harper once claimed to stand for and the sad reality of his time in office:
Stephen Harper has held power for more than five years, most of that time with far more control of Parliament and the machinery of government than is normal for a prime minister with a minority. Today, he has his majority, and he has delivered a Throne Speech and a budget.

And the record of Stephen Harper's government doesn't look much like the beliefs of Stephen Harper.

Record spending increases. Surpluses turned into structural deficits. Bureaucratic bloat. Vote-buying tax policies that make economists pull their hair out. Hyper-centralization of power. Slush funds. Pork-barrel politics. Cronyism and patronage that would make a Liberal blush. A plan to fix the budget as credible as Greek bonds.

On and on the list goes. In the 1990s, to elaborate on one of countless examples, Stephen Harper called supply management a "government-sponsored price-fixing cartel." Today, he praises it. In the Throne Speech, Harper went so far as to promise to protect supply management in any future free trade talks, even, presumably, if it kills the negotiations.
The fact that Conservative beliefs and Conservative policies are scarcely correlated does not bother most Conservatives because they do not see it. For this, they can thank what psychologists call "compartmentalization." It's awfully handy in politics.

As a result, Stephen Harper and the party he created in his image exhibit a strange sort of schizophrenia.

In action, they can be as unprincipled as the most ruthless Liberal. In word, they are often as self-righteous as the most idealistic New Democrat.

Or, to put it in the prime minister's terms, they may spend all their time breaking instruments over their opponent's heads, but they really do believe they're making beautiful music.

Deep thought

I won't claim to have compiled a full list of criticisms of the Cons' government. But I'm pretty sure that putting too many resources into environmental priorities would rank rather near the bottom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On warped incentives

Chris nicely highlights the Cons' stunningly quick resort to back-to-work legislation after a mere day of Air Canada's CAW strike, at a point where there's been little if any impact on anybody.

But it's worth noting as well how it is that such legislation will indeed serve as an attack on workers: in effect, Air Canada and other federally-regulated employers will lose virtually any trace of incentive to bargain reasonably if they can count on having their preferred outcome imposed by statute whether or not legislation is even remotely needed. And Canadians who recognize that there's a fundamental problem with removing any motivation for institutions to deal reasonably with workers (or indeed anybody else) will have every reason for concern that the Cons are choosing such an unnecessary outcome out of spite toward workers.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats on the ledge.


Lorne Gunter desperately tries to pretend that nothing has changed in the NDP's reach outside of Quebec:
Outside Quebec the party is relevant in 60 or 70 ridings, with most of those concentrated in Toronto, Vancouver and the North. There was no NDP surge outside Quebec. Indeed, beyond that province, the party has hit a glass ceiling. In ridings where there is no faculty club, no concentration of civil servants or public-sector workers (nurses, teachers, social workers, etc.), no large numbers of freshman and graduate students, and no colonies of enviro-agitators, there is not much hope for the NDP.
Which of course conflicts entirely with the vote and seat totals from May 2. But in case we needed a more direct contrast, let's ask some people who actually know something about the NDP's strategy:
Mr. Lavigne said that the party's dilemma is to capture seniors and immigrants, two increasing populations in Canada that have traditionally not favoured the NDP at the polls.

They've been working on that by focusing on issues such as pensions and health care as well as family reunification.

"We don't intend to give up the seats that we've gained," said Mr. Angus, adding that he expects to see the party grow north of Toronto, in the 905 area code region, and in southwestern Ontario. "We are actually seeing breakthroughs in areas now that are second-tier ridings that were never even in our universe before. We've already begun to do outreach and planning because it's not just about holding these seats; this is about taking government."
Not that I'd see any reason to complain if the Cons are as thoroughly off base as Gunter. But lest there be any doubt, the NDP is indeed building bridges into new communities across the country - and there's a strong chance that given four years to keep up the job with increased parliamentary resources, it'll be able to overcome the Cons' momentary advantage.

Parliament In Review: June 13, 2011

As I'd suspected, there looks to be plenty of material for a review post from just a day's worth of events in the House of Commons. So here's an inaugural daily review of what you may have missed in Ottawa yesterday - with a few themes I'll be developing in future posts.

The Big Idea

While it hasn't received much attention in the media, one of the main points of discussion since Parliament resumed has been the structure of the Cons' tax credits - which in areas ranging from volunteer firefighting to childrens' arts participation are set up as non-refundable credits which offer absolutely no benefit to less-well-off Canadians participating in the activities the Cons claim to want to encourage. And yesterday saw plenty more questions and comments on the subject, with MPs including Randall Garrison and Marc Garneau highlighting the issue. And Pat Martin noted that we can look forward to a more systematic review by the NDP:
(W)e are in the process of doing an analysis, perhaps the first in-depth analysis, of many of the tiny incremental tax credits that the Conservatives have offered Canadians over the last two or even three budget. We are breaking this down by quintile to see who is actually availing themselves of the tax credits being offered.

What we are finding, and it is not ready for publication yet because it is not quite finished, is that the tax credits that are targeted for the sports tax credit or the children's art and music tax credit, for instance, will probably not help many poor kids participate in sports who would not otherwise be participating or participate in music, dance, theatre or art who would not otherwise be participating. It is those who are availing themselves of it who are already participating in that program.
Which is to say that we can expect plenty of focus on the Cons' choice to hand money only to those who need it least in the days and years to come.

Value Statement of the Day

Mathieu Ravignat summed up what Pontiac's voters chose instead of Lawrence Cannon:
The good people in the Pontiac voted New Democrat for the first time and they know exactly what they voted for. They voted for a more respectful government. They voted for a perspective that does not reduce Canadians to economic units, an option which understands that there is more to being a Canadian citizen than paying taxes, that there is such thing as the good life in a country that has at its heart the principle of caring for each other. They voted for a stronger, more social Canada, with a strong place for Quebec in it; a Canada where after a productive life one can take a much deserved rest; a Canada where universal health care is a fact, not simply an empty phrase; a Canada which enables families to make ends meet, that helps create new innovative green jobs; and a Canada which leaves to our children, my children, a beautiful environment filled with diverse ecosystems because it is a good in itself and not a means.
Vote of the Day

Yes, the NDP's budget amendment was defeated and the Cons' budget passed. But it's worth noting that the division from last week continued - with the NDP, Libs and Greens each voting for the amendment and against the budget, while the Bloc voted with the Cons both times.


Amidst the criticism of the Cons over their G8 pork-barrelling and dishonesty, Alexandre Boulerice pointed out how the Auditor General's concerns about a shockingly nonexistent paper trail contradicts the Cons' own 2006 platform, which included a commitment to “oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions”.

The Stimulus Continues

Over the past few days, one of the NDP's main questions on the budget has been the reason why the Cons refuse to extend the eco-energy retrofit program for more than a single year. But James Lunney's answer to Chris Charlton raises plenty more questions than it resolves:
There is a difference between permanent measures and those that are meant to stimulate activity. The member is aware that we are running a deficit and were severely criticized for that. When we were coming up with the economic action plan, opposition parties were annoyed that we were not operating fast enough and wanted us to spend more, but we have an obligation to balance our budget.
We have an opportunity in next year's budget, if we need further stimulus, to move ahead with a program. In the meantime, we are hoping as many Canadians as possible will take advantage of it this year to keep people working and move ahead with energy efficiency in their homes. It is a well-appreciated program that is supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Home Builders' Association.
Now, as best I can tell the Cons' consistent party line to date has been that their stimulus program as announced in 2009 has been wound down, and that there's effectively no need to further stimulate Canada's economy. So it's rather a surprise to hear both that there's still a need for stimulus spending, and that retrofitting is still being classified as such.

Non-Answer of the Day

Anna-Marie Day asked a simple question as to whether the Cons would consider an anti-poverty program. Patricia Davidson responded with the Cons' patented economic word salad - featuring precisely zero mention of poverty.

Of course, an honourable mention has to go to Cheryl Gallant, ducking a doubly embarrassing question from Gerry Byrne about search-and-rescue priorities with a chorus of "Sea Kings! Sea Kings! Sea Kings!"

In Brief

A few more interventions worth noting: Peter Stoffer's question on what a Conservative Canada actually means; Annick Papillon's focus on the social and economic costs of inequality; Andre Bellavance's unsuccessful attempt to push the NDP's Isabelle Morin on the federal government's role in health care; and Jonathan Genest-Jourdain's focus on developing an alliance between Quebec, Coaster, Innu and Naskapi communities in Manicouagan.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- I'll agree with Barbara Yaffe that one of the most important tasks for the Cons as a majority government will be to avoid having their heads inflated to dangerous levels. But I'm not sure how Yaffe could possibly see their actions so far as evidence that they're on the right track: after all, can a party get more arrogant than to claim credit even for the rise of their strongest national rival?

- A couple of notes on the megatrial bill that looks to have the support of the official parties in the House of Commons, but may not pass before the summer if Elizabeth May blocks it.

In effect, the issue looks to be one where all sides have taken a relatively reasonable stance. The huge plus is that the Cons haven't tied a mostly non-controversial procedural bill to their dumb-on-crime legislation in order to try to posture against their opponents - which combined with the fact that the megatrial legislation actually has some basis in a neutral party's review makes it a bill that none of the parties should have trouble ultimately supporting.

But while the other parties in the House have had time to review its previous incarnation of the bill, it's also understandable for May to want to carry out her own assessment rather than being pressured to grant unanimous consent to pass it immediately. And the onus will then be on the other parties (and particularly the Cons) to make the case to her as to why the usual legislative process should be dispensed with - which should hopefully strengthen the resolve of all of the opposition parties to push back against some of the Cons' requests.

- That is, if the Cons can even remember what a reasoned case for a policy looks like. And their rejection of Health Canada's advice on asbestos doesn't exactly serve as a shining example on that front.

- Finally, Warren Kinsella's election post-mortem is well worth a read. But I can't help but to be reminded that some of us were pointing out the dangers of the Ignatieff Libs' ultimate mistakes long before they were ever made.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Up for debate

The NDP has released a first look at the prioritized resolutions from this weekend's #vancon2011 (PDF). And while most of them may not come as too much surprise (or appear particularly controversial), there are a few which look highly noteworthy in developing and refining the party's policies.

In particular:

Resolution 1-09-11, submitted by Davenport, proposes an Urban Worker Policy Initiative with a focus on addressing the challenges facing vulnerable workers both in accessing government programs and in treatment by contractors/employers. In effect the proposed initiative would look to bring together the concerns of several classes of workers in a common initiative - helping to build the types of numbers and connections needed to ensure that concerns are addressed.

Resolution 2-07-11, submitted by four B.C. ridings, calls for a "triple bottom line" approach (including environmental, social and economic effects) to policy development

Resolution 3-09-11, submitted by Ottawa Centre, calls for the development of a comprehensive national policy on mental illness and mental health.

Resolution 5-05-11, submitted by Trinity-Spadina, proposes that by-elections be called on a schedule set by the Chief Electoral Officer, ensuring that a Prime Minister can't delay as long as possible and leave seats vacant as the Harper Cons have done at every opportunity.

And in case there was any prospect of a merger with the Libs anytime soon, Toronto Centre's resolution 7-04-11 would reject that possibility - serving mostly to put what already figured to be the party's position in front of delegates for a formal discussion and vote.

While the above may make for noteworthy developments, I wouldn't expect them to cause much controversy. But two parts of the resolution list may lead to somewhat more of an internal debate.

First, resolution 5-09-11 (submitted by five B.C. ridings) calls for a strong federal role in both funding and delivering social programs. We'll find out shortly whether the proposal will be seen as controversial by the newly-strengthened Quebec contingent - which may serve as an important indicator as to whether there's actually real potential for internal dissatisfaction over the proper role of the federal government, or whether the party can come to a broad consensus.

And second, resolution 7-01-11 sets out a new constitutional preamble which eliminates the references to socialism which are the usual target for opponents' potshots, but replaces them with social democracy, "economic and social equality" and "ensuring that wealth and power are in the hands of the many and not the few". In general the proposal looks to be more a matter of modernization than a fundamental change in focus - but I'm sure we'll hear plenty of parsing of both the existing and revised versions to try to tease out any differences as the resolution is considered.

A week in review

I've figured for quite some time that the goings-on in the House of Commons probably deserve plenty more focus than they receive - and have highlighted at least some of them on this blog. But with the combination of the NDP wave and a Question Period which is covering more ground in the absence of constant heckles and interruptions, there now looks to be enough content to make it worth setting up a regular feature.

In the future, I'll likely figure on making the review a daily one. But for now, let's take a look at a few noteworthy moments from last week's Parliamentary debates which you may have missed.

- If you're looking for the NDP's main point of contrast against the Cons, Jack Layton's response to a question from Charlie Angus looks to set it out nicely:
The economic policy of the government essentially is predicated on the notion of sink or swim. That is too bad for someone who decides to go back to work after having worked all of his or her life in the mine. It is too bad for the individual and his or her co-workers who have to go back to work at age 68. Why not 75? Why not 85? The government's philosophy is that it is a tough world out there and one just has to make his or her own way.

We have a different view. We believe that together we can actually create instruments of policies, programs and strategies that can give us a dignified and secure retirement. Seniors are not looking to live high off the hog. I do not know any senior who wants to be able to live the life of luxury. All they are looking for is to be able to cover their housing and their food costs and be able to enjoy a little recreation and have something left over to give a gift to a grandchild every now and again.

We need to have a properly functioning Canada pension plan so that we are not held for ransom by the gamblers who want to roll the dice and take their bonuses and too bad if we lose money. They win either way.
And oddly enough, the Cons look to be playing into exactly that distinction. When questioned on pensions, the Cons have effectively done nothing to suggest they support anything other than the casino model of retirement investment. And while it doesn't seem to have received much notice, here's Ray Boughen's comment on what he thinks the budget will accomplish for seniors:
Also in support of seniors, we are proposing to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code to ensure that federally regulated employees across Canada will be able to choose how long they wish to remain in the labour force, based on their individual circumstances.
In other words, the Cons are planning to eliminate mandatory retirement ages in federally-regulated industries. So while the NDP looks for better conditions for retirees, the Cons are looking to reduce their numbers by keeping seniors in the workforce longer.

- Meanwhile, Helene LeBlanc's inaugural speech also looks to have nicely encapsulated the NDP's philosophy:
I am here to lend my voice to those who are not as fortunate as we are in this House. I am here for those who have been left behind by our society, those who are the most vulnerable. I hope to make my colleagues on the other side understand that they are here for all Canadians, whatever their origins or standard of living. The values we embody are those of social justice, sharing and mutual assistance. That is why I find it difficult to see any reflection of myself in this government’s program. Their priority is big business, to the detriment of small businesses and the people of my riding.

I remind members that the economy is a means, not an end. It is a way to organize our society. I believe the role of government is to ensure that all Canadians have a chance to succeed. I believe we are at the service of all citizens, from all walks of life.
- Peter Julian presented what looks to be the NDP's jobs message:
The Minister of Finance likes to point to the slight increase in the overall job creation, but the reality is over the last five years, given the growth in labour force, which is 1.5% a year, that the Conservatives have the responsibility of creating 300,000 additional jobs every year. How have they fared? StatsCan gives us the results. The results are that there is a million jobs deficit. Over the last five years since the Conservatives have been in power and where they needed to create about 300,000 new jobs or new people coming into the labour force every year, they needed to create 1.5 million. They have actually created about half a million jobs overall and these jobs have largely been part-time or temporary in nature, certainly not the permanent, family-sustaining jobs that Canadians are calling for from coast to coast to coast.
And for more from Julian, raising inequality as an issue in a question which seems to have left Con Dave MacKenzie utterly unsure what the problem was supposed to be.

- I'm not sure off hand how common it is for high-ranking cabinet ministers to take the time to participate in debates by asking questions of other parties. But judging from Matthew Kellway's schooling of Jim Flaherty on the lack of return on corporate tax slashing, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cons' cabinet members removed from the fray altogether.

- Other issues worth noting: Glenn Thibault's criticism of high roaming fees; Ryan Leef's remarkable stand for research on climate change on behalf of a government which is normally hostile toward any mention of either; and a focus on social values including Paulina Ayala's mention of the social economy and Nathan Cullen's identification of a social deficit.

- Finally, while pointing out the messages I think deserve to be amplified, it's also worth noting the ones which look entirely out of place. So let's call a tie for the non sequitur of the week between Nina Grewal, answering a question about investment in aboriginal housing with an answer about manufacturing incentives, and James Bezan, who took the opportunity to use the federal House of Commons' time for a brief rant about Manitoba provincial politics.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Rhys Kesselman rightly points out how the populist message that propelled the Cons to power has given way to elitist policy-making:
Once the federal budget is balanced, the Conservatives plan to double the TFSA’s annual allowance to $10,000 and to permit income splitting for couples with children under 18. These are costly schemes, each running ultimately to billions a year.

While these proposals may appear to have wide appeal, most Canadians would gain nothing from them. The tax savings would flow disproportionately to the highest earners. Moreover, the ostensible goals of these proposals would be much better achieved by major changes to their structures.

Consider the proposed doubling of the TFSA annual limit from its current $5,000 level. Low and moderate earners typically can’t save even this amount, so any increase is worthless to them. For most middle-income earners, the tax savings from contributing to RRSPs trump those of the TFSA, and very few are using all of their allowable RRSP limits. Thus, few middle earners will gain from expanding the TFSA.

Only among the highest earners, above $125,000, are the full RRSP limits often used, so this group would be the primary beneficiaries from expanded TFSA access. And for this group, most of the additional TFSA room would be used simply to shield existing taxable assets with little inducement for new saving.
Now consider the proposal to allow income splitting by couples with children. One motivation might be the view that couples with the same total earnings should pay the same total tax. But this ignores the fact that a one-earner couple has more effective income (in the form of home-produced, untaxed services) than a two-earner couple with the same earnings. Moreover, this reason would not justify confining splitting to couples with kids.

A more plausible motivation for allowing income splitting but restricting it to couples with children is the desire to give parents the option to spend more time rearing their children. High-earning parents already have this opportunity. Yet, the government’s proposal for income splitting would be of no benefit to couples where neither spouse earns above the bottom tax bracket of $41,500, partners with higher earnings but in the same tax bracket, and single parents. In fact, the largest beneficiaries would be couples with one very high earner – those in least need of aid.
- Which raises the question of how best to counter the Cons' plans. And while I don't agree entirely with Bruce Anderson's take on the state of Canadian politics, there's some reason for hope to the extent his message about the new Parliament takes hold:
(S)o far at least, the tone of this Parliament has changed. It feels like Question Period has gone off caffeine, taken up yoga, become almost Zen.

Questions are still pointed, but not as poison tipped. Response patterns from the government side have been re-engineered, letting ministers come off as smart, decent people. There’s no spiking the ball in the end zone, or other “excessive celebrations” as they say in football.

Watching Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird respond genially to a pertinent and precise question from NDP finance Critic Peggy Nash last week reminded me of how I felt when I was watching the courtly but very effective Liberal minister Allan MacEachen practice his craft in the House some 30 years ago. Any voter watching last week's Baird-Nash exchange would have come away feeling good about both politicians, I suspect.
Strong leaders, with clear ideas for the future, passionately argued: This is the recipe for the success enjoyed in the last election by Stephen Harper and Jack Layton, and on these criteria Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe fell short. In this Parliament, with Mr. Harper, Mr. Layton and Bob Rae, Canadian voters may see a pretty good contest of will, brainpower and communications talent – one of the best we’ve experienced in years. Based on the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative Party convention in Ottawa this week, the policy choices of the Tories will provide plenty of room for other parties to differentiate themselves. While a competition on this level may seem less scintillating on a daily basis, it has a far better chance of reversing declining engagement than what has been tried for the past couple of decades.
- It took awhile after the initial report was released, but Postmedia's Doug Schmidt is catching up on the realities of wage theft.

- Finally, I'd consider it a general plus if the Regina Public Library and Globe Theatre end up joining forces in the development of a downtown Regina cultural centre. But to the list of follow-up concerns raised by Carle Steel about the RPL Film Theatre and Dunlop Art Gallery, I'd add a more fundamental concern: surely we'll want to make sure that any project is actually driven by the needs and best interests of the RPL and the Globe, rather than merely serving as an excuse to turn them into cash cows for a private building owner. (And the leaked possibility of a building consisting mostly of commercial space doesn't offer much reason for confidence.)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Not yet satisfied

Eric highlights Environics' polling as to how happy supporters of various parties are with last month's federal election results. And the findings look to bode about as well as possible for the NDP's prospects of expanding its reach over the next few years:
Conservative supporters felt very positively about the election result - and why not. Their party won a majority. Fully 82% are quite happy.

But New Democratic voters aren't as pleased as you might expect. Their party made a historic breakthrough in Quebec, won the most seats and votes in their history, and are now the Official Opposition. But only 27% of their voters are happy with the results.

Though it is somewhat surprising it is as high as it is, 13% of Liberal voters and 10% of Bloc voters feel positively about what happened on May 2nd. Thirty percent of non-voters are also pleased with the result.

As for having negative feelings about the election result, only 2% of Conservative voters have some regrets. That is miniscule. Surprisingly, only 21% of non-voters feel the same way (36% are, understandably, indifferent).

Despite their historic outcome, fully 42% of NDP voters feel sad or fearful about the election results. And despite being reduced to third party status, only 54% of Liberal voters feel negatively. It is a majority, but you'd expect Liberals to be a little more upset, along the lines of the 73% of Bloc voters.
Now, it's important enough that a substantial number of NDP voters were hoping for more rather than expressing satisfaction with the party's position. After it's surely easier to build a movement when supporters are concerned about the direction of the country and motivated to change it, rather than seeing reason to get complacent.

But the level of satisfaction with the election result among the opposition parties is especially significant when paired with the NDP's post-election polling boost. In effect, it looks like a number of the Lib voters who already looked like promising NDP targets have already made the jump - and are apparently finding a landing pad which fits their own attitudes about the election.

[Edit: fixed quote.]

For and against

Not surprisingly, the Cons are working feverishly to pretend that the message which won them a bare majority of seats in the House of Commons is of absolutely no consequence now that they hold them. So let's set the record straight as to why it's fundamentally dishonest for Stephen Harper and company to pretend that it's entirely insignificant that more than 60% of voters rejected them.

For upwards of two years prior to the election - as well as in the campaign itself - the Cons spent countless hours and millions of dollars repeating the message that the next federal election would be a choice between themselves, and a coalition of opposition parties with similar enough values to be lumped into one pile without distinction.

In effect, Harper spent years saying Canadians were either with them or against them. And in response to that choice, 60% of voters chose "against them", rejecting the Cons' dumb-on-crime, tax-slashing message when offered that as part of a binary choice.

Of course, given the distribution of votes among the other parties there may be limits on the extent to which any one party can claim to speak for the entire 60% - showing that there's some weakness to the premise in the first place. But that doesn't mean the Cons can get away with pretending that the message which won them a majority is entirely inoperative now that they've secured it.

In effect, unless the Cons are prepared to admit that the campaign which won them a majority was itself based on a fraud, they now have to live with the recognition that a strong majority of voters oppose their beliefs. And the more they try to operate in denial of that reality, the more likely they'll be to get turfed the next time Canadian voters get the opportunity.

On ripple effects

I've noted before that the main advantage for incumbents - and thus the main obstacle to substantial change - is the perception on the part of potential challengers that it's not worth mounting the effort to compete.

But it would seem to follow that when those potential challengers make the crucial decision as to whether or not to jump into a race, strong evidence that change is possible might serve to completely undo that usual incumbency effect. And it's a great sign that Ontario's provincial election will apparently have a far stronger NDP presence than expected now that the federal party has opened the door to gains:
Many have returned from the federal battles with tales of the most extraordinary wonders, of campaigns run on nickels and dimes that won, of Layton having pulled off the political equivalent of the loaves and fishes, of the wholly unknown vaulting to high office.

As a result, NDP nominations are now one of the hottest tickets in the political realm.

On Saturday, at the union hall of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 46, contested nominations were held to select candidates in two Scarborough ridings. Sunday, in the Toronto riding of Davenport, four contenders are vying to carry the orange banner in the Oct. 6 provincial election.
In Ontario this fall, “realistically now, the NDP can say, ‘Look, this is a three-way race for government,'” (candidate Bruce Budd) said.

“If we get 45 seats, 50 seats, we're going to be the biggest party. I don't think anyone would predict right now that we're going to get a majority. I think that's being unrealistic . . . But if there's a bit of a boost, where does it go?

“Together, we can keep the orange wave rolling!” he told the meeting. “Scarborough is there for the taking!”

Sunday Morning Links

A variety of content for your weekend reading.

- The Lethbridge Herald nicely points out who figures to have a problem with Stephen Harper's decision to have the Canadian public pay tens of thousands of dollars to send him to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals:
(P)erhaps the flap over Harper's appearance at the game was a tempest in a teapot. Nevertheless, some Canadians saw it as a slap in the face; an unnecessary extravagance at a time when the government is looking to trim some $4 billion per year from federal programs and services. If you're one of the people who stand to be affected by those cuts, perhaps seeing the prime minister among the crowd in Boston was a galling reminder that some of us are having to tighten our belts while those in government can still enjoy the high life.

Petty? Maybe. Perhaps it all depends on whether you're one of the haves or the have-nots.
But it's worth extending the have/have-not distinction a step further. For Harper, the $50,000 served as the different between watching a hockey game at home, and watching a hockey game from the rink. For have-nots far from Harper's line of view, the same sum of money could have served to bring multiple families out of poverty for a year.

And given that contrast, Harper's conclusion that his choice of location for a touching family moment can possibly takes precedence looks all the more inexcusable.

- Meanwhile, the Imagine What We Could Do campaign is raising some even more important either-or choices between handing free money to the corporate sector and funding social priorities, with a particular focus on Saskatchewan resource royalties.

- But as Ken Lewenza notes, after decades of stagnant wages and top-heavy development it'll take plenty of pushback to ensure that working Canadians share in any future economic gains.

- A proposed research project for Jim Flaherty or anybody willing to take up his latest tax-flattening crusade: identify a single person above Canada's bottom tax bracket who's wholly unmotivated to do additional work at current tax rates, but would leap to do more based on the marginal tax reduction of 3% or 4% that would result from bracket elimination.

Of course, we'll instead see Flaherty justify a more regressive tax system with nothing but faith-based assertions that such a thing exists. But my guess is we'll discover the confidence fairy before an actual example of the supposed rationale for what the Cons have in store.

- Finally, Bruce Johnstone points out the leading example of what we can expect to happen if the Cons follow through on demolishing the single-desk Canadian Wheat Board:
(N)umerous studies by agricultural economists have shown the CWB earns a premium price for producers through its market clout, timing sales to catch market peaks, ensuring both the quality and quantity of grain delivered and getting volume discounts on shipping and handling.

So, what happens on Aug. 1, 2012? Well, no one can say for sure, but the Australian Wheat Board, which lost its monopoly in 2008, provides a pretty good example.

Despite having been in operation for more than 20 years, within a year of the removal of the single desk, the AWB's share of the export market dropped to 23 per cent. Since then, the AWB was taken over in a $1.1-billion bid by Agrium, which sold the commodity marketing arm of AWB to Cargill for $175 million.

So, who benefits? Grain companies, for one.

Viterra CEO Mayo Schmidt said he supports the removal of the single desk by the Conservatives and "intends to actively participate in the process to promote an orderly transition with positive, sustainable change for the benefit of the Western Canadian agricultural industry."

Given the success of Viterra's takeover of the Australia's former barley marketing agency, ABB Grain, Schmidt must be licking his chops with the prospect of getting a piece of the CWB's business.

So, who loses? The majority of Western Canadian farmers who support the CWB, of course.