Saturday, July 16, 2011

On value debates

Yes, Bruce Anderson's latest has already been duly mocked. But it's particularly worth contrasting Anderson's claim that no party should date to criticize the Cons as overly right-wing against what Canadians themselves actually want done from a policy standpoint:
(M)ost 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, Harper has thus far avoided any political price for being on the wrong side of the Canadian public on every single one of those issues. But particularly given the rise of an opposition party which has actually fought back on those types of values questions over one which took Anderson's advice to focus on "performance and tone", the obvious conclusion is that Harper is indeed vulnerable on his ideology - just as long as he faces an opponent who offers something meaningfully better.

Signs of decay

I'm not sure whether the Libs think their base will be more fired up by their clinging to the trappings of past power to prevent newly-elected MPs from doing their jobs, or by their criticism of competitors for having the nerve to think about the future. But with the party facing questions as to whether it can justify its own existence, doesn't such a decayed foundation make for a compelling indication that rebuilding isn't worth the trouble?

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted material for your weekend reading.

- Paul Wells puts his observations about Stephen Harper's inexplicable warnings about Canada's eventual disappearance into column form. But I have to wonder whether Harper is really just taking the logical next step in non-specific right-wing messaging: rather than limiting his scope to a war on, say, "terror" to justify a perpetual focus on the security state rather than social priorities, doesn't it make some sense to simply declare pre-emptive and permanent war on that which we might someday see fit (or be convinced) to fear?

- Chris Selley dares Sun Media to be honest about following a gutter press model:
I’d vastly prefer if the irrepressibly malevolent energy behind this style of journalism was directed at unearthing scandals that matter, instead of which bottle-fed twit on the England starting 11 cheated with another one’s wife. But at least it has the courage of its lack of convictions. There was something very out of character about the Sun printing the Duchess’s behind -and the accompanying article and explanations (“bathing suits show off more”) suggest it knows it.

Running a tabloid is an inherently contradictory exercise. You have to sell prurience and abhor it at the same time. And the Canadian Sun papers abhor it too much, I think, to peddle it convincingly. The Sun used to have a page-three girl in a bathing suit. Now she’s way back behind the sports section. The Daily Star’s page-three girl is still on page three, and she usually topless -and even the Daily Star didn’t use as revealing a shot of the Duchess as the Sun did.

Embrace the trash or don’t, I say. If you want to win like Rupert Murdoch, turn off the brain, aim for the gutter and put the pedal down.
- But then, Rick Salutin points out that Canada already doesn't have much to crow about from a media perspective:
Can we declare a moratorium on Canadian Schadenfreude over Rupert Murdoch and his British tabs? They deserve what they're getting and more. But it tends to conceal the mote in our own eye.

What mote is that? Jonathan Schell in the The Nation (and reprinted in the Star) says the Murdoch papers "replaced" the noble aims of journalism with "titillation and gossip." Try not to think of Canadian coverage of the royal tour last week when you read that, I dare you. It was all T&G all the time. The CBC was the worst and it lacks even the excuse of needing to maximize profits for shareholders. Now, with the royals departed, it's still hard to find much on CBC news.

What about the Murdochian impulse to control politics along a right-wing axis? Well, the National Post was clearly created in 1998 to push Canadian journalism rightward and has had smashing success. In last May's election, every daily in Canada, except the Star and the smallish Le Devoir, endorsed Stephen Harper. Even in the last U.K. election you didn't get such uniformity.

I repeat: In a pissing contest, the Murdoch tabs win. They piss farthest and foulest. But we're only talking quantity at that point.
- Finally, the widespread exposure of the American Legislative Exchange Council is well worth watching in tracing the spread of regressive legislation throughout the U.S. But the example of corporate-written bills being delivered to legislators for immediate passage also looks to be one to keep in mind in assessing the actions of right-wing governments in Canada.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Musical interlude

Seal - Crazy

On innumeracy

Yes, we know that math isn't Deficit Jim Flaherty's forte. But could it be that he's still less numerically challenged than the rest of his cabinet colleagues? Let's check in with someone who's supposed to be one of the Cons' brightest lights...
"We don't obviously want to over-read this. People's political opinions change based on circumstances and from election to election, but fundamentally I think what we see is the development of a mainstream conservative consensus among most Canadian voters," Kenney said.
Of course, it could be that the Cons have been provided with an internal set of election results in which their Glorious Leader was elected with 110% of the vote (following a shift to a presidential system to ensure that his name would appear on every ballot). But if Kenney can't tell the difference between a consensus mandate from "most" voters and the actual election results in which the Cons' support was under 40% following their declaration that a vote for anybody else was a vote for a united set of opposing values...well, then his math skills are on par with his party's typical level of competence.

Open to change

It's absolutely for the best that Paul Dewar is planning to reintroduce his bill to ensure a truly independent Parliamentary Budget Office. But what's most significant in determining whether the bill has a chance of passing is that even the Cons haven't dared to entirely shoot down the idea before.

When the previous incarnation of the bill was debated, the Cons' response was to suggest that it should be referred to committee for a full study by MPs, while nit-picking only a tiny bit around the edges. (Which, needless to say, is in stark contrast to the guns-blazing response delivered in reply to most opposition proposals.)

Of course in 2010, that may have been seen as a useful delay tactic. But now that there's ample time for Parliament to thoroughly review the proposal, the Cons' excuse no longer holds - while any difference between the Cons' previous position and their current strategy will surely serve as ideal fodder for a message that the Cons are fighting accountability more and more as a majority government.

So having already signalled that an independent Parliamentary Budget Office was indeed an idea deserving of serious consideration, the Cons may be hard-pressed to move against it now.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jay Bryan weighs in on dangers of increasing inequality and corporate greed:
Of course, the corporate mantra is that top executives are making millions because they're possessed of a unique genius that enriches their companies, and thereby all of society.

But are they really 10 or 20 times smarter than the corporate leaders of past generations?

And excuse the indelicate question, but what of the huge incomes earned by lousy corporate bosses who actually run their firms into the ground?

Beyond this, is it really fair to keep cutting taxes on the very richest, which has been a theme for the past decade or more?

It will be hard to rein in the corporate greediest, but we might want to look to the countries that have figured out how to create high standards of living without such corrosively huge inequality.

If Denmark, Sweden and Austria can be rich societies that remain much more fair, surely Canadians aren't so dumb that we can't learn from their successes.
At least, as long as politicians don't make a virtue out of ignorance and uncompetence.

- Andrew Coyne points out what may be the most frightening part of the News of the World scandal, as the habit of illegally funneling personal information to the paper seems to have been accepted by a wide range of individuals in media, government and other sectors alike:
This behaviour involved not only reporters at the News of the World, but at least in the Brown example, also the Sun and Sunday Times, sister papers in Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire. (The Sun denies it used Brown’s son’s medical records for its story.) In the fullness of time we shall learn whether it extended to other news organizations, though it is already established that some have hired the same private investigators.

If that were all, it would be shocking enough: the famously slipshod ethics of the British tabloid press spilling over into outright criminality. But it is the intersection with other pillars of British society that takes this story to the outer limits. Much of the confidential material sought by Murdoch’s spooks was supplied to them by police officers, often on the payment of bribes. Other police officers turned a blind eye to the News of the World’s phone-hacking activities, including those explicitly assigned the task of investigating how widespread the practice was, after the first cases came to light—in part, it seems, because their own phones had been hacked, and the evidence of professional and personal misconduct thus obtained. Even after it was revealed that News International had paid huge sums of money to other victims to settle their claims out of court, Scotland Yard somehow concluded there was no story here.

And overseeing all this, the political class of Britain: all of it, it seems, or nearly so. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher, leaders of both major parties have courted Murdoch with lickspittle zeal, in hopes of his papers’ endorsement. The current prime minister, David Cameron, employed one former editor of the News of the World as his communications director, and is close friends with another.

It wasn’t only political or personal connections that moved so many politicians to play nice with Murdoch. It was, as we are now learning, fear. Politicians who crossed him or his minions were openly threatened with the publication of embarrassing personal information. Only now that he is on the run, so to speak, are many daring to speak up. This was not so much a news organization as a bribery and blackmail racket.

The culture of corruption, then, did not just infect the Murdoch empire, but much of the British establishment.
- Matt Gurney duly mocks the Ontario Libs' attempt to tar anybody who opposes them - even from the left - as a Mike Harris clone. But it's worth noting the serious side of the Libs' pathetic campaign as well: by using Harris' name as a shorthand with no regard for which of his actions and beliefs actually harmed Ontario, they're only encouraging the public to forget what was wrong with the real one.

- Finally, Alison points out the willingness of the Harper Cons' cabinet to do what it's told by the oil sector. And while there's perhaps nothing surprising about that fact, it's still deserving of far more attention than the media has bothered to pay.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your review.

- Iglika Ivanova calculates the cost of poverty in British Columbia:
My findings confirm what we’ve already suspected: poverty comes with a very high price tag. The cost of poverty to government alone is estimated to be between $2.2 to $2.3 billion per year. The costs to society as whole is $8.1 to $9.2 billion annually. That’s a lot of money – close to 5% of the total value of our economy.

The study focuses on two types of costs in particular. First, I quantify the societal resources devoted to tackling poverty’s negative consequences. These include the health and crime-related costs of poverty. Second, I capture the economic value of foregone economic activity and lower productivity that are associated with poverty. BC isn’t using all the talents and productive potential of its citizens who live in poverty and this acts as a drag on our economy. These costs are what economists call “opportunity costs:” they do not represent resources we’re actually spending now but rather resources that would become available to society if poverty was significantly reduced or eliminated.
- But then, the historical failure to deal with poverty as a broader priority (particularly in contrast to handing money to the already-wealthy in the interest of supposedly boosting the economy for everybody) fits far too well with Ivor Tossell's apt description of Rob Ford's governing style as "uncompetent".

- And it's just now that we're seeing some reason for hope that matters will change for the better - as the problems with poverty and inequality are finally filtering up to the groups who have refused to consider them for so long.

- Finally, Josh Eidelson's article on how Wisconsin unions are seeing more opportunity to influence public policy without legal recognition is well worth a read.

On surprising standards

I'm sure Terence Corcoran thinks he's making a brilliant sarcastic point of some sort. But ideology aside, is there actually any reason to disagree in the slightest with his portrayal of the Guardian's take on the NotW scandal?
And we have The Guardian, revered organ of the British left, leading the charge against News of the World, reviled organ of the Murdochian right, for breach of journalistic ethics — the same Guardian that became the British home of WikiLeaks’ illegal dump of U.S. diplomatic communications. Clearly a large double-standard reigns at The Guardian. It is good and just for the media to engage in illegal activity to wage ideological war on causes and political powers those same media have determined in their wisdom to be wrong or immoral, but it is reprehensible and immoral to engage in illegal activity to probe the private affairs of celebrities, royalty or common people.
Or put in simpler terms: is Corcoran honestly arguing that the media should be just as vigilant and ready to toss aside the formalities of the law in "(probing) the private affairs...of common people" as it is in holding policymakers (who may themselves have ordered information suppressed on questionable grounds) to account for their decisions?

Because if so, I can't believe he hasn't yet found his way to Sun Media.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan follows up on the Conference Board of Canada's recognition that growing inequality is a serious problem for Canada by noting the similar observations around the globe:
There is a growing awareness that when the fruits of prosperity are so poorly shared, trouble is not far off, for the economy and for society alike. The Conference Board report is a reflection of the growing concern shown by the business press in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. in recent months, with stories ranging from national and international income trends to firm-level eye-poppers.

At Davos this year, the World Economic Forum named rising inequality as the “most serious challenge for the world”. Their survey of 580 global decision-makers led to the conclusion that “economic disparity and global governance failures both influence the evolution of many other global risks.” Tackle growing inequality, and you tackle the root of much dysfunction in the world.
- Scott Stinson is the latest to question the thesis that Stephen Harper has somehow made Canada into a more conservative country. But I'm not sure his counter is on point either: while the Cons have tried to put on a non-threatening face for the public at large, I'd be curious to see a trace of evidence that their party supporters have generally moved an inch away from the values that were indeed seen as contrary to those shared by most of the country.

- David Climenhaga points out that in the midst of the most volatile political environment Alberta has seen for ages, there's reason for optimism that the provincial NDP can build on the party's federal success.

- And Chantal Hebert notes one of the reasons why the party was able to break through federally:
A stronger focus on values also contributed to the success of the NDP — a party with no government track record but with a long history of treating equality and minority rights as party policy and of voting accordingly in the House of Commons.

On May 2, that history made it easier for many former Bloc Québécois and Liberal supporters in Quebec to find a second home with the NDP.
- Finally, it's no surprise that the U.S. offered the Harper Cons tips on how to better serve the oil industry in selling the tar sands abroad. But given the Cons' constant focus on putting the oil patch first, I would think it's noteworthy that they were seen to need the help.

New column day

Here, on the need for Canadian workers to follow Kai Nagata's example in valuing and insisting on the right to express their opinions.

For further reading...
- Sandra Thomas' rebuttal to Nagata serves mostly to highlight why most workers can't afford to make the same choice he did - without answering the question of whether they should have to:
On a personal level I’m not 24, I have bills, responsibilities and a love of this community I can only afford to live in because of my paycheque.
- Nagata's own followup post is here.
- And finally, here's my previous column on how private intrusions can affect civil rights.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Charlie Angus is leading the charge against the Cons' plan to ram through lawful access legislation, labeling it as warrantless snooping and spying on Canadians. We'll have to see how far Angus can get in swaying public opinion, but a concerted effort over the summer could go a long way to at least make this part of the dumb-on-crime strategy into a political loser for the Cons.

- Sun Media isn't prepared to meet basic media standards for accuracy and fairness. On a newsworthiness scale, this ranks somewhere below "dog bites man" - is "dog wants food" common enough to fit the bill?

- Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada not only recognizing a growing level of inequality but also hinting that it's a problem actually does qualify as a remarkable turn of events.
The 33-year trend which has accelerated since 1993, raises questions about the country’s economic well-being, including whether Canada is using all the skills and talents of its citizens and whether social cohesion and fairness are being undermined, says How Canada Performs: Is Canada becoming more unequal?

Social policy experts who have been raising the alarm over Canada’s growing income gap since 2006, say the Conference Board report represents a watershed.

“The significance of this report is that it is now firmly on the radar of the business establishment,” said economist Armine Yalnizyan who has written several reports on the issue for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that are referenced by the Conference Board.

“The jury is no longer out. This is a pressing issue of our era,” Yalnizyan said in an interview.
- Finally, the Cons have officially completed the Harper Shuffle on their earlier suppression of a report on the Champlain Bridge, having completely reversed their position without either admitting they were wrong or even acknowledging that they've changed course.

On devolution

It remains to be seen exactly how much discussion of social policy will move from the federal level to the provincial one as Canadian civil society adjusts to a Harper majority. But I'm not sure a signal that the action is going to be at the provincial level can get much stronger than this.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your midweek reading.

- Stephen Gordon weighs in again on the Cons' census disaster:
Many readers may have thought that the census issue was settled last summer; it wasn’t. We haven’t even begun to deal with the consequences of the decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with the voluntary NHS. As Economy Lab contributor Kevin Milligan and his UBC colleague David Green note in Canadian Public Policy, one of the most striking features of the census is its ‘hidden ubiquity’. The census is an invisible -- and yet essential -- element of virtually all the data that inform policy debates.
Employment and inflation data have the power to move markets, and policy-makers need reliable data to guide their decisions. The list is goes on, and is almost endless. For example, the labour market experiences of immigrants will be an increasing preoccupation for policy-makers as the population ages; the only source of information about immigrants is the census.

The most recent census was in 2006, and it looks as though the next usable census will take place in 2021 at the earliest. Our understanding of what is going on in the Canadian economy in the next decades will grow steadily weaker as more cars pile on the census train wreck.
- Marc Lee describes the right strategy for a government which actually wants to boost an economy emerging from a recession, rather than looking for excuses to go on a slashing spree:
Keeping up the stimulus is a top priority, and even leaning more heavily into job creation would be advised. If deficits are of concern, then increase corporate taxes and income taxes on the wealthy. Engage mortgage relief to the millions of US households who are underwater. But don’t buy into the doom and gloom stories about default. While it is true that a default would be uncharted territory, constitutionally, US debt is backed by law. The US issues debt in a currency it controls, and the Fed could play a major role by buying up some of the outstanding debt for cash. But ultimately, as James Galbraith points out, the big holder of US debt is China and it does not really have anywhere else to go to park its money (some gold, Swiss francs and some Canadian dollars on the margin perhaps).

For Canada, this means we need to keep our cool, and NOT play the austerity game revealed in last month’s budget. Piling on with spending cuts and layoffs will only make things worse. Federally and provincially, governments need to focus on employment not deficits in order to maintain robust demand in the economy (climate action is a great place to start). The Bank of Canada also needs to reconsider murmurings of interest rate increases this fall in light of these developments. Our biggest risk is that we harm ourselves to save a summary statistic rather than focus on the real challenges.
- Chantal Hebert points out how the Cons figure to start chipping away at health care across most of Canada:
The Conservative election promise to maintain the 6 per cent rate of increase in the federal health transfer for the duration of the current federal mandate will only translate in a one-year extension to the existing arrangements. And even under that regime, federal funding to most provinces could start to grow more slowly.

In one of its first budgets, the Harper government promised to bring Ontario’s share of the health transfer in line with its population as of 2014.

Topping up Ontario’s share out of the existing pie would mean that there would be less funding to go around for the other provinces.

Despite the promises of the last federal campaign, the next chapter of the medicare saga will most likely be written in red ink in the provinces.
- Finally, E3's analysis of the possible social costs of carbon provides some needed perspective on an issue where even lower-end estimates are all too often treated as making action too costly to be worth pursuing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Wonder visited the veterinarian today - and purred so loudly the vet couldn't get a reading on his heartbeat.

In his honour, another installment of blissed-out cats.

A bridge to know-nothingness

Shorter Denis Lebel:

Ignorance is bliss. And we're hard at work making sure Canadians are nothing less than euphoric.

Parliament In Review: June 21, 2011

Issue of the Day

Much of the day's debate was taken up with the final debate on the Cons' budget legislation, with the NDP particularly highlighting provisions to subsidize private mortgage insurance - while the Cons responded at times by insisting that there's somehow a need for competition against the CMHC, and others by suggesting we should be willing to trade off a stable mortgage insurance system for promises of transparency.

Once it was time to vote, there was only one slight surprise. It was never a secret that the Bloc planned to vote for the Cons' budget based on the inclusion of HST money for Quebec - but I'm rather curious as to how the Bloc can also justify voting against all of the NDP's proposed amendments as well.

All In Order

Is it a violation of parliamentary procedure to describe Tony Clement as "hiding under his desk"? For some reason, the Cons seemed to want to debate the point. Which led to Charlie Angus' reply:
Mr. Speaker, I want to clarify the record because I do think it is very important. I take my choice of words very seriously. When I said “the missing member for Muskoka” I was not implying that he was missing from the House. I said that he was missing from doing his job.
Fighting Back

The Cons sought unanimous consent to ram through anti-refugee legislation. But instead, Olivia Chow instead delivered a blistering attack on the Cons' disdain for refugees:
the bill would not punish smugglers. Under our present legislation, a smuggler would be jailed for life. We have the most severe punishment for people convicted of smuggling. What could be more severe than putting them away for life? We cannot get more severe. The bill is not really about the smugglers. It is about the refugees.

This legislation would require the mandatory detention of all people arriving in Canada, including women and children, whether they arrive by foot, by boat or by air. A mom and a two year old child, a five year old child, or a baby, would be jailed a minimum of 12 months. After they serve that 12 months they might receive some consideration. They would also be denied permanent residence or family reunification for at least five years.

Let me use as an example a dad who leaves a troubled country and his wife and children are left behind in a refugee camp. He arrives in Canada by himself and gets designated by the minister. The minister could not even explain a few minutes ago what criteria he is going to use. He mentioned those individuals who do not have documentation. Most refugees who come to Canada do not have documentation. How can we expect people who live through an earthquake or arrive from a war-torn country to have identification? A lot of refugees arrive at our shores without identification. They could be designated. More than two refugees who arrive on our shores could be designated as a group.

Let me revert to my example of the dad who arrived in Canada after fleeing from a war-torn country. Under this rule he would be sent to jail for at least a year. Let us say that he goes through the process and is determined to be a genuine refugee. For five years he would not be able to sponsor his wife and children from a refugee camp. What does that mean? It means that he will be separated from his family for at least seven years. These refugees will have to determine whether or not they want to leave their loved ones behind because they will not see them for at least seven years. Do they want to come to this country alone or do they want to make a dangerous journey together? That is why I say the bill is cruel.
In Brief

Let's start with a few noteworthy points on the Canada Post debate which made for the other major theme of the day. First, Pat Martin pointed out that the root of all of Canada Post's problems which were supposed to justify back-to-work legislation lay in money extracted from it and its pension plan. The NDP also nicely highlighted the "orphan clauses" designed to ensure that future Canada Post workers don't enjoy the pay and benefit levels of current employees. And following his much-ballyhooed speech, Yvon Godin had the definitive answer to a question about a six-year-old waiting for her glasses through the mail:
Madam Speaker, I would tell this little six-year-old girl that the Conservative government has refused to tell Canada Post to get back to the table with its collective agreement and negotiate in good faith. I would tell the little girl that when she gets older, I hope it is not a Conservative government in power that would hit on her the way they are doing today. I would tell that little girl that if she wants to buy glasses, I hope she has a decent job with good pay that the Conservative Party will not take away from her. I would make sure that the little girl never voted for the Conservative Party her whole life.
And in other news...

Chris Charlton stood up for the principle that Parliament needs time to review and debate legislation, rather than having it forced through in artificially short time frames. Jim Flaherty answered Terek Brahmi's question about the well-being of families trapped by record debt levels by saying that the corporate sector is doing just fine. Peter Stoffer introduced a bill to establish a right to housing.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Christopher Michael points out the real problem underlying the News of the World's scandalous demise:
The Sun is either clairvoyant at predicting the results of British elections, or instrumental in determining them. It has supported the winning side ever since Margaret Thatcher's victory in 1979. Politicians quickly internalized the idea that you needed Mr. Murdoch on side to win, and lived in fear that The Sun would unleash its worst. Tony Blair quietly flew to Australia in 1995 to court him. The morning after Mr. Cameron became Prime Minster, Mr. Murdoch was seen leaving 10 Downing St. by the back door; former NOTW editor Andy Coulson (arrested Friday) was already on board as Mr. Cameron’s head of PR. Mrs. Thatcher spent Christmases with Mr. Murdoch, yet failed to mention him in her autobiography. As Marina Hyde wrote in the Guardian, “Like Voldemort, he must not be named.”

After The Sun helped sweep Mr. Blair to power in 1997, the Labour PM loosened the UK’s restrictions on foreign media ownership. Indeed, Mr. Murdoch’s shuttering of NOTW was likely calculated to smooth the way for his purchase of a majority stake in the huge British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which would centralize even more media power in his hands.

Thanks to the scandal, the BSkyB deal may no longer happen. If so, we should all be grateful. Mr. Murdoch’s suffocating influence in Britain has been grossly undemocratic, and deserves to be punctured. From this strange and lurid story of a great democracy brought temporarily low, Canadians can learn a powerful lesson: Keep media ownership as diffusely concentrated as possible, and never be afraid to speak anyone’s name.
- Meanwhile, the current public debate over the ownership and regulation of vital communication tools looks to be getting more interesting by the day, as the CP and Michael Geist summarize the day's CRTC Internet regulation proceedings.

- Murray Mandryk is the latest to point out that the track Saskatchewan is on seems to be leaving mere workers behind while having no particular direction for the future:
If we are "on track", then we also are spinning our wheels in a bit of a rut. And it comes at a time when higher oil prices suggest we should be less vulnerable to such economic problems. After all, Alberta is recovering as well. It's also important to note that some of the biggest losses in June were in construction (3,000 jobs), where Premier Brad Wall's government changed labour legislation last year under the notion we needed more flexibility to meet the boom.

If Saskatchewan is "on track" shouldn't we be seeing signs our economy is less vulnerable to the whims of the resource sector? Shouldn't we be seeing more signs of economic transformation? And with a looming debt default crisis in the U.S. threatening to send the world economy into another recession, how stable is our resource-based economy?
- Finally, Angus Reid provides the latest edition of "Stephen Harper has turned Canada into a more Conservative country!!!" by pointing out that public attitudes toward the Senate are moving toward both abolition over election, and holding a referendum rather than having Harper alone dictate the future of the Senate. [Update: Apparently the Globe and Mail's snark detector is broken.]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Janyce McGregor's article on the perils of Senate reform is well worth a read in general. But let's particularly highlight an issue I've raised before - if one which is no less glaring in the absence of any reform:
So why not just abolish the Senate? Indeed, that's the position of other premiers, including Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, and the NDP at both the federal and provincial levels.

The NDP's preference for abolition over reform is another reason Simon Fraser's Heard is uncertain about the prospects for the voluntary elections framework in the current bill.

New Democrats hold power in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, and are serious challengers for government in B.C. in the coming months. The party might be seen as contradicting itself to run candidates to serve in a chamber it believes should be abolished.

"If they maintain this position, then several provinces with a strong NDP presence will not be properly represented," Heard fears.
- Aalya Ahmad and Geoff Bickerton discuss the toxic mix of management, government, paid PR and media which all served to ensure the least fair outcome possible in Canada Post's CBA negotiations.

- Verda Petry points out just a few of the people who have reason to figure that Saskatchewan's current track won't take them anywhere worth going:
No mention of the Health Sciences Association, who have been without a contract for over two years, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, the CUPE Local of educational assistants, the Saskatchewan Cancer Society workers, the Crop Insurers Group, SIAST instructors and support staff. Government interference in free collective bargaining and wage offers below the cost of living create acute distress and anger.

The minimum wage is so low that at full employment a worker doesn't meet the low income cut-off for poverty. All this at a time when government revenue has exceeded expectations by $1 billion. Add to this the federal abuse of postal workers, farmers threatened with the loss of the Canadian Wheat Board, and you have a plethora of workers, their families, and citizens who depend on these workers for services, for whom Saskatchewan is not "on track".
- And for those wondering what comes next in the corporatist arsenal after massive handouts to the rich are paired with "but look how many people we took off the tax rolls!", Orrin Hatch is leading the Republican Party toward the inevitable next step.

On class dynamics

Doug Saunders' post on the political role of the middle class is certainly worth a read. But I'd think the core theory demands some significant tweaking in figuring out how politics have actually tended to operate:
Andy Sumner, a scholar with Britain’s Institute for Development Studies who is working this year at the Washington-based Center for Global Development, looked at the political ramifications of Dr. Palma’s breakdown and asked a provocative question: “Are the middle classes the new revolutionaries?”

“The middle classes generally get half of the economic pie wherever you look, and are incredibly successful about protecting their half,” Dr. Sumner notes. As a result, he says, “politics is increasingly a fight for the remaining half between the richest 10 per cent and the poorest 40 per cent … between the very rich and the very poor over who can win over the middle classes.”
Of course, the problem in applying that theory to countries like Canada is that the middle class actually hasn't been able to hold onto its position, whether framed in terms of wages or total income. And the obvious culprit looks to me to be the ability of upper-income interests to play the two lower categories against each other.

Most of the time, we're told that we have no choice but to send money up the income chain in hopes that it'll result in wage gains focused mostly on the middle class. And far too often, middle-class voters buy into the theory.

But once we reach the point where wages are actually set to rise significantly, it's easy enough for the upper class to then talk up the needs of people on lower and fixed incomes as reason to rein in the growth. (That is, to the point where any spoils are focused solely on the absolute top level of society - which is far enough removed from mere ordinary people to argue that its gains won't influence prices on basic goods.)

So the effort to encourage greater equality isn't as simple as trying to win a single tug-of-war between the poor and the wealthy. Instead, it involves having to keep both the lower and middle classes both engaged enough to see politics as worth pursuing, and skeptical enough to call out the naked greed of the privileged few for what it is.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Trish Hennessy's latest Numbers consist of a comparison between Canada and other OECD countries...featuring some great news on the social front:

Percentage of Canadians, on average, who report the highest community tolerance of ethnic minorities, migrants, gays and lesbians. Higher than the OECD average of 61 per cent.
...some rather more sobering news on the economic front:

Minutes of paid work or study, per day, reported by Canadians. Higher than the OECD average of 277 minutes per day.

Percentage of jobless households with children in Canada who are poor. Much higher than the OECD average of 53 per cent.
...and on the crime front, of course yet more Evidence that Stephen Harper has Turned Canada into a Conservative Country:

Percentage of Canadians who reported falling victim to assault over a 12-month period, lower than the OECD average of four percent.(Source)


Percentage of Canadians who feel unsafe on the street after dark, much lower than the OECD average of 26 per cent.
- Naturally, the NDP should avoid the kind of arrogant victory lap we've seen from the Harper Cons - particularly when it's rightly highlighting the sense of entitlement the Cons have developed.

- But David Climenhaga's post is still worth pointing out in defining a reachable goal for 2015 and beyond:
(W)hile it is certainly true that Harper's government is attempting to move Canada in a conservative direction (if by "conservative" we mean "radical and market-fundamentalist"), whether this is what Canadians want or what they were trying to achieve when they elected a Conservative majority in May is an entirely different matter.

Add up the numbers. The demise of the national Liberal Party combined with the well-known rejection by Canadian voters of so-called conservative values could be what it takes turn the Orange Wave into an Orange Crush and usher in a long and happy era of New Democrat government.
- Finally, it will certainly be interesting to see the Sask Party's spin as to how nobody in Saskatchewan particularly needed a kidney transplant until 2012. But it's hard to imagine an instance of glaring political failure with a more obvious human cost.

On top priorities

Of course, a national energy strategy could be a huge plus if it includes some recognition of environmental issues and other concerns beyond immediate profits. But let's just say there's not much reason for optimism in the reason why the Cons are just now coming around to the idea:
The Harper government has endorsed the need for a national energy strategy in the face of growing calls from provinces and industry groups that the sector’s vision of a new era of global growth is too critical to be governed by piecemeal planning.

The government’s backing of the idea of a national energy strategy marks a substantial shift from its previous public position. The Conservative government had long been cool to calls for a national strategy, fearing it would get dragged into areas of provincial jurisdiction with demands for financial support.

But with a majority government safely in hand, the Conservatives are now signalling their support for a national policy. The Alberta government has urged Ottawa to lead the effort for a national energy strategy, arguing the country must work together if it is going to achieve Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision of an “energy superpower.”
So in a minority Parliament, the Cons saw enough political danger to avoid being too explicit about making the oil and gas sector its top priority, particularly when that figured to result in still more federal money getting dumped into industries which were already raking in massive profits. But now, they're apparently changing their tune - with little apparent suggestion that the change will involve any more willingness to act on greenhouse gas emissions, water concerns, or any other issue that's actually lacking for action.

Suffice it to say then that there's every reason to be skeptical about the Cons' intentions. And barring some major shock as to how much sway non-industry interests will get in developing the actual strategy, it'll be up to the rest of Canada to make sure the Cons are right to have feared the political price of putting big oil first.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Still hard at work

In case there was any doubt whether the NDP's hard-earned reputation as the most productive caucus in Ottawa would change as the party moved into its new role as Official Opposition, LEGISInfo provides a handy comparison for the bills introduced in the spring session of Parliament:
Senate Government Bill (1)
Senate Private Bill (1)
Senate Public Bill (4)
House Government Bill (9)
Private Member’s Bill (65)
Political Affiliation
Bloc Québécois (2)
Conservative (16)
Liberal (10)
NDP (51)
PC (1)
Now, it's not at all new for the NDP to be ahead of the pack in the number of bills introduced. But it's well worth noting that even with a caucus that's nearly tripled in size, and with only a three-plus-week session for its rookies to learn the ropes in Ottawa, the NDP is once again far ahead of all of the other official parties - and roughly even with the four-member Bloc - in the number of policy ideas per MP. And we can only expect the gap to widen as the NDP's new members join their colleagues in developing and introducing bills.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted material for your weekend reading.

- He's a bit too shy in pointing out exactly how thoroughly the Cons' position on the Canadian Wheat Board has been rebuked in CWB elections for ages. But Bruce Johnstone nicely describes the PR blitz designed to pretend there's no dissent at all to the Cons' plans to destroy the Wheat Board:
In the space of an hour or two on Friday, my e-mail inbox was crammed with messages praising the Harper government for giving farmers "marketing freedom."

The steady parade of press releases from the governments of B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Western Barley Growers Association, Western Canadian Wheat Growers, Grain Growers of Canada and Canadian Federation of Independent Business had all the spontaniety of a vote of the politburo of the Worker's Party of Korea.

Does anyone really believe that all these groups, acting independently, putting out press releases at the same time, all saying essentially the same thing, is just a coincidence?
(T)he Harper government has done nothing to justify its decision to remove the single desk - other than wrap itself in the flag of "marketing freedom.''

It has done no detailed studies (that we know of) on the impact the removal of single desk will have on the CWB, farmers, rural towns, the grain handling and transportation system, the economies of the three Prairie provinces, etc.

All the Harper government has done is bluster and brazen its way through this debate, without consulting directly with the people its decision will affect the most - Western Canadian farmers. Hardly consistent with a government that claims to believe in giving people freedom to choose.
- But then, Jamie Biggar notes that demolishing the building blocks of democracy is standard operating procedure for those seeking to remove power from mere citizens:
Like the shock doctrine, the creeping erosion strategy was first implemented by the right-wing governments that rose to power in the 1980s. It is a powerful approach because it creates the conditions for further rightward shifts. For example, these governments repeatedly created massive public deficits by cutting taxes while raising security spending, and then they used these manufactured deficits to justify cuts to social programs. The Harper government's agenda of tax cuts, spending on fighter jets and prisons, and subsequent "we have no choice" cuts to social spending is a standard example of this tactic.

This creeping erosion undermines our belief that we can and should work together through our democracy to achieve progress. Again, the strategy is powerful because it continually creates the conditions that reinforce its own arguments by making the problems it identifies even worse. When the Harper government is secretive, authoritarian or incompetent it is also re-enforcing its political agenda to persuade Canadians that government cannot be trusted and that it is not the answer to our shared challenges. Similarly, policies that expose Canadians to greater economic insecurity, from trade deals to deregulation and union busting, also make Canadians more afraid of change, and therefore more resistant to government interventions in the economy that are designed to reduce inequality or protect the environment.

The upshot is a decline in our trust in our institutions, and in our society. When people believe that government is dominated by self-interested elites, or that their neighbours will find a way to cheat the system, then they are far more likely to oppose collective approaches to problems that involve any short-term cost or uncertainty. This decline in public and social trust is not just a consequence of political strategy, it is highly connected to the longer term decline in "social capital," identified by the likes of Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, but the creeping erosion strategy is designed to cynically leverage this decline for political power.
- Peter McKnight is the latest to lament the Harper Cons' disdain for science and evidence:
In a desperate attempt to discredit Insite, Clement presented an essay critical of the facility as the equivalent of the aforementioned peer-reviewed studies.

In so doing, he essentially suggested there is nothing special about scientific studies -that scientists are not in a privileged position to discover truth about the natural world. Rather, any individual's opinion on a scientific topic is just as good as a scientist's, whether it is informed by science or not.
According to this view, since science isn't in a privileged position to discover truth, we shouldn't privilege it in any way.

Such disdain for science is clearly evident in the Conservatives' elimination of the Office of Science Advisor and of their muzzling of Environment Canada scientists. But more than anything, their elimination of the mandatory long-form census, and their bizarre proclamations that they can still gain necessary knowledge about Canadian society without it, reveals their open hostility, not just to scientists, but to science itself.

Given that the Conservatives embrace this strange philosophy, their opposition to listing chrysotile, while still shocking, isn't surprising. But much like chrysotile, it is deadly. Also much like chrysotile, it ought to be buried deep in the ground, before it buries us all.
- Dr. Dawg reports that the parliamentary committee set up to formally convert criticism of government policy into anti-Semitism has issued its report - with predictable results.

- Finally, the official birth of South Sudan offers one good-news story for the weekend.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

No, a loss to the CFL's strongest team shouldn't be considered reason to panic. But yesterday's game did reveal some important gaps between the current 'Riders and the team they should be seeking to emulate.

Most obviously, the performance gap between the two offences could be traced to the difference between the Alouettes' well-coordinated group of receivers and the 'Riders' less experienced crew. Yes, Anthony Calvillo was allowed to complete a few more passes than would have been ideal (and we'll get to that shortly), but he also found receivers in stride and ready to rack up yards after the catch at every turn - making it far easier to march the ball down the field in a hurry in a game where plays with the wind were at a premium.

In contrast, the 'Riders' receivers made Darian Durant's job more difficult throughout the game, with a bit of help from some odd play design. Efrem Hill was the most obvious offender - wiping out one otherwise perfectly-executed play by inexplicably wandering out of bounds, and giving away plenty of yardage on another reception by taking one step out of bounds with plenty of open field in front of him. Terrence Nunn showed the downside of his "Flying Nunn" persona, lunging headlong at a couple of passes where a more controlled reception would have allowed him a chance to gain YAC yardage. And the 'Riders late-game lob pass strategy looks to have been doomed from the outset, as receivers like Wes Cates and Weston Dressler were thoroughly blanketed by tacklers by the time high-arcing passes reached them.

Which isn't to say that the 'Riders' offence played poorly on the whole. In fact, the 'Riders current scoring pace is just about a point per game below the team's 2010 total - signalling where the real problem has come in.

Once again, it was the 'Riders' defence that played far below expectations. But this time out, it wasn't the pass rush that bore the blame, as Calvillo faced fairly regular pressure throughout the game; instead, the normal strengths of a Richie Hall defence were sorely lacking.

Rather than making sure tackles, the 'Riders flailed around after far too many Montreal completions, with catch-and-run touchdowns by S.J. Green and Tim Maypray serving as only the most vivid examples. And the 'Riders' pass coverage was also a significant issue - particularly in the third quarter, when Calvillo picked the 'Riders apart with a series of line-drive throws on crossing routes which would seem to have been vulnerable to an effort to bat down passes at the line.

Fortunately, there's still lots of time left in the season for the receiving corps to gain experience (and health), and for the defence to sort out how best to handle a precision passing offence. But after two games where the 'Riders have yet to take a single lead, it's probably time to start ratcheting down our expectations.