Saturday, August 20, 2011

On areas of agreement

Of course, one can't expect Jane Taber's coverage to note the flip side to the Cons' strategic distractions. But while Taber hands her report over to Con spinners for a typical dose of NDP concern trolling, let's note that there's more common ground than reason for disagreement between Quebec and the rest of Canada when it comes to pointless distractions like renaming Canada's Armed Forces and playing up the monarchy.

Indeed, every region of the country has ample reason to see those moves as an utter waste of time compared to other issues. And none figures to be interested in shifting votes toward the Cons as a result if the NDP's response is to focus on that common point of view.

So if the Cons really plan to spend a substantial amount of their focus turning back the clock on Canadian symbols, that may be exactly the opening the NDP needs to undercut any credibility the Cons currently claim when it comes to higher priorities like the economy and health care. And that opportunity will only be amplified if the message sinks in with the public that the Cons are deliberately trying to avoid dealing with those more important issues.

On analogous choices

John Gormley strains to try to invent analogies between football and politics to support the Sask Party's cause. (And I'm half disappointed he didn't have a couple thousand more words to fill, since I'm sure then we'd have been treated to his substance-free musings as to how NDP MLA Sandra Morin is just like 'Riders linebacker Jeremiah Weatherspoon.)

But there's one analogy between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the political scene that should actually matter to voters. Right now, the 'Riders are suffering on the field in large part because they wrongly believed they could coast on moderate success and holdover personnel, rather than striving to improve on past results. And the province should make sure not to make the same mistake when the Sask Party tells citizens it isn't worth trying to improve on the status quo this fall.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Gerald Caplan rightly asks what media outlets think they have to gain by promoting anti-Muslim bigotry:
The goal of the Muslim-haters is surely clear enough. By lumping all Muslims together as terrorists, by equating a violence-prone Muslim lunatic fringe with all Muslims, by insulting the hundreds of millions of moderate Muslims everywhere, they alienate all Muslims and create among non-Muslims an irrational fear of and hostility to all Muslims. What purpose can this serve other than to provoke a clash, possibly a violent one, between Muslims and the rest? Anders Breivik didn’t come from nowhere, nor will the next Breivik.

But what’s the interest of certain media in enabling these haters to spread their gospel, to fan the flames of intolerance? What audience are they after? What do they expect their audiences to make of all this sympathetic exposure to rabid anti-Muslim feelings? Why are they inciting ordinary people to hate other ordinary people? Why?
- Though in fairness at least a couple of outlets are instead looking for other ways to divide Canadians as well - with Postmedia looking particularly unsubtle in having the nerve to criticize NDP MPs for not participating in what it explicitly describes as a hunt for "political skeletons".

- Chantal Hebert is right to note that this fall's provincial elections figure to have massive implications when it comes to other levels of government as well. But I'll reiterate that the issue isn't Ontario alone: instead, it's the real danger of a Con-friendly sweep in all of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario that could open the door for Stephen Harper to ram through constitutional changes on an ideological basis.

- Finally, Karim Bardeesy profiles Rathika Sitsabaiesan as the new face of the NDP. And those interested in joining in the festivities from her busy Regina trip (including a Q & A at the U of R this morning, a barbecue at noon and a wine and cheese social this evening) can get the details here and here.

Musical interlude

Dirty Vegas - Tonight (Above & Beyond Remix)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pop quiz

Yes, the Cons' spinners are doing their damndest to try to save Tony Clement's political hide. But since they don't seem to have noticed that their explanation raises more questions than it answers, let's test the theory:

Explain why a cabinet minister's constituency office would have any reason to serve as a "mail box" for applications to a government department. Show your work.

Belabouring the obvious

Speaking of this fall's Saskatchewan election, let's note a remarkable feat of punditry by Murray Mandryk in his latest paean to the Sask Party. Of course it's always the goal of any prognosticator to identify what's inevitably around the corner so as to be able to take credit for predicting it. But Mandryk goes a step further in tying the content which will obviously form part of the NDP's platform into his overarching Always Bad News For Dwain Lingenfelter theme:
It's a task made easier by the utter failure of the Lingenfelter-led NDP to tell us what it is about. For example, if potash mine-expansion credits was such a bad idea, why did its own government implement them? And what would it do with the added revenue?

Failing to define what you stand for in politics simply allows your opponent to do so.
Let's leave aside for the moment the entirely tangential point about the difference in the state of the potash industry and the price of the resource when the current rates were set - which the NDP has indeed pointed to every time they've faced exactly the question he claims has never been answered.

Mandryk presumably knows that the NDP has spent plenty of time discussing its policy and values over the past year. And I highly doubt he's under any illusion that the NDP would forget to highlight its already-documented ideas as to what to do with added resource revenue during the course of the campaign.

Which means that his issue as to the NDP's willingness to define itself seems to be purely a matter of format and timing.

At worst, the NDP has thus far chosen to challenge the Sask Party's general assertion that the province can't even discuss whether resource gains might be shared with the population at large and point to areas demanding improvement, rather than setting out in detail what it will do instead. And there's certainly a strategic debate to be had as to whether that's the ideal strategy.

But it takes far more than a flippant dismissal to determine conclusively that the NDP should have publicized a platform at the earliest opportunity and made the debate one about details long before the election campaign starts. And that's doubly so given the alternative of letting Saskatchewan's citizens imagine and discuss for themselves some of the opportunities which might be available under a fairer royalty system, then incorporating the strongest ideas into its platform to be released for the campaign. Which, needless to say, is a possibility omitted entirely from Mandryk's discussion.

Fortunately, the NDP's position isn't anywhere near as dire as Mandryk's argument by omission would seem to suggest.

Indeed, even the Sask Party's own definition of the debate feeds fairly nicely into a direct clash between Wall's business focus, and the NDP's desire to make sure a fair share of Saskatchewan's resource wealth finds its way to both the province's current citizens and future generations. And since there doesn't seem to be much doubt that the NDP will provide the only viable alternative to the Sask Party on that front, there's still every opportunity to sway voters with that contest of ideas and values this fall.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- The NDP follows up on the Tony Clement G8 scandal by pointing out the connection between his pork-barrelling and the 2008 federal election (which, let's not forget, was called at the Cons' behest):
The NDP is accusing federal Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement of using a controversial, $50-million G8 legacy fund to buy re-election, prompting a heated denial from the government.

Municipal documents obtained by the New Democrats show Clement met with local mayors and councillors in the midst of the 2008 election campaign. They discussed how to identify projects that could be eligible for the legacy funding.

Twelve days after that meeting, a local news outlet reported that Clement had posted video endorsements from "local townspeople, mayors and council members" on his campaign website.

"It gave him a major advantage over the other candidates," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said in an interview Thursday.

"I think the question has to be asked: Was this a $50 million price of an election?"
- But then, the Cons have obviously lost touch with any sense that public money should be used for anything other than to fulfill their political whims - as Kate Heartfield points out when it comes to their dumb-on-crime policy.

- Meanwhile, the Calgary Herald slams the Cons for eliminating any actual judgment and discretion from the criminal justice system:
The Canadian Bar Association passed a number of worthy recommendations at its recent annual conference that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson should take time to consider.

They include a measure asking that a "safety valve" be brought in with mandatory sentences, which would give judges an ability to deviate from the legislation in rare circumstances where they feel the sentence would cause an injustice.
(O)ne size fits all does not work in sentencing. We just have to look to the U.S. for numerous examples of what can happen in the extreme. Under California's three-strikes law, a man with a record of two felony convictions for burglary, was sentenced to prison for 25 years to life, after getting caught at a pro shop trying to steal three golf clubs. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling. In another case a man whose third offence was stealing Batman and Cinderella videos from a department store, was sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison.

These are not hardcore criminals and it is not in society's best interest to treat them as such.
- Finally, talk about this fall's Saskatchewan election is starting to heat up, if only in highly general terms so far. Both Three Hundred Eight and the Numbers Guy have posted overviews of what to expect - albeit with little discussion of the factors that figure to influence the race. And a new Saskatchewan General Election blog has also launched which should hopefully serve a useful aggregator for election news (as well as a reminder of the unreliability of non-random online polls).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

So much left to learn

250 doctors and public health professionals think they can persuade Con MP Kellie Leitch to value ethics and health over political instructions. Which raises the question: after five years of Harper government, how is it that 250 doctors and public health professionals can be completely clueless about the #1 requirement for any Con MP?

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Naomi Klein points out in the wake of London's riots that there's one kind of socially destructive looting that's been rewarded rather than punished:
They are just about lawless kids taking advantage of a situation to take what isn't theirs. And British society, Cameron tells us, abhors that kind of behaviour.

This is said in all seriousness. As if the massive bank bailouts never happened, followed by the defiant record bonuses. Followed by the emergency G8 and G20 meetings, when the leaders decided, collectively, not to do anything to punish the bankers for any of this, nor to do anything serious to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. Instead they would all go home to their respective countries and force sacrifices on the most vulnerable. They would do this by firing public sector workers, scapegoating teachers, closing libraries, upping tuition fees, rolling back union contracts, creating rush privatisations of public assets and decreasing pensions – mix the cocktail for where you live. And who is on television lecturing about the need to give up these "entitlements"? The bankers and hedge-fund managers, of course.

This is the global saqueo, a time of great taking. Fuelled by a pathological sense of entitlement, this looting has all been done with the lights on, as if there was nothing at all to hide.
Of course London's riots weren't a political protest. But the people committing night-time robbery sure as hell know that their elites have been committing daytime robbery. Saqueos are contagious. The Tories are right when they say the rioting is not about the cuts. But it has a great deal to do with what those cuts represent: being cut off. Locked away in a ballooning underclass with the few escape routes previously offered – a union job, a good affordable education – being rapidly sealed off. The cuts are a message. They are saying to whole sectors of society: you are stuck where you are, much like the migrants and refugees we turn away at our increasingly fortressed borders.
- And Brian Topp highlights the continued hold-ups that right-wing governments are looking to force on younger workers:
Again and again, in almost every conceivable regional accent across North America (Louisiana, Quebec, New Jersey, B.C., Chicago, etc.) speakers noted that employers were bargaining, mercilessly and relentlessly, to strip pay, health coverage (a big issue in the United States) and pensions from new – read “young” – workers. It’s creating two-tier workplaces, and gross inequities aimed squarely at young workers entering the workplace.

This was frank talk about another aspect of the great inter-generational theft being implemented in the United States and across the industrial world in recent years. Mounting public debt to pay for tax cuts for rich people being the central element.

Delegates urged young workers to step up to the defence of their rights. “Stand up, fight back.” A daunting challenge, in this environment. But as Mr. Gerard said at the convention in a familiar quote: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
- Lawrence Martin notes that Tony Clement's G8 patronage looks like an even more glaring example of the type of political pork-barrelling that the Cons once claimed to abhor.

- Finally, Abacus is the latest pollster to show the NDP holding its own (and indeed gaining slightly) since May's election.

New column day

Here, on the desperate need for changes in Saskatchewan's electoral boundaries to better reflect the will of the province's voters.

For further reading, see Simon Enoch's recent post, as well as the Electoral Boundaries Commission's initial proposal from 2001:
Electoral Boundaries Commission Report

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The journalism continues

Tim Naumetz is at it again:
The administrator for a township in Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s constituency that received $455,350 for projects under the controversial $50-million G8 legacy fund says the township sent all its funding applications directly to Mr. Clement’s constituency office.

Furthermore, it was Mr. Clement’s office that also advised the township which of the 15 to 20 projects—only three were accepted—would receive funding in the scheme, possibly contradicting the version of events Mr. Clement gave to the Commons Government Operations and Estimates Committee last June.
“We submitted them to Tony’s office,” Mr. Chevalier said. “There would be about 15 to 20 projects that we submitted.”

Asked whether the township council reduced the list of projects to the three that got the funding or whether Mr. Clement’s office just told the council which ones would receive funding, Mr. Chevalier replied: “It was the latter, they just told, advised us.”
(Clement had testified), "(s)o they said they agreed that 242 was too much and they suggested 32 or 33, which they conveyed to me, that conform to the terms and conditions that were set out by the Government of Canada. I conveyed them to the department and to the minister of infrastructure, Minister [John] Baird at the time, and that's how that process went."
Of course, the question of who exactly pared down the projects to be funded ranks awfully low on the list of glaring issues resulting from the Cons' pork-barrelling and cover-up. But it looks like just one more area where the Cons' spin has nothing at all to do with reality - and the more Clement's credibility suffers, the less believable his excuses will become.

So *that's* what journalism looks like

While far too many media outlets have gone out of their way to give Tony Clement and the Cons a pass on this week's thoroughly damning revelations about their G8 pork-barrelling and cover-up, Tim Naumetz and the Hill Times actually saw an opportunity to engage in some journalism. And the results are rather striking in showing just how corrupt the handout process actually was:
A select committee of nine mayors, reeves and municipal leaders that was chaired by Treasury Board President Tony Clement and vetted applications from their own and other municipalities for a share of $50-million Ottawa spent on sidewalks, streets, even flower boxes for the G8 summit in Mr. Clement’s riding last year received $41.4-million from the fund.

The remaining six municipalities in Mr. Clement’s electoral district that received project funding but whose mayors or reeves were not on the committee got a total of only $2.5-million, with the remainder going to North Bay, Ont., for runway improvements when it was being considered as an air link into Mr. Clement's Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont., riding, and the Ontario Transport Ministry as a contribution to bridge work already underway in the riding.
Which leads nicely to Dr. Dawg's comment:
Conservative ideology holds that taxes are essentially a kind of legalized theft from wealth-creating individuals. If you have to have them, keep ‘em low and spend them on necessities, like prisons and foreign wars. But what happens when the very purveyors of this coprolitic nonsense are caught with their hand in the cookie jar—and that jar under their arm?

When a veteran artist receives government grants, it’s fodder for vicious calumny by a vapid blonde ex-journalist on that perpetual amateur hour that is SunTV—whose owner has received millions of dollars in government hand-outs himself.

But when a government minister essentially steals $50 million to enhance his stature in his own riding, a curtain of quiet descends.

The sickening stench of Conservative corruption and hypocrisy is overwhelming. And there’s no end in sight.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lawrence Martin slams the proliferation of gratuitous surveillance on citizens, with a particular focus on the Cons' "lawful access" legislation:
In Canada, the impact, while far less egregious, has been profound enough. Here 9/11 has served as the enabler of a new security and surveillance mindset. What happened a decade ago triggered the Afghanistan war and the reinstituting of a military mentality at a time when, the Cold War having passed, there was hope we could move beyond the war psychology. While not directly tied, the post 9/11 security climate has helped undergird our government’s lock-’em-up, law-and-order preoccupation that the Canadian Bar Association lambasted on the weekend. Another effect of 9/11 was to bring on a rash of new border-security measures that cut into trade flows and made passports mandatory.

On the question of surveillance and reduced civil liberties, the latest Ottawa measure is what is termed “lawful access” legislation. This will compel Internet service providers to disclose customer information to authorities without a court order. In other words – blunter words – law enforcement agencies will have a freer hand in spying on the private lives of Canadians.
In many respects, 9/11 has been a boon to Conservative interests. The security agenda, military revitalization, law and order are all priorities of the political right. Economically, the post 9/11 American decline has had obvious trade and other repercussions here. If there is a positive, it is the Conservatives’ realization, as evidenced by the Prime Minister’s trip to Latin America last week, that it must seek market diversification.

It is imperative because, illogically, post-9/11 fear and paranoia have not receded with time and show no signs – even though there has been no terror on U.S. soil since 9/11 – of doing so. As with the Cold War, the continuance of the war on terror will be all fine and well with the vested military/industrial interests.

Proponents of the great American pastime of threat inflation need only roll out the fear that terror can happen again. Since no one can prove that it won’t happen again, they can’t be negated. In the meantime, the security-surveillance networks will continue to grow – on the American side of the border and on ours.
- Jane Taber provides an update on the Broadbent Institute, featuring what should hopefully be the first of many noteworthy hires:
Apparently, the idea was cooking on the 75-year-old former politician’s backburner for a long time and finally he decided the timing was right, given the NDP’s breakthrough to Official Opposition status in the May 2 election. (There has been some suggestion the Liberals try to launch a centrist think tank, too.)

Late last week, Mr. Broadbent took another step in hiring Kathleen Monk, 37, the director of strategic communications in Jack Layton’s office, as his executive director. The former journalist joined the NDP Leader’s team in 2006.
- Vaughn Palmer points out that Adrian Dix looks to have done remarkably well in building both unity within the B.C. NDP, and bridges to new candidates.

- Finally, the Cons don't want Canadians hearing from anybody discussing the economy in terms of anything but preapproved spin. But the good news is that we can count on being informed that the Cons have always warned that it would probably be necessary to reduce economic expectations at some time in August.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats in formation.

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that to end your Tuesday.

- The Ottawa Citizen tears a strip off the Cons' G8 patronage and cover-up:
The more details emerge about the way the government funnelled money into the Muskoka region under the convenient category of "G8 legacy infrastructure," the more "smalltown cheap" the whole thing looks.
In a sense, none of this money was theirs to spend. Parliament approved the funding under the mistaken impression that it was for border infrastructure.

In a larger sense, the government never had any business throwing public money around like this. Yes, municipalities were and are in sore need of a better model for infrastructure funding. But using an international summit as a tenuous excuse to create a oneoff, regional fund is not a good way to accomplish that goal. It's a good way to create the circumstances for cronyism and waste.
- And even Kelly McParland is less than impressed:
Now we discover, thanks to some innovative digging by the NDP, that Mr. Clement took personal command of the $50 million, setting up a command centre in his riding headquarters, creating a mini-council consisting of himself, the mayor of Huntsville and a local resort manager to sift through projects and pick the ones they liked. He convened meetings with area mayors to get input, dragged in bureaucrats from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Industry Canada, and Infrastructure Canada, and managed to avoid leaving a paper trail that might prove embarrassing if someone started poking their nose into his activities later.

Someone did start sniffing around — Auditor General Sheila Fraser — but even her formidable investigative skills missed the extent of what Clement was up to, or the fact he had the bureaucrats helping him out. And without supporting documentation, which seem be mysteriously absent, the Auditor General couldn’t tell whether projects were suitably chosen or not.

It’s not the way things are supposed to be done. The government isn’t supposed to just hand $50 million to a local MP and tell him to pick some projects for it. There’s red tape to be dealt with, and not all of it unnecessarily. There are standards and procedures to be satisfied when spending taxpayers’ dollars, and the whole Clement operation seems to have been organized to get around them.
Cover-up. Slush fund, Secret committee. No paper trail. All we need is Howard Hunt, a hidden tape machine and a trail of dirty campaign tricks and we could have a real scandal here.
- And pogge reminds us that it isn't Tony Clement that nominally approved the Cons' G8 spending - meaning that John Baird has plenty to answer for as well.

- Aaron Wherry painstakingly lists the topics for which the Cons have claimed a mandate from May's election. But for a next step, let's note that multiple topics on the list (attacking Air Canada workers, slashing the civil service, and cutting search and rescue operations as prime examples) are issues which were mentioned approximately zero times as part of the campaign which the Cons claim to have provided them with that mandate.

- Finally, Joe Comartin signals that the NDP is looking to point out how the Cons' disdain for evidence and rational policy-making conflicts with the values of Canada's legal community:
Joe Comartin says the country’s lawyers and judges are “offended professionally” by the Harper government’s law-and-order agenda, which is prohibiting any changes to its mandatory minimum sentencing legislation.

“They find this offensive as lawyers,” the NDP justice critic told The Globe. “The evidence is overwhelming this is the wrong approach. ... [Lawyers are] just so offended that they are shifting the criminal justice system as dramatically as it should be. They are offended professionally the government would do this.”
Lawyers at the CBA meeting were strong in their condemnation of the government’s tough-on-crime agenda, and its position on sentencing. And Mr. Comartin, a former defence lawyer, said past governments would consult with the legal profession if significant changes were being proposed. This one, he says, does not.
He added that the NDP continues to oppose the proposed legislation, pushing prevention rather than punishment and “knowing this is the most effective way to protect our citizens.”

On direct clash

One of the most interesting questions following the NDP's ascent to Official Opposition status was that of how the Cons would seek to attack a party which didn't carry the Libs' baggage. Now, it looks like we're seeing the answer - and it's worth quickly considering the effects on Canada's broader political discussion.

In just the last couple of days, the Cons have tried to win headlines by attacking the NDP as too close to workers and too interested in human rights compared to their own business-first philosophy. And the NDP is mostly responding with a strong statement of its own values (though I'd prefer to see a full defence of the interests of workers in the former case rather than a hypocrisy charge based on the Cons' own increase in public-sector positions).

Of course, it remains to be seen how the battle will play out - particularly given that there's effectively no recent North American precedent for an unabashedly progressive party pushing its values on a national level from the NDP's current position of strength. But there's every reason to look forward to the direction of Canada's political debate as a result. And it shouldn't come as much surprise if the NDP's message resonates better than the Cons might think.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Chantal Hebert offers up the definitive response to the Cons, Libs and media outlets still going out of their way to attack the NDP for winning support in Quebec:
Given the context, to retroactively portray Layton’s party as a fallback vehicle for Quebec nationalism amounts to rewriting election history.

That rewriting excises the inconvenient fact that the voters who gave the NDP its sweeping Quebec victory on May 2nd already had a road-tested nationalist option on the ballot in the shape of the Bloc.
For the moribund Bloc, the best hope for revival lies with a successful demonstration that there is no room within Canada’s national parties for nationalist Quebecers — or at least not unless they are willing to atone for the way they exercised their voting franchise in the past.

It looks like sovereigntist strategists can count on outside help to achieve their purpose.

Alone of all members of Parliament, Quebec’s New Democrats are being asked to account for their past political leanings.

Some self-appointed high priests of federalism have gone as far as suggesting that a public recanting of anything that smacks of a sovereigntist belief is also in order.

Presumably, they rather than the voters who elected those MPs to the House of Commons would be the judges of what amounts to a high enough level of federalist rectitude.
Many of the Quebecers who supported the Bloc until last May did so out of a sense of rejection of their collective difference that stemmed from the 1990 demise of the Meech Lake Accord.

Now, as then, a Quebec oui to Canada is getting lost in translation.
- Jessica Bruno points out yet another set of supposed cost-cutting measures by the Cons which figure only to ensure a steady flow of public money into private hands:
Attrition won't help many of the 687 employees at Public Works who were told in June that their jobs will be cut over the next three years, says Claude Poirier, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.

Mr. Poirier said that he is in "almost daily" contact with union representatives at Public Works, and judging by the information he's seen on the affected workers, most of their jobs will not be eliminated because public servants are leaving of their own will.

In total, 300 employees will be laid off this year across Public Works.
(C)onsulting services is a special operating agency that runs on contracts for work from other departments.

"It's not really to save money that they've been dismantled. I'd say it's more of a principle for this government. They see a better government as being a smaller government so less government is better government to them," said Mr. Poirier.

The work will now be contracted out to the private sector, though Mr. Poirier noted that there should be limitations to what sort of information is disclosed to outside contractors.

"If you were to provide advice on strategic decisions for the government, you don't want those decisions, and that advice being provided by outside people, it doesn't make sense," he said.
- For those who haven't yet read Warren Buffett's op-ed on the need to stop coddling the super-rich, it's well worth a look:
Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
- Finally, the Star highlights the glaring need for some real child care support:
Regulated daycare shortages across the country are so severe that families pay to put their names on multiple waiting lists long before their children are even born. For low-income families, the situation is even worse. Not only do they need to find a daycare space in their neighbourhood, they need to be lucky enough to get to the top of the waiting list for a subsidy so they can afford it.

In Toronto alone some 20,000 families are waiting for a subsidy. That list could grow if city hall’s current cost-cutting efforts lead to the elimination of some of Toronto’s subsidized spaces.

Outside the cities, the situation is little better. More than 8,000 kids in rural and northern Ontario are in danger of losing their child care with hundreds of licensed centres on the verge of closing.

No wonder Canada tied for last among developed countries for providing affordable, quality daycare in a United Nations study.

Rather than deal with this crisis, which causes financial havoc for families and keeps women out of the workforce, the Harper government prefers to proudly blow out the candles on yet another year — we’re at five now — of handing out $2.6 billion in taxpayers’ money without producing any new daycare spaces or enabling parents to afford existing ones. That’s cause for shame, not celebration.

On official distortions

Charlie Angus is right to note that one of the more serious aspects of Tony Clement's G8 pork-barrel coverup may be the prospect that senior bureaucrats gave false information to the Auditor General at the Cons' behest. But it's also worth noting the possibility that civil servants were themselves misled.

While there may be some overlap between the departments involved in the slush fund and those canvassed by the AG's office, there's nothing to indicate whether the officials who asssured the Auditor General they had nothing to do with the fund were the same ones involved in project selection. And given how tangled the fund's management seems to have been already, would it be much of a surprise if the Cons effectively decided to staff it with lower-level public servants without fully informing their superiors - secure in the knowledge that if anything blew up, the senior officials would make for convenient scapegoats?

Of course, that possibility is just as speculative as Angus' concern. But there's a common thread either way involving Clement and the Cons distorting the proper role of the civil service - and it's well worth keeping the focus there as the story develops.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Out of scope

Following up on this morning's post, there's actually another notable bit of misdirection involved in Tony Clement's G8 pork-barrelling which helps to explain why the Auditor General was led astray in reporting on the Cons' spending.

Here's some of the newly-revealed background to the slush fund:
In addition to representatives from local communities, the meeting was also attended by four federal public servants from FedNor – a development agency for Northern Ontario led by Mr. Clement – and two officials from Industry Canada, also led at the time by Mr. Clement.

Other meetings were attended by Gérald Cossette, then the G8 summit manager with the federal department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
And by way of comparison, here's the list of government departments consulted about the fund - presumably based on the Auditor General's reasonable expectation that only departments with some reason to be administering the fund would be involved:
We included in this audit the federal departments who had an involvement in the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund—the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Infrastructure Canada, Industry Canada, and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
Now, it's not quite clear how at least a couple of departments managed to falsely assure the Auditor General's office that they had no role in the legacy fund. But it can't escape notice that the department with the most direct involvement seems to have been FedNor - which had so little valid reason to have anything to do with the funding that the Auditor General's office apparently didn't even think to include it in the G8 report.

Which figures to explain in part why - like Clement's constituency office - it was apparently seen a convenient place to handle G8 pork-barrel projects so as to avoid any accountability. But there's all the more explaining for Clement and the Cons to do now that the truth has come out.

Tip of the iceberg

Needless to say, we'll figure to hear plenty more about the revelation that Tony Clement administered G8 Muskoka pork-barrelling out of his constituency office to avoid the accountability that comes with actual government consultations. But the story looks to form only a smaller piece of a much bigger puzzle.

It's never been much secret that the Cons have tried to use every tool at their disposal to create a unified party and government structure which can exert the most possible influence while facing the least possible accountability. For obvious reasons, though, it's never been clear just how many functions they'd reclassified or how many lines they'd blurred or erased in order to take advantage of that integration.

Yes, we've heard about the examples of MPs' official dealings with constituents getting channeled directly into the Cons' party database. But that linkage between MP and party interests can at least arguably be distinguished from the misuse of governmental authority.

In contrast, the latest revelation about Clement signals a direct choice to have government decisions made through extragovernmental channels. And the harder the Cons fight back against challenges to Clement's fitness to administer public money through the Treasury Board in response, the more reason we'll have to think that the strategy goes to the top rather than being limited to Clement himself

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The Halifax Chronicle Herald pushes back against the Cons' and Libs' anti-Bloc witch-hunt:
For partisan reasons, involvement with the Bloc has become a game of political football. The Tories and Grits feel like they’ve scored a touchdown because Ms. Turmel’s cancellation of her Bloc membership was so recent. The NDP have responded with a field goal. After all, Mr. Lebel did quit the Bloc 10 years ago. Even if the man had ever been a sovereigntist, surely he’d be entitled to change his mind.

The only reason the Grits haven’t been scored on since this controversy began is because they don’t have a current MP whose federalist credentials are questionable. But for all their grandstanding, they too have welcomed bloquistes back into the fold — and not just any bloquiste, either.

The Liberals’ former MP Jean Lapierre, now a broadcaster, is the prototype of a federalist coming full circle. He quit the Grits after Jean Chrétien became leader, became a founding member of the Bloc, then was welcomed back years later as Paul Martin’s Quebec lieutenant.

It’s time to call off this game on account of hypocrisy. The last message we should be sending Quebecers, now that they have opted back in to federalist politics, is this: "Once a sovereigntist, always a sovereigntist, even if you were never really a sovereigntist."
- Yes, it's noteworthy that Jim Prentice at least hinted at a cap-and-trade system in dealing with Alberta's provincial government. But far more significant than the tentative behind-the-scenes discussion is the fact that even one of the Cons' supposed star ministers couldn't get the job done - and since his departure, the Cons are now running as far as possible from any attempt to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

- And speaking of policies the Cons want to send down the memory hole, Alison catches the Cons disappearing their previous bragging about Canadian oil investment in Syria.

- Finally, Tim Harper points out that the Cons' secrecy in negotiating yet another security deal with the U.S. is only fuelling Canadian suspicions about what they want to give up. But it's well worth noting that the public apparently isn't seen as an "important stakeholder" in the process:
Toews says his government is not going to negotiate in public.

Important stakeholders have been consulted, and the government is grappling with the question of at what point to bring the broader public into the discussion.

The signs are not encouraging.

Toews has already set up the NDP as the enemy, predicting they would merely “politicize” any public hearings because they are philosophically against any trade deals and are mired in an outdated protectionist mindset.

But, in fact, the only NDP criticism so far has centred on the secretive nature of the process.

If the Harper government is not prepared to come into the daylight at some point and tell Canadians specifically what it may be negotiating away, the NDP criticism will be the predominant Canadian point of view.

For those paying attention, it likely already is.

On improved positions

Last week, I noted the top-line results from Angus Reid's latest federal polling. But perhaps even more important than the stability in Canada's party polling numbers is the question of which party is living up to the expectations underlying its popular support. And for all the work some have done to attack the NDP in its new role as Official Opposition, the poll results show respondents happier with the NDP than with any other party.

To start with, the party momentum scores show the NDP leading the way in the number of respondents saying their opinion of the party has improved. In fact, the NDP's 23% score on that from matches the Cons, Libs and Bloc combined. And the NDP also saw fewer respondents indicate a worsening opinion than any of those parties - putting the NDP's momentum score at par, compared to -11 for the Cons, -25 for the Libs and -33 for the Bloc.

So rather than disappointing its newfound voters, the NDP has actually done far better than any other party at living up to and exceeding voters' expectations. But what effect might that have on actual voting patterns in the future?

Well, the poll also included a question as to how many 2011 voters actually do regret their choice to the point where they'd prefer to have supported another party. And a stunning 20% of those who voted for the Libs now say they'd rather have supported the NDP.

Translating that to the Libs' share of the popular vote, roughly 4% of voters can be classified as having voted Lib, only to wish that they'd supported the NDP - by far the largest group of respondents with regrets about their voting choice. And the Lib/NDP swing looks to be the only one with such a massive imbalance as to who's having second thoughts: while most of the inter-party swings tend to be roughly equal on either side, the number of voters who would now switch a vote from Lib to NDP is more than double that which would go in the opposite direction (roughly 4% to 2% of voters).

So for all the well-spun talk about how the NDP would fall flat on its face, the truth is that it's exceeded expectations and left plenty of voters with the sense that they'd have been better off supporting the party. And one could hardly ask for a better set of public perceptions as the NDP looks to build on its election result.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Morning Links

Selected text for your weekend reading.

- Edmund Pries points out how the right sees wasted public money and gratuitous tax slashing as tools to force cuts to programs which actually serve a valuable purpose:
During the Reagan era, a friend and former colleague, a professor of American history, was invited to the deliberations of a Washington think-tank that provided policy direction for the Republican Party. As they discussed growing the debt and increasing the deficit, he was flabbergasted: “Are you not the party of balanced budgets and debt elimination?” The reply was unequivocal, “Our goal is to grow the deficit as much as possible in order to create political space to eliminate government-funded programming. Until then, we want high deficits while lobbying for a balanced budget — and promoting social program cuts as the only solution.”

To create this useful deficit, tax cuts to wealthy individuals and corporate sectors would be dramatically increased, especially to the banking, energy and military segments. In short, one would implement a transfer of the state’s revenue supply obligations from the wealthiest to the poor and middle classes in order to permit an even greater transfer of wealth from the middle classes to the rich thereafter.

The only trick was to convince the poor and middle classes to “buy in” via a mixture of patriotism and structural necessity so that they would vote in favour of cutting the very programs that benefitted them.
Some have pretended that the budgetary crisis is real and not manufactured. Let us be clear: our relative wealth is greater than at any time in our history. Our collective ability to build a strong, caring and inclusive society in which everyone can participate has never been greater. This also holds true for the community of nations: we have the capacity to build a just global society.

Our preparedness to do so, however, seems utterly lacking, for an extreme individualism has taken over the mindset of many. We believe, falsely, that we are best served by hoarding as many resources as possible and letting others fend for themselves. The opposite is true. We are best served when we build a society together where all, including each reader of this article, can benefit through the building of community-wide programs.
Have we really lost our sense of the common good? Or is each person now on his or her own? There is no apocalyptic budgetary crisis other than of our own making. The crisis is in our orientation.
- Meanwhile, Sixth Estate notes that even the corporate-friendly Conference Board of Canada doesn't buy the right-wing spin that tax slashing pays for itself.

- I'm not sure she had any reason to defer to Jason Kenney when it came to doling out sarcasm. But Tabatha Southey's warning about Kenney's attacks on Amnesty International is still worth a read:
You're excused if your first reaction on reading of the minister's “joy” is, “Who died and made you the Minister of Sarcasm?”

The concerns cited by Amnesty International are that by using the immigration system to deal with suspected war criminals – deporting them instead of charging them – Canada may allow them to escape prosecution.

In addition, “Canada's international human rights obligations are clear,” Amnesty's letter said – “no person should be deported if he or she faces a serious risk of such grave human rights violations as torture, extrajudicial execution or enforced disappearance.”

In the mildest terms, it urged the minister to “reassess” the government's approach.

That's part of Amnesty's mandate. And far from “squandering the moral authority accrued” in campaigns that Mr. Kenney sees as legitimate, the group would more likely lose some credibility if it failed to raise this issue.
The tone of Mr. Kenney's letter to Amnesty, which was posted prominently on his ministerial website (yet is oddly signed only in his capacity as an MP, not as a minister), never gets less sarcastic. It feels personal. It reads like the kind of letter we sometimes write when we feel wronged, but then delete before sending. The tone makes sense only if Mr. Kenney recently broke up with Amnesty International. Prior drafts may well have contained the line, “And Violet Hill was never ‘our song' – it's my song.”
He could simply have said, as he sort of did – although not simply, never simply – that prosecuting these accused criminals in Canada would be too costly, complicated and likely ineffective (this may well be the case).

Instead, he called Amnesty's position “poppycock” and claimed that their professional, innocuous letter contained allegations that are “sloppy and irresponsible” and “precisely the slander you wrongly accuse the government of directing at the deportees.”

It doesn't. But what the letter does contain is a request that the government be tougher on war criminals. It's strange that this suggestion, made to a tough-on-crime minister, didn't merit a restrained, less caustic answer.
- Finally, with housing looming as a major issue in this fall's Saskatchewan provincial election, let's note that the Tyee has been going into detail on the issue from a Vancouver perspective - and coming up with some suggestions which the federal Cons unfortunately want to ignore:
Both the City of Vancouver and Dickie's CFAA expressed support for Bill C-304, a private member's bill introduced by NDP MP Libby Davies in 2009, calling for a national housing strategy. Such a strategy, the Vancouver MP says, would establish long-term funding for housing.

But while the last election may have advanced the NDP to Official Opposition status, the party that won a majority in Parliament seems to believe it already has a housing plan.
Groups like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities raised concerns that funding for AHI and RRAP expired on April 1, 2011. The federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for housing officially announced continued funding for those programs on July 4, when they announced a $1.4 billion investment under a new Affordable Housing Framework for 2011 to 2014.*

To Davies, long-term, stable federal assistance is necessary when the private market fails to provide housing people can afford. "The reality is that the marketplace, even when it's operating at full tilt, even when it's doing everything that it's meant to be doing cannot meet 100 per cent of the need that there is for housing," she says.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

In the wake of Friday's loss to Calgary, there seem to be some stunningly short-sighted theories flying around. So let's point out that the game featured plenty of good news when it comes to building the 'Riders for this season any beyond - even if it did also provide ample evidence that there's room for improvement.

To start with, anybody even considering the possibility of replacing Darian Durant with Ryan Dinwiddie needs to have their Monday morning quarterbacking privileges revoked.

Yes, Dinwiddie put together one good series once the game was out of reach, while Durant threw a single costly interception. But Durant once again completed over two thirds of his passes, while adding a few more deep completions to the mix than he had for a few weeks. And most importantly, Durant made plenty of the types of plays that set him apart from any other quarterback in the CFL - regularly avoiding what seemed like sure sacks, and this time turning a good number of those seemingly broken plays into positive yardage.

Of course, the receiving corps was somewhat better than usual in converting Durant's wizardry into passing yardage. And the thanks goes in large part to a development that caught me by surprise.

When I put together a list of receivers who might help to fill in the 'Riders' gaps this season, I left off Efrem Hill based on the theory that an import with unexceptional size and speed who couldn't cut it with the Eskimos likely wouldn't be anything more than a replacement-level player. And until this week, nothing in Hill's game seemed to suggest otherwise - particularly when some glaring mental errors were added to the mix.

But in Friday's game, Hill constantly found ways to get open, and did a brilliant job of converting when Durant threw the ball his way. And as long as he can keep up even a reasonable facsimile of that performance, he should have no trouble holding onto at least a complementary job no matter which additional receivers work their way onto the 'Riders this year.

Similarly, Hugh Charles took advantage of his best chance to prove himself as a starting running back by providing more explosiveness than the 'Riders have seen since Kenton Keith's prime, while also holding onto the ball without any apparent trouble. And that should not only give the 'Riders confidence in his performance while Wes Cates is hurt, but also signal that they can count on Charles in a platoon role once Cates returns.

Of course, if the offensive story had all been a matter of good news, the 'Riders wouldn't have spent the entire game trying to climb out of a hole. And while the largest culprit put up some numbers after the game was out of reach, James Robinson seems to have offered reason for the 'Riders to look for a replacement as soon as humanly possible.

Yes, Robinson drew a couple of penalties which helped to move the 'Riders into scoring position. But there's a reason why the name of the position is "receiver" rather than "interference magnet" - and aside from his late-game receptions from Dinwiddie, Robinson has shown little ability to actually catch the ball, combined with a maddening propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which means that he, not Terrence Nunn, should be the first receiver benched for one of the 'Riders' newer acquisitions - though Nunn too has plenty left to prove.

As for the defence, I'm a bit less concerned with Saskatchewan's early-game performance than some commentators. Unfortunately, the streaky Stampeder offence tends to go through a spell or two per season where it can't be slowed down let alone stopped. And the first half of Friday's game looks to have been one of those times: the 'Riders put some heat on an elusive quarterback, made most of their tackles and didn't leave a lot of open receivers, but Henry Burris was nonetheless able to find the right read on nearly every play to give the Stamps a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

At most, one might say the secondary could have gambled a bit more on the theory that it wasn't going to stop Calgary by playing straight-up defence. But the best bet against the Stamps probably is to let Burris beat himself - and I'm not sure the defence could have done more than to maximize the chances of that happening by forcing Burris into extended drives.

Meanwhile, there was one bit of unqualified good news on the defensive side of the ball, as Shomari Williams applied plenty of pressure against Burris in his opportunity to replace the departed Luc Mullinder. And no matter what happens the rest of the season, the 'Riders should work an ensuring that Williams can work on doing the same consistently as one of the team's Canadian cornerstones.

In sum, there's plenty of reason for frustration with both the 'Riders' record and how they've reached it. But the right move for a rebuilding team is to recognize the pieces which can support something stronger - not to tear down a useful foundation. And there's still little reason to think there's much structurally wrong with the 'Riders.

Burning question

Since declaring themselves enemies of Amnesty International apparently wasn't enough villainy for one week, the Harper Cons have also decided to pick a fight with an asbestos widow. Can National Kick a Puppy Day be far behind?

[Edit: updated link to full story.]