Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Chris Selley nicely summarizes Jack Layton's celebration of life today:
I can just hear people kvetching: Was this a funeral for a great man, or a rally for his party?

But again, this is surely to miss the point. Mr. Lewis said, son Mike and daughter Sarah confirmed in a lovely joint eulogy, and no one has plausibly disproved the concept, that for Jack Layton, “the private man and the public man were synonymous.” And that man was a New Democrat — for 40 years. He took his colleagues to unimagined new heights, rightly feared a tumble, and attempted to rally their spirits with his final words. We rightly lament the dearth of authenticity and sincerity in our politicians. Here was one displaying both in the most trying circumstances imaginable, and some of us turned up our noses.
Frankly, it’s easy to imagine many of the complainers mourning Layton’s conservative equivalent just as passionately as Canadians mourned Layton — if only it was possible to imagine a conservative equivalent of Jack Layton. I only met Layton once, in his final and finest office on Parliament Hill. Judging by the stories and anecdotes I saw this week, in print and in voice and in chalk, two million or so Canadians knew him better, and believed he was genuinely interested in their lives — “a man of the people who made everyone feel special,” as Shawn Atleo said. Love him or hate him, this is pretty much what politics is supposed to be.
- Meanwhile, Stephen Lewis' stirring eulogy is here.

- The Leader-Post editorial board slams the crowded jails resulting from the Cons' dumb on crime policies, while Chris Putnam criticizes a similarly short-sighted publicity stunt on a smaller scale in the form of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's attacks on video games in youth facilities.

- Finally, Errol Black and Jim Silver serve up some fast facts as to who's pushing for perpetually-increasing inequality and why.

In memoriam

For those looking to join the celebration of Jack Layton's life with others, the NDP has put together a list of events happening across Canada. Or for those who can't, CBC and CityTV are among the networks live-streaming the funeral.

(In Memoriam graphic from Sylvain Chicoine, chalk memorial photo via Alison.)

The issue list

Following up on my post about the groups the NDP will want its candidates to reach during the upcoming leadership campaign, I'll follow up with a brief look at some of the issues that I'd also hope to see as top priorities for one or more candidates.

But first, let's note why it's particularly important for the NDP's leadership contestants to cover the field.

It presumably wasn't by accident that one of Jack Layton's last wishes for his party was a leadership race in the near future. And the timing makes sense in light of the Libs' impending leadership contest in 2013.

By running its own race quickly, the NDP can maintain and build as much momentum as possible following this year's election result and Layton's inspiring message. And if all goes well, it can add Canadians interested in any number of policy areas to its coalition by recruiting a new set of activists and issue voters during its leadership race.

But the flip side is that any key issue which doesn't see enough attention in the NDP's race will supply the Libs with low-hanging fruit as they try to decide what they stand for going into 2015. And so I'd hope we'll see at least one leadership candidate put some emphasis on the below issues to ensure that the NDP is positioned as the leading long-term alternative to the Cons in each of its actual and potential areas of strength.

Economic Development

It's the Harper Cons' signature issue for the moment based on a ruthlessly effective branding campaign with little basis in reality. But the NDP will need to dislodge that perception in order to topple the Cons - and the leadership candidate who shows the greatest ability to challenge it figures to have a huge advantage.


The NDP won't likely have to compete with any party besides the Greens in highlighting the devastating damage resulting from an increasingly unfair distribution of wealth. But it will have every reason to want to build awareness in the general public - and any candidate who takes up the cause figures to find plenty of support within the NDP's existing tent.

Health Care

No, it isn't likely to be the subject of too much policy debate within the NDP. But any candidate would be glad to be associated with the NDP's longtime signature issue - and there may be enough news of privatization and cutbacks to keep it on the front burner to the benefit of any candidate who's focused on it.


The conventional wisdom for the moment is that Stephane Dion's crash as Lib leader has taken the environment off the table as a viable election issue. But Dion's other weaknesses aside, the bigger problem with the Libs' handling of the issue may be that it demands long-term preparation and development which Dion was never able to undertake in the uncertainty of a minority Parliament.

That won't be a problem with four years until the 2015 election. And with the Cons figuring to be spectacularly short of their promises by that time with nobody to blame but themselves, now is the time for leadership candidates to make sure that the NDP is ready to lead the charge against their neglect.


The Cons seem to think they can make further inroads into immigrant communities even while evicting plenty of recently-arrived Canadians and shutting the door on many more. But a party's openness to new arrivals could make for a significant and positive point of distinction - and the NDP should be eager to take up the cause of new Canadians and would-be Canadians.

Human Rights

Another area where the NDP can already claim a principled position compared to its main competitors. But the Cons don't figure to change their own tactics of looking to justify abuses by slandering their victims anytime soon. And a candidate who uses the spotlight of the leadership campaign to point out that pattern figures to stand a great chance of winning over both NDP stalwarts, and others from outside the party.

Women's Issues

A huge part of the NDP's increased appeal among women in this year's election looks to have involved a combination of tone and viability rather than a great deal of change in the party's policy proposals. But a leadership candidate who can lead the way in calling for child care, support for family work and equal pay and treatment figures to find plenty of receptive ears.

Good Government

I'll set this up as a fairly broad topic which potentially encompasses both managerial competence and high ethical standards. But neither is a strength for the Harper Cons - and anybody running on the issue should benefit from plenty of news to help reinforce the theme.

Naturally, I don't see any one candidate being able to deal thoroughly with more than a couple of the above. But that only hints at the need to have enough candidates in the race to demonstrate the NDP's strength across the full range of issues which figure to unite and motivate the strongest possible progressive coalition.

So which candidates can combine an appeal to one or more of the NDP's target groups with a strong message on some of the above issues? Stay tuned...

Saturday Morning Jack Layton Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Adam Radwanski astutely recognizes that the outpouring of sympathy and grief following Jack Layton's death speaks to the gap between what most political parties limit themselves to pursuing, and what many people actually want from their leaders:
All the available information, the numbers and research and chatter, tells us that we care less and less about them. That we don’t trust them. That they are generally considered among the lowest forms of human life.

Then one of them dies, and we go into a state of national mourning.

A cynic would say that we only love our politicians when they’re gone – and even then, only when they’ve left us in heartbreaking and terrifying ways that remind us of human frailties. But in the spirit of optimism, which seems fitting given Jack Layton’s much-quoted final words, it’s possible to see something else in his posthumous status as a hero. Perhaps we’re not really so inclined to look down on our politicians; perhaps we’re eager to look up to them, to like and occasionally even love them, if only they’ll give us the chance.
(T)he people who gathered en masse this week to say goodbye – not just in Ottawa and his hometown of Toronto, but in Vancouver and Edmonton and Montreal as well – didn’t seem to be thinking just of how Mr. Layton left them. They seemed also to be thankful for the traits that preceded his illness – the evident compassion for people, the relentless work ethic, the eagerness to work with others, the unshakable optimism, and the fact that he rarely seemed to be putting on any kind of act.

While it may have taken his death to bring all these attributes into sharper focus (and to cause some of his more grating characteristics, including his penchant for self-promotion, to be overlooked), the fact that he consistently polled as the most personally popular of the federal leaders suggests that at some level they always resonated. And what stands out, when you stop and think about it, is how unremarkable these supposedly remarkable qualities were – how little they went beyond what should be expected of the men and women who enter public life.
The optimists among us might wonder if, long after Mr. Layton has been laid to rest, politicians and the people who elect them might keep what happened this week in the backs of their minds. It needn’t be a relationship of unquestioning loyalty and admiration; far from it. But it’s not too late to save it from perpetual mistrust and resentment. If both sides are willing to treat politics like a noble calling, it just might become one again.
- Joan Bryden and Derrick O'Keefe both note that Layton himself made the decision to ensure that his death had some positive political repercussions. And I'd see another opportunity for reflection on our broader views of politics in that choice: can Layton's example inspire Canadians generally to see politics as something sufficiently important to be worth discussing, rather than a topic unfit for polite company?

- Meanwhile, Chantal Hebert theorizes that Layton's long-term political legacy will be his ability to bridge Canada's two solitudes.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan highlights the gap between the Canada Layton inspired to build, and the one the Cons are digging us into:
What a Canada he wanted us to become – a dominion of love and hope, of justice and equity, of inclusiveness and tolerance, of fairness and peace. On every issue he was on the side of the little guy, the underdog, and they knew they could always count on him.

Our bon Jack, un vrai mensch.

But today’s Canada does not seem to be living up to Jack’s expectations. It may well be moving in the opposite direction in a Stephen Harper-led culture war committed to “conservative” values that put individual self-interest ahead of community, divisive politics ahead of the common good, and the whims of charity ahead of the commitment to solidarity.
Update: Let's add Tabatha Southey's latest:
These stories make more than a persona. They make a man. All of which is to say I was mistaken: Jack Layton was not an archetypal politician. He was more passionate, compassionate, shrewder, tougher and smarter than most. But – such is the curse of familiarity – years of accumulated evidence brought me to that conclusion with a thud only when I read of his death.

I'd taken it for granted that whether or not I believed he could realize it or applauded all the methods he used attempting to achieve it, Jack Layton would always be there, articulating, more often than not, my vision of what it meant to be just and Canadian.
[Edit: Fixed links.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Musical interlude

Max Graham feat. Neev Kennedy - Sun in the Winter

Good riddance

At long last, B.C.'s HST has met its end. Vaughn Palmer reminds us why, while Iglika Ivanova looks at what comes next.

On gullibility

I'm pretty sure I've read columns and articles purporting to be written by Murray Mandryk over a period of several years. But I'm having trouble making sense of that recollection after he's gone out of his way to demonstrate that he was born yesterday.

Of course, it's indeed rather typical for right-wing politicians in Saskatchewan to make a show of independence from each other at convenient intervals - the better to put some distance between different parts of the movement in case one of them turns toxic, while also allowing the politician involved to bask in the glow of media declarations of mavericky goodness.

But it's not hard to tell the difference between genuine and faux independence. And Brad Wall - on the opposite side of today's column - serves as the leading recent example.

Throughout Stephen Harper's tenure as head of a minority government, he could count on Wall to serve as a spokespuppet whenever it counted. Any time the Cons have needed a premier to bash the idea of coalitions, defend the indefensible decision to prorogue Parliament at will or push austerity in the midst of an economic slump, while generally remaining silent about his province's interests where they could possibly affect the federal Cons' choices, Wall has been entirely happy to comply.

But once an election was over with or a Con budget already set to pass, Wall would make a conveniently-timed statement of disappointment in the Cons - before going back to serving as a conduit for their talking points by the time any outcomes were again in doubt.

Now, Pat Fiacco's timing in making demands for a new stadium isn't quite as glaring as Wall's in his past budget commentary. But the same principle is still largely at play. And indeed it's arguable that Fiacco's choice to try to grab public attention for an issue which will inevitably divide Regina from the rest of the province - at a time when the NDP needs to gain ground in both by pointing out common concerns to win back power - is no less helpful to the Sask Party cause than an outright statement of support.

Unfortunately, as long as the press is so willing to reward the political games we've come to expect from both Wall and Fiacco, they'll never have any reason to stop. And so we can all too likely count on much more acting to come - at the expense of any meaningful defence of our actual interests.

On entry barriers

Following up on this post drawing some first outlines of the NDP leadership race, I'll deal briefly with one of the points that has surfaced in most media coverage: namely, whether candidates should have to be bilingual.

For the most part, every three-line summary of a candidate who isn't bilingual has seen fit to mention that fact in connection with the NDP's need to maintain its support in Quebec. And that's an understandable link to draw, particularly before we've seen much out of any of the candidates.

But ultimately, it's the NDP's members who will need to vote as to who's best suited to lead the party - with bilingualism serving as a factor worth taking into account, but hopefully not a disqualifying one for candidates who have other desirable qualities. And if any unilingual candidate can win over a majority of the NDP's members (including a new contingent from Quebec) even in the face of media hand-wringing, then that should speak well of the candidate's ability to lead the NDP into government after three years to get better acquainted with a second language.

Friday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- John Moore points out why the Canadian public is mourning Jack Layton with as much sincerity and energy as we've seen over the past week:
He wasn’t the only nice guy in politics, but he was one of the few to ever achieve such heights. He was on a permanent charge fuelled by an eternal optimism. At the core of the public’s reaction to his death is the recognition that he had a vision of Canada and of a society, and he was unwavering in his advocacy for it. Other politicians might pander with foolish and populist policies, or denounce things they actually believe in for political gain. Jack stayed the course. Is principal (sic) now so rare that a man who stands firm for those things he believes in is seen as vainglorious, self-serving and stubborn?
People liked Jack as a man and his sunny celebration of our country was infectious. The Prime Minister has recognized this unique bond by making the unprecedented offer of a state funeral. There’s a reason why Canadians mourn this week. It’s the appreciation of personal qualities and uncompromised political vision that they wish all politicians drew on.
- And Nick Taylor-Vaisey notes that politicians of all political stripes who have participated in keeping Layton on the front pages can largely been to have done so as a result of the public outpouring of grief:
At some point, someone suggested a candlelight vigil that evening, so it happened. Ottawans weren't alone. People across Canada coalesced around similar vigils.

Layton's other home, Toronto, reacted similarly. Its people flooded Nathan Phillips Square with a chalk memorial, and when rain washed it away, they wrote even more tributes. No one choreographed that routine. Later, a Facebook group popped up that urged the CN Tower to beam out orange light on the night following Layton's funeral. Soon enough, Gord McIvor, the vicepresident of Canada Lands Corp., said the tower would go orange for the night.

Even the lights on Niagara Falls, more than an hour's drive from Toronto, will shine orange that evening - another response to public wishes.

Each of these campaigns was driven by the crowd, and each memorial, or tribute, saw authorities of some kind reacting to that crowd. It's not what we're used to. Often, when we hear news about crowds doing things, it skews negative. They're rioting in Vancouver or, more recently, some parts of the United Kingdom. They're irrational, or at least ill-meaning. Left to their own devices, they're not to be trusted. They're why we have authority figures, elected or otherwise, in the first place, right? Don't we need them at times like these? Isn't that why we have protocol? So that people can follow direction?

The last few days at least make the case that it doesn't have to be so. The crowd that lined up on Parliament Hill to pay respects to Layton was sombre, and patient. They joined hundreds of strangers in that line, and advanced forward in unison. The sea of people set the tone. They took control of their Parliament, peacefully and respectfully, and then gave it back.

Next month, the people we elected will again take their seats. Let's hope they're as respectful as those who mourned the only MP who won't be back.
- There's been plenty of fabricated outrage over the NDP's work in making sure that Canadians can live up to the Layton family's last request for donations to the Broadbent Institute.

But it's worth pointing out how the workaround to run donations through the party first - while perhaps necessary when the institute still has some structural decisions to make - may serve to limit how much seed money it has to work with. After all, the direction of donations through the party also makes them subject to the annual individual limits under the Canada Elections Act - while donations directly to the institute wouldn't face any caps at all.

- Finally, Jay Rosen's take on how media coverage of politics should work is well worth a read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Leftdog points out that the Wall government's regressive ideology is doing exactly what it usually does - resulting in workers losing ground as a result of stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs even as billions of dollars get funnelled to big business in the name of "growth".

- Meanwhile, Stephen Harper makes it abundantly clear that he'll happily pollute anything that doesn't fight back if it makes a few more corporate bucks.

- Macleans comments on the utter pointlessness of the Cons' dumb-on-crime approach:
The obvious result of these new rules will be to create a flood of Canadians into the prison system—many first-time offenders. If there was evidence that filling prisons with minor criminals was a successful method for fighting crime, then this scenario might make some sense. But such an approach clearly hasn’t worked in the United States, despite decades of effort. In fact, many states are now emptying their jails for budgetary reasons.

It is also worth noting that as a political device, the tough-on-crime omnibus bill is starting to look a bit long in the tooth. Recall that in 2008, the then-minority government of Stephen Harper packaged five separate crime bills into its Tackling Violent Crime Act and rammed it through Parliament as a confidence issue. Now, after three years of evidence that the violent crime rate is falling precipitously—and with cops in many cities forced to spend their shifts running speed traps and busting pot-smoking mothers—the government is simply repeating itself for reasons of political expediency.

Serious crime requires a serious response—there is no debate there. But we also need to remember that the iconic statue of justice holds a scale in her hand for a reason: justice requires balance.
- Finally, in commenting on Le Bon Jack, Michael Valpy writes about what Canada's election results really mean:
When polls from the past federal election are closely analyzed, what shows up is that Mr. Harper’s Conservatives were elected by a lot of old people — people over the age of 45 whose electoral participation rate is between 60 and 80 per cent, climbing higher as they climb to meet their Maker. People under the age of 45 were powerfully anti-Conservative but at best only about 40 per cent of them voted. And if they had voted in the same proportion as the over-45s, there would not have been a Conservative majority; there probably wouldn’t have been a Conservative minority. What likely we might have got is an NDP-led coalition.

So then let’s suppose that half, at least half, of the electorate are powerfully opposed to Mr. Harper’s neo-liberalism, which is what the polls suggest. Let’s suppose they’re more in tune with Canada’s historic Red Toryism, the political culture that led to, in the words of philosopher George Grant (Michael Ignatieff’s uncle, although Mr. Ignatieff didn’t like his thinking) “a country which had a strong sense of the common good … that was possible under the individualism of the capitalist dream.” We certainly know this is the case in Quebec. We certainly know that younger Canadians, and even a significant chunk of older Canadians, have a strong sense of the common good and don’t like the contemporary conservative ideology of the individual.

Without Mr. Layton — without Jack, le bon Jack — it does not mean Canadians opposed to Mr. Harper’s neo-liberalism are simply going to go elsewhere or become less engaged with their democracy. It doesn’t mean Quebeckers are going to abandon their fling with the NDP.
Mr. Layton can accurately be seen as the catalyst, not the seducer, both of Quebec’s re-engagement with the country and of a debate within the whole country about its political values.

On target groups

We've already seen a couple of days of frantic media speculation as to who might succeed Jack Layton as the NDP's permanent leader, and I'll add my own list of possibilities before too long. But before considering who might run, it's worth taking a broader view of what the NDP should hope to accomplish during the course of a leadership race.

After all, this year's electoral breakthrough has opened up all kinds of possibilities for the party in seeking new members and supporters. And to my mind, the twin goals of the leadership voting process should be:
- to make sure that each of the key target groups is pursued by one or more credible leadership contenders; and
- to unite the new-found members under the NDP banner following the leadership race no matter who emerges victorious.

So what constituencies should the party's leadership candidates be looking to tap in assembling their coalitions? Here's my list for now...


Obviously one of the main priorities for the NDP is to translate its unprecedented vote and seat count in Quebec into broader support within the province. And that priority dovetails nicely with the possibility that a leadership candidate who can sign up new members to match the party's seat count could enjoy a huge advantage in the leadership race as a result.

Rural Voters

But a leadership candidate can also find plenty of support by looking to the party's rural roots - based on both the large number of members and donors still found in the West, and the prospect that more new members can be found as voters tire of the Cons and come to see the NDP as the leading alternative.


At the same time, the Cons' disturbing pattern of anti-evidence decision-making - combined with the Libs' decline as a default choice - leaves the door wide open for the NDP to add better-educated voters to its set of core constituencies. And the leadership race offers an ideal opportunity to begin that process.

Ethnic Communities

While the Cons and Jason Kenney have received far more attention for their inroads into immigrant and ethnic communities, the NDP has managed to win plenty of votes and at least a few seats with its own outreach efforts. But a leadership race will hopefully see plenty more communities brought into the NDP's tent.

Young Voters

Until this year's election, voting preferences among younger Canadians were strikingly different than those among older ones, with young adults supporting the Cons, Libs, NDP and Greens in something close to equal proportions. The NDP managed to gain an edge in this group thanks to Layton's message of optimism and hope - and its leadership contenders should work on reaching out to enough younger voters to lock in that advantage.

Labour & Working Class Voters

Finally, there's no particular doubt that the NDP will have the support of unions in elections to come. But it should be looking for every opportunity to build workers' interest in political participation - and the leadership race serves as a chance to extend greater involvement much deeper into Canada's current union ranks, as well as among individual workers.

Of course, the above list isn't to say that a separate leadership candidate should cater to each group - nor that any single acceptable candidate has to have specific appeal to all of them. And of course there's a separate need for diversity in gender, geography, etc. which will hopefully be reflected in the final list of candidates.

But the above looks to me to identify the key demographic groups which offer the greatest opportunity for both any leadership candidate and the NDP as a whole to build support. And I'll be measuring the success of the NDP's leadership race by how each of these constituent parts of the party's coalition sees itself reflected in the race.

Keep watching this space for a survey of the issues which I'd think will similarly demand attention during the course of the NDP's leadership contest - to be followed by a look at which candidates and combinations thereof offer the best prospect of meeting each of the goals.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Heather Mallick highlights the dangers of the permanent unemployment which regressive politicians around the globe are so vociferously demanding in the guise of austerity:
As we fend off a double-dip recession, we tend to forget about the collateral human damage. This is a great mistake and not just because our own jobs could be the next to go.

There’s a difference between unemployment that is relatively brief and perhaps driven by one industry, and the permanent unemployment that results from recessions, particularly in this global economy. People look for work until they utterly despair and give up. These people are tracked in “labour force participation” numbers but not in the unemployment numbers sent out each month.
Permanent unemployment (as North American manufacturing erodes, never to repair itself) is known in economic terms as “hysteresis.” It kills health, marriages, stability and parents’ ability to send a child to university. It destroys cities and neighbourhoods, and sends young people into the workplace with mortgage-level debt. Those children, raised with self-esteem, will lose it in the most painful way possible.
Relations between the sexes sour, between everyone. Status anxiety rules. So we lash out — against workers with pensions, for instance — and vote against our own long-term interests. Irrational thinking prevails.

I will leave you with Peck’s story of a senior financial analyst laid off at 59. After a year of humiliation, he found a part-time cashier’s job at Wal-Mart for $8.50 (U.S.) an hour. He rang up purchases for some neighbours recently, he said, people who had not lost jobs. “They didn’t greet him, and he didn’t say anything,” Peck wrote.

The man looked down at the table, paused, and then looked up again. “I know they knew me,” he said. “I’ve been in their home.” They had cut him dead.
- And not coincidentally, Abacus Data finds a stark division between Con supporters who want to see continued slashing even if the economy takes another nosedive, and Canadians in general who recognize that stimulus might be needed again.

- Boris recognizes yet more reason for hope in Jack Layton's farewell to Canada:
If Jack Layton's inheritors are smart, they will use (his) final quote as the party motto and set the country on fire. If they're wise, they will embody this in who they are and how they act.

It could work. The comment stands as white light against the darkness of today's politics. Just observe the contrast between the sentiments contained within the letter and expressed by well-wishers and the the impropriety coming from the other side of the aisle.

There is morality at work in Canadian politics now well beyond the simple ideological or technical differences over economics or social policy. Prisons, exported torture, tar sands, expeditionary wars, asbestos exports, are all built on unkindness by people who at best do not recognise shared humanity, or at worst find it uncomfortable.

This amorality and misanthropy cannot compete with the sentiment in Mr. Layton's farewell. There's a momentum in the emotion generated by his passing that must be put to good use in the coming years. I'm not sure I agree that Harper benefits most from Layton's passing. Harper's brand of attack politics works only on the living. and as the reaction the Blatchford column suggests, speaking ill of the dead earns you few votes.

The one-trick pony Conservatives may well find themselves facing a significantly empowered opposition operating from a clearly defined and incontestable moral position. And that, my friends, is reason to hope.
- And Paul Dewar writes about Layton's foreign policy legacy:
Jack's contribution to politics was never about mere opposition. He was in Ottawa to advance his propositions. In 2005 he was presented with a rare opportunity to rewrite a Liberal government budget. He cancelled billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts and invested the funds in priority areas including a major boost to Canada's official development assistance.

In fact, Jack's NDP is the only party in Canada that remains committed to former prime minister Lester Pearson's aspiration of dedicating 0.7 per cent of our gross national income to development funding.

Afghanistan was the primary foreign affairs file during Jack's leadership. One of his most courageous political propositions came in the summer of 2006 when he called for an end to the war in Afghanistan and recommended entering into negotiations for ceasefire and peace-building with the different warring factions in the country.

Today, his plan is accepted in capitals the world over as the only workable approach to the Afghan conflict. But in 2006 Jack faced a massive backlash from the conservative establishment in Ottawa. He was derided with accusations of naiveté at best and treason at worst. He was not deterred.
We have lost, as Canadians and as social democrats globally, a man from a rare breed of political leaders who truly believed in the concept of the human family. He saw the suffering of a human being anywhere in the world as an equally important political problem. He understood the global nature of the threats against our collective existence and looked to global cooperation to address the immense challenges before us.

New column day

Here, on Jack Layton's political legacy of choosing principle over political expediency.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On uniformity

While there's ample reason to be skeptical about how the Cons plan to handle health care over the next few years, let's note at least one indication that things could be worse:
Ottawa plans to negotiate a single national health accord, not separate agreements with each of the provinces and territories, the federal health minister says.

“We want one agreement,” Leona Aglukkaq said Monday in St. John’s. She said the position was non-negotiable.
Of course, the content of that single accord is rather important as well - and indeed there wouldn't be much to gain in the short term from Aglukkaq's declaration if (as expected) the Cons seek the lowest common denominator in setting any terms on federal funding.

But unless Aglukkaq and the Cons completely reverse course once again, the next round of health funding should leave intact something resembling national standards (however weak and poorly enforced), rather than setting up a patchwork of bilateral agreements which differ by province. And that common structure should make it slightly easier to repair the damage done over the past few decades the next time Canada has a federal government which actually wants to strengthen our health care system.

Wednesday Afternoon 'Rider Blogging

I didn't get around to commenting on the Saskatchewan Roughriders' last loss before its implications were overtaken by subsequent events. But with the 'Riders still having another week and a half before they play another game, let's note that the firings of Greg Marshall and Doug Berry deal at best with part of the 'Riders' problems - and that the 'Riders may miss a huge opportunity if they don't identify and deal with the other over the next few weeks.

To start with, let's take a quick stroll through the 'Riders' player acquisitions in recent seasons to see if we can identify a trend. The below is entirely subjective and possibly incomplete, but it's a rough look at the future CFL starters (projecting a few players to that role) the 'Riders have brought into the league over the past half dozen years...

2006: Andy Fantuz, Luca Congi, Lance Frazier, Sean Lucas, Maurice Lloyd, Anton McKenzie, James Johnson
2007: John Chick, Chris Best (previously drafted), Yanick Carter
2008: Weston Dressler, Adarius Bowman, Keith Shologan, Rob Bagg, James Patrick, Hugh Charles, Stu Foord
2009: Jerrell Freeman, Chris McKenzie, Kye Stewart, Bobby Harris
2010: Brent Hawkins, Shomari Williams, Jordan Sisco, Cary Koch, Nick Graham
2011: Terrence Nunn, Craig Butler, Chris Milo

Now, I'm open to corrections as to players missing from the above. But I'm not sure there's any escaping the trend that the 'Riders have been bringing in substantially less talent - in terms of both numbers and impact - since Eric Tillman stepped down from the GM position in early 2009.

Instead, Brendan Taman has generally patched over the 'Riders' roster needs with CFL veterans - meaning that the 'Riders' major additions have been players already deemed not good enough by the team's competitors. And that can work to fill some roles. But it doesn't get a team anywhere in building up the regular supply of cheap and developing talent that it needs to thrive in a hard-capped league.

Fortunately, this season offers an unusually strong opportunity to replenish the 'Riders complement of young players.

There's been plenty of talk about the NFL's truncated offseason from that league's perspective. But to the extent NFL teams haven't had the opportunity to instruct rookies in their systems throughout the offseason and don't have time to fully evaluate them in a shortened training camp, it also stands to reason that there should be more talent cut loose for CFL teams to snap up.

Which means that any team which can take advantage of the glut of NFL cuts should be able to keep itself stocked with talent for a long time to come. And no team figures to be better positioned to do that than one which has reason to overhaul its roster anyway.

Of course, the 'Riders should still do what they reasonably can to try to make the playoffs - and maybe Ken Miller's return as head coach will help on that front. But I'll argue that the lesson the team most needs to take from this season's dropoff is that an organization can't afford to consistently eschew young talent in favour of mediocre stopgaps. And the 'Riders' ability to recruit the best possible complement of NFL cuts out of the unusually strong harvest may make for the difference between a single disappointing season, and another run of futility of the type that 'Rider fans know all too well.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lee Berthiaume and David McGrane both discuss the team and the strategy that helped the NDP to build to its current level of support and success. And it's worth noting that since the NDP is still in the position of working to allocate the new resources that come with its Official Opposition role, there's no reason why the current team can't be added to (rather than replaced by) a new set of voices assembled during a leadership race.

- Meanwhile, Dan Gardner proposes one possible tribute to Jack Layton in the form of a codified set of Parliamentary rules. And PLG reminds us of Layton's own statement that we shouldn't give in to defeatism.

- It of course isn't receiving anywhere near as much attention as the Cons' party line that all trade agreements must be supported at all times without question. But the Star prints a few letters showing that plenty of Canadians aren't buying the spin.

- Finally, Dan Leger calls out the Cons for their empty gesture politics.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats on the bright side.

Deep thought

The Conservatives might stand a better chance being taken seriously in talking about health-care accountability if they hadn't been the ones to end it.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Geoffrey Stevens notes that much of the Cons' justification for utterly senseless choices is to point to an imaginary majority:
We don’t have a “silent majority” in Canada. It appears we have instead an “invisible majority.” This mass of unseen Canadians is like Harvey, the invisible rabbit from the 1950 film starring James Stewart. It can only be seen by those who truly believe in its existence — that is to say, by Stephen Harper and his apostles.

This invisible majority persuades the government to embrace policies that make absolutely no sense, decisions that cannot be justified in a rational way, initiatives that can be understood only by those who are able to commune with Harper’s Harvey.

Who knew the long-form census was as an intolerable intrusion resented by millions of Canadians? Who knew a falling crime rate would make a massive prison-building binge essential? Who knew that resurrecting the trappings of our colonial past would be smart politics in the Canada of the 21st century?

The invisible majority knew. The pollsters didn’t hear them, but Harper did, and he acted.
What secret intelligence prompted Defence Minister Peter MacKay to talk last week about how Canadian servicemen will be able to stand taller and prouder when the royal designations are restored?

“This is, of course, claptrap, utter nonsense,” commented military historian Jack Granatstein. “The British connection and the monarchy are even grander abstractions with little or no meaning for today’s servicemen and women. … The reality is that Canadians in and outside the Canadian Forces have turned their backs on the monarchy.”

Granatstein is right. He’s a smart man — smarter, I venture, than those members of Harper’s inner circle who follow the dictates of an invisible (if imaginary) majority.
- Alison catches the Globe and Mail editing the NDP out of Canada's political scene.

- Laura Ryckewaert points out how last week's Federal Court ruling on records documenting the RCMP's surveillance of Tommy Douglas fits into the general attitude of the federal government toward access to information:
The Federal Court's decision that the government should release the information it has on former NDP leader Tommy Douglas is an important ruling that shows federal institutions have a lack of respect for access laws, say experts.

"If we treated many of the laws the way we treat access we'd have some significant problems, and in this case it's not ordinary citizens that are not respecting the letter of the law of access, it's government institutions," said Michel Drapeau, a lawyer who specializes in access to information.
Mr. Bronskill said he thinks one thing that could be built into the act is with regard to the lack of penalties for the handling of ATI requests.

"Departments miss deadlines all the time, they don't give you records by the deadline that they set for themselves, even when it's a lengthy extension sometimes," he said. "When you don't pay your bank on time, or your cable bill on time it gets cut off. Well when a federal agency misses an access to information deadline what's the penalty? Absolutely nothing."

However, not everyone thinks changes need to be made to the act.

"The only thing that is wrong with the act is the inability or unwillingness of many government institutions to basically apply it as it is," Mr. Drapeau said.
- Finally, for more on Jack Layton, see the latest from Brian Topp on how Layton made decisions, while Peter Kelly has a suggestion as to what comes next.

The ground rules

Not surprisingly, a huge chunk of coverage of Jack Layton's death has already started shifting toward the inevitable narrative of "woe is the NDP!". And it's well worth taking some time to discuss where the party figures to go in a leadership race which figured in Layton's own plans.

I've already pointed out some of the opportunities the party will enjoy in holding a leadership race while it's on an upward trajectory. But I'll follow that up with a warning to potential candidates and their supporters which strikes me as more important than any prognostication as to who might (or might not) seek the party's leadership.

For all the media's efforts to attribute the NDP's success to Layton alone, the reality is that it can also be traced to two factors which should survive him for the moment, but which could be at risk in a leadership race: the party unity that allowed Layton and his team to plan and build without having to expend large amounts of time and energy fighting internal enemies, and the positive message that enabled the party to rise above its competitors.

And as far as I can tell, the most pressing question for the NDP now is less who will lead the party next, than whether it can maintain those advantages during and after a leadership race.

That means candidates and their supporters should work to make sure that their own brands built up during the course of a leadership race fit with the image that has worked so well for the party. And equally importantly, it means not attacking fellow leadership contenders with avoidable messages that serve as fodder for Con attack ads and Lib grenade-throwers.

Of course, there's still every need to draw contrasts between candidates - and I'm sure a leadership race will figure plenty of healthy debate. But the more the NDP's leadership contestants can follow Layton's lead in doing so with respect and principle, the better the party's chances of finishing what he started.

More Layton Links

Another day, another set of commentaries on the life of a great Canadian leader.

- Chantal Hebert notes Layton's contribution to Canada's broader political scene:
(Layton) taught Canada's jaded chattering class that retail politics and the attending appeals to the lowest common populist denominator need not be the only route to victory.

When all is said and done, his greatest gift to the country may have been to restore a measure of humanity to its national politics.
- The Star focuses on Layton's message of hope:
Layton’s final message demands attention. Even without the poignancy that comes from being his last public words, it is a powerful appeal to the best, most optimistic parts of our nature. We live in an age of sadly diminished expectations, especially in public life. It was left to Layton, with only hours to go in his personal journey, to remind us that while Canada is a great country, “we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice and opportunity.” We don’t need to choose between prosperity and fairness, he wrote. We can – and should – have both.

It was typical of Layton that he was in the political fray up to the very end, not passing on a chance to persuade voters that the way to get all this is to vote NDP. He was a committed, partisan politician at a time of deep cynicism about politics and politicians. But he managed to find the elusive formula that allows some leaders to connect with voters in ways that go beyond the issues of the moment.
- Chris Selley points out Layton's rare combination of principles and pragmatism:
(M)ore than anything else, he believed in Canada — not just in the federalist-vs.-separatist sense, but in that he clearly believed we are a country that can do bold things, things we haven’t done before, if we just decide to do them. To ponder Jack Layton’s absence from Canadian politics is to realize how rare a bird he was: He didn’t insist on the perfect at the expense of the good; he didn’t catastrophize every proposal from his opponents; he fought, unapologetically, for a very different Canada, and he did it with a grin.

Without even bringing policy into the equation, he was pretty much everything you could want in a politician, in an era when Canadians are accustomed to getting nothing they need. It’s tempting to say they broke the mould when they made Jack Layton, but that’s too depressing to contemplate.
- Rick Salutin highlights Layton's work to provide a voice for the powerless:
Jack would surely have called himself a socialist, then and later. But I think it was this kind of battle for justice, especially on larger social issues, that drew him in. He seemed most at home speaking for those who lacked the levers of wealth or power. (The comfortable, of course, have a right to their rights. But they tend to be well-represented in the public realm.) He liked being a kind of tribune for the relatively powerless and voiceless; it meshed with his flare for attention and focus. For this reason I see him more as a man of the left — almost in the sense of the French Revolution — than a classical socialist. By the time he became active in party politics, socialism wasn’t much of an issue anywhere, and it has become less so ever since. Justice is another matter.
His reactions to what I wrote were always positive and generous. I don’t think this was just smart politics, though there’s no point in alienating the press. I think it also sprang from his character: a belief he could help bring people of basic good-will — which includes most humans — together to build a better society. Maybe he even thought there was something he could learn from a little of the negativity he was so averse to in himself.
- Jamey Heath offers up an insider's perspective on the beginning and early years of Layton's NDP leadership.

- And finally, Sandra Martin discusses Layton's three families who will carry on his legacy.

Update: Let's add Edward Keenan's personal take:
I don’t cite my own personal anecdote here because I think those moments were among the most noteworthy in his long and storied career, nor because I think I merit even a footnote in that story. I mention it mostly because I, like a lot of others, have been blindsided by how deeply personal the loss of Jack Layton feels. As someone I know wrote on Twitter, “This isn’t any old sad. This is loss of family sad.” I’m grasping to try to connect the actual physical tears I shed on Bay Street this morning after I was informed of his death by a phone call with something other than political analysis.

I suspect that my personal story is, rather than exceptional, typical. Jack Layton made believers out of cynics, and in that he was exceptional: a hopemonger of the first order before Obama was out of school. You could see that personal connection even in those he hadn’t met personally, in the way the NDP’s surprising support in Quebec was so often summed up by residents saying, “I’m voting for Jack.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton Links

I won't try to catalogue all of the writing about Jack Layton's passing today, but here are a few pieces worth a look...

- Steven Staples concludes that Layton's reputation will rank him second only to the leader who first drew him to the NDP among Canada's political figures.
- As easy as it is to criticize Jane Taber much of the time, she's at her best in getting the inside story when it comes to personal moments like these - and her poignant quotes from Anne McGrath and Brian Topp are worth a read.
- Meanwhile, Les Perreaux and Ingrid Peritz survey some reactions from Quebec.
- Paul Wells charts the movement built by Layton since he started his work as the federal NDP's leader.
- And Alice traces Layton's federal political career by the numbers while raising some questions about what comes next.

Update: More from Aaron Wherry and The Mark.

Reason for hope

In keeping with Jack Layton's message of hope and optimism - expressed in his last letter as well as so many other times throughout his political career - let's take a moment to note that as much as the NDP will miss his leadership, it will also enjoy a rare opportunity in deciding who succeeds him as the party's permanent leader.

Most leadership races in established political parties take place at a point when a party is generally on a downward trajectory - either after it has fallen from government to opposition or in some other way missed a perceived opportunity to improve its standing, or after it has been in power long enough to face public fatigue even as it tries to renew itself.

In contrast, the NDP will get to choose its next leader from a position of unprecedented strength and hope, thanks to both Layton's electoral results and his means of reaching them.

Most obviously, the party built by Layton and his team over the past decade will provide a strong base for any new leader to work with. But it may be particularly significant that the race will take place in the midst of ample public optimism about the NDP as a whole - reflecting the positive message Layton has built during his time as leader - should offer a unique opportunity for leadership candidates to expand the party's reach.

Of course, the above isn't to say we shouldn't mourn the loss of a leader as skilled and beloved as Layton - and the NDP and his friends in the party will undoubtedly miss him in the years to come. But it's a testament to his work that the party is so well positioned to keep building on what he started. And as the party works through its grief, it's worth keeping in mind that there's every reason to maintain and strengthen the message of hope that Layton so brilliantly delivered in his lifetime.

RIP Jack Layton

After spending a decade laying the foundation, Jack Layton has tragically died before getting to complete the house that so many said couldn't be built.

For now, there's little to do but to offer condolences and grieve the loss of a great Canadian and friend. But hopefully Layton's inspiration will only encourage us to finish what he started.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Deep thought

Nothing says open and accountable government like a little-known fiscal commission labouring in the shadows to decree what public services will get slashed and/or sold off. That is, unless it's also timed to to override the results of an election.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Just as in this year's federal election, the NDP will need to look to move voting intentions once the campaign is underway. But also just like in the federal election, there's reason to like the party's chances - particularly as it's promising to limit the sniping that's been going on for months between the other two main parties.

- The Washington Post points out that our current system of intellectual property protection - supposedly designed to encourage innovation - in fact does little but to create a cottage industry for high-tech non-inventors:
Patents were originally conceived to protect inventors—people and companies who contribute to the advancement of society by creating new products. But in the past decade, something went horribly wrong. Patents are increasingly became nothing more than financial and legal weapons, to be amassed in portfolios by “non-practicing entities” (i.e. patent trolls) and used to extort protection money from economically productive companies.
Most of the money from patent lawsuits is going to the trolls and the lawyers. Between 1995 and 2001, practicing entities were getting higher median awards ($6.3 million) in patent lawsuits than non-practicing entities ($5.2 million). Those numbers flipped between 2002 and 2009, when the median award given to patent trolls climbed to $12.9 million, while awards given to operating patent holders dropped to $3.9 million. The trolls obviously got very efficient and found friendly court districts like the Eastern District of Texas where they could push their claims (patent trolls have a 55.6 percent success rate in cases in the Eastern District of Texas). And it is not just the trolls that are bringing lawsuits as a course of business, companies like Microsoft are getting in on the action too, using their patents as a strategic weapon against their rivals.

It’s this combination of a growing pool of patents that should have never been granted in the first place with the rise of the patent lawsuit industry that is creating huge costs for technology companies of all sizes and the economy at large. All of those bilions (sic) of dollars spent in defending questionable patent lawsuits and buying up patents that will never be used to create anything new is a terrible waste of money. The patent system has been broken a long time, but if we don’t fix it soon it will slow down one of the few engines of the economy still humming.
- It didn't receive much attention compared to the news about the CUPW's planned challenges to the appointment. But after they went out of their way to undermine the concept of collective bargaining as we know it, should we have expected anything other than for the Harper Cons to then appoint an arbitrator with as little labour experience as possible?

- Rene Najera's story looks like a particularly egregious example of an employer trampling on a worker's ability to participate in any public debate.

- Finally, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald weighs in on Tony Clement's G8 patronage and cover-up:
Auditor General John Wiersema said he had never before come across the "unusual and troubling" situation of there being "absolutely no paper trail."

But last week, NDP MP Charlie Angus turned up a paper trail of sorts.

Doing an end-run of his own, Mr. Angus used provincial disclosure laws to access minutes of municipal leaders’ meetings on G8 projects that Mr. Clement chaired. They indicate federal officials did attend some meetings and Mr. Clement’s constituency office managed an application process for projects through unofficial forms.

The government should explain how this squares with what it told the auditor general — that departments were not involved in designing the fund and selecting projects.

And Mr. Clement should explain why his office ran this process outside the auditable framework of Treasury Board rules and policies for which he is now responsible.

If he can’t do that, he shouldn’t be at Treasury Board.