Saturday, November 05, 2011

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Dan Gardner highlights how Stephen Harper is imposing exactly the kind of costly, top-down policies on Canada's provinces that he once railed against:
This week, at least five provincial governments, starting with Quebec and Ontario, said they will refuse to pay the increased costs created by the mandatory minimum sentences and other "tough on crime" measures in the federal government's omnibus crime bill. No one really knows what those costs are but they are certainly significant.

This could get very nasty, with unforeseeable implications for federalism.

But the interesting question here isn't why this is happening. That's obvious. The feds are on a shopping spree the provinces have to pay for. Nothing could be clearer.
...
(R)emember who is presiding over this proto-fiasco. Stephen Harper. The man who devoted most of his political life to a few simple propositions. One of them was decentralization.

Canada is a federation, he said, not a unitary state. The federal government should only do what must be done centrally. Otherwise, decision-making power should be devolved, to the provinces, and even the cities, which would produce policies that "better reflect local economies and local desires," as Harper wrote in a 2001 oped. This would also allow different policies to be implemented in different places, so we could see which policies worked and which didn't. Everyone would learn from this sort of experimentation. And we'd all be better off.

The American constitution gives authority over criminal law to the states but nothing that extreme is needed to inject a little decentralization into the Canadian framework. The feds can simply listen to the provinces and take their views seriously. And they can be flexible when needed - as the federal Liberal government was when it exempted Vancouver public health authorities from drug laws so they could open Insite, a safe-injection facility, in response to the extraordinary circumstances in Vancouver's downtown eastside.

But since becoming prime minister, Stephen Harper has done none of that. Instead, he's been a centralizer, an Ottawaknows-best bully, more Trudeau than Trudeau.

And he may finally pay a price.
- Andrew Coyne tries valiantly to turn Canada's pitiful research and development performance into a justification for yet lower corporate taxes and more free trade agreements. But it's hard to escape the reality that federal policy has involved providing both at every turn for the past two and a half decades - and that the result is more idle capital than ever before rather than Coyne's Galtopia.

- Meanwhile, the NDP's call for a Canada-wide review of the Canada Revenue Agency's collection policies looks to fit nicely with concerns that the system as it stands has been administered more for the benefit of a few well-connected tax avoiders than for the general public.

- Nick Falvo points out Canada's extraordinarily high levels of private ownership of rental housing - a particularly obvious problem when that results in exactly the wrong incentive structure to keep housing affordable.

- Finally, it shouldn't come as much surprise that Elizabeth May's well-justified question about what Parliament is for is receiving no answer whatsoever from a government determined to shut down democratic debate.

Unethical standards

Yes, Geoff Leo's debunking of Bill Hutchinson's supposed "mainstreeting" is well worth a view. But I'd think the story deserves to be taken somewhat more seriously than it has been so far.

After all, it's hard to see Hutchinson's setup as anything but a deliberate attempt to mislead the media and the general public in the waning days of an election campaign. And that complete contempt for even the slightest bit of honesty in politics is paired with a remarkable degree of arrogance in thinking both that Leo wouldn't see through the strange interactions, and that nobody would recognize obvious Sask Party plants on camera.

What's more, it's not as if Hutchinson can be written off as a single rogue candidate. In fact, he's only the second Regina Sask Party MLA and cabinet minister found in the past few days to have been misleading rather important actors in Saskatchewan's political system in areas where the deception is both utterly gratuitous and certain to be caught.

And all this at a time when the Sask Party is spending massive amounts of money on ads accusing Dwain Lingenfelter of being "unethical" for far less. Which may signal part of the gap which the NDP needs to make up against its right-wing competitors - both in pushing back when challenged, and building outrage about Sask Party misdeeds.

Of course, the problem with Hutchinson and Tell isn't so much that they in fact got caught, but that Brad Wall and his party seem to operate on the assumption that their standard for honesty is entirely acceptable. And if the Sask Party sees grounds for promotion in members deceiving the public in areas so trivial and easily debunked, then there's plenty of reason to worry about what else is being lied about where it really matters.

Update: On a not-entirely-unrelated note, Paul Krugman notes the difference between how left-wing and right-wing parties treat hypocrisy.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Musical interlude

Econoline Crush - Sparkle and Shine

Parliament In Review: October 20, 2011

The main topic of debate on Thursday, October 20 was the Canadian Wheat Board - with extensive discussion in Parliament of both the Cons' steps to shut down debate, and the substance of what should happen with the Wheat Board.

The Big Issue

The passage of the day goes to Niki Ashton, linking the Cons' choice to both stifle debate and refuse to conduct a required plebiscite to a general unwillingness to hear from Western constituents:
The loss of the Wheat Board is a loss for all of us across this country. Today's debate also amplifies the fact that the government's agenda is not just about the dismantling of the Wheat Board, but about the silencing of our voices.

Just some short weeks ago, the results of a plebiscite administered by the Canadian Wheat Board came out. That plebiscite showed that a majority of Canadian western farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta believe that the single desk ought to be maintained. The government not only ignored that plebiscite but is also ignoring section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, which states that farmers must have a say in any proposed plans to alter the operation of the Wheat Board.

Today is a dark day, given that we are not just hearing about the government's plan to dismantle a successful institution that has supported the livelihoods of so many farmers and so many rural communities across western Canada, but that once again the government is not allowing westerners to have their voices heard through our Canadian democracy.
Peter Julian echoed the theme, while expressing due incredulity about the Cons' claim that they've never met anybody who disagreed with their plans to torch the Wheat Board. And of course several calls for a genuine expression of the desires of Wheat Board members through a plebiscite - including those of Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, Pierre-Luc Dussault and Kevin Lamoureux - fell on typically uninterested ears. Robert Aubin connected the Wheat Board to co-operative movements as means of pooling labour and value. All of which led Sadia Groghue to point out a pattern of the people who are most affected by Con policies being excluded from any input.

Meanwhile, Groghue noted that the Australian "success story" which the Cons present as their vision for the Wheat Board's future involved farmers going from receiving a $99/tonne premium to a $27/tonne loss for their wheat. Alex Atamanenko highlighted Gerry Ritz' explicit promises not to demolish the Wheat Board "arbitrarily" without consulting farmers. In response, Ritz himself expressed the view that MPs don't really represent voters in any poll which didn't support them, while Rob Merrifield made clear that he has no clue how Saskatchewan's political ridings are drawn by asserting that there's no wheat or barley farming in any opposition-held prairie riding - including the urban-rural split riding of Wascana which Merrifield helpfully placed in "downtown Regina". Helene Leblanc and Atamanenko discussed the food security implications of losing the Wheat Board. Ralph Goodale reviewed the market failures and power imbalances that led to the Wheat Board being established in the first place. And Lee Richardson made clear that the Cons' goal for the Wheat Board is "full private ownership", signalling that effectively none of the public role of the current institution is even intended to survive.

Time Allocated

Meanwhile, following Peter Van Loan's motion to limit debate on second reading of the Cons' Canadian Wheat Board demolition bill - leading to this entirely justifiable response from Joe Comartin as to what the parties could expect in discussing the maneuver:
(B)efore I ask my question, I would suggest that you should probably not let the minister answer anything so we can use up some of the time on meaningful comments rather than the responses we will get from him.
Meanwhile, Helene Leblanc pointed out the interest of new MPs in speaking to issues which they haven't had a chance to address before. Phil Toone pointed out several examples of Stephen Harper criticizing closure when imposed by the Libs. And Andre Bellavance criticized the Cons' bulldozing tactics.

In Brief

Anne Minh-Thu Quach rightly questioned the Cons' refusal to participate in a global conference on the social determinants of health, only to be told by Leona Agglukaq that the Cons' focus is on Canadian investors. Marie-Claude Morin called attention to the need to address poverty and homelessness. Hoang Mai called for the Cons to match the U.S.' interest in tracking down tax cheats. Alexandre Boulerice wondered whether Tony Clement's "open government" announcements would include any of the still-hidden details of his G8 scandal. And John McKay pointed out that the choice of countries to bail on the F-35 program (and understandably so) would only raise Canada's costs if the Cons obstinately push ahead.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- If there's any good news in the Cons' constant attacks on labour, it's the growing recognition that workers need to fight back with no less a concerted effort than they're facing from a hostile government. And the possibility that the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada might tie itself into the wider labour movement looks like a huge step on that front.

- Craig McInnes follows up on Canada's drop in global Human Development Index rankings and points out the link to increasing inequality:
With echoes of Occupy Vancouver, Canada's ranking in this year's United Nations Human Development Index was knocked down by a statistical portrait of an unjust society.

For a country that prides itself as a land of equal opportunity, that's a bit hard to take.
...
For most of the 1990s, we held bragging rights to the top spot in the annual rankings based on access to education, long and healthy lives and livable incomes.

For the past decade we've slipped a bit, with oil-rich Norway dominating first place and Canada floating around the top 10. That slippage doesn't mean much since the top countries are tightly bunched together, especially compared with those farther down the list.

Canada is ranked sixth this year, up two spots from last year. But we tumble seven notches when our base rating is adjusted for inequality - that is, how well-off Canadians are doing compared with those at the bottom of the pile. We drop even farther - to 20th, when our ranking is adjusted for gender inequality.
- Erik Loomis highlights an all-too-typical example as to the real effects of free trade agreements:
With free trade agreements, we recreate Gilded Age labor and environmental conditions in the developing world. We have simply exported all the negatives of the Industrial Revolution. We were promised cheap goods and information economy. They were promised jobs. Instead, we are mired in an economic slump without a foreseeable end and a failed information economy while they live in endemic poverty and suffer environmental poisoning.
- Finally, the NDP's closing argument in the Saskatchewan election campaign nicely sums up what's at stake:

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Misled

Angela Hall makes the fatal mistake of presuming that right-wing spin has anything at all to do with reality:
Returning to the city where he made a recent campaign promise to crack down on violent offenders, Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall expressed support for Ottawa’s tough on crime bill despite the potential for added costs at the provincial level.
...
“But we’re not going to oppose what we think is good legislation on the basis of this particular issue. We like the changes to two-for-one remand, we like what’s happening in the omnibus bill. We want to build on that with our own plan in this election but we’ll be advancing the case that if there’s an additional cost from a corrections standpoint there’s a role for the federal government.”

The federal bill includes changes such as the cancellation of double credit for time served in remand and mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes.
So let's set the record straight: the bill to end two-for-one credit for time in remand passed in 2009. And it has nothing at all to do with the current omnibus bill with its ludicrous mandatory minimums.

Of course, Wall didn't explicitly say otherwise - but merely turned to the Cons' "tough on crime" talking points which had nothing at all to do with the subject at hand, only to be taken by Hall as deserving far more credit than was actually appropriate.

So a couple of handy reminders for the press covering the tail end of the election campaign:

It's never a good idea to take spin coming from a Harper Conservative surrogate at face value. And Brad Wall is a Harper Conservative surrogate.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Stephen Maher nicely summarizes Tony Clement's sad committee appearance yesterday:
The evidence shows that Clement chose the projects himself, in some kind of mysterious process in his riding office. He has steadfastly denied that, and even helpfully pointed out to reporters in September why that would have been wrong.

“If I was the decision-maker, if I had set up a parallel process — and created a situation where the auditor general did not know, that’s their accusation — I’d be resigning right now and turning myself into the local police office.”

Clement’s logic is plain: since choosing the projects himself would have been wrong, he obviously did not do so. He must deny it, forever and with great sincerity, which is what he spent Wednesday doing.
...
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, the fiery former punk singer from Timmins, Ont., made a strong argument on Wednesday that Clement should get a new assignment.

“This is about your fundamental competence,” he said. “It gets to the question of how you do business, when the auditor general says you broke the rules.”

Clement — who is now president of the Treasury Board, the minister in charge of interpreting and administering the spending rules for the federal government — admitted he made mistakes.

“The auditor general said she was concerned about the lack of documentation,” he said. “I take that to heart. The paperwork for this was not perfect.”

“Not perfect?” Angus interrupted, incredulous. “It doesn’t exist.”

“I take my share of responsibility for that and certainly I have learned that there are different ways and better ways to provide these kinds of intake processes, and I commit myself to using them,” said Clement.

Angus was not mollified.

“When people started asking questions, you said, ‘I’m sorry, the dog ate my homework. I’ll do better the next time.’ What are you doing at Treasury Board?”

It’s a good question.
- Meanwhile, Vic Toews helped Clement out by offering his own jaw-droppingly ignorant spin, criticizing the NDP's Joe Comartin for having acted as a defence lawyer.

- Yes, it's true enough that a series of provincial elections likely cut into the federal NDP's fund-raising efforts. But I'd still think the third-quarter numbers present a clear indication that the party has a long way to go in making sure that its fund-raising and other member involvement catch up to its vote and seat totals - and we'll have to keep a close eye on how the numbers change over the next two quarters when the base should be fully involved.

- Finally, Paul Gingrich examines the state of post-secondary education costs in Saskatchewan, and finds that the Sask Party's tuition hikes have undone much of the good accomplished by the NDP' previous freeze.

New column day

Here, on Saskatchewan's unique opportunity to translate the widespread public concerns about inequality and corporate control highlighted by the Occupy movement into electoral change.

For further reading, here's the Abacus poll referred to in the column.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

On uneven playing fields

Nancy is understandably concerned about different rules applying to the NDP's leadership race in 2012 than the Libs' in 2013. But it's worth pointing out that there are gaps going in both directions: in particular, the Libs will also get the benefit of some amendments in the new campaign financing legislation - notably the ability for donors to contribute up to the individual limit each year, rather than only once in the leadership campaign - that won't be enjoyed by the NDP's contestants. (And all this as Tim Uppal exhorts the NDP to comply voluntarily with the restrictions contained in the new bill without enjoying its benefits.)

Which is to say that the real reason for suspicion isn't so much the effect of the amendment on any one party's race as it is the Cons' choice to apply different rules to their different competitors' leadership contests. And hopefully the NDP and Libs can keep that concern in mind in dealing with the legislation, rather than allowing the Cons to use the bill to encourage fights among the opposition parties.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- Jim Stanford highlights the Cons' thoroughly imbalanced view of labour disputes by pointing out that their concern for the economy has been limited to action by workers rather than employers:
When employers hold the better cards, as they do in today’s unforgiving labour market, they happily go for the jugular – work stoppage or not. Consider another epic dispute that ended last month: the 50-week lockout at the United States Steel Corp. factory in Hamilton. The company starved out the union with far-reaching demands to gut pensions and other long-standing provisions. The economic cost of that bitter, lopsided dispute didn’t slow the company, nor did it spur any level of government to action.

I estimate that the direct loss to GDP resulting from the lockout in Hamilton was four times larger than the effects of a one-week full shutdown at Air Canada. Indirect spinoff losses made the steel lockout even more painful. If government were truly concerned with “protecting recovery,” why didn’t it intervene? True, steel falls within provincial (not federal) labour jurisdiction. But Ottawa had plenty of leverage if it wanted to act – not least U.S. Steel’s galling violation of the production and employment commitments it made when it took over the former Stelco Inc.

In Hamilton, where workers held little power, the government stood idly by. It seems it’s only when workers have some leverage that it acts powerfully to “protect the economy.”
- Which is to say that while most of Canada may have reason for concern that we're sinking in global rankings of human developing (especially when inequality is taken into account), the Cons likely see that development as reason to celebrate.

- Paul Dewar is calling for Canada to support a financial transactions tax - rather than standing in the way as the Cons have done for years. Thomas Mulcair, while raising more complaints about the race, is targeting 20,000 new memberships in Quebec for his campaign alone - giving an indication that the previous membership numbers have little to do with where the race is headed. And in what may be the worst-kept secret of the NDP leadership race so far, Niki Ashton is about to join the field.

- Finally, Paul MacLeod points out that the NDP was able to ask one of its own committee chairs a question in question period. And it's worth wondering whether a consistent strategy along those lines - cutting the Cons out of questions period entirely as long as they're doing nothing but spouting utterly irrelevant talking points - might be just what the doctor ordered to force some more substantive discussion.

On priorities

In the absence of any evidence that the NDP's new caucus will be anything but a strong opposition to the Harper Cons, Kady goes hunting for a story based on the fact that an NDP anti-floor-crossing bill - having been introduced for the sixth time - is finding its way into the order of precedence earlier than it has in the past. But let's ask quickly what might have changed since previous sessions.

In the previous sessions discussed by Kady, the NDP has had no more than 37 MPs, representing approximately 1/9 of the House of Commons (and I'll guesstimate 1/8 of the MPs who might actually be presenting private members' bills). Which has meant that it's only been able to advance a very limited number of bills - and has had to choose its process carefully in doing so.

Needless to say, floor-crossing has seldom been a top-of-mind issue for the party compared to economic, social and environmental issues at the core of its values. And perhaps more importantly, there's been no prospect of getting such a bill passed in the absence of support from any other party, while other private members' bills have succeeded in passing the House of Commons where they've had support from the Libs and Bloc.

In contrast, the NDP now has three times as many slots with which to advance private members' bills as before - so it stands to reason that it's able to plan for a greater number of its bills to advance. Which means that the logical inference would seem to be that banning floor-crossing fell into the tier of legislation just below the top priorities in past sessions, but made the cut now that opportunities to advance legislation are less scarce.

Moreover, in a majority Parliament, there's not much of a difference in the likelihood of passing floor-crossing legislation compared to other bills the party could present. In fact, the Reform roots of such a bill may give it a better chance of passing than the bills that have been advanced earlier in minority Parliaments with opposition support - making for a strategic reason to pursue it now but not before.

In sum, there are obvious explanations as to why the NDP might be moving ahead with a floor-crossing bill other than. And given that six months under the media microscope haven't yet produced a shred of evidence of discord in a caucus which was supposed to be ready to crumble at a moment's notice, we should be all the more skeptical of any attempt to assume the worst.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- I'd think it's long past the time where any informed observer could cling to hope that the Harper Cons see good government as a goal worth pursuing. But Dan Gardner points out the role that Parliament should play if they actually did have some interest in that result:
Of course one may complain about the hypocrisy of Stephen Harper and other senior Conservatives who furiously denounced the Chr├ętien government when it did precisely what they are doing now. (Well, not "precisely." Harper has imposed time limits at a much higher rate than Chr├ętien did, even at his most imperious, and he is on track to set an all-time record. But let's not get distracted by trivia, as the PMO flack would say.)

Or one may complain that it's undemocratic. And contemptuous. One may note that almost one-third of MPs have never debated these issues in the House of Commons and, if Parliament is to be something more than a fig leaf covering the prime minister's naughty bits, parliamentarians must have the right to stand up and debate as long as they damned well want.

But these arguments are based on principle and respect for parliamentary tradition. Think that's going to wash with the Harperites? You might as well make your case by quoting the Koran.

There is, however, another reason for thinking this is a terrible mistake. It's one that even Conservatives may care about.
...
(I)t is not reassuring that the minister intends to change something whose existence he and his staff were unaware of until critics forced them to see it given that the government is determined to push heaps of complex legislation through Parliament with little opportunity for other critics to find other concerns that other ministers need to know about.

And, no, this isn't just about catching drafting errors. It's about different perspectives, new ideas, reconsiderations, modifications, additions. It's about all the reasons why we have a Parliament, and why the name of that institution comes from the Old French "Parlement," meaning a place to talk.

It's about good government. Conservatives are in favour of that, right?
- Greg Weston has some important questions for Tony Clement on his G8 scandal. But given the Cons' anti-CBC paranoia, I'm sure the fact that Weston has raised them will result in a new set of talking points as to how they're utterly illegitimate.

- No, it's not surprising that the Saskatchewan Party has more attacks in store for the province's workers. Instead, the only surprise is that Brad Wall allowed part of that reality to slip out before the election - in contrast to 2007, when he claimed no interest in imposing an essential services law before making it one of the first acts of his new government.

- Finally, Andrew Jackson points out that after decades of calculated wage suppression by business and government alike, higher wages may be a necessity as part of an economic recovery.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Lawn cats.



The new normal

It wasn't long ago that I considered it remarkable for a government to make any claim to concern about privacy which was so implausible as to demand refutation by the responsible Privacy Commissioner.

But the Cons are managing to make a habit of it.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading - with an economic fairness theme.

- John Burton highlights Saskatchewan's ownership of its own potash resources - pointed out so frequently by Brad Wall in opposing BHP Billiton's bid for PCS - as being exactly the reason why it's foolish to oppose getting fair value for our potash:
Declarations that resources belong to the people of the province are empty words unless they are backed up to give them some real meaning. The assertion that the benefits of development, real as they are, should satisfy us along with royalties as they are does not meet the test of determining whether they fulfill the level of benefits to which the province is entitled. Obviously, the company is entitled to a reasonable return on its investment.

There are other considerations that also have to be taken into account. One is that the potash resource we own is by far the richest in the world. We now have 52 per cent of world reserves. Furthermore, the increasing level of prices must be considered. When royalties were determined some years ago, potash prices were much lower than in succeeding years. If prices go up as they did, the people of the province are entitled to a greater share of that increased profitability. How much that should be, of course, is a matter for review and negotiation.
- And Andrew Jackson points out a study by Peter Burton and Shelley Phipps as to what's really happened in terms of both income and work time for families of various income levels over the past few decades:
Between 1994 and 2006, the average real family income of parents with children in the top 10% rose by 40.3%, compared to 18.9% for those in the middle decile. Meanwhile, average family hours of weekly paid work rose from 61.6 to 67.9 hours for the middle decile, but fell from 76.7 to 74.4 hours for those in the top 10%.
It is not only families in the middle who have been working more paid hours, but also those in the bottom income groups. The norm of two earner families with children has shifted decisively down the income scale.

The authors find that subjective feelings of stress due to too many demands and too little time have also shifted down the the income scale as most families put in more hours of paid work, and have less time to spend with their children and in other activities.
- But I suppose it was inevitable that a sorely-needed focus on inequality would be met with a backlash. First, there's Erica Alini drawing an inexplicable distinction between providing money to those who need it most (which is of course a laudable goal), and finding a source for that money in those who don't.

- And finally, there's shorter Andrew Coyne: Who cares whether inequality is obviously increasing in such arcane terms as "real dollars"? Dammit, everybody I know measures their relative well-being in terms of rates of change with selective endpoints!

On diversions

It should come as no surprise that the Globe and Mail's ongoing paean to high-end charitable tax breaks is apparently linked to a request from the Harper Cons. But perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that the Cons are commandeering the agenda of the House of Commons' finance committee in the process:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has asked the Commons finance committee to study charitable donations incentives – including proposals to allow individuals an exemption from capital gains tax if they donate shares in privately held corporations or real estate.

“We await the study and its findings,” Chisholm Pothier, a spokesman for Mr. Flaherty, said in an e-mail Sunday.
Needless to say, that continued insistence on dictating what gets studied by nominally independent committees should offer all the disproof anybody needs when the Cons claim not to be centrally managing committee agendas.

But perhaps more important is the question of what's being pushed to the back burner in the meantime. Among the other topics of discussion for the finance committee are studying the Cons' budget legislation and analyzing the causes of the U.S.' economic turmoil. And should we be surprised at all if the Cons want to change the subject as quickly as possible?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Leading nowhere

After several months of interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel being neatly edited out of far too much coverage of Canadian politics, it shouldn't come as too much surprise that she's behind Bob Rae in the latest Nanos leadership polling. But I'd think the most important news is that Rae himself hasn't made much progress.

After all, the combination of Turmel's low profile and the fact that the NDP hadn't yet started its leadership campaign in earnest made the past few months about the best opportunity Rae would ever have to distance himself from the NDP's leading lights. Yet Nanos shows Rae scoring no higher than 18% in any of the relevant leadership measures even on the most favourable possible playing field - while the NDP is holding its share of popular support from the May election.

Now, the NDP's next set of leadership contenders figures to be the main topic of discussion over the next five months. And once the leadership race is over, the new leader figures to then become the main focus for a period of several months - with many of the same advantages as Rae now holds since the Libs will be headed into their own race.

So for those of us focused on where Canadian politics are headed in the long run rather than merely where they are on an interim basis, the NDP has little reason for concern in where the current interim leaders stand. And any Libs hoping for Rae to be their saviour have reason to doubt that it's going to happen.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tim Harper wonders what's next for the Occupy movement, but rightly notes that state crackdowns are completely unwarranted. And Jacqueline Kennelly highlights the value of the Occupy movement as part of the work in progress that is democracy:
From the Occupy movement is already emerging new energy, new commitments, and new conversations. The Occupiers themselves are figuring out how to run their small communities, and more: they're reaching out to others to ex-pand the conversations begun within their tent cities. The Occupy Ottawa movement is engaging with academics at Carleton and the University of Ottawa to develop panel discussions, in order to educate the public and themselves about the complexities of the capitalist system that they know is not working. The original movement in New York, Occupy Wall Street, has had regular visits from scholars and writers. The blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter are alive with conversations about what this movement means and what it is trying to achieve.

But beyond these conversations lies the more important legacy of a movement such as this one: the embodied experience of lived democracy. It is a recognition that at the root of democracy lie human relationships, in all of their messiness, complexity, and beauty. And it is the realization that the process of building a better world is just that: a process. That is the point.
- Ann Cavoukian speaks out against the Cons' Internet surveillance legislation.

- Michel Drapeau weighs in on the Cons' desire to torch the data from Canada's gun registry:
Mr. Drapeau, who is a historian who recently co-wrote a tome on military law with Federal Court Justice Gilles Letourneau, said he’s “shocked.” The records are “part of our history. It’s part of our makeup, it’s part of our culture, it’s part of making us the way we come,” he said.

“This is what they used to do in the former Soviet Union—wipe out portions of history, or in East Germany and so on, and in China. I find that from a democratic standpoint, let alone an archival standpoint, this is without precedent, and a very, very serious event in the life of a nation...”
- Finally, Donald K. Johnson takes the problem with John Ibbitson's analysis of charitable giving rules a step further. But let's make it clear just how far off base Johnson is by pointing to his example of a system he wants Canada to follow:
It’s now vital for our government to capitalize on this enormous success by expanding the capital gains tax exemption to include charitable gifts in the form of private company shares and real estate. I should note that charitable gifts of both of these asset classes are exempt from capital gains taxes in the United States. By introducing these measures in the next budget, the government would be levelling the fundraising playing field for our not-for-profit sector with their American counterparts.
So who wants to make the case that the U.S.' greater tax dodges for charitable giving (coupled with the rabid anti-tax doctrine taken as a given by Johnson) have produced better social outcomes?

On divergent rules

Shorter Neil Reynolds:

Taxes aimed at higher-wealth individuals only work if the people being taxed follow the law. And since when do we expect our wealthy betters to meet such an unreasonable standard?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Parliament In Review: October 19, 2011

Wednesday, October 19 saw plenty of discussion of the Cons' legislation to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board - both in the second-reading debate on the bill, and assorted procedural moves surrounding the legislation.

The Big Issue

Not surprisingly, Pat Martin was at the centre of the Wheat Board debate - challenging Gerry Ritz to present some costing as to the price of demolishing the Wheat Board, noting that the evidence he's seen suggests the Wheat Board has plenty of value for farmers that the Cons are determined to destroy, and moving that the House decline to give second reading to the Cons' bill.

Meanwhile, Niki Ashton labeled the bill as part of the Cons' pattern of taking the West for granted. Frank Valeriote pointed out that the pasta plant the Cons are citing as an example of the economic development that will be facilitated by the elimination of the CWB is basing its assumptions on being able to drive down the prices paid to grain producers. And Alex Atamanenko wondered why Gerry Ritz has turned his back on his previous promise to respect the will of farmers.

As for the Cons, Peter Van Loan justified shutting down debate at second reading by talking about "(letting) a committee get on with its job of studying this bill in detail". But we can expect the Cons' usual spin that the right time for actual discussion of what they're imposing on Canada is anytime but the present to take over once the committee starts its work. And that's particularly obvious since David Anderson claimed laughably that the bill needs to be rammed through by the new year - and without the transition planning the Cons have refused to countenance - for the sake of stability for producers.


Step Away from the Table

One of the most obvious areas of dispute between the Cons and the NDP since the May election has been the parties' relative view of free trade agreements. And the NDP (joined now by the Libs at some points) is pushing back strongly after the Cons' first set of spin, highlighting both the questionable deals they've signed and the effect of poor foreign relations on areas the Cons haven't been able to address.

On that front, Robert Chisholm criticized the Cons' missteps in dealing with China and the U.S. And Frank Valeriote got into the act by labeling Stephen Harper as the "head chef and bottle washer for the United States of America".

Meanwhile, the Cons offered a clear signal as to where they draw the line on foreign actions: while they see democracy, privacy and consumer interests as fully expendable, a U.S. proposal was deemed unacceptable by Jim Flaherty as soon as it had the potential to impose costs on Canadian banks.

In Brief

Lise St. Denis noted that the parliamentary schedule may make it difficult for female MPs to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. Jamie Nicholls and Brian Masse questioned the Cons' lack of a response to a report showing the value of high-speed rail. And Linda Duncan's adjournment questions on First Nations relations - including both residential school compensation and conditions on reserves - produced a conspicuous failure by Greg Rickford to address the latter point.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- Of course the ongoing leadership race will do plenty to determine the NDP's future direction. But for those thinking all will be quiet in the meantime, Nycole Turmel isn't missing the opportunity to highlight the the Cons' attacks on workers.

- New Scientist traces the connections between 147 financial corporations which between them own upward of 40% of the globe's financial resources. Which makes for nice timing for Jordon Cooper to point to the dearth of ethics underlying far too much of the sector.

- Gerald Caplan points out the history of leadership contenders and their supporters developing rivalries that can last long past any particularly leadership campaign. But it's worth noting that the degree of lasting enmity varies from race to race - based largely on the tone set by the contenders themselves. And with a few unfortunate exceptions, the NDP's candidates have set a fairly reasonable one so far.

- Meanwhile, Alice provides another must-read leadership roundup post. And Thomas Walkom comments on Peggy Nash's pragmatic radicalism.

- Finally, can we all agree that if the Cons had entitled their anti-gay bullying video It Gets Better (Despite Our Best Efforts) there would have been no reason for concern?

On renegotiations

One of the main arguments against a potash royalty review has been the claim that the 8 years since a 2003 overhaul - in which potash prices have tripled and profits soared - is too short a time frame to consider changes to the royalty system. So let's consider how long it was that Saskatchewan potash producers considered themselves bound by the previous incarnation before requesting a change.

All editorializing in the source aside, the answer is: three years - and with no suggestion from the Sask Party that we should have held producers to a deal for longer than that if it wasn't producing fair outcomes. (Which of course fits with the Sask Party's willingness to change royalty systems as long as the result is less revenue for the province rather than more.)

But then, those possible changes resulted from requests by industry rather than the province. Which looks to make for the real point of contention in royalty rate debate: is the province ever able to suggest that royalties be reviewed in its own interest? Or is the province's job - as so dutifully performed by Wall and his party - to make sure that our royalty rates give away as much money as possible to corporations which will make massive profits from the province's resources either way?

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Yesterday's win over Hamilton has raised at least a few questions as to where that 'Riders team has been all year. But I'm not sure there's much difference between what we saw yesterday and what the 'Riders have managed at many points throughout the season - other than the right combination of offensive and defensive performances for a given day.

To start with, the 'Riders have generally played far better on the rare occasions when they've managed an early lead than in the many games where they've had to come from behind. And a strong wind at the 'Riders' back in the first quarter, along with some effective ball-control offence which fell short of putting any touchdowns on the board, gave the 'Riders a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

From there, the game story was a matter of sheer opportunism and ball control. I'm not sure what the Ticats were thinking in calling for a fake punt in the second quarter (and one which seemed to rely on a throw by Justin Medlock in conditions where even the quarterbacks were having trouble finding the mark), but the 'Riders took advantage of that short field to find the end zone.

Meanwhile, throughout the game the Ticats served up exactly the type of running game the 'Riders are best suited to stop, as neither Avon Cobourne nor Marcus Thigpen had the size to overpower the 'Riders' small linebackers. And in the second half, the 'Riders' defence answered strong ball movement by Kevin Glenn with a series of interceptions that kept the Ticats from getting back in the game.

As for the 'Riders' offence, it was no better than it has been through much of the season. Both Ryan Dinwiddie and Cole Bergquist (in minimal playing time) were mostly off the mark with their passes, and a running game centred on Brandon West and Dinwiddie was effective but not overwhelming. But on a windy day with the defence playing well, the offence didn't need to do much more than avoid any major mistakes - and it was up to that task at least.

On this particular day, that combination was enough for the 'Riders to get back into the win column. But in the last game of the season, we'll have to hope to see a few more players show what they can do for next year, rather than mostly matching what we've already seen in 2011.