Saturday, January 21, 2012

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Yes, we're at the point in the campaign where we can't go a couple of days without plenty of developments - even in the absence of formal debates or other major events. So let's take a look at how the week ended on the campaign trail.

- Niki Ashton received a glowing review (if not quite an endorsement) from Joe Comartin in the course of a visit to Windsor - while also drawing what may be a noteworthy contrast to Thomas Mulcair as to her choices about citizenship.

- Nathan Cullen is fitting a request for online pledges of support into an interesting multipurpose page which may serve as a poll as well.

- Paul Dewar showed plenty of determination in fighting his way through a snowstorm for an event in Peterborough, before heading to Thunder Bay today.

- Mulcair sent out what may be the most compelling fund-raising pitch we'll see in the leadership campaign, promising to devote valuable leadership resources to a Quebec membership push in advance of next month's deadline.

- Brian Topp unveiled his arts policy. And along with that, he continued his strong endorsement push from the arts community with a video from Colin Mochrie.

- On the pundit side, a disturbing amount of ink and time was wasted on Thomas Mulcair's citizenship - with little worth repeating other than Chris Selley's take to show for it. Jeffrey Simpson offered his take on the race generally. And Gerald Caplan focused in on some of Simpson's earlier comments on what comes next for the NDP once the leadership campaign is done, while indirectly refuting a few of Barbara Yaffe's doubts about the party's future.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Jim Stanford highlights a trend of employers forcing work stoppages in order to force massive concessions out of their employees - and notes that the Harper Cons seem to be entirely in favour of that kind of economic disruption as long as it's workers who stand to lose out:
(B)usiness leaders have warmed to work stoppages. In the current bargaining environment, companies (especially multinational firms) hold the best cards. And executives are increasingly willing to precipitate their own work stoppages – through management lockouts – to enforce demands for lower wages and benefits.

Two New Year’s Day lockouts highlighted this strategy. U.S.-based Caterpillar Inc. locked out 450 locomotive builders in London, Ont., demanding wage cuts of more than 50 per cent. The same day, Rio Tinto, the U.K.-based mining giant, locked out 755 smelter workers in Alma, Que. That company’s demand to outsource all future bargaining-unit openings would ultimately achieve an even larger reduction in wages. In both cases, the future of middle-class incomes in our manufacturing and resource sectors is at stake. And in both cases, executives are willing to lock the doors until workers swallow their pill.
The popularity of lockouts reflects the dramatic tilting of the labour relations playing field in recent years. With unions on the defensive, management is eager to go for the jugular. Government has stood back or, worse, egged on the lockouts (as Ottawa did with Canada Post). Multinational firms are especially aggressive, given their ability (underwritten by free-trade agreements) to shift production and capital seamlessly between jurisdictions.

This trend is troubling, for macroeconomic as well as ethical reasons. As employers ratchet down compensation, income shifts from consumers (who spend every penny) to corporations (which sit on a growing pile of uninvested cash). That undermines aggregate spending and weakens the recovery. And the more employers succeed in driving down wages, the greater the danger of setting off a cycle of deflation in wages and prices (such as the one that bedevilled Japan for a decade).
- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman cuts through Mitt Romney's spin about the tax rate Romney pays personally to raise a deeper point about the main excuse proffered for constant corporate tax slashing:
(I)t’s kind of peculiar to see conservatives jumping up and down to say that Mitt Romney does too pay reasonable taxes if you include the profits taxes on the corporations in which he invests. Because if memory serves me, just a few years ago conservatives were denouncing the “flypaper theory” of tax incidence, arguing that much of the burden of corporate taxes really falls on labor, not on stockholders. Is it just my imagination?

No, it isn’t. They really did make this argument. Repeatedly.

And the truth is that I always took this argument semi-seriously...

(T)here is a strong sense of trying to have it both ways. When people raise questions about big tax cuts for corporations, we’re told not to worry, because corporate taxes mainly fall on labor, not on stockholders. When people raise questions about low taxes on the very rich, we’re told not to worry because once you include all the taxes corporations have paid on their behalf as stockholders, their taxes aren’t really that low.

Funny how that works.
- The NCC's attacks on Bob Rae have a few of the country's better-informed political observers thinking about how to address the ability of big-money donors to exert disproportionate influence on Canada's political debate. Kady O'Malley and Scot Reid suggest that the problem can be dealt with through disclosure requirements, while Andrew Coyne proposes that third-party groups should be subject to the same pool of funds as political parties (with a cap on individual donations applying to both).

- Finally, Andrew Potter considers the Cons' latest blather about "red tape" to be just the latest example of Tony Clement being instructed to introduce policy targeted toward the non-thinking:
How does one-for-one help us determine what regulations are good, and which are bad? This emphasis on the absolute numbers of rules, as opposed to their relative effectiveness, is just as brainless as the old Soviet practice of treating hours worked or widgets produced as the mark of economic growth. Who cares what the work was on, or whether anyone wanted any widgets.

To see how confused this is, try applying the one-for-one rule to everything else the government does. How about, for every new law the government wants to enact, it has to eliminate one. For every criminal it wants to imprison, it has to release one. For every tax it wants to cut, it has to increase another. For every cabinet member it wants to add, it has to fire another.

This could actually be a fun little parlour game, but it is no way to run a country. Except it is the same brand of bucktoothed libertarianism that has become this government’s signature approach to public policy. Whether it is about treating drug abuse, dealing with crime, running a statistics agency, or engaging in just about any of the other routine tasks of keeping a G8 country going, the Conservatives have made a habit of giving Canadians policy cooked up by people who can’t figure out whether they have a bigger crush on Robert Heinlein, or Ann Coulter.

This isn’t just some amusing little fanboy fugue. It has real consequences for the country and for our ability to make sensible and effective laws and policy.
[Edit: fixed attribution for last column.]

Friday, January 20, 2012

Musical interlude

Yes, some of us will eagerly await the dance mix. But the original is well worth a listen too.

Garfunkel and Oates with Weird Al Yankovic - Save the Rich

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Environics' polling on inequality shows over 80% of Canadians wanting to see governments reduce the disparity between the rich and the poor - even as the current federal government moves as far as possible in the opposite direction:
More than eight in 10 Canadians suggested their governments have a responsibility to do something to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the rest of Canadians.

When asked whose job it is to address income disparities, a clear majority agreed strongly (52 per cent) or somewhat (30 per cent) that governments should actively find ways to shrink the gap.
- Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias checks the evidence rather than taking corporatist dogma for granted, and finds that capital gains tax levels look to have little if any effect on actual investment:
Germany started charging capital-gains tax in 2009 and implemented a 25 percent rate on new investments. This seems to have changed nothing at all...

My bottom line is that while I'm not generally a deficit hawk, cutting the capital-gains tax rate without any budget offsets, as the Bush administration did in 2003, is incredibly irresponsible. Capital-gains tax cuts are extremely regressive, so if you really are a big believer in the growth-sparking impact of lower rates, the reasonable thing to do is offset the budgetary impact of the cut with a big progressive hike in ordinary income tax rates. If you're not willing to do that, then you're really just offering rich people a giveaway. Incurring the massive direct dissavings involved in a deficit-financed tax cut in exchange for some very-possibly-not-there incentive effect is crazy.
- And speaking of free money for those who don't need it: yes, the Cons are still planning to funnel an extra billion dollars per year in health-care funding toward Alberta at the expense of other provinces which need it more. And there's absolutely no way the change should be allowed to happen without some serious outcry from the regions that stand to lose out.

- Jennifer Ditchburn points out that the Cons have turned their usual smear tactics toward environmentalists and premiers, while Tim Naumetz reports on the attack ad launched by their "non-partisan" alter ego against Bob Rae.

- Finally, Dan Gardner points out the concept of fundamental attribution error as a reason to take a look at how international relations look from Iran's side.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Last night's Toronto leadership forum has received plenty of attention, including media coverage as well as personal takes from Ian Welsh and Progressive Proselytizing. Subject to the below my own take on the candidates didn't change much from what I saw in December's debate, but a few points do seem worth noting: Niki Ashton wasn't quite the standout she was in the first official debate; Nathan Cullen continues to impress in a comparative environment except when he's trying to pitch his electoral co-operation plan; Paul Dewar's French remains a major question mark; and Romeo Saganash was certainly more energetic in English than in the first official debate, but still had some issues with pacing and (which again aren't a problem for him in French).

So what were the candidates up to over the last few days?

- In what I can only take as a response to the comment about his lack of endorsements in my last candidate rankings, Cullen unveiled the support of Alex Atamanenko and Fin Donnelly. I now suggest that Brian Topp perform a soft-shoe routine to prove his versatility in entertaining audiences.

- Dewar won several more endorsements, including three more Manitoba MLAs as well a former mayor and MPP in Toronto.

- Thomas Mulcair unveiled endorsements from a former MP and MPP in Northern Ontario.

- Peggy Nash released a green cities and jobs plan. And particularly noteworthy after the last few years is her proposal to set up an inventory of pre-approved infrastructure projects which could be started immediately when stimulus is needed - which would nicely avoid the obviously ludicrous focus on shovel-readiness over long-term value in the Cons' stimulus program.

- Saganash earned some positive press in a visit to Waterloo.

- And Topp unveiled new endorsements ranging from the cheeky to the more conventional.

- Finally, on the commentary side, Malcolm offered up his personal candidate rankings. Joanna Smith assembled her own roundup of policy proposals so far. And John Ivison's placement of Mulcair in the race's pole position may not be much of a surprise, but his inclusion of Dewar in an eventual camp alongside Mulcair and Nathan Cullen is a bit more interesting.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- I'd planned to post on the sheer arbitrariness of the Cons' insistence on eliminating a regulation for any new one they implement. But Erin gets there first:
At best, this rule is a gimmick. At worst, it will delay or prevent the implementation of needed public-interest regulation.

The issue is not, of course, the sheer number of regulations. It obviously makes sense to review existing and proposed regulations. But an honest review should be open to the possibility that more regulations are warranted, if that is what the evidence indicates.

The One-for-One Rule will create perverse incentives for federal regulators. They will maintain and husband unnecessary regulations so that they have something to remove when they need to introduce new regulations.
- Frances Russell somewhat underestimates the exact number of citizenship types being created by the Cons by not taking into account the non-voting and employment-privileged/above-the-law versions. But she's absolutely right to be concerned about the fragmentation of Canada.

- So who had "quick flip to a media conglomerate" in the pool of possible outcomes after SCN was sold off for a fraction of its value?

- Finally, Murray Dobbin asks us to visualize the first giant oil spill of the coast of northern B.C. - and rightly questions how any government interested in the good of anybody other than oil barons could be as determined to see that day come as the Harper Cons have been.

New column day

Here, on how the rewriting of Rob Ford's budget by Toronto's City Council should serve as a reminder that legislators at all levels of government can do more than merely rubber-stamp the whims of the executive.

For further reading, see the Star's report on the Toronto budget, and compare to the outcome of the council budget discussion seen in Regina last month.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Seth Klein somewhat jokingly offers up 10 reasons for upper-class tax increases. But particularly paired with the Cons' fixation with tax-free savings accounts to further hand free money to the rich, this part looks like it's worth some further focus:
#4: The maximum RRSP deduction for 2011 is a whopping $22,450.

That’s the ceiling for an annual contribution (for which people receive an extremely generous tax deduction — comes right off one’s taxable income) and does not include any unused room from previous years. Who the hell has $22K in extra income to tuck into this highly publicly-subsidized savings plan? A minimum-wage earner working full-time all year would have an entire annual income of only $19,798. The RRSP is one of the most expensive and inequitable social programs in Canada. The program costs the public treasury about $10 billion a year in foregone revenues. Yet, according to the CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget, while more than two-thirds of those making over $100,000 a year contribute to RRSPs, less than a quarter of those making less than $50,000 find themselves able to contribute.
- Donald Gutstein points out the inevitable consequences of the Cons' corporations-first economic policy:
Is Stephen Harper's goal for Canada the United States of today?

That would mean a nation in which somewhere between a half and a third of its citizens have fallen into poverty or are hovering just above, in low income. This according to latest data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, 400 Americans are worth more than $1 billion.

And the divide will likely worsen, as Congress and Republican-controlled state legislatures continue slashing programs and benefits, firing workers, and further weakening health, safety and environmental protections to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, if that is even possible.
(At a Fraser Institute lunch, Peter Van Loan) reminded his audience of the "fierce debates about North American free trade and the voices from the fringe telling us that it would somehow erode our sovereignty." Van Loan declared that "we need to continue building a broad base of support for the importance of a competitive, globally engaged Canadian economy of the future." He ended with an invitation: "So let's work together to continue convincing Canadians... of the importance of economic freedom."

And as Canada's standing on the economic freedom index rises, so do the number of billionaires and the ranks of the poor and struggling.
- Dan Gardner discusses the Libs' identity crisis:
The Liberals had a core identity once: “The party that governs.”

There was no fixed ideological content. There didn’t need to be. Political beliefs came and went but the Liberals were always in the centre, espousing the conventional wisdom of the day, and governing the country. “The Liberal party should be understood not as a centre-left party,” Tom Flanagan and a certain Stephen Harper wrote in 1996. “Rather, it is a true centre party. ... It avoids definite ideological commitments and brings together people simply interested in exercising power and dispensing patronage.” That last bit is too harsh. But generally, Flanagan and Harper were right.

So what happens when “the party that governs” no longer governs? It no longer has an identity.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae frankly acknowledges that he hears this all the time. But he insists there is a Liberal identity.

“We are who we are,” he declared in a speech to the Liberal caucus last week. Rae was passionate. The speech was masterful. But “we are who we are” comes uncomfortably close to Popeye’s “I yam what I yam,” and is about as meaningful.
- And TC Norris notes that Libs pointing to past periods when they held Official Opposition status are missing the real significance of their current position - since the "default alternative" status that's normally worked to the party's advantage no longer applies.

- Finally, Paul Hanley suggests that an obsession with developing the tar sands at maximum speed reflects "uneconomic growth".

On constructive alternatives

Yes, plenty of key websites will be going dark today - and for good reason based on the U.S. legislation being protested.

But today also marks one month from the February 18 membership deadline in the NDP's leadership race. So today may be a good time to sign up to elect the leader of Canada's Official Opposition - and to encourage others who recognize the dangers of regressive technology policy to do the same.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats taking over furniture.

Repetition for effect

Since Aaron Wherry has rightly connected the NDP's response to Lise St-Denis' floor-crossing to its efforts to engage constituents on other issues, I may as well offer a similar bit of reiteration. So here's what I had to say last time it was noted that the NDP was working on connecting voters to MPs whose choices they oppose:
(T)he NDP's work to get constituents involved in letting the Cons know what they think looks like a rather significant break from the top-down messaging we're accustomed to seeing from most parties...

Of course, the effect of the call is also to let the Cons know about an unhappy constituent while setting up a conversation between a rival party and an interested voter. But the NDP's choice to treat a direct message to the Cons as a plus in terms of influence rather than a minus in terms of keeping one's cards close to the vest looks to offer an important signal that the new Official Opposition is working on changing the game rather than playing by Harper's rules of message control and secrecy.
And needless to say, a chorus of Libs taking the opportunity to shriek "dirty tricks!" about the idea of voters being heard says much more about their continued expectation of never having to answer to the public than it does about the NDP's effort to change that operating assumption.

Update: Dr. Dawg has more.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Alex Himelfarb nicely summarizes the price of austerity:
Let me be clear that I share in the broad consensus that we must be fiscally prudent. But let’s pause on what fiscal prudence really means: It means spending wisely, reducing waste, collecting sufficient taxes to pay for the public goods and services we want, and keeping debt coming down, at least during reasonably good times.
Today’s austerity, however, is not primarily about fiscal prudence. If it were it wouldn’t be proceeding in tandem with large, unaffordable and unnecessary tax cuts for the most affluent among us. These tax cuts make deeper program cuts inevitable.

The persistent emphasis on low taxes and cuts to services and public goods looks more like ideology masquerading as fiscal common sense. In this light, austerity seems rather to be about cutting back the state and rolling out the free market agenda. Less public, more private; less collective, more individual. It is, in other words, the fulfillment of the neoliberal counter-revolution rather than an economic plan for the future.
I, for one, would propose that inequality, not austerity, be the defining issue for us now. Income inequality is growing fast in Canada and even the traditional deniers are coming on board. The gap is simply too big, the risks too high to ignore. Indeed, extreme inequality will continue to grow in an agenda dominated by austerity and tax cuts, an agenda that reduces our capacity for mutual aid and for collective solutions to our major challenges – our low productivity, climate change and environmental deterioration, and declining political participation.

Of course we ought to be fiscally prudent and that means asking of each cut and each expenditure, including every tax cut: will this help reduce inequality or will it make things worse?

Let’s make inequality in all of its manifestations – child poverty, the reemergence of elderly poverty, the squeeze on working Canadians and students, and the excessive incomes at the top – a national priority.
- Paul Waldie documents the results of the Cons' insistence on demolishing the single-desk Wheat Board with no consideration of the resulting consequences. And predictably, the outcome looks to be plenty of damage and confusion rather than any of the supposed benefits the Cons have been claiming.

- Meanwhile, the Cons are also working on making Canada's food supply less safe. And don't take my word for it: here's what their own spinners said in adding the jobs the Cons are now cutting:
The new investments being announced today will improve the Government's ability to prevent, detect and respond to future foodborne illness outbreaks. Among other improvements, the Government will:
-hire 166 new food safety staff with 70 focusing on ready-to-eat-meat facilities...
So if the hirings were an improvement to the "ability to prevent, detect and respond to future foodborne illness outbreaks", then surely the firings have to be the opposite. Right?

- Frances Woolley posts about the effect of moral hazards in allocating health care resources. But while the principle is worth discussing, I have to seriously question how much of a problem is demonstrated when the sole example of actual gratuitous consumption of health care comes from Homer Simpson.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig criticizes the Cons' preference for foreign capital over Canadian workers:
Ironically, the Harper government has complained forcefully about “foreign” interference from outside environmentalists protesting a proposed pipeline across the Rockies. But when it comes to foreign companies stripping Canadian workers of half their wages and then moving operations out of the country, the government hasn’t a negative word to say.

Harper is of course staunchly pro-capitalist, and has aggressively lowered corporate tax rates, while refusing to link lower taxes to investment or job creation.

But his anti-union stance, evident in disputes at Air Canada and the post office last summer, has been particularly provocative. He seems determined to turn Canada into an anti-union paradise — prompting the Ontario Federation of Labour to call for a mass rally at the Caterpillar plant in London this Saturday.

As the PM gears up for his coming battle against federal public sector unions, he will no doubt draw inspiration from Mitt Romney’s stirring words: “I like to be able to fire people who provide services.”

Leadership 2012 Roundup

No, I won't claim to have entirely comprehensive coverage of the NDP's leadership race. But I do try to catch the developments that strike me as significant for each candidate and the race as a let's take a look at what's new over the past few days.

To start off with, the Laurier–Sainte-Marie debate on Sunday received one major media story as well as being live-tweeted by Alice and Justin among others. The main storylines look to have been another strong performance by Nathan Cullen and a call by Thomas Mulcair to emphasize asymmetric federalism - but I'll reserve judgment until I have a chance to watch the debate for myself, particularly since the in-debate commentary included conflicting takes on a couple of key points.


- Niki Ashton made a push for peace, highlighting the Harper Cons' attacks on Islam in particular being ill-advised. But more broadly, the use of military force may actually make for an issue to watch if the leadership contenders are pressed as to when they'd see fit to use Canada's armed forces to meet foreign policy goals.

- Paul Dewar expanded on the "Next 70" theme introduced last week while earning a supportive column from Peter Thurley.

- Mulcair became the first candidate to receive the full-on Sun Media treatment - though we can expect that there's plenty more where that came from. (And for the record, here's my take from last time the citizenship question came up.)

- Peggy Nash answered questions from CBC viewers, including one on what the NDP can do for western Canada.

- And finally, Romeo Saganash's Ontario tour featured both a new blog post on how the Cons value corporate profits over taking care of people, and some positive press from the Star.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On new challenges

Every so often, it seems to be necessary to remind the pundit class that there isn't a reset button that will magically restore Canadian politics to where they were three or four election cycles ago. So let's take a look at the theory that the Bloc should be the favourite to re-emerge as the main force in Quebec federal politics.

During the election campaign, I discussed how the Bloc ended up where they were for the past two decades. But a quick refresher may be in order.

As of 1993, the three major federal parties had essentially lashed themselves together on the major issue discussed in the previous term of office. And that gave the Bloc a chance to emerge by running against effectively the entire Canadian establishment.

Once the 1995 referendum was in the rear-view mirror, however, the Bloc recognized that it would need to stand for more than sovereignty alone. And so it developed a strategy of running hard against the government of the day (which was always its strongest Quebec opponent) and serving as an opposition on behalf of Quebec alone.

That strategy was highly effective at stoking frustration against sitting governments. But in the last few election cycles, it proved somewhat vulnerable when competing opposition parties entered the picture: in 2006 the Cons did better than anticipated as the Bloc hammered away at Lib scandals, and in 2008 the Libs managed to gain ground as the Bloc launched its culture war against Stephen Harper.

And then there was 2011. For entirely rational reasons, both the Libs and Cons largely took a pass on trying for major growth in Quebec - leading the Bloc to think it might have a particularly easy election. But this time, the Bloc's focus on Harper proved all too successful, establishing a need for change on behalf of a party which couldn't plausibly offer it.

Naturally the Bloc tried to change course - first by running against the NDP, then by changing the subject back to sovereignty. But it nearly got wiped off the map despite those efforts, and has shown no sign of regaining any momentum.

But that isn't even the worst of the Bloc's problems. Instead, it's this: the strategies that worked for the Bloc in the past now figure to be entirely off the table.

No, the Bloc can't just run against the government of the day - since the NDP (and indeed the Libs) figures to benefit at least as much from dissatisfaction with the Cons.

What about a 1993-style assault on the federalist parties and system generally? Well, to get any traction, the Bloc will have to put together a narrative that involves agreement or non-differentiation between the Cons, NDP and Libs on issues controversial enough to get the Quebec public riled up. And while anything can happen, it's hard to see how that scenario is about to develop with the Cons looking to impose their will through a majority government, the NDP looking to distinguish itself as the opposition and the Libs looking for unexplored terrain of their own.

In effect, the Bloc has always succeeded by overwhelming a single national opponent which bears the burden of government in a one-province, one-front battle. But there's no way they're avoiding a multi-front challenge in 2015 - and starting from a tenth of their former caucus size and a dwindling membership will only make that challenge all the more difficult.

Again, a lot can change in four years, and I wouldn't rule the Bloc out by any means. But in ranking the threats to the NDP's current Quebec seats, I'd be hesitant to rank them any higher than second (behind a Con government using the spoils of power to pursue new target groups) - and would think it's at least as likely that the Bloc will give up the ghost entirely as that it'll hold the largest Quebec caucus after 2015.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Roy Romanow, Linda Silas and Steven Lewis make the case for significant federal involvement in shaping health policy in Canada:
Provinces can’t transform their systems on their own regardless of how much money they spend. The politics of health care are simply too fraught, and the vested interests too powerful, to effect large-scale change. Even worse, the jurisdictions routinely engage in unconstructive bidding wars for personnel and are whipsawed by vendors, such as pharmaceutical companies, that exploit their isolation and vulnerabilities. Ottawa should play a major role in creating a more collegial and co-operative federation that overcomes obstacles to reform and bargains more effectively in the public interest.
Ottawa must proudly stand up for single-payer, not-for-profit health care and ensure that its financial contributions reinforce this commitment across the country.
Several provinces have turned a blind eye to blatant violations of the Canada Health Act, and Ottawa has stood by in indifference. The country needs to know where its government stands on the basic character and values of medicare.
And the general public agrees in overwhelming numbers: indeed, I'm not sure I can recall any poll question receiving the 97% support given to the idea that "the federal government's responsibility for the Canada Health Act is important". Which makes it all the more maddening that it's the other 3 per cent who are in charge.

- Dan Leger remembers when Stephen Harper promised open and accountable government.

- Paul Krugman points out that the 0.1% benefitting from trickle-down politics is already a remarkably homogeneous group - and likely getting more so due to decreased social mobility linked to increasing inequality.

- Sure, it may be piling on at this point. But Sixth Estate checks Canada's lobbying records and finds that if the Cons actually cared about limiting the influence of foreign wealth, they'd be a lot more concerned about the large amount of lobbying originating from foreign corporations.

- Finally, Paul Wells compares the Libs' convention to a "controlled flight into terrain":
I keep running into Liberals this weekend who are delighted by the “turnout” and the “energy” of their event, as though those were signs of something. I don’t have the heart to remind them they’re in a convention centre, which makes millions of dollars off organizations that fill it year-round with turnout and energy. Upcoming events at this same venue include the Autoshow, the NHL Fan Fair, the Helicopter Association of Canada’s 16th Annual Conference and Trade Show, and Sexapalooza. None of them is going to lead the next government either.

What wins elections is ideas large numbers of Canadians find attractive, ideally large numbers of Canadians who didn’t vote for your party the last six or eight times you asked. At a time of widespread economic uncertainty approaching mass panic, the ideas likeliest to intrigue Canadians are the ones closest to their own preoccupations about money, family and community. No, that’s not me swallowing the Harper koolaid: it’s a pretty good summary of the contrast Jean Chrétien drew with the Mulroney Conservatives when he ran his denim-vs.-Gucci campaign in 1993.

I ran into two friends at the convention who asked me, in the tone of the Liberal times, whether Canada should abolish the monarchy. I pointed out that most Canadians could not possibly care less. (As a kind of bonus, the ones who do care are divided in surprising ways.) Meanwhile, on the convention’s first day, NDP leadership candidate Peggy Nash unveiled an innovation platform that was uneven, but superior in important ways to anything any Liberal has produced in a half decade. The NDP leadership candidates are unanimous in supporting some form of carbon pricing. The Liberals, who bet all their marbles on carbon pricing only four years ago, are not considering any resolution on the question this weekend. But they’re all over the pot legalization debate that holds the nation in the grip of apathy.
Students of flight safety are familiar with the terrifying, paradoxical notion of “controlled flight into terrain.” That’s when a well-functioning aircraft, with a conscious and alert flight crew, somehow flies into a mountain or the sea or a cornfield before anyone on board notices what is happening. The flight crew isn’t dead when this happens, or not until it does. They would be very upset if a prominent author tried to tell them they were dead. And in most cases they are working hard, in good spirits, until the last disaster happens. It’s just that they are distracted or oblivious, so none of their hard work does anything to change their course.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 17, 2011

Thursday, November 17 saw a Liberal opposition day turned into a discussion about the sad state of water supplies to Canada's First Nations. But while all parties were able to support the motion, there was plenty of room for contrast as to who was most interested in dealing with the desperate need for improvement.

The Big Issue

Bob Rae's motion ended up being debated and agreed to in the following form (following an amendment to substitute "forthwith" for the oddly-delayed "no later than spring 2012":
That the House call on the Government of Canada to address on an urgent basis the needs of those First Nations communities whose members have no access to clean, running water in their homes; that action to address this disparity begin forthwith; and that the House further recognize that the absence of this basic requirement represents a continuing affront to our sense of justice and fairness as Canadians.
Charlie Angus noted the gap between stringent water standards off reserve and nonexistent ones for First Nations, and lamented the apparent view of some that First Nations citizens could be treated as non-entities. Kevin Lamoureux expanded on the latter point by noting the need to set expectations for standards of living that should be available to all citizens, while Jinny Sims more concisely questioned Greg Rickford about the need to recognize and act on a right to water and Elizabeth May decried third-world conditions in Canada. John Duncan responded to repeated musings about the need for federal cooperation with the Manitoba NDP government's desire for a cooperative program by saying he'd be more than willing to participate in one, and acknowledged the reasonableness of Angus' request to ensure that a single fire didn't leave 90 of Attawapiskat's residents (currently sharing a trailer) literally out in the cold. But Jonathan Tremblay rightly noted that anything to end the hardships facing First Nations looks to be at the bottom of the Cons' list of priorities.

Meanwhile, having introduced a motion and made an initial speech which in no way mentioned First Nations self-governance, Rae questioned the lack of discussion of that side of the issue; presumably he was then relieved by Linda Duncan's thorough review of the point. Similarly, Jonathan Genest-Jourdain presented a strong analysis of the disconnect between the community values of First Nations and Canada's interest-based political system. Duncan noted that the Cons had (however reluctantly) committed to end all forms of discrimination against aboriginal Canadians through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe's question about how matters had gotten worse in the last five years was met with a disturbing response from David Wilks that the Cons plan to continue down their current road.


Meanwhile, the one piece of legislation debated on the day was Blake Richards' bill to create a separate offence for wearing a mask or disguise while participating in a riot or illegal assembly. Richards made clear that his purpose was to force people participating in any mass events to make their identities known:
What if there were a measure designed to strip away anonymity from criminals during such disturbances? What if the very act of wearing a disguise in a riot became in and of itself an offence? What if police had the means to order those who were concealing their identities in a riot to remove their disguises or risk detainment or arrest? That would change the stakes dramatically.

People would then have a very clear choice in front of them. They could choose to remove their disguise, show their face and be identified and held accountable for their criminal actions, or they could choose not to and risk arrest for the offence of wearing a mask in a riot.
Charmaine Bord replied by pointing out that the bill is redundant when it comes to anybody who actually commits a crime (such that the offence applies only to spectators or others merely at the scene of an assembly), and that any legislator interested in civil liberties should be concerned about imposing additional obligations that don't serve a useful purpose. Sean Casey spoke more generally about the Cons' obsession with stoking public fear. And Jack Harris suggested that the Cons actually get acquainted with the Criminal Code before weighing it down with more useless amendments - though Randy Hoback's heckle made it clear that at least some Cons won't be reading anything other than their talking points anytime soon.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel and Wayne Marston called on the Cons to stop insisting that Canadians play retirement roulette with private retirement funds. Jamie Nicholls took a look back at one of his predecessors as MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Louis-René Beaudoin - whose political career ended over a single instance of the type of stifled debate that's become commonplace under the Harper Cons. Duncan called for additional parental leave for parents of premature infants. Eve Peclet listed a few of the Con cabinet ministers still sitting on money wrongly paid to them as a result of Conadscam. Wayne Easter and Malcolm Allen both criticized the Cons' move to take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the hands of farmers to support their new, undemocratic, non-single-desk Wheat Board. Angus again tested whether the Cons are capable of shame when it comes to Dean Del Mastro's attacks on judicial independence, and again James Moore confirmed otherwise. Linda Duncan asked whether the privacy rights of an advocate for aboriginal children had been violated repeatedly by federal officials. Andrew Scheer ruled on a point of order related to the Cons' proud invocation of an individual's donations to the Liberals as disqualifying any criticism of the government, concluding with this reminder:
It is these wise cautionary remarks that have prompted me to use this occasion to remind all hon. members to use great care when referring to or singling out an individual who does not have a voice here in this House and to avoid circumstances when, by such reference, an individual could have his or her reputation damaged without having the opportunity to respond.
And finally, Tarek Brahmi questioned the Cons about consumer debt, only to be told by Shelly Glover that free money for people with $10,000 per year to sock away should be plenty of comfort for Canadians drowning in debt.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - January 15, 2012

At the outset of this week's rankings, I'll offer a reminder that the below is intended to reflect my analysis as to how likely any given candidate is to win the NDP's leadership race, rather than my own personal ballot or any other endorsement of one candidate over another. And yes, the reasons for that disclaimer will soon become apparent.

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

To the extent Mulcair was once seen as pulling away from the field, that impression looks to have evaporated. But relatively little news is good news for a favourite - and Mulcair has at worst lived up to expectations since emerging as the front-runner.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

No, her pot-luck event last weekend didn't radically transform the race. But Nash too has presented a solid mix of policy proposals and endorsements while avoiding any damage based on the increased scrutiny that comes with a top-tier position. And while I don't entirely buy the theory that she would be the favourite to win if a vote were held today, she'd definitely have a fighting chance.

3. Paul Dewar (4)

Dewar made what figures to be his big move in the race this week, unveiling the endorsements of Linda Duncan and Charlie Angus. And the effect is to give him what may be the most impressive geographic footprint of any candidate in the race at the moment: Duncan and Angus are the party's leading figures from urban Alberta and rural Ontario respectively, and if they can add a substantial amount of their regional support to Dewar's existing base in B.C., Manitoba and urban Ontario then Dewar may be able to find his way onto the final ballot.

4. Brian Topp (3)

I attended Topp's Regina meet-and-greet this week, making for the main piece of personal observation factored into this week's rankings. And contrary to what the drop would suggest for those who didn't read the disclaimer at the beginning of this post, Topp's strong admonition to ensure that an NDP government focuses on a more equal Canada and strategic acumen as to how to get there likely pushed him up among my own personal preferences.

But the problem for Topp is that it's not clear he's reaching as many members as he needs to. The turnout for the meet-and-greet was respectable in pure numbers, but was also about as elderly and MLA-heavy as any I've seen at an NDP event in quite some time. And while there may be some excuse in the fact that Niki Ashton was holding an event the same evening, it can't be a good sign for Topp's campaign if his insider appeal is failing to extend far beyond his pool of former colleagues.

5. Niki Ashton (5)

By all accounts Ashton had another successful Saskatchewan swing this week. But the big question will be whether she can add some additional support from Ontario and Quebec to what's looking like a very west-heavy campaign.

6. Romeo Saganash (6)

His campaign has still been on the quiet side, but Saganash is making the rounds in Ontario - which should at least help make sure he has some path available for an increasingly steep climb.

7. Nathan Cullen (7)

While the main issue for Cullen is still the question of whether members will accept his plan for electoral cooperation, Dewar's endorsements this week also raise the question of whether Cullen has much support from outside British Columbia to highlight. And the problems may be related, since a perception that nobody else dares to sign on to the cooperation plan may well make it more of a liability than it might have been otherwise.

8. Martin Singh (8)

There against doesn't seem to be much to report from Singh's campaign this week - and while we can never rule out some progress under the radar, that doesn't look like a great sign for the candidate with the most to prove.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne juxtaposes massive profits and public concessions for Caterpillar and Rio Tinto against their attacks on Canadian workers:
(T)he demands by ElectroMotive, a subsidiary of equipment giant Caterpillar, are about as outrageous as they get, including a 50 per cent cut in pay.

These demands are coming at the same time as the corporation's revenues are projected to be about $44 billion for 2011, including billions in profits.

Certainly the CEO of Caterpillar is not hurting for a buck. And neither is the retiring boss.

In 2010, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman's compensation totaled about $10.4 million, according to an Associated Press review. Jim Owens, his predecessor, raked in $22.5 million in 2010 because of an extremely generous stock grant of about $16 million.
In Quebec, Rio Tinto (one of the world's largest mining corporations) locked out about 800 Alcan smelter workers. The corporation is also demanding major concessions, including cuts in pensions from its workforce.

The chief executive at Rio Tinto earned nearly $9 million in 2010, a 32 per cent pay raise over the previous year. That year, the company had profits of over $14 billion.
It's bad enough that workers are expected to pay the price of the financial crisis and subsequent recession - a recession they didn't cause. It's bad enough that in tough economic times workers are told to hold the line.

But now, even in the face of stunning corporate profits, even in the face of incredible corporate cash hoarding, even in the face of obscene CEO pay and billions in corporate tax cuts and credits, the living standards of workers are still under attack.

Is it any wonder these workers are angry? Make no mistake, eventually this kind of lewd corporate gluttony and the arrogant indifference of governments to it will come home to roost. It is only a matter of time.
- Kathryn May reports on the Cons' move to shutter public language training for civil servants. But it's worth taking a closer look at what's being done:
The federal government is getting out of the business of providing language training to its employees, throwing 179 teachers and instructors across Canada out of work.

The move - which started with downsizing in the 1990s, and intensified after a 2006 Treasury Board decision - marks the first time in decades that the government won't be directly offering French and English training to public servants to meet the language requirements of their jobs.
Until now, departments have had the option of using private schools or the Canada School of the Public Service, which charged fees, to train their workers.
In other words, departments have previously had a choice whether to use private or public training providers based on which actually provides better value for money. And the Cons have decided instead to make sure that the training money flows into the private sector to facilitate corporate profiteering - even where it wouldn't have been the better option if departments had a choice.

- But don't worry: public servants in Con ridings may yet stand a chance.

- Paul Krugman highlights the growing inequality which corporatists on both sides of the U.S. border want to avoid discussing.

- Buckley Belanger raises concerns that an industry-monitored environmental code may lead to serious damage without Saskatchewan's government having a clue what's going on.

- Finally, La Presse reports on the petition demanding that Lise St-Denis step down and face a by-election after her defection to the Libs. But in fairness, the new petition has a ways to go before matching the last similar effort.