Saturday, February 18, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 12, 2011

Monday, December 12 saw two main topics of debate. But perhaps most striking was the introduction of the Cons' newest tactic to dictate the terms of discussion in the House of Commons.

The Big Issue

Much of the day's discussion focused on the Cons' copyright bill. And Paul Calandra started proceedings by moving that question be put in order to prevent any amendments to the legislation at the last stage where the bill could be amended in substance; naturally Scott Simms among other lamented the fact that the Cons had started using yet another means to shut down discussion of any alternatives.

Calandra also grandstanded about how our corporate overlords would never be anything less than benevolent in deciding what rights consumers should hold, only to be met with Charlie Angus' example of Sony CDs containing spyware (which the Cons want to give precedence over any consumer rights). Jean Rousseau discussed the history of fair dealing. Philip Toone noted that the Cons' scheme could only be explained as an example of trickle-down theory run amok, while Andrew Cash highlighted the Cons' propensity for listening only to corporate interests. Cash then criticized the destruction of existing revenue streams for artists and noted that blanket licenses - unlike an undue focus on digital locks - would actually allow for more income for creators. Angus commented on the value of the digital commons which the Cons are attempting to make subject to corporate interests. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet and Matthew Dube discussed the value of the course notes the Cons want to make subject to involuntary self-destruction. And with the Cons unwilling to debate or answer questions about their own bill, Kevin Lamoureux and Jose Nunez Melo could only muse as to how nice it would be to get some assurance that consumers won't find that they've bought much less than they've bargained for due to digital locks.

No Such Thing as a Free Trade Agreement

The other bill debated was legislation on a free trade agreement with Panama - with Lisa Raitt likewise moving that the question be put to prevent the opposition from being able to offer any amendments to the bill as foisted on the country. Mathieu Ravignat, Wayne Easter, Robert Chisholm and Brian Masse pointed out Panama's status as a tax haven and money-laundering centre. Masse reasonably suggested that we shouldn't be seeking trade deals that would force Canada to try to compete with child labour. Elizabeth May pointed out some of the (possibly) unintended consequences of NAFTA in limiting governmental action. John McKay pointed to the Cons' consistent pattern of proclaiming themselves "surprised and disappointed" at international events that would have been known to anybody paying the slightest bit of attention. Simms asked whether Panama was similarly eager to avoid debate on the treaty, with Raitt's answer serving only to confirm that the Cons' steps to limit debate have nothing to do with any timeline to implement the treaty. And in a question that particularly resonates this weekend, Chisholm wondered whether we should actually know what's in a treaty and its implementing legislation before ramming them through.

Choose Your Side

As an added bonus, the House of Commons voted on the Cons' seat redistribution bill and related motions. And while the Libs lined up with the Cons to provide a larger cushion than usual for the complete lack of change to the government's wording, it's noteworthy that Elizabeth May joined the Bloc in support of the NDP's motions.

In Brief

Joy Smith's bill on human trafficking received all-party agreement at second reading. Pat Martin warmed the crowd up for question period by pointing to Bruce Carson's sordid history as a Con adviser and beneficiary. Nycole Turmel and Peter Julian questioned the Cons on their suppression of economic and trade data. Matthew Kellway helpfully provided Julian Fantino with his talking points on F-35s after having heard them a few dozen times already; Fantino apparently didn't have enough self-control to avoid sticking with them even after being rightly mocked in advance. Helene Laverdiere pointed out the Cons' continued secrecy about the terms of a new Afghan transfer agreement. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe questioned why the Cons have handed billions of free dollars to banks rather than helping the many Canadians living in poverty. May asked whether Parliament would at least have the chance to debate withdrawal from Kyoto that it had in acceding to the treaty in the first place. Mylene Freeman commented on a committee report on violence against aboriginal women by noting that the Cons had refused to either acknowledge the problem or take responsibility for any solutions. And in adjournment questions Irene Mathyssen followed up on the Cons' mismanagement of Service Canada which has led to the point where most callers can't even get through to a machine, while Jean Crowder asked whether the Cons will support the NDP's bill for a national anti-poverty strategy if they can't be bothered to deal with the problem of their own volition.

A friendly reminder

Some people who should know better are suggesting that universal media condemnation (as opposed to public involvement on social media) should be seen as the main factor in getting the Cons to climb back down on arbitrary online surveillance. So let's take a ride in the wayback machine.

It wasn't long ago that the Cons sprung a nasty surprise on the country on another issue, and were met with similarly strong and unanimous criticism from the media in response. Does anybody remember how willing they were to change course based on editorial ire in the absence of the same level of public outcry?

Of course, the above shouldn't be taken to suggest all social media campaigns are equally desirable or effective - and I'd think the brilliant #tellviceverything hashtag did far more to move the needle than the more controversial @vikileaks account. But the last thing we can afford is for the public to think it's best off staying out of the way and leaving criticism of the Cons to the opinion pages alone.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- No, it isn't much surprise that poll respondents may think we've moved to the right as a country: after all, Con propaganda (largely echoed by the media) has been declaring that for years. But as Warren Kinsella notes, that perception bears no resemblance whatsoever to Canadians' opinions about actual issues.

- Thomas Walkom points out the glaring gap between what Don Drummond rightly suggested should be done in allocating, and what his recommendations would actually do:
Don Drummond, Ontario’s adviser on everything, says the harsh government spending cuts he wants must be seen as fair to succeed — they must hit everyone.

In fact, they almost certainly won’t. The well-off will fare better than the poor and middle class. Public sector employees will be hit harder than those in the private sector.

Groups with political clout — such as the multinational pharmaceutical firms that charge prices Drummond deems too high — are sure to successfully resist proposals that they share the pain. They’ve done so before.
That the rich will fare best under Drummond is true by definition.

The well-to-do depend less on government programs than the poor and middle class. That is a fact. Drummond’s call for government to roll back the Ontario Child Benefit will hurt poor families who receive the subsidy. It will not affect the rich who do not.

Nor are the wealthy being asked to chip in through higher progressive taxes. Drummond did advocate that some taxes, including those on property and gasoline, be hiked. He even wants a special tax (he calls it a user fee) levied on rural parents who bus their children to school.

But these kinds of regressive taxes hit the poor and middle class proportionally harder than the rich. A surtax on high-income earners could correct that bias. But Premier Dalton McGuinty specifically told Drummond to stay away from such remedies.
- pogge wonders how ministers with no clue what's in the bills they're demagoguing about fit into the Mostly Competent Government promised of the Cons. And Dr. Dawg anticipates what's coming next on the legislative front.

- Finally, Stephen Maher and Don Martin are among the latest commentators to criticize the Cons' obsession with online surveillance. And the Ottawa Citizen notes that at least some parts of the Cons' bill - though not the most galling ones - can be traced directly to legislation introduced by the Martin Libs.

A cooperative forecast

Nathan Cullen's plan for a pre-election accord between the NDP, Libs and Greens is certainly receiving loads of attention. Leadnow and Avaaz are encouraging members to join the NDP to support it (raising for me the question of how a large number of instant NDP members would allocate their down-ballot support if Cullen drops off the ballot). And Catch 22 is trying to make the case for pre-election cooperation as compared to other options in toppling the Harper Cons, while Malcolm calculates the remote odds of a such a strategy making a difference in actual electoral outcomes based on 2011 voting patterns.

But then, I'm not sure hindsight is the best way to evaluate what a cooperation plan would actually do. Instead, let's consider what would happen in the lead up to 2015 if Cullen were to win the NDP's leadership based on his plan.

To start with, as I've pointed out before, the goal of cooperation is mostly moot if the other main party needed to make the scheme work isn't committed to participating. And that means for a year after the NDP's leadership campaign, the most important question as to the primary plan of the leader of the Official Opposition would be based on the impending result of another party's leadership race - encouraging the media to keep focusing on the Libs for that year, while leaving the NDP's grassroots in limbo out of uncertainty as to how to allocate its resources.

So what would happen based on the results of the Libs' leadership race? Well, if they chose a candidate who supported Cullen's plan, then the next step would be for riding associations on both sides to plan their strategies for a co-operation scheme. Each would have a choice between not participating and planning for a campaign as usual, or participating and having to ramp up for a nomination contest. And both parties would have to work internally and coordinate with each other at all times to set up an agreeable nomination schedule and ground rules - diverting plenty of resources which might otherwise be used setting up a winning message against the Cons.

The co-operation plan would then apply only in the ridings where both parties' grassroots membership preferred cooperation - which would be far from assured based on some of the backlash against Cullen's plan from both sides of the party divide. And then a nomination meeting would only serve to divide the parties once more before the final effort to put their vote shares together.

In other words, if Cullen's proposal works as planned, the result will be a wasted year for the NDP in building itself up in contrast against both the Cons and Libs. And that would be followed by a huge diversion of energy and effort from traditional or innovative political engagement, toward instead setting up and then trying to gain the greatest possible advantage within a one-time ad hoc structure.

So what if a Lib leader were to reject Cullen's plan? On the one hand, any failure is bound to take some wind out of the sails of a party, particularly to the extent the Libs would be seen as dictating what happens within the opposition despite their third-party status.

But at the same time, Cullen and the NDP would be able to make another pitch to voters that their efforts to cooperate have been rebuffed by a party which puts its own self-interest ahead of the goal of replacing the Harper government. And if the same groups which are supporting cooperation now recognized the Libs' refusal to participate as a fundamental barrier to replace the Cons and threw their support behind the NDP, then there's at least some chance that the end result could be a best-case scenario in ensuring that progressive Canadians coalesce within the NDP.

Which is to say that Cullen's proposal isn't without some upside. But the best-case scenario may well be the one in which the Libs reject it and allow Cullen to claim the moral high ground for the NDP. And if the Libs see that possibility too, then it's not out of the question that both parties would end up getting trapped in the plan without any particular grassroots enthusiasm for it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Musical interlude

JPL - We Move In Symmetry

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Susan Riley brilliantly slams the message that austerity is necessary for everybody but those who already have the most:
Is anyone else getting tired of being lectured about austerity by wealthy consultants in expensive suits who charge $1,500 a day for their advice and have comfortable government pensions, besides?

And do we really need another warning about saving for old age - instead of frittering away money on escalating tuition for our children; or scrambling to compensate for unexpected job loss, or medical expenses - from disapproving cabinet ministers with fat salaries and fatter pensions?

Notice how these apostles of austerity rarely want to impose sacrifices on their fellow HNW (highnet-worth) individuals in the drive to restore fiscal sanity. They talk about fairness, but there is always an excuse for not halting corporate tax cuts, for not eliminating costly, quirky tax credits for people who don't need them. And their zeal for slashing redundant public service jobs and frivolous spending always seems to exclude their pet projects. (The Office for Religious Freedom, anyone? Those problematic F-35s?)
Oddly, the federal government takes the opposite approach when it comes to Old Age Security: no saving is too small. It will soon propose moving the eligibility age from 65 to 67, phased in over time. Aside from hurting the most vulnerable seniors, experts say eventual savings, as a percentage of GDP, will be slight.

Maybe they should call their bill Restoring Senior Poverty.

Meanwhile, there is no talk of trimming other pension plans - especially the RRSP, but also the taxfree savings account - that benefit those with ample money to save. Fewer than one-third of Canadians contribute to RRSPs, and a tiny number make the maximum contribution of $22,000 a year. But, by some estimates, RRSP breaks for the richest Canadians cost the treasury $12 billion in 2010.

The issues differ for different levels of government and different parties hold power across the country. But the austerity refrain is the same: protect the rich, hit the middle class and leave the poor for later.
- It's a shame other commentators haven't put the two together yet. But could there be a better contrast for than NDP than that between the Cons dictating attacks on Old Age Security even as experts beg them to consult at least a bit, and the NDP's public engagement to discuss the effect of service cuts?

- Terry Milewski points out how Orwellian the Cons' online snooping bill is in providing for total surveillance of all online activity. And Dan Gardner makes it clear that Stephen Harper is at best a libertarian of convenience:
This week, the Conservative government introduced legislation which would create a vast system of warrantless Internet surveillance. Civil libertarians howled in protest.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told them they could either support the government's plan or side "with the child pornographers."

Many more people howled, including conservative newspaper columnists. A few Conservative MPs even dared to suggest that maybe the legislation wasn't entirely perfect and righteous in every way.

By the end of the week, Toews suggested that perhaps it might be possible to modestly amend the bill in unspecified ways - without aiding and abetting child pornographers.

As farce, this was amusing. As governance, it was appalling. But as an illustration of the thinking of the prime minister and his circle, it was invaluable.
One moment Stephen Harper is Ayn Rand. The next he's J. Edgar Hoover.

So how can we explain this? The prime minister could be suffering from some sort of personality disorder. But unless and until there's a diagnosis we'll have to go with something else.

It is this: Stephen Harper is interested in advancing certain political goals. Sometimes, a strong civil libertarian position helps do that. The long-form census, for example, generates the data that support social housing, employment equity, and other programs the prime minister doesn't like.

Taking the Randian position was a way of undermining those programs indirectly, and looking principled doing it.

But sometimes civil liberties get in the way of doing what the prime minister wants to do. So he goes all Hoover.
And that provides an obvious follow-up question which Harper shouldn't be able to escape: just what is it that he wants to do with all the surveillance information he gets about Canadians' online activities?

- Finally, Erin highlights that Don Drummond's slash-and-burn plan for Ontario is based on the assumption that interest rates will soar far beyond what anybody is currently predicting - even though fiscal hawks have been nothing but wrong in trying to put nonexistent inflation worries ahead of actual economic development.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New column day

Here, featuring an overview of the NDP's leadership race from a Saskatchewan perspective.

For further reading:
- The per capita membership numbers cited in the column are from Alice. And of course her general coverage of the leadership campaign is well worth a look.
- For those who haven't seen it yet, I discuss the recent polls in this post amidst the rest of my leadership blogging.
- And with the membership deadline fast approaching, the NDP's membership signup form is here.

Parliament in Review: December 9, 2011

Friday, December 9 saw the final day of debate at second reading on the Cons' seat allocation bill. And as usual, plenty of valid questions went entirely unanswered.

The Big Issue

Marc-Andre Morin rightly questioned the Cons' trumped-up sense of urgency in dealing with seat allocations while they do nothing but put off citizens' genuinely pressing concerns, while Denis Blanchette noted that any seat allocations would have to wait for updated census figures anyway. Linda Duncan worried (correctly) that the Cons would try to pair an increased number of MPs with cutbacks in resources for current elected representatives. Tarek Brahmi highlighted how the need to take into account factors beyond mere population is applied to Prince Edward Island's seat allocation, and wondered why similar principles couldn't apply to Quebec. And Peter Stoffer described the Cons' seat reallocation as lazy and hurried compared to the consultation that should be carried out as to what type of representation Canadians expect.

Pop Quiz

Guess which MP said this:
I want to point out one other unassailable fact. In Canada, we pride ourselves for being one of the most progressive democracies in the world.
You're probably wrong - and it's worth watching who's trying to take over the term "progressive" for his party's cause.

In Brief

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet highlighted the problem of homelessness and called on the Cons to do more than keep their eyes averted. Raymond Cote pointed to the example of White Birch Paper as a case of investors getting rich off the work of employees, then refusing to hold up their end of the bargain. Robert Aubin pointed out that the Cons' promised committee to study workplace language rights seemed to have evaporated as quickly as it was made up as a distraction. Helene Laverdiere questioned the billions in tax freebies being handed to banks while so many Canadians are in need. In response to a particular ill-advised bit of spin, Ryan Cleary wondered just how routine it is for Peter MacKay to take a helicopter from one destination to another. Christine Moore offered up John McCain's take on the rising costs of F-35s, but predictably couldn't get a straight answer out of Chris Alexander. Justin Trudeau challenged the Cons with a $19 billion cost estimate for their dumb-on-crime bill. Francoise Boivin lambasted the Harper government for its disrespect for the rule of law. Jamie Nicholls questioned what rural services are on the chopping block as Jim Flaherty goes into selloff mode. David Christopherson raised doubts as to how elected senators could be "accountable" if by design they'll never face an election after taking office. Peter Stoffer proposed the creation of a ministry of state for education. And Kellie Leitch spoke to a private member's bill on breast cancer awareness, only to have Rathika Sitsabaiesan respond that awareness is only a small first step if the federal government isn't properly funding a system to deal with health issues once they're discovered.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Erin nicely summarizes Don Drummond's report on Ontario's finances. But it's worth noting that leaving aside Drummond's own choice not to follow the instruction, anybody looking for a thorough analysis of Ontario's fiscal realities should be able to discount the report in its entirety based on the fact that Dalton McGuinty's marching orders included an instruction not to even look at how revenue increases might help to address deficits.

- Frances Russell points out how Enbridge's Gateway pipeline could inflict direct economic damage on Canada. But lest there be any doubt who to blame for the attempts to ram the project down the country's throat, Mike de Souza reports that even Enbridge itself doesn't want to rush the environmental approval process at the breakneck pace being encouraged by the Harper Cons.

- Meanwhile, Shawn McCarthy confirms that the Cons' list of civil society groups being targeted as "extremist" threats includes the likes of Greenpeace.

- Finally, Ken Gray describes the Cons' insistence on pushing ahead with F-35s as a betrayal of reality-based fiscal conservatism. And the utter absence of any backup plan can only make the Cons' folly look all the worse.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Heather Scoffield gives far too much credence to the Cons' spin on what their focus group results mean. But her report offers what may be the most definitive indication yet that the Cons' ideology bears absolutely no resemblance to what Canadians actually want:
The report says respondents were generally supportive of the government's deficit-reduction efforts, but were somewhat skeptical of the government's time frame. They were also adamant that deficit reduction should not be at the cost of funding for health care.

They showed little appetite for more tax cuts.
- Meanwhile, Michael Goldberg, Steve Kerstetter and Seth Klein point out another attempt by the Cons to redefine away the real issue of poverty in Canada.

- The Cons' online surveillance legislation has given rise to plenty of backlash, with John Ibbitson, the Vancouver Province and Lawrence Martin all weighing in. And Sarah Schmidt catches the Cons trying to politicize their bill on the fly.

- Finally, Marc Laferriere sums up the impact of Romeo Saganash on the NDP's leadership race - and his anticipated role in the years to come.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Apparently there have been a few developments in the NDP's leadership race - and indeed enough that I'll likely need to apply a bit more a filter on what I catalogue in my roundup posts. (In particular, I'll generally stop pointing out survey or event-based coverage which doesn't add much by way of new content, as well as setting a higher standard for endorsements and policy announcements to count as newsworthy.)

With that in mind, let's run through some of what's new over the past few days other than the polls already discussed here.

- Paul Dewar's campaign largely set the tone for the start of the week - both by releasing its internal polling results, and by implicitly slamming other candidates (if not by name) as likely to abandon the party's principles.

- Thomas Mulcair lowered his expectations for his own Quebec membership drive, but . Meanwhile, Bruce Anderson commented on Mulcair's effective challenge to NDP voters to accept different positions than the party has proposed in the past.

- Peggy Nash issued a clarification on the role the federal government should play in eliminating the need for health care user fees, though not before Colby Cosh noted her position with interest and Thomas Walkom lamented her answer in Sunday's debate. Nash then found stronger ground in defending the ability of workers to retire at 65. Tim Harper wrote about Nash's strategy of presenting herself as a consensus-builder, including her response to the question of whether she should be discounted based on the NDP's limited success under Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough:
In fact, the McLaughlin-McDonough era gives pause in some elements in this party about choosing another female consensus-builder, even in the party that has worked harder to achieve gender parity than either of the other two main federal parties.

“Does that mean the Liberals won’t be electing another man?" Nash asks.
- Brian Topp unveiled the endorsement of Doris Layton - which may hold plenty of sentimental sway as the race draws to a close.

- Finally, on the commentary side, John Ibbitson theorized following Sunday's debate that the leadership campaign will involve a decision whether or not to abandon social democracy to move to the centre - though I'm not entirely sure how he placed Topp on the centrist part of any divide. Andrew Coyne mused about a similar question while noting that the effect of going toward the centre might be to lose an identity that has served the NDP well. Lawrence Martin scratched the surface of the possibility of end-of-campaign alliances which might determine the campaign's outcome. Vincent Marissal criticized the length of the campaign, but without offering any obvious explanation as to how a shorter leadership race would have made a different for the decision faced by NDP members. Stephen's list of factors to consider in deciding how to vote is well worth a look. And the last word goes to Alice's latest analysis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Love-struck cats.

Parliament in Review: December 8, 2011

Thursday, December 8 saw debate on four separate bills - though once again, the Harper Cons were most conspicuous by their silence on a bill they were in the process of ramming through Parliament.

The Big Issue

That would be the Senate patch job which was being debated at second reading. And once again, the governing party decided to stay silent rather than bothering to speak to its own legislation.

Pat Martin asked rhetorically whether there's any reason for public policy to originate with an unelected and unaccountable body, while both he and Francois Lapointe raised the obvious problem of the Senate's ability to nullify the decisions of actual elected officials. On the specifics of the Cons bill, Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Dany Morin offered up reminders that the Cons' plan is to make sure senators are never accountable to voters for their actions, Anne-Marie Day highlighted that the Cons' own bill contemplates the possibility that an election could be ignored and the result nullified after six years, and Bruce Hyer noted that the Cons' scheme discriminates against independent candidates. Jean-Francois Fortin reiterated the Bloc's agreement with the NDP that the Senate should be abolished, while Justin Trudeau suggested the position held by the two most popular federal parties in the province somehow reflects a failure to defend Quebec's interests. Jinny Sims discussed the gap between MPs whose work is based on public service and senators whose role is defined by patronage, while Isabelle Morin offered a reminder of Harper's propensity for appointing candidates who failed at the former into the latter role instead.

Marc-Andre Morin offered to rename the Cons' bill:
Mr. Speaker, to the title “An Act respecting the selection of senators”, I would add “to ensure that the Senate resembles the bar scene in Star Wars”, as my colleague said. Senators appointed for life, senators elected through some crazy, vague process, all at the provinces' expense, people who lost elections, friends: the Senate is a gold mine for comedians.
And finally, Martin delivered some justified outrage for the ages:
There has never been a prime minister who has so abused the Senate and taken partisan advantage as the current Prime Minister, with 32 appointments. After being the one who agreed that the Senate was an outdated and obsolete institution, he has been stacking the Senate for purely partisan reasons.

Let me give an example of this. The president of the Conservative Party, the campaign manager of the Conservative Party, the chief fundraiser of the Conservative Party, the director of communications for the Conservative Party, the entire Conservative war room is now sitting in the Senate, pulling down $130,000 a year of taxpayers money, with staff, travel privileges and resources.

Who was the campaign manager in the last provincial election in my home province of Manitoba? The Conservative Senator from Manitoba, and I do not know if I am allowed to use his name. The former president of the Conservative Party was power shooted into Manitoba on the taxpayer nickel to work full time in partisan activities. He never has to stand for an election because he is there for life to act as an agent of the Conservative Party, not as the chamber of sober second thought, and is salaried, staffed and paid for in a direct subsidy by the taxpayers of Canada. It is appalling and it is atrocious. The senate should be abolished. It is a disgrace that we are using up time in our chamber to even re-arrange the deckchairs on that ridiculous institution.

There must be some old Reformers who have a hard time looking at themselves in the mirror, considering the things they used to say about the Senate. Now they are one. They have become what they used to most criticize. They have tossed overboard every principle on which they were founded in the interest of political expediency. They have been jettisoned over side. It is a disgrace.
Bank Shots

The other bill up for debate was the Cons' campaign loan legislation. Tim Uppal lamented the influence of wealthy individuals through loans to leadership candidates, but didn't have much to say about a concern raised by Stephane Dion and Ted Hsu about giving banks a privileged role in deciding who they deem worthy of funding. David Christopherson questioned how the new requirements might apply at the riding level, and noted that a system which prevents parties from funding elections would be just as undemocratic as one which allows for big-money influence. And in response to a question from Uppal, Christopherson then implored the Cons to actually listen to other parties rather than dictating yet again that they wouldn't accept a single comma's worth of change to their bill.

In Brief

Fin Donnelly introduced a bill to prohibit the importation of shark fins, while Peggy Nash proposed to make the office of the parliamentary budget officer truly independent. Joe Comartin criticized the Cons' contempt for the rule of law, with their defiance of the Federal Court's Wheat Board decision as just the latest example (as also noted by Frank Valeriote in a question of privilege). An NDP question period strategy of asking for basic information was met with the Cons' usual stonewalling, as Nycole Turmel's question on a U.S. trade agreement along with Christine Moore and Matthew Kellway's questions about the cost of using helicopters were all met with equally glaring non-responses. Charlie Angus noted that the Cons' had managed to make matters worse in Attawapiskat by sticking the band with the $300,000 tab for a government-imposed manager. Alexandre Boulerice followed up on the transfer of money out of a green infrastructure fund into whatever the Cons thought would buy votes that week. Francoise Boivin highlighted the costs of the Cons' dumb-on-crime policy, while Andrew Cash questioned whether prisons are the Cons' only housing strategy. Alice Wong answered questions from Irene Mathyssen and Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe on seniors' poverty by claiming poor seniors should be satisfied knowing that their wealthy betters are paying less tax. And Ryan Cleary closed debate on his bill calling for an inquiry into Newfoundland's cod fishery, while Kirsty Duncan spoke to her bill on CCSVI treatment for multiple sclerosis.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Mike de Souza's report on the Cons' attempts to hide both the oil industry's involvement and its own lack of credibility is well worth a read in full. But let's focus on a more basic revelation: Harper has set up a publicly-funded lobbying team to make sure that tar sands operators - who of course have billions in reserves sitting around to let them fund their own lobbying - get their way in any free trade negotiations.

- Meanwhile, the Cons continue to face difficulty defending their evidence-free policy in the courts - this time as Justice Anne Molly declared a mandatory minimum sentence to be unconstitutional.

- The National Post weighs in against the Cons' plans for warrantless online surveillance:
(T)he government will force Internet service providers to install costly monitoring equipment on their networks. Taxpayers will likely be forced to foot part of the bill, but the rest of the cost will be borne by private industry. Smaller providers could be driven out of what is already an uncompetitive market. The law would also make it much easier for police to force telecommunication companies to retain information on their customers and to enable tracking devices on mobile phones.

This type of legislation brings us one step closer to George Orwell's dystopian vision of a totalitarian state that keeps its citizens under constant surveillance. Yet there is no evidence the new law will achieve its public policy objectives.

Law enforcement agencies have been unable to come up with a single investigation that has been hampered by the limits of the laws currently on the books. Even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police could not find a "sufficient quantity of credible examples" to support the additional powers the lawful access legislation would grant them, according to a series of internal e-mails obtained by the Vancouver-based group Open Media. Postmedia News has also obtained government documents, in which officials from within Public Safety Canada object to some of the key arguments the Minister has used to justify the bill.
- But the Cons do believe some things should be kept secret - like public policy discussion. Fortunately, the NDP is fighting them every step of the way.

- Finally, Stewart Webb and Michael Byers tear into the Cons' faith-based defence procurement policy:
Thanks to the introduction of faith-based procurement, the Harper government can now ignore the complexities and inefficiencies of design specifications, equipment testing, contract tendering, specified industrial regional benefits, etc.

From now on, decisions on new equipment for the Canadian Forces will be divinely ordained, and channelled to Canadians through Mr. Fantino’s divine connections.
Instead of engaging with our analysis, Mr. Fantino told the House of Commons that we are “critical of everything that is holy and decent” about the government’s defence procurement efforts.

As the quotation at the beginning of this article illustrates, this is the second time that Mr. Fantino has referred publicly and explicitly to the divine nature of his new portfolio.

God’s interest in fighter jets was, to say the least, an unexpected revelation for us.

Too close to call

Apparently it only took yesterday's flurry of polls to create the easy narratives the media has been craving in the NDP leadership campaign. But there's plenty of reason for caution about the messages that have been drawn from the polling.

To start off with, "Thomas Mulcair on top" isn't exactly news in light of the NDP supporter polling done over the past few months. Instead, what's noteworthy in the member-based polling - including that from Mulcair's own camp - is the relatively small lead currently held by the front-runner. If Mulcair is starting between 25% and 31% on the first ballot, then he may be fairly well assured of a place on the final ballot. But he'll still need a pile of lower-choice support to emerge on top.

And if there's another consistent theme in the polls released yesterday, it's that there's nothing but uncertainty as to who will remain on the ballot to challenge Mulcair (and thus whose supporters he most needs to target).

Of course, the stories have focused on the candidates' relative positioning - with Paul Dewar's camp making a particularly concerted effort to suggest that Brian Topp ranks below Dewar. But the two full poll results released yesterday show remarkably little gap between the second- and fifth-place candidates: both suggest that the fifth-place candidate could vault all the way to second by winning over, say, Niki Ashton's supporters, while the 31% undecided number in Dewar's poll signals that there's plenty of room for small shifts with a massive potential impact on the candidates' rankings.

And what's more, both polls also suggest that an alliance among any three of Nash, Dewar, Topp, Cullen and their supporters would result in the beneficiary being on at least even terms with Mulcair for the final ballot.

(As for the 28% number released by Topp, it looks like the outlier compared to both the polls released yesterday and the earlier ones showing Nash with a strong second-place standing. But at the very least it offers another layer of uncertainty.)

Naturally, the candidates' rankings will be highly important when it comes time to start dropping contenders. But for now, the key takeaway looks to be that it's too close to call the race between four strong challengers to Mulcair - and all candidates will have to be ready for the large number of permutations and combinations that could result.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 7, 2011

Wednesday, December 7 packed plenty of contentious debate into an extremely short day, with a time allocation motion and debate on two bills fit within an afternoon sitting.

The Big Issue

Once again, Peter Van Loan sought to limit debate on one of the Cons' bills - this time their legislation on seat redistribution. Joe Comartin rightly slammed the Cons' constant stifling debate as "farcical". Stephane Dion noted that the new bill results in significant changes from the previous versions being pointed to in the Cons' latest chorus of "but it's been talked about before!". Alexandre Boulerice mentioned how many far more important issues were going unaddressed even as the Cons rammed through bill after bill. Jack Harris summed up the differing perspectives on the bill which the Cons were set to ignore. Mauril Belanger and Jonathan Tremblay pointed out the irony of using anti-democratic tactics to silence MPs in the name of democratic reform. And Pierre-Luc Dussault asked generally whether the Cons think limiting debate should be done as a matter of course - which they seemed to confirm in once again forcing through the motion.

Meanwhile, the day also saw some debate on the Cons' Senate legislation. Dusseault and Malcolm Allen pointed out that the election process set up by the Cons is at best illusory. Francoise Boivin noted that any hope of the Senate serving as a centre of thoughtful debate has been utterly undermined by the Harper Cons' hyperpartisanship. And Alexandre Boulerice highlighted the cost of the Senate - enough to fund both the added MPs the Libs claim we can't afford and the party funding the Cons have slashed with millions to spare.

In Brief

Francois Pilon emphasized the need for action after a couple of decades of inaction on child poverty - while Kerry-Lynne Findlay nicely contrasted her party's take by pointing out volunteer efforts while showing no interest in having Canada's elected officials do anything about poverty. Jack Harris noted how little thought and planning went into the Cons' bill to trash the gun registry, while Francoise Boivin followed in question period by pointing out the problems the Cons have created in tracking firearm sales and Andre Bellavance raised the issue of Jim Hillyer's shoot-em-up gestures during the gun registry vote. Jamie Nicholls noted the absurdity of the Cons' defence that direct interference in the Montreal Port Authority didn't count because it didn't work, while Alexandre Boulerice spotted yet another falsehood from Tony Clement. Charlie Angus, Linda Duncan and Jonathan Genest-Jourdain again connected the immediate emergency at Attawapiskat to the desperate needs of First Nations across Canada. Peter Julian lamented the fall of manufacturing-sector employment to its lowest level since anybody bothered to measure it. Ryan Cleary wondered why ACOA development funding was being used to move fish processing from Newfoundland to China. Wayne Marston suggested Canadians should have a more secure retirement plan than the Cons' roulette wheel. Julian introduced a bill to prohibit sweatshop labour goods, while Frank Valeriote proposed to prohibit recorded surveillance of Canadians' homes and property. Guy Caron managed to win the unanimous support of the House for a Senate bill to authorize the continuation of the Industrial Alliance Pacific General Insurance Corporation. Dan Albas' bill to repeal a Prohibition-era restriction on liquor transportation earned all-party approval. And Mylene Freeman challenged the Cons to do something about a glaring lack of pay equity for women.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Michelle Lalonde notes that despite continued giveaways from both the federal and provincial governments, Quebec's asbestos industry may soon fade away due to a lack of any economic case for private funding.

- Jessica Bruno reports on major cuts to the federal public sector which have been inflicted without any particular accountability so far - including job losses among the civil servants responsible for key areas like employment insurance, immigration and health.

- Meanwhile, that is indeed Canada's public safety minister getting rebuked yet again by the courts for improperly denying the rights of Canadians abroad.

- Steve rightly notes that the media's lack of interest in the NDP leadership campaign has much more to do with its own shallow political coverage than any shortage of interest within the party.

- Nancy Peckford points to Sana Hassainia's example as a case of our political institutions utterly failing to take into account the needs of new parents and others whose voices are all too often shut out.

- Finally, Stephen Maher reminds us why Stephen Harper has silenced his party's members for so long - as the first few outbursts under a majority government have been on the ugly side.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- David Olive highlights the complete lack of need for the Cons' planned attacks on Old Age Security:
Say what you will of Stephen Harper’s success in scaring Canadian seniors with his recent musings about cutting seniors’ benefits. It does not warrant the public debate that the most charitable of the PM’s critics on this issue have tepidly welcomed.

The affordability of a higher-quality health care system does merit debate. Also affordable housing, the cornerstone of poverty reduction. Also education reform that better matches students with a workplace that, as a business think tank complained last week, is suffering a “desperate shortage” of skilled workers despite 1.42 million Canadians out of work.

The PM is wrong about the sustainability of Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, paid to the poorest Canadians. And Canadians have let him know it.
On his return from swanning with the swells in Davos, the improbable venue where Harper first floated his soak-the-seniors idea, the PM was given an earful from his own caucus. They have been inundated with complaints from constituents fearful and angry about the prospect of either themselves or someone they love being deprived of some portion of their average modest $500 a month in OAS payments. (That’s $6,000 a year, considerably below the poverty line. Hence the Guaranteed Income Supplement paid to the poorest seniors.)

Neither Harper or his more excitable ministers have explained why OAS and GIS suddenly are a “crisis.”

Nor have they offered a scintilla of convincing evidence for their case. Which is not surprising, perhaps, given the weight of contrary evidence in the many reports on this topic. But you’d think the PM would at least have read those reports before needlessly frightening a large part of the population.
- Meanwhile, Selena Ross reports from an NDP meeting to consult with citizens about the rumoured cuts to OAS.

- Thomas Walkom points out the futility of trying to justify torture as a matter of evidence-gathering as the Cons are determined to do:
(T)icking-time-bomb cases are so rare as to be almost non-existent. Countries like Morocco that use torture employ it not just for exceptional threats but as a standard investigative technique.

Thus Syrian jailers tortured Canadian Maher Arar in 2002 — not because they believed he was about to blow up downtown Damascus, but because that’s what Syrian jailers do.

Naturally, Arar told his torturers whatever they wanted to hear. His “confession” was then passed on to Canada.

But, as Justice Dennis O’Connor’s inquiry into the affair later discovered (and CSIS, to its credit, confirmed), the confession was useless — because it just wasn’t true.

And that is the practical problem with torture. It is unreliable.
- Tria Donaldson and Max Fineday write that Romeo Saganash's leadership campaign offered important inspiration to young First Nations activists.

- And finally, Alice offers a look at whether the Toront-Danforth by-election campaign stands in its early stages, while Linda Diebel presents Olivia Chow's take.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - February 12, 2012

It's undoubtedly been an eventful seven days in the NDP's leadership campaign - and one of the most important weeks of the race is just around the corner as the membership deadline approaches. But does any of the activity change this week's rankings?

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Certainly not at the top. And in fact Mulcair may be breathing a sign of relief after today: a contentious discussion about the Middle East might have been one of the most obvious sources of possible trouble for him, but nothing of the sort materialized in the foreign policy debate.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

I didn't see today's performance as one of her better ones, but it was still more than enough to position her as the primary alternative to Mulcair. And the Quebec MPs she's adding to her endorsement list may go a long way in holding off Topp as the campaign progresses.

3. Brian Topp (3)

Meanwhile, nobody looks to have missed more opportunities to try to shake up the race than Topp. But he did deliver a solid all-around performance - and it could be that he's reasonably concluded that it's time to start building up general down-ballot support rather than serving as the campaign's agitator.

4. Paul Dewar (4)

The French-language debate had potential to send Dewar's ranking in either direction. But instead, he held his own without hugely impressing - meaning that he'll stay in the top tier, but still figure to have trouble standing out as the campaign progresses.

5. Nathan Cullen (5)

Another effective debate performance can't push Cullen up the rankings this week. And indeed I have to wonder whether some media perception of momentum will ultimately backfire: it seems to me that the biggest weakness of his co-operation plan is less the Libs' progressive bona fides in government than their actions to keep the Cons in power while in opposition (raising issues about their trustworthiness in recognizing any "clear and present danger" from Stephen Harper or acting to address it), and I have to figure Cullen will face some largely unanswerable questions on that point before long.

6. Niki Ashton (7)

She did extremely well in today's debate, expanding on her previous themes and holding her own on foreign policy issues. But this time the rest of the field mostly matched that performance - and she needs to start recovering ground quickly to have much of a chance of emerging ahead of the field.

7. Martin Singh (8)

Meanwhile, Singh was clearly a cut below the rest of the candidates today, generally failing to stick to the topics presented and having some trouble making an impact even on his choice of replacement topics. But the good news for him is that at the current pace, enough candidates will drop out to leave him alone in first by about mid-2013.

Parliament in Review: December 6, 2011

Tuesday, December 6 saw a day devoted primarily to debating the Cons' seat redistribution bill. And the result was some interesting interplay between the three official parties in the House of Commons - if no lack of contradictions as well.

The Big Issue

In effect, the debate on C-20 saw three different positions clashing strongly throughout the day - with the lone agreement among parties being a concurrence of opinion between the NDP and the Bloc on the NDP's alternative proposal.

The NDP's take - presented first by David Christopherson - was that seat allocation should be treated as one of the most important real applications of the House of Commons' unanimous recognition of a Quebecois nation. Guy Caron criticized the Cons' total lack of consultation before imposing their preferred seat distribution on the provinces, while Pat Martin discussed his own participation in consultations on the constitution. In response to the cost argument raised repeatedly by the Libs, NDP MPs pointed out repeatedly that the cost of an unelected, unrepresentative Senate is far greater than the price of enough seats in the House of Commons to combine that principle with additional seats for growing provinces. And Bruce Hyer, Libby Davies and Jinny Sims noted that seat allocations should themselves be seen as a far less important issue than proportional representation and the ability of elected MPs to do their jobs without being stifled by a government which tolerates no dissent.

Meanwhile, the Cons and Libs limited their argument to the exact number of seats which should be divided up with substantially equal percentage allocations. Tim Uppal argued that any reductions in seats for a province would reflect "picking winners and losers" and needlessly inflaming tensions - making for a standard well worth applying to the Cons' own decisions on funding for programs and transfer payments. The Libs pointed to a quote from Stephen Harper suggesting that Canadians already have too many elected representatives, and also argued that it was percentages rather than raw numbers that really defined the relative weight of provinces. (Of course, they utterly abandoned that position in their attacks on the NDP for defining its policy in terms of proportions rather than specified seat numbers - and both Matthew Kellway and Alexandrine Latendresse rightly highlighted the contradiction.)

Finally, in what may have been the most stark difference of the day, Jamie Nicholls pointed to George Brown's one-time theory that representation by population would serve to entirely extinguish French Canadianism - only to be followed in short order by Michael Chong's proud invocation of Brown as the historical model for the Cons' bill.

Needless to say, the Cons couldn't allow that type of substantive debate among elected representatives to go on for long. And so in the name of democracy, Peter Van Loan again gave notice of his intention to shut down debate.

Do Unto Others

Pierre Poilievre lashed out at the opposition parties for denying a request for unanimous consent to split his time. Yes, that would be the same Pierre Poilievre who's served as parliamentary secretary to a Prime Minister who has publicly ordered his party never to consent to anything the opposition requests.

In Brief

Joy Smith presented a petition calling for use of the Nordic model on prostitution (which would criminalize purchasing rather than selling). Justin Trudeau had an intervention shut down due to his failure to wear a tie in the House. Nycole Turmel, Alexandre Boulerice and Nicholls all raised questions about political influence exerted by Con insiders Dmitri Soudas and Lou Housakas in the Montreal port authority. Charlie Angus, Linda Duncan and Jonathan Genest-Jourdain pointed out a complete lack of investment in tolerable living conditions in Attawapiskat and other First Nations across Canada. On the anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, Francoise Boivin questioned why the Cons were removing controls on exactly the type of weapon used in the shootings. Megan Leslie pointed out that after deferring any action on climate change by saying they'd get around to it just as soon as China, India, Brazil and South Africa went first, the Cons were still standing in the way of agreement even after all the major developing countries were on board. Jean Crowder highlighted that the Cons were keeping EI cheques out of the hands of workers who needed them by refusing to properly staff Service Canada. Francois Lapointe again noted that Quebec's asbestos mines were shut down, and wondered when the government would bother planning an economic transition for the affected region rather than clinging to a dying industry. Alex Atamanenko pointed out a gruesome and unsanitary horse slaughter video as an example of the type of issue the CFIA should be equipped to address. Mylene Freeman noted that the Cons are doing effectively nothing to help 1.6 million women living in poverty. And Raymond Cote spoke to a private member's motion on the importance of the port of Quebec.