Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne tears into the Cons for being interested solely in developing a junk labour market where both work safety and income security are sorely lacking. And Chris Selley offers his own rebuttal to the "no such thing as a bad job" mentality:
Mr. Flaherty’s sound byte might live longer than that, though. It certainly begs for inclusion in an NDP attack ad. If an Old Princetonian with a $235,000 public salary and a lavish pension is going to stand up and tell Canadians that “there is no bad job,” then at the very least he should probably have something a little grubbier on his CV to offer reporters than taxi-driving and hockey refereeing. I’ve led a fantastically comfortable and privileged life, and even I can trump taxi driver. There is most certainly such a thing as a bad job.

A bad job doesn’t have to be smelly, hot or noisy. Most people would define the term to include a job for which one is ludicrously overqualified, either on paper or in one’s heart: a plumber working security in the middle of the night, a carpenter slinging crullers, a cardiologist driving a taxi. It’s demoralizing and inherently wasteful, and this government says exactly that when it comes to immigrants. It quite rightly wants to ensure professionals don’t pack up and move to Canada only to toil miles below their station, and it quite rightly talks up the value of skilled trades. And yet here was Mr. Flaherty, whose big mouth seems to be enjoying majority governance, suggesting Canadians should be happy with any pay cheque they get.
- Dan Gardner neatly sums up the possible interpretations of the Cons' utter failure to match rhetoric with action on climate change:
(W)hat can we make of all this? There are two possibilities.
First, Stephen Harper and Company may be sincere about tackling climate change. In that case, they are grossly incompetent. Their policy is a mess. They have accomplished little or nothing. And there’s no reason to think they will do any better in the future.
The other possibility is that Stephen Harper and Company are lying. They do not have any intention of tackling climate change. They never did. Their only real goal is to manage the file so it doesn’t become a political liability, which they have done with considerable success.
And it surely isn't a positive sign that the Cons are yet again trotting out their all-too-familiar "next year" timeline for greenhouse gas emission regulations with a straight face.

- But of course, the Cons have been plenty busy with such important tasks as siccing the RCMP on anybody who reveals inconvenient truths, and trying to shut down any further discussion or investigation of their own electoral fraud.

 - And Carol Goar points out that the latest budget includes plenty more nasty surprises for Canadians. Which means there's plenty of reason why even previously loyal Con supporters have ample reason not to trust them.

[Edit: fixed formatting.]

Friday, May 18, 2012

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - That Song

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- No, there was never any doubt that any statement which could possibly be interpreted as insufficiently jingoistic in favour of the oil industry was going to give rise to a backlash from the Cons' oilpatch base. But it's well worth noting that Thomas Mulcair has had little trouble defending his argument that the cost of environmental damage needs to be priced into all industries - and the "polluter pay" principle looks to be one which can stand up to even the most well-orchestrated spokespuppet attack.

- Which stands in stark contrast to the Cons' brand of controversial policy proposal, where we've just learned that they've been suppressing facts for years in an effort to sell unjustified cuts to seniors' retirement security.

- Public Radio International discusses the fair tax movement in Canada, while Barbara Ehrenreich notes that the poor are all too often preyed upon as cash cows rather than human beings as part of corporate calculations.

- Impolitical highlights what looks to be one of the next frontiers in the Cons' oil obsession: offshore Arctic drilling, with all the environmental dangers that figures to create.

- Finally, Bruce Cheadle discusses a report released by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by political parties.

Parliament in Review - April 23, 2012

Monday, April 23 was the first day back in the House of Commons following the Easter break. And it featured some of the most lively and telling discussion we've seen yet on the Cons' anti-refugee legislation as the second-reading debate reached its end.

The Big Issue

As part of the refugee bill debate, Craig Scott made his first speech as the NDP's MP for Toronto-Danforth. And he wasted no time in showing what he'll add to the NDP's caucus:
One huge difference is that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that a person be a permanent resident before the person is able to sponsor family members, such as the person's spouse, children, or parents, to immigrate to Canada. Thus, under Bill C-31 irregular refugees would have no hope of reuniting with family in Canada for at least five years.

Currently, family class applications in this country are often processed at a snail's pace. It is not uncommon for it to take three years for a child or a spouse to be admitted and sometimes up to six years for parents. It is no stretch to say that a refugee who started out as a designated foreign national may have to wait 10 years for family members to join him or her.

If that is not enough, a designated foreign national refugee will not even be able to travel outside Canada to spend time with family, for example, in a country other than the country of origin which the refugee fears going back to. Why is that? Bill C-31 decrees that such a refugee will not be given travel documents until he or she becomes a permanent resident, that is, until at least five years have passed, despite the fact that the refugee convention requires that travel documents be issued to refugees once they are “lawfully staying” in the host country. Fortress Canada thus becomes prison Canada for the designated foreign national refugee. If he were still alive, Kafka could not have written Bill C-31 better if he tried.
Other speakers including Kevin Lamoureux also questioned why the Cons are so determined to keep families apart for a period of up to a decade. Kirsty Duncan pointed out how quickly patterns of human rights abuse can emerge and render obsolete the "safe country" designations the Cons want to use to attack refugees' rights. Guy Caron and Andrew Cash criticized the Cons' pattern of placing large amounts of power over individual rights in the hands of unaccountable ministers. Caron also lamented the politicization of refugee claims. Libby Davies highlighted the fact that organizations familiar with refugee issues were lining up against C-31, then observed that the bill would allow the Cons to retroactively attack refugee status if circumstances changed in a new immigrant's country of origin. Elizabeth May asked about the cost of locking up refugees rather than allowing them to contribute to Canadian society. Jinny Sims queried how refugees would take the Cons' admonition to play by the rules seriously when the 300,000 who did so in the current skilled worker program queue are being arbitrarily deleted. Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Massimo Pacetti pointed out that there's plenty of reason why refugees can't be expected to meet the ridiculous requirements placed on them by the Cons.

Meanwhile, for the Cons, Jason Kenney took umbrage at any suggestion that his party wanted to get tough on refugees - only to admit that part of the bill's purpose is deterrence to keep them from coming to Canada. And while Patrick Brown offered a boilerplate defence of a plan to require biometric information from new immigrants, Dan Harris rightly criticized the fact that the Cons were refusing to hear from a committee already assessing the use of biometrics.

But as tends to be the case, the Cons simply decided to ignore every valid criticism of their legislation, and voted down the NDP's proposed amendment before forcing the bill through.
 Pop Quiz

Caron received a response to his order paper question (#489) as to the criteria used to decide to close a processing centre in Rimouski and set one up for the primary benefit of Christian Paradis in Thetford Mines and the reason why the change was made. Your challenge: spot anything in the answer that amounts to an explanation of the decision beyond "because we damn well said so, that's why".

In Brief

Merv Tweed spoke to his bill to prevent Canada Post from hiking rates on books delivered between rural libraries. And the idea received multi-party support - though it's worth asking how Tweed's initial can be reconciled with the Cons' constant demand that Crowns be run as revenue-maximizing businesses or sold off to be turned into just that.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Allen offered a statement on cuts to food inspections through both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canada Border Services Agency, then followed up in question period. Francoise Boivin served notice that the NDP won't hesitate to defend a woman's right to choice. Megan Leslie wondered about the minders being sent to accompany civil servants to a conference and report on their activities. Irene Mathyssen's question about how much money was being cut out of OAS was met with Diane Finley's response that her government's attacks on seniors' standard of living have nothing to do with deficit reduction. Carolyn Bennett slammed Leona Aglukkaq for singling out aboriginal health for massive cuts. And Caron asked adjournment questions about the Cons' lack of a realistic plan to foster research and development in Canada, while Jack Harris wondered what exactly the Cons plan to do with the influx of prisoners created by their dumb-on-crime strategy (especially as they indicated they planned to close some facilities).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Drew Anderson comments on the support the NDP is winning among groups which have historically supported the Cons:
Seniors and men. Until now they formed the rock-solid base of the Conservative Party. But they’re trending towards Mulcair, and that should have Harper’s team reaching for the panic button.
Why the sudden shift, particularly amongst two demographics that are often the hardest to move?
New Democrats launched a TV ad that, to say the least, bypassed soft and fluffy.
The ad has trucks and dogs and country music and power tools. It played in heavy rotation, not on Grey’s Anatomy, but during Jays games and the hockey playoffs.
The entire campaign was designed to reach out specifically to those holdouts from the last election campaign, particularly men.
And early indications is that, at the very least, it’s got them joining in the water cooler conversations.
Nobody should get ahead of themselves. Polls go up, and polls go down. There is a lot of real estate between now and the next election. And as Mulcair’s team no doubt learned this past week, honeymoons don’t last forever.
But in politics as in football, it’s always easier to be playing in the other team’s end.
 - Sarah Schmidt reports on UN special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter's fully justified outrage at the lack of food security facing many Canadians:

"It's even more shocking to me to see that there are 900,000 households in Canada that are food insecure and up to 2.5 million people precisely because this is a wealthy country. It's even less excusable," said De Schutter.
"It's not because the country is a wealthy country that there are no problems. In fact, the problems are very significant and, frankly, this sort of self-righteousness about the situation being good in Canada is not corresponding to what I saw on the ground, not at all."
 - Meanwhile, Michael Laxer fits De Schutter's review into a wider pattern of attacks against poor Ontarians.

- Finally, Frances Russell wonders whether some well-placed political theater might be needed to call attention to the Cons' disrespect for Parliament.

New column day

Here, on how the Cons' imposition of an economic policy which benefits a few at the expense of people who get no say in the matter is just the latest (if worst) example of their becoming everything they once claimed to loathe.

For more on the economic argument (which in other corners has mostly focused on the question of whether to characterize the Cons' bias in favour of the oil industry as an element of Dutch disease or not)...
- Peter O'Neil reports on what Thomas Mulcair is actually saying about the resource sector - including that the real costs of production (including environmental effects) are being deliberately kept off the balance sheet through lax regulation, with the Canadian public left to pay the bill later.
- Erin neatly deconstructs how the Institute for Research on Public Policy's report actually supports Mulcair's concerns about the effects of a high dollar. 
- Dean Beeby reports on federal efforts to test how to push workers out of their home regions.
- And while I'm skeptical of the Star-Phoenix' attempt to turn the resource discussion into a "they're both equally bad" line of criticism, it's well worth noting that Brad Wall's spin isn't accepted as gospel even in his home province.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andrew Jackson raises an absolutely devastating point to refute anybody trying to use "it's all about growth!!!" as an excuse for slashing social supports and handing free money to the rich:
In this age of austerity, we are constantly told by governments that we have to tighten our belts. Tuition fees have to go up; public pensions, Unemployment Insurance and social assistance benefits have to be cut; universal public health care is no longer affordable, and so on ad nauseam.

But, as my friend Peter Puxley recently reminded me,  it is passing strange to argue that we can no longer afford what we could afford thirty years ago, when we were, as a society, much less affluent.
(T)he growth rate of real per capita GDP has slowed considerably in the age of austerity – which deserves extended comment – but it has by no means ground to a halt.  This suggests austerity flows not so much from the lack of growth, as from the fact that more and more of that income growth has gone to the top 1% who just don’t want to share it with the rest of us.
 - Meanwhile, Trish Hennessy comments on Jim Flaherty's inclination to kick out-of-work Canadians while they're down (plenty of other Cons have the good sense to repudiate). Les Whittington reports on the CLC's recognition that the main theme of Con economic policy is to drive down wages for everybody. And Scott Stelmaschuk writes about the difference between jobs and careers in light of the Cons' apparent plan to eliminate any hope of the latter:
(C)areers and jobs have very different meanings. Jobs are the sort of thing we do to gain experience as a bridge to a career. Jobs are a stepping stone, and are meant to be a way of improving our skills and forging connections that allow us to transition into a permanent career. Careers are things that pay above minimum wage, offer benefits (health insurance/dental/optical, retirement plans) and allow a person to pay down their debts while allowing enough financial fluidity that a single major emergency won't break the bank.

Careers are disappearing in this economy, and now our finance minister is telling Canadians that they need to bend over, close their eyes, think of Canada, and take the nearest thing resembling employment they can find.

Implicitly, Flaherty has admitted some defeat in the turn about of Canada's economy. While he won't come out and say it, Flaherty is telling us that this is now the new normal for the average Canadian. Gone are the days where a person who has worked towards improving their lives through college and professional development can find a career with financial security. Instead, regardless of the steps taken, a person is now doomed to forever dwell in the lower rungs of the economy.
- In one of its final reports before being axed as unhelpful to Stephen Harper's political prospects, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy confirms that the Cons' delays in doing anything about climate change will impose severe costs on business (based on the need to react in short order rather than having time to meet the 2020 targets the Cons still claim to want to reach) as well as on the rest of Canadian society.

- And finally, Pat Atkinson recognizes that Saskatchewan will need a far better plan for housing than we've seen to date in order actually attract and retain newcomers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Personable cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Kayle Hatt's blog looks to be a must-read from here on in. And his post on what to draw from the latest polls is particularly worth a read:
Every poll that has been released since Thomas Mulcair was elected leader of the NDP has showed the NDP on an upward path but there was some debate about if that was just a ‘Honeymoon Blip’ or a new reality. While time will always be the final judge on political predictions, I’d suggest this poll (which has a large enough sample size to break down in depth) suggests a big shift is underway in the Canadian Political landscape.

The poll reports not just minor ‘across-the-board’ increases for Thomas Mulcair’s NDP but sizable shifts in key demographics than have historically trended more Conservative. If this was just a honeymoon, we would expect to see slight increases everywhere but not large swings. Large polling swings are hardly ever ‘blips’.
- John Ibbitson points out that the Cons' lack of an industrial strategy - and worse yet, their claim that catering to the whims of the oil sands is all the economic strategy Canada needs - has led to inevitable clashes between regions of the country. And PLG is duly incredulous that a province which has spent decades talking about building a wall around itself seems shocked that the rest of the country hasn't meekly agreed to abandon any hope of economic development for its sole benefit.

- Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail editorial board is the latest to recognize how worrisome it is that the Cons are determined to suppress the speech of anybody who doesn't share their cheerleading proclivities.

- Andre Picard chimes in on how the Cons' move to deprive refugee claimants of health care is as counterproductive as it is mean-spirited.

-  Finally, we can only hope John Ibbitson is right in speculating that the Cons' latest attempt at online surveillance legislation is indeed dead for now.

No tough choice

Back here, I discussed how ridiculous the Cons' "tough on crime" model would look if applied to any other area of policy - and used that comparison to question why we'd handle criminal justice any differently. But after a minority government period where the Cons mostly limited their shows of faux bravado to attacking unsympathetic figures, it's now becoming clear that they're entirely eager to apply the same principles in places where they're obviously inappropriate.

Most of us might learn of a friend or neighbour who has lost a job and think our political leaders should be looking for ways to help. Instead, Jim Flaherty's message is that we should get tough on those seeking work - finding new ways to kick the unemployed while they're down.

Most of us might hear about the plight of a refugee seeking to escape repression and figure we should offer a reasonable opportunity to build a new life in Canada. Instead, Jason Kenney is pushing the line that we should get tough on refugees in order to dissuade them from seeking to join Canadian society.

And most of us might think of the work of environmental groups and other charities as something to be encouraged. But the Cons are insisting that we meet their idealism with tough punishment to keep them from inconveniencing corporate polluters.

Now, it could be that the Cons figure that building toughness as a brand is at worst a wash politically - that it at least appeals to a certain authority-seeking base while serving to silence what might otherwise be strong critics of an uncaring government.

But I'd think there's a strong case to be made that the Cons have gone a bridge too far in directing the message of punishment, retribution and deterrence toward people and groups who most Canadians rightly see as deserving respect and assistance. And it should be exceedingly easy to see what the political consequences will be if we can make that case to voters.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- I'll very much hope Chantal Hebert is wrong in her conclusion that Canadians are getting ever more doubtful as to whether change is possible through the ballot box. But one can't much argue with her take on why that perception might be developing:
In the national capital, a government elected with barely four in every 10 votes a year ago has since been going out of its way to disenfranchise the majority that did not support it.
Over the opening year of their majority mandate, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have moved to discourage civic dissent — in particular but not exclusively on the environmental front.

They have replaced federal-provincial dialogue with diktats and adversarial litigation.
They have placed themselves on a collision course with the courts over the place of the rule of law in the exercise of ministerial discretion.
The concept of ministerial responsibility has been reduced to a quaint historical footnote and parliamentary accountability is on the same slippery slope.
In the House of Commons, the government has moved to stifle the input of its opposition critics at every turn, systematically curtailing debate on bills or more simply subtracting legislation from competent scrutiny by cramming it inside inflated omnibus bills.
It should surprise no one that governments who treat the rule of law as a pesky inconvenience will eventually breed the same attitude in those that they purport to legislate for.
 - But then, it's also important to make sure that expressions of public interest aren't limited to a vote every four years - and so it's a plus to see that the opposition parties are looking at the budget debate as an opportunity to get more citizens involved.

- Meanwhile, Kady confirms that the one halting attempt to paint the Cons' latest move toward total control over Canada's political debate (by preventing committees from holding hearings in public on anything other than the Cons' choice of topics) goes far beyond the precedent pointed to as an example of "but they did it too!!!".

- Mark Lemstra reviews Ryan Meili's A Healthy Society for the Star-Phoenix.

- And finally, Bruce Campbell discusses what Canada can do to actually manage its resource wealth (as opposed to merely looking for ways to shove it into corporate hands as quickly as possible).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 5, 2012

Thursday, April 5 was the final sitting day in the House of Commons before a two-week Easter break. And the debate was much less sharp than in previous days, as the primary bill up for discussion was supported by all parties.

The Big Issue

That bill was S-4, a bill on railway and transportation issues which had already been substantially debate in early 2011. And Francois Choquette, Kevin Lamoureux and Elizabeth May each confirmed that their respective parties were entirely willing to co-operate on bills which didn't raise as many red flags as, say, the Cons' omnibus budget-and-environment-gutting legislation.

Which isn't to say that the official opposition couldn't find some obvious room for improvement in both the legislation and the process used to pass it. Andrew Cash lamented the fact that the Cons were merely dealing with piecemeal rail legislation rather than development a national transit strategy. Matthew Dube linked transit issues to the problem of urban sprawl. And Pat Martin went into full outrage mode over the introduction of the bill through the Senate.


Having apparently learned nothing about the dangers of contradicting one's own message and playing on a governing party's home turf, Geoff Regan and Massimo Pacetti delivered questions encouraging the lower the GST on fuel prices and slash taxes on diesel fuel.

In Brief

In the midst of heavy questioning about the F-35 procurement debacle, Malcolm Allen raised a particularly telling point - as the Cons claimed to have "accepted and acted upon" the Auditor General's 2010 report identifying similar issues in helicopter purchasing even as they misled Parliament and the public about the cost of F-35s. Marie-Claude Morin criticized the Cons' $102 million in cuts to the CMHC, while Charmaine Borg followed up on the harm done to young Canadians who had planned to participated in Katimavik. Bob Rae raised the point of privilege discussed by Don Lenihan here, featuring a remarkable disconnect between what the Cons claimed to be departmental and government positions in addition to concerns about misleading Parliament. Jean Crowder's order paper question on a "federal action plan with specific goals and timetables to reduce poverty" was met with the response that the Cons think their austerity budget is close enough. And the Cons went from initially suggesting that their only problem with the NDP's bill protecting against discriminating based on gender identity and gender expression was a matter of clarifying definitions, to Dean Allison's full-on "OMG manly men in the girls' bathroom!!!" hysteria.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Jim Stanford neatly sums up how the Cons' obsession with selling off both natural resources and natural resource producers affects other industries:
There is no doubting the statistical correlation between oil prices and the loonie. Econometric analysis indicates that since the turn of the century, oil prices explain 86 per cent of the dollar’s rise. The precise reasons for this correlation are unclear. It certainly is not due to a strong trade balance. In fact, Canada has experienced a deepening international payments deficit in recent years, because non-petroleum exports are falling faster than our energy exports surge (see graph). My own research suggests it is foreign takeovers of petroleum companies and reserves, not current production and export of the stuff, that is driving the loonie up.
It is equally clear that the Canadian dollar is overvalued, relative to both historical averages and economic fundamentals. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the current “fair value” for the Canadian dollar (based on purchasing power parity analysis) is about 81 cents U.S. Anything higher and Canadian-made products and services look disproportionately expensive (including manufacturing, services, tourism — and even Big Macs, according to the Economist’s famous hamburger index).
In my books, the best way to short-circuit the damaging link between oil prices and the loonie would be to carefully regulate foreign takeovers of resource companies. That’s a worthwhile policy to consider for many reasons (not just for avoiding Dutch Disease). And this hardly implies bombing Alberta’s economy back to the stone age; if anything, a more careful and strategic approach to managing this non-renewable resource would allow Albertans, too, to capture more lasting benefits than the current what-me-worry strategy can ever deliver.
Methinks the bitumen boosters doth protest too much, with their loud attempt to suppress any debate over the potential downsides of Canada’s current energy strategy — which consists of scraping as much bitumen, as quickly as possible, and exporting it raw. Are there important national spinoff benefits generated by the petroleum boom in Alberta? Absolutely. But are there also important costs and risks associated with this economic strategy based on the unregulated extraction and export of a non-renewable resource? Certainly. Could we do a better job of managing those costs and risks? Undoubtedly … unless we continue pretending they don’t exist.
Stanford then decries the tar-sands McCarthyism of the Cons and their petro-state allies. And Erin points out Michael Den Tandt as an example of a commentator completely contradicting himself from one column to the next in order to try to attack Thomas Mulcair.

- Meanwhile, Bea Vongdouangchanh reports on the Cons' abdication of any responsibility for Canada's environment. And Tim Harper suggests that as a result, Alison Redford may have to be the one to implement an environmental plan covering the oil sands.

- Barrie McKenna unloads on the Cons' secrecy and misdirection in trying to make it as difficult as possible for anybody to figure out exactly what's being cut in their budget:
Last week, Mr. Clement’s office released its annual “reports on plans and priorities,” which converts the estimates into detailed spending plans for all 97 federal departments and agencies. Typically, these also reflect changes in the budget.

Not this year. Mr. Clement, the Prince of Darkness, specifically directed departments to exclude the budget cuts, even though they have been known for more than a month.
Is the department shrinking or growing? Damned if anyone outside government knows. And that, in the bizarro world of federal accounting, just might be the intent.

If Ottawa Inc. were a public company, regulators would probably delist its shares.

Federal financial reporting has become so murky, inconsistent and retrospective that no outsider has a clear picture of what is actually being spent, or cut. Multiple and overlapping reports are produced using different accounting methodologies. Money not spent in one year is quietly shifted into another, conveniently creating moveable baselines for advertised “cuts.”
- And Don Lenihan points out yet another ruling from Andrew Scheer which will serve to insulate the Cons from any accountability whatsoever for lying to Parliament and the public - this one a requirement that anybody seeking to challenge a false statement be able to prove a direct intention to mislead. As Lenihan notes, that ruling fits nicely into the Cons' general preference for one-way "comms" over meaningful debate.

- Finally, Bruce Cheadle reports on the growing doubt about Senate elections from many of the parties and figures who previously pushed the model. But the point most worth highlighting (particularly given the prospect of a Con Senate majority holding at least theoretical power to utterly stymie the efforts of an NDP government in 2015) is the recognition that the Senate can't legitimately interfere with the decisions of elected representatives now.

[Edit: fixed formatting.]

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 4, 2012

After the Cons refused to listen to the opposition parties' proposed amendments, Wednesday, April 4 saw a day of debate on the main budget motion in the second-last day before a Parliamentary break.

The Big Issue

Nycole Turmel rightly labeled the budget as being based entirely on (gratuitous) austerity, while Peggy Nash described the NDP's proposed alternative to the Cons' ill-advised choices. Andre Bellavance pointed out how cuts to both agriculture programs and food safety could create serious issues for Canada's food supply. Dennis Bevington lamented the lack of investment in renewable energy, then wondered what happened to the Stephen Harper who said just an election campaign ago that he would stop the export of raw bitumen rather than devoting his every waking moment to facilitating it. Charmaine Borg noted that the sudden elimination of Katimavik will be particularly harmful for young Canadians interested enough to have planned to participate this year who may find it too late to apply for alternatives. And Linda Duncan nicely summarized how the budget figures to harm Alberta.

In budget-related questions, Scott Simms questioned how budget cuts would affect the CBC, while Helene Laverdiere again wondered why the Cons had chosen to destroy Rights and Democracy. Kirsty Duncan followed up on her previous challenge to Peter Kent as to which groups were supposed to take the place of the slashed National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy; (particularly in light of other groups the Cons had cut); he once again couldn't name a single one. And Elizabeth May wondered why a Prime Minister who once decried federal interference in Alberta was prepared to impose pipeline approvals on an unwilling B.C. public.

Finally, Pierre Poilievre offered up a noteworthy bit of Republican-influenced revisionism, parroting the thoroughly-discredited claim that the 2008 collapse was entirely the result of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rather than having anything at all to do with the type of financial-sector deregulation his party tried to push in Canada.

This Success Must Be Stopped

When Hoang Mai asked why the Cons were cutting the CRA's budget for tax investigation, Gail Shea helpfully responded by acknowledging that the CRA "gets a good return on investment" from the money it does put into enforcement. Which presumably means that the Cons were glad to cut investment precisely because it was succeeding in bringing in revenue which might call into question their desire to slash the federal government.

In Brief

Laurin Liu highlighted the fact that her motion for a committee investigation into public sector employees being used as PR flacks for the tar sands was rejected by the Cons in favour of further cheerleading for oil lobbyists. Francoise Boivin pointed out the complete lack of gender impact assessment behind the Con's budget and noted that women stand to be disproportionately targeted by several questionable decisions.  Don Davies introduced a bill to establish appeals for immigrants denied permanent residency based on disability or health status. And Patricia Davidson's private member's bill on non-corrective contact lessons (as amended by agreement in committee) again received all-party support.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Joan Bryden reports on the Cons' latest abuses of majority government power, this time in allocating and shuffling around the few opposition days already available in Parliament for their own purposes. But it's worth noting the difference between the responses of the affected parties.

On the one hand, Marc Garneau's answer falls into the familiar trap of hoping that the public will rally around the Libs' sense of grievance at being mistreated by the Cons:
Liberals say government House leader Peter Van Loan told his Liberal counterpart, Marc Garneau, that the less-than-optimal timing was deliberate, payback for the Liberals using their last opposition day to hammer the government over the impact of budget cuts on food safety.
What apparently sparked Van Loan's ire was that Liberals had compared the cuts to those made by the former Conservative government of Mike Harris in Ontario, which they linked to the deadly E. coli outbreak in Walkerton. Liberals helpfully pointed out that a number of senior ministers in the Harper government were also members of the Harris cabinet, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
"That 'went too far' and so wings had to be clipped," interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae wrote Friday in a blog post, recounting Van Loan's explanation for the timing of the Liberals' next opposition day.
Rae cited the incident as one of many examples that Canadians are "now living in a democracy with dictatorial tendencies."
On the other, Nathan Cullen's response paints the Cons themselves as missing the point by engaging in such petty efforts to derail debate:
"Did they give us a short day as a punishment? Whatever. You now, they're in the bubble," shrugged NDP House leader Nathan Cullen.
"They can punish away. OK. What were we trying to do? We were trying to be accountable to Canadians. So, who had a good week, who had a bad week is always the question at the end of these kinds of things."
In Cullen's opinion, "punishing us doesn't make them look strong; it makes them look weak," as though the government is afraid of open debate on its own policies.
- Leah DeVellis and Kelly McParland are both rightly appalled by Vic Toews' latest effort to vilify prison inmates - this time by attacking the already-meager income inmates are entitled to earn while incarcerated.

- Ezra Klein neatly juxtaposes how U.S. tax policy designed to disproportionately benefit the wealthy has only added to already-worrisome growth in equality.

- Meanwhile, if we're looking for examples as to how a failure to take health into account as an important social goal leads to results which everybody can agree to be disastrous, the return of whooping cough as a result of short-sighted budget cuts and anti-science hysteria surely fits the bill.

- Finally, I'm not quite sure how Thomas Friedman missed the pattern of anything and everything being up for sale for advertising purposes - and he still seems to miss the point that there's plenty of appetite to pay taxes to support the services people need. But having clued in, he serves up some well-justified concerns:
“Over the last three decades,” he states, “we have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society. A market economy is a tool — a valuable and effective tool — for organizing productive activity. But a ‘market society’ is a place where everything is up for sale. It is a way of life where market values govern every sphere of life.”
Why worry about this trend? Because, Sandel argues, market values are crowding out civic practices. When public schools are plastered with commercial advertising, they teach students to be consumers rather than citizens. When we outsource war to private military contractors, and when we have separate, shorter lines for airport security for those who can afford them, the result is that the affluent and those of modest means live increasingly separate lives, and the class-mixing institutions and public spaces that forge a sense of common experience and shared citizenship get eroded. 
Throughout our society, we are losing the places and institutions that used to bring people together from different walks of life. Sandel calls this the “skyboxification of American life,” and it is troubling. Unless the rich and poor encounter one another in everyday life, it is hard to think of ourselves as engaged in a common project. At a time when to fix our society we need to do big, hard things together, the marketization of public life becomes one more thing pulling us apart. “The great missing debate in contemporary politics,” Sandel writes, “is about the role and reach of markets.” We should be asking where markets serve the public good, and where they don’t belong, he argues. And we should be asking how to rebuild class-mixing institutions.