Saturday, June 23, 2012

Musical interlude

Kaskade - Be Still

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Chantal Hebert theorizes that Canada's political scene has taken every turn Jack Layton might have hoped for since his passing last summer, while Gerald Caplan discusses what the NDP needs to do next:
As the Liberals flounder their way through the next year, and with no federal election due until 2015, the NDP has a rare opportunity to focus on the multitude of areas that must be firmed up if it’s to be taken seriously as a government-in-waiting. It won’t be easy, and nothing can be taken for granted. Three years can go awfully fast, all kinds of hardball opponents are gunning for the party, wholly unanticipated events are certain to scupper the best-laid plans, lots of money is required, and a good many public doubts need to be addressed.
The NDP must look at all aspects of its being and decide what else must change – policies, rhetoric, organization, strategy, tactics? – while remaining true to its enduring goals of social justice, equality and democracy. To win, as Mulcair insists, the NDP must appeal to the many progressive Canadians who have never brought themselves to vote for it before. For 80 years, the party never figured out how to do so. There’s a short three years to come up with some answers.
- But if Thomas Mulcair's speech at #skndp12 is any indication, the party looks to be on the right track in both emphasizing a wider range of concerns than the Cons are willing to recognize, and putting them in terms that cut to the core of the Cons' brand. This offers a small sampling of Mulcair's message:
"People understand what we've been saying," he said. "Some others have tried to make it into something different, but we've been saying the same thing all along. We have to take care of our responsibilities to future generations. The way to do that is to make sure that we look at the economic, the ecological and the social aspects of every problem ... something the Conservatives don't believe in and have not been doing."
In Mulcair's speech, though, the message was framed in terms of economic, environmental and social debts - which goes a step further in both highlighting the Cons' short-sightedness, and tying their well-known fiscal deficits into a wider range of issues.

- Andrew Jackson points out that even as the Canadian economy supposedly recovered in 2010, incomes for working Canadians were entirely stagnant.

- Meanwhile, the Star-Phoenix editorial board notes that a province that's boasting about current growth and projecting far more shouldn't be decreeing that education funding and services will stay flat.

- Scott Stelmaschuk writes about the role of parties in Canada's political scene.

- And finally, Andrew Nikiforuk looks behind the scenes at Enbridge's response to an oil spill - which surely can't inspire much confidence in the Cons' plans to push massive pipelines with no regard for the environment:
Enbridge's control room operators, who open and close pipelines and monitor adequate flow rates, did not know how to respond to alarm warnings or even read warnings on their console system without a trained analyst in the room. At the time they were attempting to execute a scheduled shutdown of the bitumen-carrying line.

The report documents confusion, miscommunication and indifference in the computerized control room that manages some of the world’s longest pipeline systems. (Enbridge's control room is routinely staffed by 25 personnel that work a 12-hour shift.)

At one point the report documents this dramatic scene in the control room:

"Operator B2 said he has never seen this problem before and that it was interesting. Operator B2 stated that the situation looked liked a leak, and Operator B1 stated that they could pump as much as they wanted but could never over pressurize the pipeline. Operator B2 stated that eventually the oil has to go somewhere. Operator B2 said that it seemed as if there was something wrong about the situation. Operator B2 said to Operator B1 'whatever, we're going home and will be off for few days.' Operator B1 stated they were not going to try this again, not on their shift."
[Edit: fixed typo.]

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- I wouldn't want to take Dan Gardner's conclusion as to the effects of power as an immutable truth - as he himself notes in pointing out means of minimizing its risks. But it's certainly an apt description of what's happened since the Harper Cons took power:
The government could have responded by making a show of listening to the opposition and Conservative backbenchers, picking a few innocuous amendments, and passing them. Doing that would have cost the government essentially nothing. But it may have softened the complaints a little. And, at a minimum, it would have taken away the inevitable opposition attack line of “They wouldn’t change so much as a comma! They’re treating Parliament like a rubber stamp!”

But they didn’t do that. Instead, they methodically and relentlessly voted down every single one of hundreds of proposed amendments, no matter how modest or reasonable they may be — making themselves look immodest and unreasonable and seeming to confirm that they do, indeed, expect Parliament to rubber stamp legislation.

Strictly from the perspective of the government’s self-interest, this was astonishingly dumb.

And there’s been a lot of that lately.
(If a) powerful person lives in a bubble, insulated from criticism, surrounded by bobbleheads and bootlickers, his judgment will only get worse. And worse. Until he is making decisions like, hey, let’s announce a plan to make ordinary people work longer to receive Old Age Security in a speech to an audience of billionaires at a Swiss resort! Or, let’s announce changes to Employment Insurance without making so much as a single phone call to the premiers whose provinces will be most affected! Or, let’s automatically reject any amendment suggested by the opposition and ram the bill through even though it would seem to confirm the nasty accusations being levelled at us! 
Power corrupts. And it makes the powerful stupid.
Smart leaders know that, of course. It’s why they disperse and decentralize power, and create checks and balances. It’s why they seek out contrary views and dissonant information, why they consult, negotiate, and compromise.
- And Errol Mendes also comments on the Harper Cons' aversion to checks, balances and accountability.

- Meanwhile, it's certainly worth noting that Dean Del Mastro's denials of any knowledge of Elections Canada's investigation aren't any more plausible than most Con spin. But the part I find most interesting is the Harper-esque relationship between the financial agent who's actually responsible for campaign finances, and the candidate who denied any knowledge whatsoever of what was happening:
Ritchie’s affidavit describes how he and another Elections Canada investigator, Al Mathews, went to Peterborough to interview Daniel Rosborough, the financial agent of Del Mastro’s electoral district association.
According to Ritchie’s sworn statement, Rosborough told them “He had contacted Dean Del Mastro after I had called him and that he was advised by Dean Del Mastro that he (Dean Del Mastro) would handle the matter with Elections Canada.”
And, Ritchie said, Rosborough told them, “He (Daniel Rosborough) would not provide access to the EDA’s records or be interviewed unless authorized to do so by Dean Del Mastro.”
The two men had arranged to interview Rosborough about the association’s finances two weeks in advance of their Dec. 15 meeting, but when they got to his Peterborough office, he refused to be interviewed and told them to talk to Del Mastro directly.
- Robert Skidelsky points out that the long-promised link between corporate-owned technology capable of replacing difficult work and greater leisure time has never materialized.

- Finally, Jonathan Douglas discusses the link between library services and poverty alleviation in the UK - a particularly important connection at a time when appointees who don't seem to have any interest in the latter are showing their lack of interest in the former:
Libraries have always had a bias to the poor. It sat at the heart of their founding vision. In the past fifteen years this has been rediscovered in the context of social inclusion policy. The challenge is to put this into practice at a time when libraries’ resources themselves are being savagely cut in many places.
However the prize is great: If libraries can effectively work with individuals and the communities most at risk of poverty, they can turn lives round, boost relative social mobility and even stop the newly enlarged poverty footprint in the UK becoming intergenerational. They will also demonstrate their indispensible role in UK policy. They will demonstrate that their statutory role is no whim, but recognition of how libraries make society fairer and richer, in every sense.
The evidence  for libraries’ impact on poverty is compelling,  particularly in combating the inequalities associated with child poverty.  The Effective Provision of Preschool Education research and more recently the Avon Longitudinal  Study of Parents and Children have demonstrated the power of libraries in closing the one year gap in school readiness that exists between rich and poor children and which lays the foundations for many later inequalities.
However the effectiveness of libraries against the poverty agenda is dependent on the extent to which they commit to this audience as a priority, and the extent to which they provide services which  tackle poverty. Learning and literacy need to be at the heart of this approach.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New column day

Here, on why we shouldn't limit the range of possible contenders in the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership race - and the number of supporters an outside candidate might need to reach in order to find a place on a final ballot.

Demographics from the column are found here (as to Saskatchewan's Aboriginal population) and here (as to the urban/rural numbers).

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jeffrey Simpson criticizes the Cons for killing off the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy as punishment for telling the truth about climate change at its own request:
In a letter to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), Mr. Kent said it was in a “unique position” to offer advice on sustainable development. The government had asked the NRTEE in the past to “conduct research and provide advice on key and emerging issues.” Now, Mr. Kent was asking the NRTEE, with its “unique position,” to conduct a comprehensive review of provincial climate-change plans.

A year after the request and the nice comments about the NRTEE’s past work, however, the Harper government killed the agency in the 2012 budget.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird lashed out at the NRTEE, saying it had repeatedly called for a carbon tax that Canadians had rejected. That statement, typically partisan given the source, was completely false. No matter, the Harper government killed the agency, quite likely because it isn’t much interested in sustainable development.

The NRTEE goes out of business next March, but it did complete the assignment it was given by Mr. Kent. Its report, released last week – the most comprehensive study of where Canada is at in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – suggests why the Harper government wanted to close it.
 - But then, Michael Harris notes that the environment is just one of many casualties of the Cons' stay in power:
With the specter of the Parliamentary Budget Officer taking the Clerk of the Privy Council to court, a momentous question looms over our public affairs: will the Harper government answer a single legitimate question about its conduct of Canada’s public business?

Or is the government’s message that we can all go pleasure ourselves until 2015?
As everybody knows, the vast majority of C-38 has nothing to do with the finances of the country. That makes it a legislative stealth attack, a fraud upon the democratic system. Yet those in the indentured press are already rhapsodizing about the PM’s political acuity. For passing C-38? That’s like praising a firing squad for getting the job done — after all, the target is blindfolded, tied down, and unarmed.
- And Andrew Coyne writes that some of the Cons' supposed core ideals are among the most obvious casualties of the Harper spin machine.

- Meanwhile, Michael Hurley points out that the Ontario Libs' own omnibus budget included loosening the rules on P3 disasters just like the ORNGE scandal that's already caused so much trouble for McGuinty and company. And Thomas Walkom observes that the "trojan horse" criticism applies just as much to Ontario's budget bill as the federal one.

- Finally, Canadians for Tax Fairness rightly highlights the widespread public support for the type of financial transaction tax that the Cons have deliberately blocked on the international stage.

Burning question

Jim Flaherty is taking credit for saving consumers money by tightening mortgage insurance rules. So how many extra thousands of dollars did he cost Canadian homeowners when he loosened precisely the same rules before?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Dan Gardner draws some parallels between the Cons' attacks on Europe and the well-worn (and entirely false) Reagan-era "welfare queen" line of spin. But I wonder whether the Cons are making matters somewhat more difficult for themselves by trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with exactly the enemy they're otherwise trying to vilify.

- Mia Rabson and Tim Harper both wonder how efforts to unite against the Harper Cons might play into the Libs' leadership race. But I wonder whether the question of how a "natural governing party" reacts to falling to third place may in fact demand more than a single candidate seeking to cooperate.

Instead, I'd figure that the Libs' contenders will need to supplement the usual leadership questions of "who are you?" and "what is your vision for Canada?" with another core form of definition: "why do you think a Liberal party is needed to achieve your vision?". And if nobody offers a sufficiently compelling answer to the third question, then it won't much matter who runs for or against cooperation.

- Adam Radwanski expands on my theory that Tim Hudak has been let off far too easy for his complete lack of principle.

- Finally, Nathan Vanderklippe and Carrie Tait report on the latest pipeline spill - this one from Enbridge as it seeks carte blanche to decide what protections are needed for a Gateway pipeline. But as David Suzuki notes, the news of a spill really just means it's a day ending in "y".

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats on the outs.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Roy Romanow rightly notes that Canada's federal government needs to take a lead role in building our public health care system, rather than abandoning the field to the province.

- Now that the Cons' budget has raised the question of whether we can afford to do even less to protect against oil-related environmental disasters, the list of pipeline spills receiving public attention continues to grow - with Mike de Souza pointing out 100 spills and accidents under federal jurisdiction alone over the last two years.

- Mary Agnes Welch reports on the latest study (this one based in Winnipeg) showing the effects of inequality and income disparity on health.

- Katherine Norton writes about Saskatchewan's impending federal boundary redistribution.

- And finally, Paul Dechene laments Regina's complete failure to do anything about a housing crisis that's been festering for years.

Draft Erin Weir

No, Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign isn't officially underway. But Jim Stanford and a lengthy list of distinguished Canadian economists have a suggestion as to who might deserve a look once the race begins:
We, the undersigned economists, write to encourage you to nominate Erin Weir for your provincial leadership. He is a committed social democrat with an extensive record of articulating public policies to ensure that all Saskatchewan people benefit from economic development. Having a prominent economist as leader would strengthen the NDP’s credibility on fiscal and economic issues.
We also note that Premier Brad Wall has emerged as a vocal critic of national social programs and of the federal NDP. The province and the country would be well served by a Saskatchewan NDP leader able to engage Wall and advance a progressive western perspective on national economic issues.
So far, most of the leadership discussion has been based on an expected contest between current MLAs Trent Wotherspoon and Cam Broten, with a significant X-factor in the possibility that 2009 runner-up Ryan Meili might join the fray. But the addition of Erin's name to the mix should nicely expand the range of options in time for this weekend's policy convention - not to mention shaking up what we might have expected for next year's leadership vote.

Update: For those wondering whether there would be a more organized Draft Erin Weir movement, the answer is yes.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Tom Korski nicely captures the essence of the Cons' omnibus attack on the environment (along with anything that stands in the way of a cheap and dirty buck):
C-38 is a gift for oil and gas lobbyists.
It repeals 20 years of environmental case law; it eliminates some 90 per cent of all federal environmental assessments, by one estimate; it tilts the rules for industry where studies are unavoidable; it deliberately fails to define “significant effect” of industrial projects. Might that be, say, a tailings pond in a lake? An open pit mine on a trout stream? “That omission is deliberate,” one lawyer told me. “Once you define ‘significant effect,’ you have to start saying ‘no.’ ”
No one can explain what vexing environmental problem C-38 aims to solve. One federal study rated Canada as second only to Chile with the fewest environmental barriers to investment—and that was before C-38...
Who wrote C-38?
The authorship is anonymous, though it is worth noting Lobbyist Registry records show Cabinet members had 81 meetings with oil and gas lobbyists before the bill was introduced.  The meetings were private. Joe Oliver hosted lobbyists 44 times. Asked once who complained about environmental assessments, Oliver told a reporter: “When I was in China – and I’ve been there a couple of times, once with the prime minister, we heard that there was a tremendous interest on the part of Chinese investors in Canadian projects.…However, they were concerned about the delays they have seen.”
So, Parliament repealed its own environmental practices to please Sinopec directors in Beijing.
- Meanwhile, David Climenhaga laments the fact that our sad track record of regular oil spills hasn't had much impact on public perceptions. But if anything, I have to wonder whether C-38 may help to change the tendency to move on from what are otherwise perceived as unconnected incidents by providing an obvious framework for future reporting.

- Miles Corak points out yet another vital piece of Statistics Canada research being shredded by the Cons - this time the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics which traces individual labour status over time. And it surely can't say much for where the Cons expect Canadians to be in the years to come if they're looking to destroy the information that would allow us to answer the question, "are you better off now than before we took power?".

- Finally, pogge highlights yet another example of how "free trade" agreements in fact serve to do nothing but prioritize corporate demands over the public interest.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Sunday reading.

- It's a few months old, but the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy's comparison of U.S. states with a zero personal income tax to those with the highest tax levels looks like one of the most clear refutations yet of the idea that there's any real economic benefit to be had in handing yet more money to those who already have the most.
- Andrew Mitrovica criticizes Chuck Strahl's qualifications to oversee CSIS, and not without some valid points about Strahl's lack of knowledge and experience in the area of security oversight. But I'd think the most important problem is this: somebody whose most recent public job responsibility was to say "yes, Mr. Harper" at every turn probably shouldn't be in charge of keeping tabs on abuses of state power.

- The Cons' attempt to run over parliamentary democracy with an omnibus budget bill has even managed to lose Lorne Gunter. Yes, that Lorne Gunter.

- Finally, Paul Krugman points out that the limited amount the U.K. Conservatives have been willing to put into stimulus when it's most sorely needed has consisted of little more than a breeding ground for cronyism.

Pathologies revealed

Paul Wells is right to point out the parallels between the McGuinty Libs' environmentally-destructive, all-or-nothing omnibus bill and the similar legislation being rammed through Parliament by the Harper Cons. But there's an even more telling connection between Ontario and federal politics.

At the time they presented their 2008 FU to a country headed into a recession, the Cons had a theory as to how they might manage to maintain their hold on power:
(According to "various and sundry Conservative pundits, both official and unofficial"), the Conservatives are counting on the NDP eventually coming around to their point of view, on the theory that Jack Layton and company’s almost pathological desire to destroy the Liberal Party forever will override any short-term concern over losing a few million dollars a year.
Needless to say, the bet that the NDP would be more focused on attacking the Libs than policy outcomes proved a disastrous one. But it also strikes me as one of the most important windows on the Conservative soul we've seen since the party took power. After all, since the expectation that a party would be willing to vote against everything it stands for solely to make life difficult for the Libs obviously wasn't based on the actual NDP, it presumably reflected the Cons' own mindset.

And in Ontario, we now seem to have confirmation of that fact.

By all rights, the PCs would have been expected to reject the NDP's amendments - which in aiming to preserve public services and environmental protection run contrary to both the PCs' own values, and the exact policies being implemented by their federal cousins. But unlike Jack Layton's NDP, Tim Hudak and his MPPs apparently have no qualms about voting against everything they believe in for the sake of making life difficult for their neighbourhood Liberal party.

Of course, Layton's principled stand helped to lay the groundwork for the NDP's rise to the forefront of federal politics. And one might hope for the converse to prove true as well, with Hudak paying a steep price for his party's complete lack of principle.

But there's one problem with that prospect, as the McGuinty Libs seem utterly tone-deaf as to whose position deserves to be attacked. Faced with two opposing parties - one genuinely trying to improve legislation in accordance with its own values, and another manifesting pathological hatred which overrides any values it could otherwise claim - McGuinty and his henchmen have somehow decided to target only the former. 

That figures to let Hudak off the hook for what would otherwise be a flashing neon warning sign about his unfitness for office (not to mention an opportunity to turn much of the corporate community against the PCs). But hopefully it will also serve to highlight the distinction between Andrea Horwath's efforts to make things better and McGuinty's insistence that no such thing is possible - which at least at the federal level was exactly the combination which has the Libs questioning their own existence.