Saturday, July 07, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lori Wallach discusses the corporate coup underlying the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the Cons are so eager to force on Canada:
(T)rade is the least of it. Only two of TPP’s 26 chapters actually have to do with trade. The rest is about new enforceable corporate rights and privileges and constraints on government regulation. This includes new extensions of price-raising drug patent monopolies, corporate rights to attack government drug formulary pricing plans, safeguards to facilitate job offshoring and new corporate controls over natural resources.

Also included are severe limits on government regulation of financial services, zoning and land use, product and food safety, energy and other essential services, tobacco, and more. The copyright chapter poses many of the threats to Internet freedom of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was stalled in Congress under intense public pressure.

The proposed pact is so invasive of domestic policy space that it would even limit how governments can spend tax dollars. Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences used to reinvest our tax dollars in the American economy would be banned and sweat-free, human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts would be subject to challenge in closed-door foreign tribunals.
- But as Jim Stanford notes, the TPP isn't the only means being used to push U.S. anti-labour principles in Canada. Meanwhile, Murray Mandryk muses about what the labour movement needs to do to win over the general public - though I have to wonder whether some of the resources now being spent on general warm-and-fuzzy messaging might be better put to use explaining why the few fights which make the news are so important.

- Peter O'Neil reports on Robyn Allan's observation that Canadians could get stuck with the bill for anything that goes wrong with new pipelines as the operators insulate themselves from any responsibility.

- Finally, Dr. Dawg points out three takes on the developing interest rate manipulation scandal.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Musical interlude

Big Wreck - Wolves

Friday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- Dan Gardner nicely sums up how any Con cabinet shuffles are utterly irrelevant since Stephen Harper prefers ciphers to functional ministers in any event:
In the past, parties in power always had factions, and ministers with their own political clout, and these provided at least a modest check on the power of the prime minister. “In the old Progressive Conservative (party), you had Flora MacDonald who ran for the leadership and had her own base of support. You had Joe Clark, who was a former prime minister,” Hicks says. When Mulroney said he was going to cut foreign aid, Clark threatened to resign. Mulroney backed down. That’s inconceivable today.

There’s nothing like this in the Conservative party because it is new and Stephen Harper built it from the ground up. “It’s a corporation in which one person controls all the mechanisms for fundraising, for distribution, for marketing, for organizing nomination contests in everybody’s riding. It’s all centralized. That’s unique to this party.”

Harper has never had to deal with ministers who wield their own political clout. “The closest one you had was Peter MacKay,” thanks to his leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. But when the PMO told MacKay he couldn’t hire the man he wanted to be his chief of staff, MacKay bit his lip and did as he was told. Ever since, he’s been a loyal soldier. Today, he has the political stature of a hobbit.

Next to the prime minister, all the cabinet ministers do. That’s not an accident. Napoleon suffers no rivals.
So what are reformers left with? We’ll have to wait — for the Emperor to meet his Waterloo in 2015, or to retire when it pleases him.
- And the Economist (which, let's not forget, managed to make the "Mr. Dithers" label stick to Paul Martin) is also rather less than impressed with Harper's anti-democratic actions - including a "tendency to play fast and loose with the rules".

- Aaron Wherry starts digging through the 2011 Canadian Election Survey data and finds yet more evidence that actual voters need less convincing to consider the NDP as an option than some seem to want to claim:
 During the campaign and in a post-election survey, the CES asked for respondents to identify their second-choice party and in both cases the NDP bested all other parties—28.4% during the campaign and 28.7% after. During the campaign, respondents were asked if there was a party they would never vote and only 10.4% identified the NDP (compared to 18.8% for the Liberals and 33.1% for the Conservatives).
- Which is to say that there isn't any reason to think for a second that trying to change the NDP's successful set of values would accomplish much of anything. But as Bruce Anderson notes, if there was ever a need for the NDP to try to look more moderate, the Cons' hard-right radicalism is largely doing the job already.

- Finally, Pat Atkinson points out that we can't take Medicare for granted. And that of course holds true for all of the social gains that are now under attack by corporate interests who look to the robber-baron era as a model.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


In case we needed any more confirmation that the Cons won't even pretend to be honest about what they've done until after they're done having to answer for it, this nicely fits the pattern. So who thinks we can afford to let any of the rest of the Cons keep hiding out any longer than can be avoided?

Thursday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- For those wondering what might become of Nathan Cullen's leadership campaign plan to work with progressives of all party stripes, we now have part of the answer: in advance of the Calgary Centre by-election, Cullen will be reaching out to discuss how to challenge the Cons.

- Jim Stanford highlights rankings of corporate size showing just how dependent Canada already is on the finance and resource sectors - a problem which the Cons are of course determined to exacerbate.

- Meanwhile, Sarah Jaffe points out what I'm sure is only a purely coincidental combination of record high profits and all-time low wages as a share of the U.S.' economy.

- Finally, Alex Himelfarb has some ideas on how to take back our democracy:
We are living in a state of what the late American sociologist Robert Merton called anomie, when a society’s goals and means no longer serve most people.  Our model seems to be busted. Today’s problems seem more complex, unfamiliar, and our institutions seem unable to cope.

We are past the point of tinkering.  The goals that gave us shared purpose seem now out of reach, less relevant, and we have lost or are losing trust in government as a means for collective progress.
(M)any have opted out of conventional politics, including voting, but they are also finding new ways to engage in public life, in their communities or internationally, and some have taken to the streets, standing outside all our conventional institutions and conventional wisdom to find something new. They are the digital generation that can make those of us stuck in the industrial age so uncomfortable. How the semi-leaderless Occupy Movement or the students in the streets of Montreal drove so many of us crazy.  Their leadership was emergent, fragile, shifting, in a word, democratic. Networks and communities replaced hierarchies.  And the generational divide is exposed.  This is not the hyper-individualism or entitlement thinking that detractors claimed.  It is about rebuilding civil society from the ground up, about a new kind of solidarity and a different kind of leadership.

Finding new ways to engage and contribute, rejecting government as parent or nanny, refusing to see the state as the answer to everything – that is all part of a better future.  But to the extent that the young ignore conventional political institutions, including voting, to the extent that they do not engage with the state and try to make it better, we risk an ever-wider gap between civil society and state and a continuing erosion of our democracy.

Holding on to stale notions of leadership is dangerous but so too is disengagement.  We risk a state that becomes more and more remote and authoritarian, less and less willing or able to pursue a better future, to constrain the powerful, to listen to or help those who need government most, to solve problems that cut across our communities and the generations.

We need Canadians across the estates and across the generations to get indignant, to get engaged, to enter the fray, to re-imagine Canada, and to take back our democracy,

New column day

Here, on how the most important labour reform Saskatchewan could pursue would be a guaranteed annual income that allows workers to plan for the long term rather than being stuck in low-income traps.

For more on the Mincome project discussed in the column, see here and here. And anybody interested in taking up the message with the Wall government can do so here.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jim Stanford discusses how Canadian right-wing parties are picking up on the most extreme anti-labour stances of the U.S. Republicans. But I do have to wonder whether the comparison between union dues and taxes is one that they'd particularly shy away from: isn't much of the point to try to eliminate both as means of providing resources to achieve social ends?

- Meanwhile, Linda McQuaig explains why baby hippos and others have plenty of reason to be concerned about debt hysteria. And David Climenhaga points out that even from an economic standpoint, there's far more risk in the Cons' demands for austerity than in funding citizens' basic needs.

- Trish Hennessy serves up some numbers on food security:
Approximate number of Canadians who turn to food banks every month, up from almost 714,000 who reported using a food bank in 1998. (Source and source)
1.9 million
Number of Canadians, aged 12 or over, who lived in food insecure households in 2007-08. (Source)
Percentage of Canadian families with at least one child under six who were food insecure in 2007-08. That's one in 10 families. (Source)
Percentage of First Nations adults aged 25-39 who reported they were hungry but could not afford to buy food in 2007-8. (Source)
 - Finally, I'm not quite sure who's writing under Margaret Wente's byline. But more like this please:
Once upon a time, banks and drug companies enjoyed good reputations and a relatively high degree of trust. Most people regarded them as useful industries that created products and services that benefited society. Sometimes the people who ran these companies even lived down the street. Those times are long gone. Today these industries are movie villains – multibillion-dollar enterprises portrayed as so rapacious they’ll do anything to turn a buck. Judging by current events, this characterization is all too true. Some of the most powerful people in these lines of work will lie, cheat and steal until they get caught, all the while assuring us that they are adding incomparable value to society.

What happened? Both banking and pharmaceuticals went global, and the stakes (and rewards) shot up. Today they count their sales and profits in the billions. Today they’re led by corporate rock stars who make more money than most people can ever dream of. Their compensation is tied to stock prices, which means they have every incentive to do whatever it takes to goose short-term results. This is called “aligning management’s interests with the shareholders,” and for years was thought to be a good thing. Unfortunately, it’s not always such a good thing for the public.
Simple logic dictates that if the risk is small and the reward is great, the temptation to lie, cheat and steal will occasionally prove overwhelming. Those billion-dollar fines are just the cost of doing business.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Yard cats.

The Saskatchewan Way

It's certainly a plus to see a new site encouraging Saskatchewan citizens to speak out against the Saskatchewan Party's planned attacks on workers.

But while Brad Wall's party obviously has its own reasons for limiting any discussion to the issues it's chosen, there's no reason for anybody making an outside submission to consider themselves limited by the Sask Party's choices. And so I'll encourage readers to go beyond the default options and point out that in addition to wanting to avoid making matters worse, we also recognize that there's plenty more to be done in terms of living wages, job security and greater social support for workers.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Roy Romanow comments on Medicare as a major part of Canada's identity:
The achievement of universal health care took a long, acrimonious and protracted road. It is no surprise to me that Saskatchewan was at the forefront of this journey. The province’s citizens learned many hard lessons during the desperation of the Great Depression and the sacrifices of the Second World War. They learned about generosity, about hardship and fairness, about boom and bust. They learned about the imperative for co-operative action. They came to understand that the notion of shared destiny was key to our existence.
And so it is with other regions in Canada, where geography and demographics may vary, where many waves of immigration began with an initial sense of isolation, but where we all learned to see survival and progress as a test of our ongoing ability to come together and to remain united around shared values.
(T)he well-being of our citizenry goes beyond health care; it is dependent on preventing illness and tackling the more fundamental barriers to good health, including social, economic and environmental factors. How we treat the environment has a direct impact on our health and the longevity of a sustainable economy. The growing gap between the rich and poor directly affects our health and the fiscal demands on our health-care system.
Every day, Canada faces new challenges that prompt key questions about what kind of people we are and what kind of future we wish to shape.
As we celebrate the birth of our nation and of medicare, we must ask ourselves: What kind of Canada do we want? Because, as I see it, the choice Canadians make about health care is fundamentally intertwined with our values and future.
- Meanwhile, the Cons are backtracking on their much-criticized cuts to refugee health care by declaring that they only want to leave some refugees high and dry. But it's still highly dubious the Cons are even more explicitly taking the power to pick and choose among new arrivals to Canada to determine who they want to have access to health care.

- Speaking of the Cons' unaccountable and opaque political decision-making, Don Lenihan theorizes that the Harper reign will be seen as the culmination of centralizing pattern started under Trudeau while pointing out why that's a problem:
The lesson here is simple: too much centralization undermines legitimacy. The more scope a government thinks it has to act unilaterally in the name of effectiveness, the less legitimacy those actions will have.
- But while we should be on the lookout for ways of making governance more open and democratic, Barbara Yaffe's musings about a no-party system don't strike me as a particularly realistic or desirable response.

- Finally, Dr. Dawg runs down some of the important stories of public dissent that were largely whitewashed in favour of all-jingoism, all-the-time Canada Day coverage.

Monday, July 02, 2012

On risky bets

Others have already batted about some theories about the Cons' first set of attack ads against Tom Mulcair. But it's worth noting that there are a couple of important differences between the first salvo against Mulcair, and the previous saturation campaigns against Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

While it's been pointed out that the newer ads are more focused on policy, it hasn't much been noted how much more easily they can then be refuted if Mulcair does an effective job of holding the NDP's ground.

Casual political observers didn't have much frame of reference to determine whether Dion was "not a leader" or whether Ignatieff was "just visiting" precisely because those talking points were utterly meaningless. And that meant there wasn't much either could do to shed the initial label imprinted on them by the Cons.

But by putting the focus on Mulcair's economic theories, the Cons are opening the door for him to talk about why the NDP's plans make sense - which looks to be well within his comfort zone. And given that the public has been in broad agreement with the NDP in general as well as the very ideas the Cons are trying to paint as extreme, that may mean that even the best-case scenario includes plenty of downside for the Cons.

Yet even that understates the Cons' gamble in framing a contrast of "risky" against "safe". In effect, a party which has been drinking its own Kool-Aid for years has now staked its political future on a bet that nothing will happen over the next three-plus years to cause Canadians to see continued Con government as risky - even as its own tendency toward deregulation and crony capitalism (epitomized by the wholesale shredding of environmental legislation in C-38) radically increases the likelihood of something going wrong which would turn that dynamic on its head.

So if the ballot question in 2015 is really one about risk, the Cons may have already set themselves up to lose. And while we'd obviously prefer not to see Canada left to deal with the fallout, it's hard to imagine a more deserving end for Harper and his party.

On open channels

Fern Hill is frustrated at how political reporters have tried to make a non-story out of the #denounceharper hashtag which trended globally yesterday as Twitter users took the opportunity to discuss what Canadians actually want for Canada Day. And I can certainly understand the concern at normally well-connected reporters choosing to dismiss widespread public activism, particularly in contrast to such compelling issues of public importance as "what do you call the July 1st holiday?"

But I'd think there's a more positive side to the story: based on Kev's numbers, it's possible to reach upwards of 14 million people to talk about the gap between the Canada we want and the Con petro-state we're stuck with even without any particular help from most media outlets. And if we can make a habit of developing those types of channels while not worrying about what the media ignores, then we should be able to significantly reshape how a large number of people see Canada's political landscape - long before either governmental PR flacks or media gatekeepers bother to pay attention.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Mia Rabson writes that patronage and secrecy are thriving under the Harper Cons, even after they've lost any excuse about other parties' ability to stop their plans:
But when the federal appointments process has no transparency, any time someone with political ties as strong as Larkin's gets a pretty plum appointment (she could earn up to $17,000 a year in per diems for attending board meetings), it is always going to raise serious questions about the merits of the appointment.

It is interesting that with some other major promises Harper couldn't fulfil in a minority government -- such as eliminating the long-gun registry and the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board -- he simply held off until he got his majority and then pushed the changes through.

But when it came to an appointments commission to turn off the taps to the patronage gravy train, Harper earned his monopoly and then eliminated the whole idea entirely in a little more than a year.
If the prime minister still believes in openness and transparency in appointments and that people should be chosen based on merit, not party ties, there is no sign of it.
- Martin Regg Cohn discusses Tim Hudak's attack on Ontario workers:
Ontario’s PC party is coming to Caterpillar’s defence — by branding the victims as the villains. Yes, blame the union — because big labour can’t see the Caterpillars marching.

That’s the forward-looking vision you’ll be hearing from Opposition Leader Tim Hudak, who has unveiled a radical anti-union agenda to help rebrand his putatively Progressive Conservative party: the end of unionism, replaced by a more “flexible” future.

Hudak eschews the loaded phrase, “right-to-work,” which evokes an aggressive, Wisconsin-style anti-union movement. But make no mistake, this is a declaration of war against organized labour by a politician firing the starter’s pistol in a race to the bottom.

Under his new Tory roadmap, Ontario will become a province where Caterpillars crush unions. A place where workers who still benefit from collective bargaining need not pay union dues — so that membership atrophies, money dries up, and the labour movement is disemboweled.
- Meanwhile, David Climenhaga duly mocks the National Post's horror at discovering that unions aren't leaving youth outreach solely to the corporate sector.

- Finally, Bea Vongdouangchanh cites Michael Geist in reporting that the copyright bill forced through Parliament by the Cons has needlessly imposed a strict digital lock scheme which will punish Canadian consumers for the sole benefit of corporate content distributors.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

This and that to occupy your Canada Day.

- Tim Harford discusses why randomized trials as part of a genuine evidence-gathering process are a must in developing public policy.

- Mike de Souza reports that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans was already short on resources to do its job even before the Harper Cons decided to start hacking away at it. And Keith Ashfield is apparently nowhere to be found since he acknowledged that the Cons' plan is to facilitate pollution in Canadian water.

- Mark McCaw makes the case for peaceful protest against the Harper Cons. And it makes all the sense in the world to look at such a strategy against a government which thinks its only job in dealing with the public is to manage PR rather than to actually listen to citizens' concerns.

- Finally, both Gerald Caplan and Dr. Dawg see Canada Day as an opportunity to discuss the country we want - rather than settling for the deterioration the Cons are inflicting on us. Meanwhile, anybody in Regina looking for information on what's going on can stop by here.

The sales pitch

Following up on yesterday's Photoshop post, let's salute one of the most eminently parody-worthy moments of the Cons' spring: namely, Joe Oliver's pitch to get Canadians drinking water from oil sands tailings ponds.

Joe Oliver pitches Conservative Sludge

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Needless to say, the Saskatchewan Roughriders' season opener couldn't have gone much better. But let's note that the game was somewhat closer than it may have appeared on the scoreboard - even while highlighting what parts of the game may bode very well for the 'Riders' chances in 2012.

To start with, we shouldn't forget that the Ticats had plenty of chances to take the game in a different direction - with a long touchdown pass called off on a penalty, and two near-interceptions dropped by Geoff Tisdale. Those plays may not have made all the difference on the scoreboard, but the second half would likely have played out differently if the 'Riders hadn't held the advantage on the scoreboard.

That said, those types of plays which can create a gap between the scoreboard and the flow of the game are inevitable. And on the latter front, the 'Riders managed to outperform Hamilton through most of the game.

For the 'Riders' offense, even the solid scoring and yardage numbers didn't tell the whole story. Instead, there were two twists in how the team put up 43 points and 500 yards that look rather promising for the season to come.

First, there was a possible new step in Darian Durant's development as a quarterback. In the past, his success has largely been based on a combination of scrambling ability and a willingness to take risks. But on Friday he was able to control the play much more than in the past: most of his throws not only found their receivers but connected at just the right time and place, meaning that in addition to completing passes Durant gave his receivers every opportunity to make plays after the catch.

And that was the second revelation from the 'Riders' opener.  Yes, Weston Dressler has been elusive in the past - but I don't recall him ever leaving quite as many defenders grabbing at thin air as he did Friday night. And Kory Sheets was roughly on par with Dressler's shiftiness as both a rusher and a receiver, while at least a couple of other receivers also managed to manufacture big plays out of slipped tackles.

Of course, an improved offensive line went a long way toward allowing for the boosts in timing and playmaking we saw on Friday. But if Durant and his receivers can go beyond merely playing a possession game and turn small windows into massive gains, then the 'Riders offense may be better than we've seen in a long time.

On defence, the 'Riders were mostly effective but unspectacular. The most promising sign was the combination of sacks and Hamilton holding penalties (suggesting that the 'Riders' pass rush indeed managed to make a difference). But there were a couple of breakdowns in the 'Riders' own tackling, and there looks to be plenty of room for the secondary to make more plays than it did against the Ticats.

That said, there's much more reason for optimism than concern based on the 'Riders' season opener. And we'll find out soon whether the 'Riders can keep up the pace.