Saturday, August 18, 2012

On potential support

Abacus' latest federal poll includes some noteworthy data on which voters see a real prospect of shifting their preferences - and particularly on the number of voters who are willing to entirely rule out a vote for either the Cons or the NDP.

In particular, Bloc and Lib supporters are roughly twice as likely to say there's "no chance" of their supporting the Cons than the NDP (72%-37% and 50%-24% respectively), while the Greens aren't far behind at 52%-30% - all of which suggests that plenty of non-supporters are somewhat leaving open the possibility of uniting behind the NDP as the leading alternative to the Cons. And even comparing the parties' own supporters, more NDP than Con voters rule out a vote for the other party by a 63%-56% margin.

Which leaves one noteworthy group of voters where the Cons point to a slight advantage in growth potential: those who are truly undecided, who rule the Cons out slightly less than the NDP (43% compared to 48%, with a comparable advantage in respondents indicating a "fair chance" of support).

Now, I'd be interested to find out what group of voters is mostly represented in the "undecided" group to produce that result. (Perhaps Red Tories and blue Libs who aren't currently satisfied enough with any of the options to indicate a preference?) But it's noteworthy that the NDP looks to have far more room for growth than the Cons among every other party's supporters - meaning that the Cons' hold on power may depend on their being able to reach voters who haven't yet found any reason to support them, rather than merely catering to their current base.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Toby Sanger discusses how wealthy Canadians - especially in the financial sector - are making more and more use of offshore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share:
The latest Statistics Canada figures  show 24% of Canadian direct investment overseas in 2011 went to the top twelve tax havens, up from 10% in 1987.   In fact, tax havens of the Barbados, Cayman Islands, Ireland, Luxembourg and Bermuda were five of the top eight national destinations of total Canadian investment abroad, with the US, UK and Australia the only countries not considered tax havens in this group.

These totals would be even higher if they included figures for other tax havens such as Monaco, Liechtenstein and many others where the figures either aren’t available or weren’t made available for confidentiality reasons.  They also don’t include money going to tax havens associated with the UK and the US, such as Channel Islands, or through banks in those countries.

The finance and insurance sector now accounts for over 51% of Canada’s total direct investment overseas, more than double its share from 1987, more evidence that a large share of this money is going overseas to avoid taxes.   The Harper government has lauded Canada’s growing investment overseas, claiming it shows looser foreign investment rules (which allowed numerous takeovers of Canadian industry) have been beneficial, but the actual figures show the reality is quite different.  A large and growing share of this money isn’t going into real capital investments that could ultimately benefit people overseas or in Canada; it’s going into tax avoidance that benefits a wealthy few at the expense of the large majority in Canada and around the world.
 - Meanwhile, Art Eggleton is learning that the best way to make the case to help Canadians living in poverty is to advocate for greater equality at all levels of income.

- Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher report on the Cons' response to polling data on the effect of Robocon. But it's most noteworthy that a shotgun approach may have shot the Cons' own case in the foot since so many of the Cons' attacks have been pre-refuted for the court's convenience:
In her 35-page affidavit, Corbin says Graves’ results cannot be relied on because the survey was conducted so long after the fact.

“It is implausible that consumers would remember not only getting a call a year after it occurred, but specific details of the call.”

Graves had said in his affidavit that he dealt with the possibility of “over-remembering” by comparing his results in the seven ridings with a control group of 1,500 people in other ridings.

Corbin suggests Graves didn’t make his raw data available for others to review. However, the poll results have been posted on since shortly after his affidavit was filed.
- And pogge offers up another election fraud roundup, with Con MP Peter Penashue apparently joining the list of Con MPs who manage to stand out in the cover-up department even by his party's pathetic standards.

- Finally, Susan Delacourt follows up on the idea of mandatory voting with an apt observation as to how it would change the complexion of election day:
In Australia, voting is mandatory. In Canada, it’s not. Muttart told me earlier this year that he was struck by how quiet things are there on election day — all the frenzied get-out-the-vote efforts by parties in Canada simply don’t exist in Australia.

Ask any Canadian political volunteer, of any stripe, about that big E-day push, known by the acronym GOTV. It can be a circus. And in the midst of that melee in the 2011 federal election, someone got the idea that the tools of GOTV, the databases and the phone contacts, could be used just as easily to keep voters away from the polls.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Musical interlude

Garbage - You Look So Fine (Acoustic)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Andrew Jackson thoroughly demolishes the argument that after three decades of wage stagnation and soaring corporate profits, Canada's economy somehow needs to see workers suffer even more:
The reality is that the pay of most workers has stagnated in real terms over the past thirty years as the profit share of  GDP has increased at the expense of wages, and as wages have become much more unequal with more and more of the total wage and salary bill going to the top 1% made up mainly of senior executives. As the OECD recently reported, since 1990, 6% of total national income has been shifted from wages to profits and the pay of the top 1% combined.

And a recent Statistics Canada study documents the stagnation of real hourly wages of the majority of Canadian workers between 1981 and 2011. Over that entire thirty year period, the average hourly wage of full-time workers rose by just 14% (and that includes the top 1%.) . This compares to growth of over 50% in real GDP per person over the same period.

The view that wages are “too high” boils down to saying that workers have no right to share in rising national income, all of which should go to profits and senior managers. That is, to say the least, a curious basis on which to sell the proposition that workers have any kind of stake in our current economic arrangements.
- Following up on yesterday's column, Mark Lemstra also sees plenty of reason for optimism in the Canadian Medical Association's focus on the social determinants of health.

- Althia Raj writes about the electoral boundary revision process in B.C. (featuring a commissioner's remarkable declaration that public input will be ignored) and Alberta (where there's reason for optimism in a shift toward better urban representation similar to that proposed in Saskatchewan).

- Sixth Estate is far too kind in responding to David Akin's pointless criticism of one of the most useful tools for accountability we've seen in Canadian politics.

- Finally, I'll give Michael Fougere this much: he's absolutely right that at the moment, the City of Regina's core business isn't so much land development or public administration as catering to private land developers. But this fall's election would seem like a rather important opportunity to change that focus.

A convenient reminder

No, we shouldn't be surprised that Vic Toews is pioneering exactly the type of reality check that's most needed when reporting on the Cons' own PR efforts. But since Toews has helpfully supplied the idea and the template, here's a handy checklist for any churnalist otherwise tempted to merely take a Con announcement and run with it...
Conservative (MP)/(Senator)/(spokesflack) _(name)_ is expected to hold a press conference at _(location)_ on _(date)_.

It is important for you to be aware of the need to respond to any misinformation which might be presented.

_(name)_'s presentation is expected to consist primarily of (talking points pulled directly from Conservative advertising)/(fabricated "facts")/(baseless smears of opposition parties). Before reporting on the press conference, please (apply basic common sense)/(talk to an expert on the subject)/(spend five minutes on teh Google)/(consult government documents which contradict the public statement) to ensure that the most glaring inaccuracies are corrected.
Of course, the above assumes it's actually worth the media's time to report on the Cons' spin in the first place - which is itself highly doubtful. But at the very least, such a filter should go a long way in making sure the truth gets its shoes on and starts catching up to Con misinformation as soon as possible.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Sum Of Us deserves plenty of credit for highlighting Enbridge's attempt to delete a thousand square kilometers of treacherous and sensitive islands in order to sugar-coat the dangers of shipping oil out of Kitimat. But it's also worth noting that the issue goes beyond the precise site chosen as the first and cheapest option: as Enbridge itself has claimed in its attempt to assuage people who stand to be affected by the pipeline inland, there's far more risk involved in shipping oil products by tanker than by pipeline wherever they choose to place the port. And that means the greater outrage is the Cons' utter negligence in doing everything they can to encourage tanker traffic.

- Meanwhile, John O'Connor points out the difference between the Cons' refusal to study or regulate  the genuine dangers of reckless oil production and use, and their determination to find fault with cleaner and safer wind power alternatives.

- Erin catches Don Morgan in a whopper of a lie about the state of Saskatchewan manufacturing since his government took power:
Saskatchewan newspapers report:
“Certainly in professional, scientific and technical areas and in the mining and the manufacturing sector (the job numbers) are very strong,” Don Morgan, minister of advanced education and labour relations, told reporters at news conference Friday.
On Friday, Statistics Canada reported that Saskatchewan manufacturing employment dropped by 900 last month and declined by 600 over the past year. Since Morgan’s Sask. Party government took office, our province has lost 5,100 manufacturing jobs. By what measure is manufacturing employment “very strong”?
It’s easy to understand why Sask. Party politicians would like to claim strong manufacturing employment. They are trying to characterize “Dutch disease” as an eastern Canadian preoccupation. In reality, manufacturing job losses have afflicted all regions of Canada, including Saskatchewan.
- Finally, Bill Curry reports on the radical anti-worker advice that looks to form the basis for the Cons' next budget. But it's worth noting that even the Cons' corporate allies are using inequality language as both a goal and an excuse to attack labour just as brutally as their Republican counterparts:
Labour issues surface in several discussion categories, with the general view that Canadian workers are overpriced. “Need to address wage differentials in labor market among countries; we are losing jobs to other countries,” the memo reads. “Right to Work legislation should be pondered as it creates inequities in productivity; US example was provided.”

In the United States, about two dozen state governments have passed right-to-work legislation, which allows workers to opt out of paying union dues. Critics call the measures a form of union busting.

New column day

Here, on how the Canadian Medical Association's new focus on inequality and the social determinants of health may be nicely timed to shape Canada's political future.

For further reading...
- Some of the CMA's history of advocating for increased privatization can be found here, here and here.
- By way of comparison, more recent documents like the CMA's principles for health-care transformation and its federal budget consultation submission (PDF) take a rather more productive position. And new president Anna Reid looks to be continuing that trend.
- And as an added contrast, compare the issues voted on by the CMA five years ago to those considered and approved this week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tobi Cohen picks up on the possibility of a provincial NDP in Quebec, and notes that the federal party is considering what can be done before the next election after that set for September:
NDP national director Chantale Vallerand told Postmedia News talks are preliminary. “There’s been so many things thrown at us in the past year that we’ve been busy making sure that we were on top of everything at the federal level so we didn’t have any time, resources or energy to devote at a provincial level,” she noted.

“Having said that, we are exploring options and possibilities on how that can be done at the provincial level but it’s not short-term . . . It’s not something we are saying no to.”
- Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher report that the RCMP has been involved in the search for the fraudsters behind Robocon. 

- Peter O'Neil notes that the National Energy Board looks to be engaged in a Keystone Kops routine of its own: having declared last week that it wouldn't consider the scathing U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report on Enbridge's Kalamazoo oil spill, it's now decided to demand that Enbridge file the report in its Gateway pipeline review. Which means that Stephen Harper would have yet more reason to hedge his bets on the pipeline - if he hadn't been the one to rig the game in the first place.

- Finally, Malcolm weighs in on Saskatchewan's proposed riding boundaries.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats reaching out.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- While a misleading "wealth equals health" headline seems to have been the main take-away from the CMA's health polling, Iglika Ivanova frames the issue more accurately in pointing out that the non-wealth determinants of health are the areas where Canada has far more room for improvement:
(L)ifestyle choices are a relatively small factor in shaping health outcomes, much less important than our living and working conditions. In fact, living and working conditions often constrain our choices to a very large extent. The health research is very clear (p. ix):
“Chronic disease can no longer be explained only as an outcome based on engaging in the ‘wrong’ health behaviours. There is a need to look beyond individual responsibility to understand the ways in which the social environment shapes the decisions we make and the behaviours we engage in.”
In other words, the income-related health inequalities the CMA report documents represent unfair and avoidable ill health, and it causes enormous human suffering, costs years of the life of our fellow citizens. As one of the Canadian members of the World Health Organization Commission on Social Determinants of Health, Monique Bégin points out:
The truth is that Canada – the ninth richest country in the world – is so wealthy that it manages to mask the reality of poverty, social exclusion and discrimination, the erosion of employment quality, its adverse mental health outcomes, and youth suicides. While one of the world’s biggest spenders in health care, we have one of the worst records in providing an effective social safety net. What good does it do to treat people’s illnesses, to then send them back to the conditions that made them sick?
This is a national embarrassment and we all have a responsibility to ensure that every Canadian has the opportunity to lead a healthy life.
- And fortunately, the CMA's new president recognizes the distinction:
“We need equitable distribution of health care resources and services so that – within reasonable restrictions such as geography and population [density] – everyone has equal access to important health-care services,” Dr. Reid said.

Beyond pushing for universal access to essential medical care, she said she will use the CMA presidency to raise awareness about the role of the socio-economic determinants of health, and the need to focus on marginalized groups like aboriginal people, those with mental illness and the isolated elderly.

“That’s a huge passion of mine,” she said. “I see the impact of social determinants every day in my work.”
- Carol Goar reviews Joseph Stiglitz' The Price of Inequality,  including this optimistic set of future outcomes:
Looking ahead, the economist sees two possible scenarios.

One is that the mega-rich 1 per cent of the population will realize it is in their own interest to reverse today’s extreme polarization of income. No one benefits from a less productive, less dynamic and less efficient economy.

The other is that the 99 per cent will realize they’ve been sold a bill of goods by their leaders and demand change in ways governments, political parties and employers cannot brush off.

People intuitively get it, he says. They just have to muster the political will to act.
- But then, some people are going out of their way to avoid noticing the corrosive effects of inequality - with Benjamin Hale coining the phrase "veil of opulence" to describe the mindset shared by the Republicans south of the border (among other right-wing parties around the world).

- Finally, Adam Kovac wonders whether we'll see a provincial NDP develop in Quebec. And I'd have to see the prospect as far more likely now than at the start of the current election campaign, as Quebec Solidaire's gleefully hard line on sovereignty strikes me as likely to severely limit the growth potential for the main party which would otherwise have a chance to fill a left-wing vacuum.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Pamela Palmater discusses how the Cons' push to monetize First Nations reserves ultimately looks to be little more than another giveaway to the oil industry:
By now most of you have heard about the Harper government's intention to introduce legislation that will turn reserve lands into individual holdings called fee simple. The legislation has been referred to as the First Nation Property Ownership Act (FNPOA). Some media outlets have referred to it as "privatization" but what the legislation would really do is turn the collective ownership of reserve lands into small pieces of land owned by individuals who could then sell it to non-First Nations peoples, land-holding companies and corporations, like Enbridge for example.

The idea is not a new one. Hernando de Soto has been trying to sell the same idea to Indigenous populations all over the world. The evidence seems to show that the Indigenous peoples are far worse off for it. Prior to de Soto's destructive world tour, the Indigenous Nations in the United States suffered the sting of fee simple legislation in the Dawes Act. Once the lands were given to individuals, the lands were subject to state laws. The same would happen in Canada where the lands would be subject to provincial instead of federal law.

The primary purpose of the Dawes Act was to assimilate Indigenous peoples in the U.S. by breaking up their Indigenous governments. The legislation allowed the government to divide up communal lands into small parcels to be held by individuals. It has been described by historians as:"the culmination of American attempts to destroy tribes and their governments and to open Indian lands to settlement by non-Indians and to development by railroads" (Oklahoma Historical Society). In the Canadian context, similar legislation will open up "Indian lands" for big oil, gas and mineral extraction.
- Meanwhile, Les Whittington reports that the Cons retaliated against Attawapiskat for rightly challenging their own improper actions by then denying federal support for a desperately-needed housing plan.

- Dan Leger notes that the Cons have set themselves up to wear full political responsibility for pushing the Gateway and other pipelines, but recognizes that they have plenty to lose in having made it so.

- Finally, Mia Rabson comments on mandatory voting - including this from one former PM who sees some merit in the idea:
Former Prime Minister Joe Clark told the Free Press in June he was slowly changing his mind about the idea of mandatory voting.

"I used to dismiss it because it seemed to be ordering people to do something they wouldn't do by their will," Clark said, following a forum on youth voting hosted by Elections Canada. "But I think the analogy with speeding laws, with other rules holds. It is a national interest that the public have more participation in the political process and perhaps a requirement to vote would lead to that."

Clark said he hasn't studied the issue much himself, nor has he looked at the experience of mandatory voting in Australia, "but I think we're in a sufficiently serious situation now that we need to look at other alternatives. I don't think we should exclude anything."

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Most of the commentary on Friday's loss to Edmonton has focused on the common traits between the Saskatchewan Roughriders' last three losses. But the more important developments may have been some new weaknesses which figure to make it much tougher for the 'Riders to get back in the win column.

To start with the points which might serve as a distraction, let's note that Friday's game offered a prime opportunity to confuse cause and effect when it comes to late-game turnovers. Yes, Darian Durant was intercepted twice - but only with the 'Riders already well behind in the game, and at a point where playing it safe wasn't an option.

Which isn't to say Durant had a great game overall. While his numbers looked much better for a few big plays (Taj Smith's circus catch and a couple of brilliant runs by Kory Sheets), Durant was once again somewhat off target with many of his throws and decisions (with a completion thrown from across the line of scrimmage serving as a particularly ugly drive-killer). And aside from Sheets, the rest of the offence was equally inconsistent.

But the 'Riders' have shown they can win with a modest offence if the team's other units play well. And that's where Friday's result raised some real cause for concern.

On special teams, Tristan Jackson had by far his worst game of the season. In some cases, that could be traced to obvious missed blocks; in others, it simply looked like Jackson wasn't finding the seams which he normally exploits as well as any returner in the CFL. But it's not an accident that the 'Riders were able to pile up large yardage totals without scoring a lot of points - and much of the problem has to do with the team starting with far worse field position than it has in most games this season.

Likewise, a defence which throttled the Eskimos just a few weeks earlier suddenly looked helpless against Steven Jyles' offence. And while most of the commentary so far has focused on the secondary, it wasn't only the Eskimos' passing attack that was unrecognizable compared to week 2: Hugh Charles also had a strong game thanks in large part to poor tackling by the 'Riders' run-stoppers.

Which is to say that rather than merely focusing on their late-game weaknesses, the 'Riders also look to have some work to do in rebuilding what seemed to be their strengths. And with nearly every team in the CFL clustered around the .500 mark, the 'Riders can't count on making the playoffs if they aren't able to regain at least part of their early-season form.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Carol Goar comments on the CEP/CAW plan to merge and work toward a far more active type of unionism:
Both the CAW and the CEP — of which I am a member — gobbled up smaller unions to reach their current size. But neither achieved the critical mass to keep growing or to revitalize the labour movement.

This time they’ve come up with a more ambitious — but much riskier — formula. They aim to create a new union unlike anything labour activists or the public have seen in the past.
  It would be “a fighting force for all workers,” not just its own members.
  Its reach would extend beyond traditional workplaces. It would organize temp workers, contract employees, immigrants in precarious jobs, the self-employed and the unemployed.
  It would be open to all “who share the vision of a stronger, larger Canadian social union,” including artists, entrepreneurs, homemakers, community activists and seniors.
  It would offer support and services to non-members engaged in disputes with their employers.
  It would inspire — embarrass if necessary — umbrella bodies such as the Canadian Labour Congress and the Ontario Federation of Labour to be bolder, more active and more forceful.
For those curious, I tend to agree with Goar that a more ambitious, higher-stakes push is a necessary step in ensuring the relevance and effectiveness of the labour movement. With the basic social contract which allowed unions to focus more narrowly on securing their positions within large unionized workplaces now under vigorous attacks from the Cons, their cronies and the corporate sector, it looks to me to be a losing strategy to cling to shrinking fiefdoms rather than engaging a greater range of workers to again shape a broader social agenda. And it's by showing the benefit of collective action for its members that unions can help make the case to apply similar principles in society at large.

- Meanwhile, George Lakoff sounds a warning against using frustration with "low-information voters" as an excuse for failing to effectively frame and promote progressive values.

- Janyce McGregor discusses the conflicting pressures on the Cons in deciding whether or not to force through the Gateway pipeline. Meanwhile, Calvin Sandborn asks whether the Cons plan to learn anything from Enbridge's track records of major spills and pathetic responses, while Iain Hunter highlights the steps they've taken to avoid doing anything of the sort.

- Finally, Peter Wilby comments on how strict intellectual property laws (which of course the Cons only want to make worse) are creating perverse incentives for businesses to innovate only in the field of contrived rent-seeking schemes rather than actual product improvement:
The US drugs industry, say Light and Lexchin, spends only 1.3% of revenues (excluding taxpayer subsidies) on basic research to discover molecules that could lead to genuinely new medicines. It spends far more on maintaining profits – among the highest of any industry, after tax – and on PR, marketing and lobbying. There is an innovation crisis, but largely of the companies' own making.

For years nearly all original drugs brought to market have been based on research either at taxpayer-funded institutions, mainly universities, or in small biotechnology companies. Big companies, such as Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (recently fined $3bn by US regulators for aggressive and misleading marketing), are essentially rent-seekers. They do not create wealth and add social benefit, but enrich themselves through control of resources, as landowners have done for generations. And what has happened in "big pharma" – long marked down by the left, and some on the right, as an unacceptable face of capitalism – mirrors what has happened across the British and US economies. The innovation crisis is not confined to the drugs industry.
Technologists tweak vegetables and fruits to make them last longer, look better and travel more easily, without regard to flavour. Bankers develop new trading "products" that, however you cut it, are still about borrowing and lending. We have digital radio and high-definition TV, though not everybody thinks either improves on what existed before. For many companies, skilful marketing of products that aren't significantly different from what preceded them has replaced innovation. It's cheaper and less risky to convince customers that something is ground-breaking, even when it isn't, than develop something truly innovatory.

In short, rent-seeking is now far more lucrative than innovation that delivers social benefits. The big rewards go to directors and executives of large companies – and financial traders, the ultimate rent-seekers who impose an unproductive tax on invention, investment and hard work across the world.