Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Gerald Caplan weighs in on Jack Layton's legacy:
It seems to me that Jack Layton’s enduring legacy is twofold. First, he set a standard of doing politics that, if followed by others, would change the entire tone of public life for the country. You could see his influence in the decorum that characterized the leadership contest to choose his successor. The media saw only tedium. The party understood it was Jack’s insistence on civility that was at work.

Jack regarded those he disagreed with as democratic opponents, not as dishonorable, even treasonous enemies to be destroyed. For him politics was not the brutal, no-holds-barred permanent war being waged against all comers by the governing party. He rarely attacked motives or personalities. He treated his opponents with respect and civility. He stuck to the issues, about which he felt passionately and which he pursued forcefully.
Until May 2, (2011), I saw the party’s role as being the conscience of the nation, an influencer of those with power, not a government-in-waiting. That’s how I interpreted election results from the 1930s all the way through to the 2008 elections, during which time the CCF/NDP only once polled as high as 20 per cent of the votes; often it was considerably lower. This was even true of the 3 elections Mr. Layton had fought before his last one. The message from the party’s beloved “ordinary Canadians” seemed to me self-evident.

Jack rejected this destiny as the NDP’s permanent fate, and at the last minute he was vindicated.
- Andrew Nikiforuk comments on the Cons' attempts to make Canadian democracy subordinate to the will of Enbridge and other oil interests:
To get a million barrels of bitumen a day to the Gulf of Mexico at Port Arthur, Texas, the Harper government strenuously lobbied politicians in Washington on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline. When that project became bogged down in public protests and regulatory delays, Harper abandoned a 2008 policy that restricted bitumen shipments to China and became an outspoken cheerleader for Enbridge and Northern Gateway. Putting bitumen on supertankers bound for Asia "will require some significant infrastructure projects to go forward," Harper said recently in Bangkok. "And we’re obviously…looking at taking steps necessary to ensure we can get timely regulatory decisions."

There is nothing subtle about Harper or the "necessary steps" he has taken. His government has been characterized by the Economist as "intolerant of criticism and dissent," with a penchant for rule-breaking. Early in 2012 it branded First Nations and environmental groups opposed to Northern Gateway, including the Canadian office of the U.S.-based nonprofit ForestEthics and the David Suzuki Foundation, as foreign-funded "radicals" opposed to economic prosperity. Environmental groups with charitable status that have challenged bitumen mining have been subjected to federal investigation. And to make sure that Enbridge’s pipeline experiences none of the delays that have beset Keystone XL, the Harper government launched a concerted attack in March and April on most of Canada’s main environmental laws.

"The debate is no longer about a pipeline," says Robyn Allan, an economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. "It’s about an energy strategy designed in the boardrooms of Big Oil that’s being forced on the Canadian public."
- One might hope that the Libs' fine for robocalls in Guelph would help push the Robocon investigation along. But I have to wonder whether the story featuring both full cooperation from the Libs and a political price will simply reinforce the Cons' apparent conclusion that the cost-benefit calculation favours continuing to stonewall against any attempt to figure out who's responsible for their own misleading robocalls.

- Finally, Scott Stelmaschuk and Bruce Johnstone both offer rather more generous interpretations of Brad Wall's talk of royalty revisions than my take. But I'm still inclined to be skeptical until there's some evidence to suggest a Sask Party-led review would actually serve to increase revenue, rather than operating as yet another handout to the corporate sector.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Musical interlude

Arcade Fire - City With No Children

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

No, this isn't 2011 all over again. But Saskatchewan Roughriders fans could be forgiven for flashing back to the previous season throughout the team's loss to the B.C. Lions.

Once again, the 'Riders' defence was relatively effective through most of the game against a strong opponent, making some big plays (notably a brilliant third-and-short stand deep in 'Rider territory at the end of the first half). But it got progressively more tired and less effective making tackles as the game went on, and ended up allowing the opponent to pull away.

And once again, the 'Riders' offence wasn't up to the task of putting points on the board. Darian Durant and company moved the chains just often enough to keep the game respectable, but the offence stalled every time there was an opportunity to convert drives into touchdowns and fell into the all-too-familiar pattern of turning the ball over late as time ran short.

Which leaves the question: what can the 'Riders do now to make sure the rest of this season doesn't play out like the end of the previous one?

On the downside, the 'Riders look to be getting periously thin at some key positions. With Jordan Sisco joining Rob Bagg on the injured list, it's hard to see where the 'Riders will get any production from non-import receivers other than Chris Getzlaf (who continues to be inconsistent for a primary option). Meanwhile, the non-import offensive linemen pressed into duty by injuries and ratio considerations haven't been able to keep pass rushers away from Durant. And once again, the offence hasn't adapted by giving Durant more opportunities to turn that aggressiveness against 'Rider opponents.

But that failing so far points to at least one opportunity to improve. Another may come from Taj Smith, who looks more and more like a sorely-needed impact receiver in the making. And the defence has shown at least enough hints of being able to control games (rather than merely hanging on for dear life) to offer the hope that the 'Riders can get by with a less-than-stellar offence.

That may not make for the team fans would most like to see - and which seemed possible at the start of the season when a healthy offensive line showed what it could do. But it's probably Saskatchewan's best chance to be anything more than cannon fodder for the rest of 2012.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Yes, it's alarming that the Cons are eliminating environmental assessments on a huge number of projects. But even more worrisome is the complete lack of a connection between the basis for the exclusion and the possible environmental impacts:
Ottawa is also walking away from conducting assessments on various agricultural and municipal drainage works, log-handling facilities, small-craft harbour and marina development and expansion, the sinking of ex-warships as artificial reefs, the disposal of dredged material, and a 73-hectare mixed-use development on Tsawwassen First Nation lands.

Under the new legislation, BC Hydro also no longer requires a federal assessment for replacement of its John Hart Generating Station near Campbell River on Vancouver Island because the project won’t increase the generating capacity by more than 50 per cent or 200 megawatts. No provincial assessment applies, either.
Now, it would seem obvious enough that the number of megawatts added by a project won't necessarily correlate to its environmental impact. Which means that the Cons' move to limit assessment based on project size rather than actual need will only encourage the development of a large number of dirty, small-scale projects.

- Barbara Yaffe is right to note that the NDP is doing just fine consolidating its national strength under Tom Mulcair. But she's far too willing to buy the Cons' spin about Mulcair's environmental message - which is in fact far closer to the views of Canadians than the Cons' determination to put the oil industry's profits over public health and safety.

- The CLC highlights the positive effect of unions on wages in Saskatchewan:
On average, unionized workers earned $5.28 per hour more than non-union employees. That union advantage translated into more than $26 million more every week paid into the provincial economy to support businesses and community services.
- Meanwhile, Tom Graham notes that the Sask Party's focus on privatization and corporate development only looks to increase costs to the province.

- And finally, Erin Weir suggests expanding the Bank of Canada's mandate to maximize employment and bolster economic stability, rather than being limited solely to addressing inflation targets.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The great giveaway

No, Brad Wall's new musings about changing Saskatchewan's resource royalty structure won't pass without comment from this corner. But it's worth noting that the reason for concern lies not a mere flip-flop from the Sask Party's 2011 election platform, but what's all too consistent in its behaviour since taking power.

At the outset, let's remember that Wall's position while in power has never been that the tax structure surrounding royalties is set in stone; instead, it's been that any change has to result in greater returns for corporate conglomerates at the expense of the province in order to be acceptable. So the Sask Party has been perfectly happy to hand out freebies such as head office tax credits on top of the system that was working perfectly well before it took power.

It's only when the NDP suggested that the province should benefit more from high prices and increased development that the Sask Party decided all existing arrangements were sacrosanct. Which leads to the foundation Wall is setting up for the mother of all resource giveaways:

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is musing about adjusting the way the province collects money from companies that extract natural resources.

Wall says companies should have royalty stability especially after they've spent billions investing in the economy.

But the premier also says it's important that taxpayers are properly compensated if in 20 years potash production has doubled.

The current complex system is based on price rather than volume and Wall says it needs to change.
So let's compare what we have now to what Wall seems to be proposing.

At the moment, Saskatchewan's royalty structure results in our province sharing in the value of our resources. If prices rise - reflecting no particular merit on the part of either developer or province, but an increase in value in the resources which we're allowing to be removed from our common wealth - then so too does the province's revenue. And it's that structure which allows for the prospect of a Bright Futures Fund which ensures that money is invested for the province's benefit when times are good, and available to meet our needs when prices drop.

In contrast, Wall apparently sees it as unacceptable that Saskatchewan, as the owner of the resources being extracted, should share at all in the gains when those resources increase in price. Instead, he's setting out to establish "royalty stability" based strictly on the volume of resources removed from our province. And if prices happen to rise - well, as far as Wall is concerned, that windfall belongs solely to his corporate benefactors.

Needless to say, his resource-sector puppeteers will have every reason to be happy with that outcome. But once again, it's the people of Saskatchewan who stand to lose out from a system designed to eliminate the benefit we'd otherwise enjoy from our own resources. And if Wall is indeed planning to force through changes during the course of this term in office, then the resource question may be the most important fight we face over the next few years.

[Edit: fixed formatting.]

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- I'll follow up with one extra note from Mark Carney's address to the CAW - as the headlines seem to have missed a rather important point about the relative effect of the Canadian dollar and even the widest possible definition of labour issues:
He noted Canada’s export performance was the second-worst in the G20 over the last decade, with only 9 per cent of exports going to fast-growing emerging markets such as China and India.

But he sought to dispel the notion that the high loonie bears the bulk of the blame.

“Some blame this on the persistent strength of the Canadian dollar,” Mr. Carney said in prepared remarks ahead of his address.

“While there is some truth to that, it is not the most important reason. Over the past decade, our poor export performance has been explained two-thirds by market structure and one-third by competitiveness. Of the latter about two-thirds is the currency while the rest is labour costs and productivity.

“So, net, our strong currency explains only about 20 per cent of our poor export performance.”
By Carney's own account, then, "labour costs and productivity" have had only half as much effect as the boosted Canadian dollar on exports. Which (for anybody willing to listen) should thoroughly undermine the claim that there's any validity to a Con position pretending the dollar is no issue at all, while attacking the far smaller labour factor at every turn in the name of competitiveness.

- Though I suppose we shouldn't operate under the illusion that the Cons' economic plans have anything to do with accomplishing anything useful - as Jim Flaherty is rerunning his thoroughly-discredited "do what I ask, or I'll ask again more pitifully" strategy to deal with the glut of uninvested corporate cash.

- And in case anybody thought a new set of MPs might help rein in the Cons' worst impulses, here's a shorter Chris Alexander:
Lousy media, refusing to accept that all inconvenient prior statements have been declared inoperative. Why won't they just transcribe the word of the Ministry of Truth and leave it at that?
- Finally, David McGrane takes on the Saskatchewan Cons' sad attempts to preserve poor representation for their constituents by pointing out what representation is supposed to accomplish:
Optimal democratic representation means having an MP exclusively devoted to representing your concerns. The proposed constituencies map improves democratic representation by having more rural residents represented by exclusively rural MPs, and more urban residents represented by exclusively urban MPs. It's a win for both the city and the countryside.

No other province has split rural-urban ridings, making Saskatchewan the outlier of Canadian democracy. Other provinces have realized that separating urban and rural residents into different ridings provides better democratic representation and conforms to electoral law that stipulates that ridings must contain residents with similar identities and similar "communities of interest."

If we take a step back and consider, we realize that the proposed boundaries are best for democracy. That's what really counts.

New column day

Here, on the tendency for political parties to try to glorify past leaders by plastering their names and faces on the map - and the potential for Jack Layton's legacy to be based on a far more direct connection to citizens.

For further reading...
- Politico documents some of the Republicans' general efforts to rename everything in sight after Ronald Reagan, while Rebecca Schoenkopf highlights the latest example.
- Tim Harper discusses the Cons' attempts to rebrand Canadian landmarks for partisan gain, while Tim Stanley highlights the :Aryan character" values of John A. MacDonald.
- And the first couple of examples of sites named for Layton are reported here and here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- On the anniversary of Jack Layton's death, Tim Harper points out how far the NDP has come in just a year, while Brian Topp highlights where the party still needs to go:
(W)hat to do about the federal government’s crisis of relevance? Recent Liberal and Conservative governments have worked together on a common agenda to make Canada’s national government largely irrelevant to the daily lives of most Canadians. Today’s federal government is a Parliament, it is a public service, it is an army and police force, and it is a largely unconditional bank machine for provinces.

Small wonder that Canadians increasing tune federal politics out. Small wonder Parliament in recent times has been about embarrassing squabbles over trivia. What else was there to talk about? Here is the fundamental mission of the New Democrats: to demonstrate that the Liberal/Conservatives are wrong, and that there are indeed important projects and priorities that Canadians can and should work on together. Not symbolic issues, designed to get us angry and to divide us from each other. The real stuff: Equality. Jobs. Health care. Economic security. The environment. Reclaiming our good name in in the world.

New Democrats need to find a way to give Canadians hope that we are more than the sum of our parts, and that there is much we can do together to make a good country a much better one – carefully and prudently, one practical step at a time, without reigniting the old federal-provincial wars that separatists and conservatives build on, each in their own special way
Meanwhile, John Ibbitson has a rather smaller vision for the NDP, suggesting that it should do nothing but accept the top-down, consumerist political style that's turned off so many voters. Ryan Cleary offers his own tribute, and Cityslikr challenges anybody who claims to respectfully disagree with Layton's proposals for greater generosity and equality to suggest some alternate means of building a better society.

- Mia Rabson rightly questions Elections Canada's lack of interest in prosecuting attempts at foreign influence on Canadian elections. And Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher report that even as Elections Canada directly intervenes to provide evidence useful to Ted Opitz's argument over Etobicoke Centre, it's withholding information which might be relevant to the Council of Canadians' challenges in seven other ridings.

- Edward Greenspan and Anthony Doob are almost entirely right in criticizing the Cons' attitude toward criminal law. But it's worth adding a proviso to the headline: the Cons' view is more along the lines of "once a criminal, always a criminal unless a Conservative", as the party is quick to offer absolution to anybody who's seen as politically useful.

- Finally, Matt Miller neatly sums up the mentality of "drawbridge Republicans":
(W)e’ve never had two wealthy candidates on a national ticket whose top priority is to reduce already low taxes on the well-to-do while raising taxes on everyone else — even as they propose to slash programs that serve the poor, or that (like college aid) create chances for the lowly born to rise.

Call them the Drawbridge Republicans. As the moniker implies, these are wealthy Republicans who have no qualms about pulling up the drawbridge behind them.
Most rich Republicans who champion regressive tax plans find it necessary to at least pretend they’re doing something to help average folks. John McCain, who’s lived large for decades thanks to his wife’s inheritance, famously had trouble keeping track of how many homes he owned — but McCain also tried bravely to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. George W. Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” and touted education initiatives that made this claim plausible.

Today’s Drawbridge Republicans can’t be bothered. Yes, when their political back is to the wall — as Romney’s increasingly is — they’ll slap together a page of bullet points and dub it “a plan for the middle class.” But this is only under duress. The rest of the time they seem blissfully unaware of how off-key they sound.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging


Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- As we approach the anniversary of Jack Layton's death, Tom Mulcair discusses some of the lessons he learned from his predecessor as NDP leader:
(W)hen Mulcair first joined the NDP caucus in 2007, he was sometimes frustrated by the 'go-around' sessions — seemingly endless, repetitive meetings at which MPs debated issues and batted ideas back and forth.

"Sometimes I would find the go-arounds in caucus to be really long processes, but then I realized what (Layton) was doing. He was working with every single person in the room and there was a real art to it.
He also learned something about the fine art of political persuasion from Layton.

"Jack rarely tried to convince people by saying to them, 'This is what I'm going to do for you.' Jack had a way of talking to people, which was, 'Things have to change, here's how you can help bring about that change.' That's subtle but it's something that Jack really did intuitively and it's something I picked up on."

Mulcair said he's tried to adopt a similar approach, "rather than lining up policies and saying this what we're going to do, it's we want to listen to you, we want to work with you and we think we can do things better together."
 - Duncan Cameron echoes the view that Layton's willingness to listen set him apart from far too many of his political colleagues:
Reaching out to people, getting to know what they were thinking, opening a two-way dialogue (even with serious adversaries) was what characterized Jack Layton as a leader. Canadians had Jack right. He was the guy to be with for a beer, or to share a bottle of wine. He enjoyed himself, and was easy to like, as people guessed. He wanted to share his thoughts -- after he had heard from you first.
-  And Joan Bryden reports on polling showing just how fondly Layton is remembered by Canadians in general:
12 months removed from the emotional intensity of the moment, a new poll suggests a majority of people believe last year’s remarkable national display of remembrance was both authentic and appropriate — and they continue to hold Mr. Layton and his legacy in high esteem.

Some 62 per cent of respondents to the poll, conducted by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press, said they viewed the torrent of public grief for Mr. Layton as genuine, compared with just 27 per cent who said they felt mourners simply got caught up in the moment.
And a whopping 91 per cent said they believe Mr. Layton made a positive contribution to Canada, 33 per cent of them describing his contribution as “very positive.”
 - On another note, Steve Morgan makes the case for universal pharmacare:
A recent study found that one in 10 Canadians can’t afford to fill their prescriptions as directed. Such financial barriers often increase costs elsewhere in the health care system — from the public purse. For example, if a parent cannot afford the necessary drugs for a child’s asthma, they may be forced to visit the emergency department when the asthma gets out of control.

Thus, the question is not whether it is fair to provide refugees with prescription drug coverage; the question is whether it is fair — and even fiscally responsible — not to provide such coverage to all Canadians.
In truth, a universal Pharmacare program would save Canadians billions of dollars; some estimate up to $10 billion per year.

The proof is found in virtually all countries comparable to Canada, countries like Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In comparison to Canada, pharmaceutical spending is lower and has been growing more slowly in all of these countries. Yet they all provide better, more equitable access to prescription drugs than Canada through universal Pharmacare systems of one form or another.
If Canadians take pride in their medicare system, and want to achieve better access to medicines at lower costs than they pay today, then maybe it is time for the original vision of medicare, which included Pharmacare, to be completed as planned.
- And finally, Don Lenihan has his doubts that mandatory voting is necessary to encourage political parties to reach out to disaffected voters. But while I'd agree with Lenihan that mandatory voting without a cultural shift would have only a limited impact, it seems to me entirely possible that one might facilitate the other - both by forcing a government elected by a small proportion of the population to reach out to a far larger group, and by setting up incentives for parties to build long-term connections to voters who they know will be participating for decades to come.

Monday, August 20, 2012

On openings

Following up on this morning's post (as well as discussions from Kayle Hatt and Chantal Hebert), I'll offer my theory as to why a Quebec NDP might be a perfect fit for what's otherwise a relatively crowded provincial scene.

At the outset, Quebec voters have shown an inclination to give a chance to parties who decline to get caught up in the traditional federalist/sovereigntist polarity in favour of a more policy-based approach fronted by a well-regarded leader. In the past few years, the ADQ provincially, NDP federally and now the CAQ provincially have all fit the bill. And all have managed to earn the support of a substantial proportion of Quebec's electorate without the strength on the ground of the province's better-established political machines.

But there's an important distinction within that list of parties.

The right-leaning ADQ and CAQ have run out of steam around 30% of the popular vote in trying to pair a "change" message with their ideological bent, while the NDP's support has at times reached up into 40s and even 50s even through a change in leadership. And I suspect that's the result of the NDP offering a set of political values which represents a better match both for the province at large, and in particular the set of voters who are open to new allegiances.

At the moment, the Quebec scene features three sovereigntist parties fighting for left-of-centre votes, along with multiple centre-to-right parties trying to claim the federalist mantle. And the new parties for this election cycle merely added to those pairings.

But there's a reason why those well-worn combinations are producing diminishing returns across the board. And there's surely nobody in a better position to offer an alternative that can draw from dissatisfied voters in both broad camps than the party which has already managed the feat federally.

Of course, a provincial NDP wouldn't yet have one of the common ingredients for a Quebec breakthrough. But I'd have to figure it would have a strong chance to find a leader who can fill in that gap - whether from the ranks of other parties as has been the trend, or from among the NDP's current base.

And with Quebec's current parties fighting to see who can eke out enough seats to cling to power with support from between a quarter and a third of the province's voters, the prospect of a party with a real opportunity to approach true majority status could make for an even more dramatic orange wave than the one which swept 59 NDP MPs into office.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Pratap Chatterjee discusses our new age of robber barons - and how the wealthiest CEOs get out of paying any tax at all on massive sums of money:
The Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington DC thinktank, says that a chunk of the money Ellison spent buying Lanai should have paid for elementary school teachers and clean energy jobs, instead of fulfilling the billionaire CEO's vacation fantasies. That's one conclusion of their new report, "The CEO Hands in Uncle Sam's Pocket: How Our Tax Dollars Subsidize Exorbitant Executive Pay", which points out that Oracle took advantage of a 1993 loophole in tax law to designate $76m of Ellison's income as "performance-related pay", which allowed him to avoid paying any taxes on the money.

Dozens of US CEOs have cashed in on this major tax incentive at an estimated cost to US taxpayers of $9.7bn last year. Statistics provided by National Priorities Project suggest that the same amount of money could have paid for 142,625 elementary school teachers, or healthcare for 4.96 million low-income children.

"At a time of austerity, it's beyond absurd that billions of our tax dollars are pouring into executive pockets," says Sarah Anderson, a report co-author.
- Meanwhile, Erin Weir points out that Vale's choice not to proceed with a potash mine in Kronau only highlights the fact that corporate decision-making has far more to do with other factors than with provincial giveaways - serving as all the more reason for Saskatchewan to ensure it gets fair value for our potash.

- And Jim Stanford notes that the key to growth in our auto sector involves public policy which actually values industrial development, not further attacks on employees:
Imagine, purely for discussion, that labour costs were reduced in Canada. Right now, with a very strong dollar, total nominal labour costs (including benefits) at the three companies average about $3 per hour more than in the U.S. (Real wages, adjusted for higher Canadian prices, are actually lower here.) Suppose that gap was eliminated and costs fell by $3 per hour. Would that usher in a new era of automotive prosperity?

It takes an average of 29 hours of in-house shop-floor labour to manufacture one vehicle (including engine, transmission and final assembly). A $3 hourly saving therefore translates into an $87 reduction in the cost of a car. That’s not even enough to pay for deluxe floor mats in your new sedan, let alone underwrite the future success of an entire industry.

Meanwhile, the all-important policy context in Canada is currently making things worse, not better, for the auto industry. For example, the Harper government is aggressively pursuing free-trade deals that would eliminate tariffs on imports from three different auto-exporting powerhouses: the aforementioned Germany, Japan and South Korea. That would undermine the competitive position of domestic-made vehicles by about $2,000 per unit – outweighing our hypothetical labour savings by a 20-to-1 ratio. Similarly, the continuing flight of the loonie eats up any labour savings as fast as they can be tallied; indeed, the loonie’s 5-cent rise since June alone has added $3 per hour to Canada’s apparent hourly cost.

It seems almost pointless to even worry about labour costs when the broader policy framework that is so essential for industrial success is glaringly absent.
- Finally, Dene Moore reports on how the Harper Cons have gutted the exact review process which they plan to rely on as validating the construction of pipelines wherever Enbridge chooses to place them.

The final piece

Let's follow up on the news that the NDP is planning to assemble a Quebec provincial party in time for the next election with a look at how the move would affect the NDP. And lest there be any doubt, I'd see the development as a huge plus for the party at both levels.

For now, though, let's focus on the federal considerations involved.

The most obvious benefit to a Quebec provincial NDP would be the opportunity for greater party-building - in Tom Mulcair's regular analogy, encouraging the growth of roots to support the party's trees. A provincial wing would set up a formal structure for membership sales and fund-raising within the province which has shown the greatest support for the party, while also allowing a far greater number of interested citizens to get involved as volunteers and candidates to build the next generation of potential leaders.

But the more intriguing development might be found in the widespread theory that Canadian politics are headed toward a greater left-vs-right clash of ideas.

So far, the Cons have been ahead of the game in developing national links between like-minded people. But they haven't been able to develop a consistent national and provincial brand like their American counterparts, due in large part to the fact that the Conservative name is mud in at least a few provinces.

That means that after years of the Cons setting the terms of debate, the NDP is now closer than any other party to presenting a consistent set of values across Canada at the federal and provincial levels. And a Quebec NDP would be the final piece of that puzzle.

Of course, with the opportunity for such national definition comes the need for a Quebec NDP to stake out a specific patch of political terrain - which I'll cover in a later post on the possible Quebec effects of a provincial NDP. For now, though, suffice it to say that the advantages in developing a provincial support structure in Quebec look to far outweigh any costs for the federal NDP.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan points to the Law Commission of Ontario's proposals to make sure that labour laws don't stack the deck against workers, and encourages citiznes to have their own say:
The truth is, most people don’t know anything about their legal rights as workers, and even if you do, it’s a difficult system to navigate. Putting aside the costs and serious backlog in the courts, if you don’t have a union backing you, you know you’ll get fired if you complain. So most people just quit one lousy job and….end up in another.

But that simply emboldens bully employers. So it’s really up to the rest of us to become more aware of these situations and talk about them, as this process triggered by the Law Commission of Ontario hopes to do.

They are inviting response and your ideas on how to improve the legislation, or better enforce them.  You can check out their website and weigh in with your views by October 1.
- And of course, the Saskatchewan NDP is working to ensure that citizens have an opportunity to speak out here as well. Which stands in stark contrast to the Harper Cons' longtime plan to silence anybody who didn't read from their own talking points (as pointed out by Keith Reynolds).

- But as important as it is for citizens to be able to speak out, it also matters who decides whether or not to listen to us. And on that front, I'll have to disagree with Adam Radwanski's belief that a trend of political offices being placed in corporate hands somehow offers any particular reason for hope - as it only seems likely to ensure that the business elite continues to run roughshod over everybody else.

- And Kev provides a prime example of how public policy has been designed to fail people who most need it - as Ontario's basic social assistance amounts aren't even enough to cover housing (let alone other basic needs) in much of the province.

- Finally, on a more optimistic note, Aaron Wherry writes about Jack Layton's final letter to Canadians, and how it's still serving to inspire plenty of people as we approach the anniversary of his passing.