Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Yves Engler thoroughly discusses how the Harper Cons' foreign policy has included bullying countries around the world into placing the profits Canadian mining interests over the needs of their own citizens - and the effect that action has had on Canada's reputation:
Under Harper all levels of Canadian diplomacy have promoted mining. Anthony Bebbington, director of the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University, told the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development in February 2012 that a "sub-secretary in a [Latin American] ministry of energy and mines" told him "as far as I can tell, the Canadian ambassador here is a representative for Canadian mining companies." The Massachusetts-based academic also quoted an unnamed Latin American environment minister, who complained about Canadian lobbying and mining, saying: "I don't know if Canada has been quite so discredited in its history."
Further south, the Conservatives signed a free trade agreement largely to protect $5 billion in Canadian mining investment in Peru from the type of legislative changes Ecuador implemented. Signed in the midst of intense mining conflict, the 2010 trade agreement -- with environmental and labour safeguards "even weaker than NAFTA's" -- was designed to remove any future Peruvian government's ability to change mining regulations or to expropriate the properties of Canadian companies. In June 2011 indigenous Aymara in eastern Peru led a wave of anti-mining protests. Six protesters were killed when 1,000 demonstrators tried to occupy the Inca Manco Capac Airport near Lake Titicaca. In response to the protests the Ministry of Mines and Energy withdrew Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining's concession to develop a silver deposit. After the company's concession was withdrawn Bear Creek CEO Andrew Swarthout threatened the Ministry.
In at least one case the Conservatives established diplomatic relations with a country simply to serve mining interests. In April 2008 Agence France Presse reported: "Canada will establish a new trade mission in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, this year to help Canadian companies active in the region's mining sector."
With some 20 Canadian mining companies active in the country, Canada was the second largest investor in Mongolia. Ottawa's biggest concern was Vancouver-based Ivanhoe, which owned a copper and gold project in the Gobi desert. This $6 billion project, noted the Financial Post, "was the major campaign issue" in Mongolia's 2008 election. In April 2006 at least 3,000 people marched against foreign mining in Mongolia's capital, with protesters burning an effigy of Ivanhoe's Robert Friedland. The ire directed towards Friedland was partly because of comments he made in 2005. Friedland explained his Mongolian venture to an investor's conference this way: "So we're coming in from outer space and landing at Oyu Tolgoi... And the nice thing about this: there's no people around; the land is flat, there's no tropical jungle; there's no NGOs. We're only 70 kilometres from the Chinese border. It does not snow here. You've got lots of room for waste dumps." The company also took heat for loaning $50 million to the government in exchange for tax concessions.

The Conservatives actively lobbied the Mongolian government on behalf of Ivanhoe. A Globe and Mail Report on Business headline described a Jan. 2008 trip to Mongolia by Trade Minister David Emerson (who joined the board of a mining company after he left public office): "Emerson to push for Ivanhoe deal in Mongolia." As part of its efforts to woo the country's decision-makers, the Conservatives doled out tens of millions of dollars in aid to Mongolia. In Aug. 2011 development minister Oda visited Mongolia and CIDA ramped up its funding to a country with limited historic ties to Canada.
- And recognizing the difference between Canada's actual economy and the narrow interests being pushed by the Harper Cons, Thomas Walkom suggests that our premiers work together on the former point without expecting the federal government to offer any help at all.

- Susan Delacourt wonders whether conditional promises will turn out to be one of the lasting political developments of Canada's 2011 election campaign. But I'm far from sure we should see that development as a plus to the extent it offers an excuse for inaction based on outside factors which may or may not be beyond a government's control: better instead to identify problems and paths to solve them which will be pursued to the extent possible, rather than announcing massive promises coupled with an intention not to start pursuing them until much later.

- Finally, John Moore follows up David Macdonald's demolition of the Fraser Institute's spin on inequality and poverty with a rebuttal based on his personal experience:
The Fraser Institute study hinges on the false premise that because someone starts their career in the salary basement, they are necessarily “poor,” in the sense of the word that is commonly understood. By that assumption, a 22-year-old commerce-degree holder from a first-rate university who’s doing a Bay Street internship while sleeping on a friend’s sofa is exactly the same as a high-school drop-out from the wrong side of the tracks who will spend the rest of her career working the cash at a supermarket. Almost all of us set out from the same set of starters blocks, but we’re not all running the same race.

There’s no doubt that some poor people do manage to lift themselves out of poverty. One of my radio listeners wrote to tell me about being born in Montreal’s Griffintown to a family of six kids. She put herself through night school working for $80 a week at Dominion Textile and today is a highly successful career woman. That is a great story of grit and determination. Probably also luck and mentoring. But it’s not a common one. And to pretend it’s the story of most Canadians ignores issues of poverty, race, status, gender, education and countless other variables that factor into lifetime economic outcomes.

Far from blowing myths out of the water, the Fraser Institute is merely muddying the currents.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Musical interlude

Delerium - Consciousness of Love

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Christopher Curtis and Stephen Maher break the news that the Cons have falsified donation records, claiming donations to their Laurier-Sainte-Marie riding association from individuals who deny ever making contributions. But it's particularly worth noting how the money collected looks to have been distributed:
From 2006 to 2009, the Conservative riding association collected $583,318.96 from 931 donations, many from people connected with engineering companies and law firms. It also distributed $376,739.36 – mostly to other ridings around Quebec. The Megantic-Lerable riding of Industry Minister Christian Paradis, for instance, received $41,841 in 2009.
The unexplained donations – Postmedia News uncovered 11 – fall mostly into three groups: a group of 150 donations of $666.66, totalling $99,999; a group of 45 donations of $733.33, totalling $32,999.85; and a group of 43 donations of $333.33, totalling $14,333.19.

Postmedia tried to contact all the donors on the riding’s donor list from 2007 to 2009, almost 550 people. Many failed to return calls; others could not be located. Some said they couldn’t recall making donations, and others declined to discuss the issue. But 11 said they definitely did not make donations, and would like to know how their names ended up on the list.
As the report notes, it's not at all uncommon for better-funded riding associations to make transfers to others which lack resources. But it looks rather odd that money was funnelled through falsely-named donors from a riding where the Cons have had no obvious organizational strength (2011 was the first time they finished higher than 5th, and that was with 3.5% of the vote) to substantially fund the party's Quebec apparatus, including the riding of their leading presence in the province.

- Mike de Souza writes about the More Bang for our Buck report suggesting that we could create tens of thousands of jobs by redirecting subsidies away from the oil industries. And it's particularly noteworthy that the oil industry's response is to attack funding for renewable energy as a market distortion, while recognizing absolutely no problem with existing distortions in favour of oil exploitation.

- Meanwhile, David Macdonald rightly describes social impact bonds as the "anti-philanthropy", and suggests that we'll get much better results cutting out the rent-seeking middle man:
In either the traditional model or the social impact bond model, it is always the government that pays. However, for social impact bond, the government now has to pay a middle man mark-up. Not only that, but they also have to make sure that Goldman Sachs’ shareholders are happy. If the shareholders aren’t happy with their returns, they aren’t going to pony up the cash next time around.

It is this change of who government serves that really concerns me. People pay their taxes (and expect corporations to as well) in part because they want the government to deliver good services to the people that need them. However, social impact bonds direct tax dollars to bank profits instead of to a homeless person trying to get off the street. This dramatically changes who is being served by the government: from those who need a helping hand to the shareholders of a bank.

There is an alternative. Since the government is going to pay either way, let’s say “thanks but no thanks” to a middle man mark-up. Instead, the government could create its own fund to push forward ideas that have been proven elsewhere. Again, since the government is going to pay either way, why not borrow at historically low rates of 1% instead the of 7%-15% offered by a middle man? When these projects succeed, we can provide them to more people instead of lining the pockets of a bank.
- Finally, Mark Hume reports on the Cons' shocking move to shut down a research laboratory for the having the nerve to report test results showing infectious salmon anemia in B.C. salmon.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On precedence

There's not much doubt that Canada's debates over the FNOOC/Nexen takeover bid and FIPPA investor privilege treaty with China have become intertwined. But it's worth noting that some observers seem to be misreading how the two will relate to each other - and we should be wary of confusion on both fronts.

Let's take for example Michael Den Tandt:
There are legitimate questions, as I have noted before, about both the detail of the FIPA, and the CNOOC-Nexen deal. The Harper government should have addressed these up front. Instead, it has played catch up. Its likeliest way forward now is to approve the takeover, but with stringent conditions. Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that CNOOC has accepted a requirement that the acquired company have 50 per cent Canadian representation on its board and in management.

If true, that is fascinating: Article 7 of the Canada-China FIPA says that “a contracting party may not require that an enterprise of that Party ... appoint individuals of any particular nationality to senior management positions.” The agreement allows that a majority of a board of directors be “of a particular nationality or resident of the territory of the Contracting Party,” but only if that does not “materially impair the ability of the investor to exercise control over its investment.”

For CNOOC to accept a 50-50 board and executive-suite split, therefore, would denote appreciable flexibility in the interpretation of the FIPA, to Canada’s benefit — perhaps driven by knowledge on both sides that the deal has become a hot potato.
Apparently, Den Tandt assumes that CNOOC's agreement to accept restrictions on its board and management will supersede the terms of the FIPPA. But there's another possibility as well: that CNOOC is perfectly willing to publicly accept a restriction which won't actually be effective.

After all, FIPPA contains no exception for restrictions on board and management entered into by agreement - only for ones already in place by the time the FIPPA enters into force. And so CNOOC may well be happy to go along with the Cons' desire to draw out the approval process, push to have the FIPPA approved first, then avoid any public commitment through the operation of a treaty which supersedes its promise.

Of course, there's a separate issue that a one-time restriction will do nothing to affect the interpretation of the FIPPA once it's put in place. And as Don Davies has noted, any ability to further monitor CNOOC's operations will be lost as soon as a one-time takeover is approved.

But while it's bad enough that we're being told yet again to accept one-time assurances in exchange for long-term fetters on public policy, there's a real risk we we'll end up getting neither.

New column day

Here, on the need to question both the importance of trade agreements compared to other forms of interjurisdictional cooperation in general, and the Cons' warped priorities in particular.

For further reading...
- Again, here's the Council of Canadians' note on the Cons' insistence on cutting human rights out of the CETA, along with CBC's report on the Cons' leaked trade-only foreign policy plan.
- And Gus Van Harten raises the point that the push for ever more trade agreements is largely being led by the people who benefit most from their passage (and are using them in ways they say we shouldn't see as possible).

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Diana Carney discusses the public's growing recognition of inequality in Canada:
I see three root causes of our concern with inequality in Canada (three seems to be the magic number).

First, there is a general lack of confidence in our economic future, as a country and as individuals. In March 2012, polling by Ekos found that 57 per cent of Canadians felt that they would be worse off in 25 years than they are today. This is a staggeringly large number of people in a country that has been an outlier (on the positive side) in terms of economic mobility — the decoupling of one’s own prospects from those of one’s parents.

Related to this is a lack of vision for the future at a political level. Even our supposed destiny as an energy superpower seems hard to grasp and if we fail in that regard it is not clear what the back-up plan is. Without an alternative vision, it is reasonable to expect that trends around income consolidation at the top of the spectrum will continue, to the detriment of the majority.

Second, the politics of division are coming home to roost. The grass is always greener on the other side and the Occupy movement has provided a voice to many unhappy people. The visibility and excess of the top 0.1 per cent — the group that has been almost solely responsible for shifts in Canada’s overall inequality rate since 2000 — play a part. (The share of income going to the top 0.1 per cent increased from 2 per cent in 1980 to 5.3 per cent immediately pre-recession in 2007: the share going to the top 1 per cent is up from about 7 per cent to 10 per cent over a similar period.) So does the bursting of the credit bubble that previously masked some of the inequality. Another big factor in Canada is regional inequality, but there is no space to go into details about that here.

Third, I perceive a fear that the institutions that underpin our country and the global system are either threatened, rotten or inadequate to face down the challenges of the future. The global financial system comes first to mind, but with so many recent scandals in the worlds of politics and business it’s no wonder people are nervous.  
- Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristof rightly labels the U.S.' half-century of giveaways to the wealthy as a failed experiment - resulting in both deteriorating public services, and greater costs to individuals trying to work around the lack of social cohesion.

- Julia Belluz discusses several issues surrounding prescription drugs in Canada - with particular emphasis on the desperate need for a national pharmacare plan:
Did you know that Canada’s is the only health system in the OECD that is universal but excludes public and universal coverage for prescription drugs? And yet, we’re filling more prescriptions than ever, pharmaceuticals make up our second largest health-care cost, and we are second only to the U.S. when it comes to per capita spending on medicines.

According to UBC’s Morgan, this suggests there’s something rotten with our pharmaceutical policy. The provinces have come up with a patchwork approach to covering drugs for some citizens—mostly seniors and social assistance recipients. Employers fill in the gaps. If governments, unions and employers all negotiate drug benefits, Canadians lose out on the efficiencies and bargaining power that comes with a universal, single-payer system.
If every other universal system in the OECD figured out a better way, we can too. “You either see prescription drugs as part of the health-care system, or you don’t,” says Morgan. He added that when Obamacare is fully implemented south of the border, “it’s likely more Americans will have prescription drug insurance than Canadians, so in a sense, we may become the worst country in the world on pharmacare.” Indeed, a pretty serious drug problem.
- Meanwhile, the NDP is working on identifying and addressing the proliferation of "pay-to-pay" fees which serve as glaring examples of service providers simply seeking additional rents on top of the price of their actual services.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom comments on how the McGuinty Libs' needless choice to privatize power generation may result in their entire green energy initiative being struck down by the WTO.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- David Macdonald takes a closer look at a Fraser Institute study on income mobility, and finds strong evidence that there's a significant lack of mobility at both the bottom and the top of Canada's income distribution:
What should be very shocking to people is that in the shorter term panels, 50% of the poorest people in 2002 were still in the poorest category five years later (table 3).  That’s a pretty stunning conclusion.  For the second poorest category, a shocking 69% either ended up in the second poorest category or the poorest category (making even less).  So about 60% of the people in the bottom poorest categories were stuck there between 2002 and 2007.  That’s a lot of people living on very little income.  They are a bit mobile, but they are mobile between very poor and poor.  That’s not really the kind of mobility we should be looking for.

While the study focuses on the low end, there are some very interesting things going on at the upper end.  Take a look at table 6 for the top 20%.  The table does a “where are they now?” analysis over 19 years from 1990 to 2009.  For people that were in the top 20% in 1990, how many are still in the top 20% in 2009?  The answer is a whopping 64%.  Six out of 10 people that were in the top 20% in 1990 are still there today, two decades later.  Over a 10 year period between 1990 and 2000, almost 80% of the wealthy stayed at the top.

This is the opposite of income mobility, if you manage to slip into the exclusive club of wealthy Canadians it looks like you get a 10, if not a 20-year membership.  None of the other income groups are anywhere near that level of exclusivity.
- Meanwhile, Allison Jones reports on a Campaign 2000 study pointing out that it's possible to end child poverty in Canada by redirecting assorted tax credits. But I'd note that the contrast between universal benefits and the most narrow focus possible only serves as a means of pitting the currently-poor against the nearly-poor who are likely to lean heavily on the universal benefits - meaning that the real takeaway should be that it's possible to muster enough resources to end poverty in one form or another.

- Anne McGrath suggests applying a seven-generation test to Canada's international agreements, and finds the Cons' planned investor privilege pact with China to be sorely wanting by that standard:
The Iroquois had a rule: when making a major decision, consider its effects on the next seven generations.

It’s a good rule, one the Conservatives would do well to adopt. The reluctance of this government to submit the Canada-China FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) to parliamentary analysis and oversight deepens the apprehension many Canadians feel about the way we are pursuing trade and investment with China. Despite the government’s assurances, many remain unconvinced that the FIPA will be good for Canada in the long-term. Even its supporters acknowledge that further study and debate would be beneficial.
Given that under the current government Canada has gone from a $26 billion trade surplus to a $50 billion trade deficit, we cannot simply take it as gospel that a trade deal exempt from parliamentary scrutiny is in this country’s best interest.

Critics argue that FIPA promotes corporate rights at the expense of Canada’s democratic, environmental and social rights and may have negative consequences for this country for years to come. In the agreed terms, FIPA cannot be terminated for 15 years. What’s more, any investments made prior to the date of termination will stand for a further 15 years.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, in contrast, can be cancelled with six months’ notice. The impact of FIPA will be felt well beyond its 31-year duration and Canadians deserve to know it in detail.
 - But unfortunately, the Cons look to be applying a rather different lens to their dealings with the world.

- Finally, Bill Curry reports that the Senate is determined to remind people of its existence (and make a wrong-headed claim to relevance) by trashing a bill passed by Canada's actual elected representatives.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Floored cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Frances Russell nicely sums up the effect of the Cons' bevy of anti-democratic trade deals:
Don’t be fooled. The innocuous language used to describe the avalanche of so-called “trade” agreements raining down on Canada under the Harper government — the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Canada-China Foreign Investment Agreement, not to mention the plethora of single-country trade deals — aren’t about trade at all.

Their real purpose is to repeal democracy, to elevate investor/corporate rights over the democratic will of the people. Corporations — not governments — become the decision-makers, the de facto rulers.

This corporate coup d’etat is being accomplished through Orwellian investor rights clauses empowering corporations to sue governments, often for astronomical sums, should governments enact any laws for the public good that constrain corporate interests.
- But at least one of the deals mentioned by Russell looks like it may not come to pass - if only because the Harper Cons can't bear to see human rights protected in the process of handing more power to investors.

- Meanwhile, the NDP's position on trade has been receiving plenty of press lately - with Bruce Anderson pitching a focus on supporting some trade deals as a move toward the centre, while Murray Dobbin worries that it's becoming "Liberal-lite" in the process. But while at least some shift was to be expected after a leadership campaign where Tom Mulcair regularly defended NAFTA, I'd think there's ample room to fit a targeted set of possibilities into a message of multilateralism and social gains, while continuing to drawing a stark contrast to the corporatist tendency to trample all else in the name of marketization.

- Sandra Cuffe discusses how resource exploitation is destroying traditional First Nations and Metis territory in Western Canada.

- Finally, SOS Crowns weighs in on the Sask Party's ill-advised determination to privatize ISC after it had promised for two consecutive election cycles to leave our Crowns alone.

On competitive questions

There's been plenty of talk in recent weeks about how the Calgary Centre by-election might serve as either the time for an inter-party pact to limit voters' options opposing the Harper Cons, or a spur to future movement on the same front. But before we accept either of those arguments, let's point out that the same by-election also offers plenty of reasons to doubt the effectiveness of non-competition agreements.

Most obviously, Calgary Centre serves as an obvious case of doubt as to which opposition party is in fact best positioned to win. Two recent polls have shown a close race, but between three parties - meaning that we have very little way of even knowing who has the inside track to defeat Joan Crockatt based on their current starting point. (Keep in mind that the same problem arose in Ontario in 2011: at least some seats where "strategic voters" were admonished to vote Lib ended up as Con-NDP contests.)

And that uncertainty becomes doubly problematic given that even perfect information about which party is currently in second place may not tell us which has the best chance of winning a plurality of the vote. Is the Libs' brand toxic enough to lose Green voters who might otherwise form part of an opposition coalition? Or do the Libs have more ability to win over Red Tory voters who would see the Greens as too extreme? It's almost certainly too late to find out with any certainty - and absent some evidence that one candidate is substantially better positioned to assemble the needed number of voters to win, it's a fool's errand to try to organize votes based on guesswork.

Equally importantly, there's also the question of what a one-time pact would accomplish. The loss of a single seat won't put an end to Cons' stay in power, and Stephen Harper has never shown any inclination to move an inch off his chosen course of action based on concepts such as as "voters sending a message". Which means that even a successful attempt to translate anybody-but-Conservative votes into a by-election win will have a limited effect in practice.

And of course, the return from an added MP has to be weighed against what each other opposition party stands to lose by shedding by-election support. The NDP, Libs and Greens are all running strong candidates who would have been unlikely to pursue a nomination without some expectation that they'd receive the best support the party had to offer. And all three can justifiably see an opportunity to build off the infrastructure developed in the by-election in elections to come - even if the outcome on the 26th is another cringe-worthy trained seal in Harper's fold.

All of which is to say that I don't see a particularly compelling case to treat Calgary Centre as a scenario where parties or voters should set aside their long-term goals for the sake of a temporary celebration. Instead, far better to focus on building as much momentum as possible within each opposition party - with the goal of building opposition among Calgary's general public, rather than settling for a single MP as the be-all and end-all.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Laura Ryckewaert reports that Elections Canada's response to Robocon is now including an unprecedented level of public consultation, while Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor are digging deeper into voters' complaints at the time of the 2011 election. And Lawrence Martin recognizes the stakes involved in the Cons' gamble that nobody will get to the bottom of their robocalls:
Though nothing is conclusive, the revelations, which directly challenge the Conservatives’ version of events, can hardly be of comfort to Stephen Harper’s team. The story has become a whodunit with phenomenally high stakes. No democratic government found to have run a widespread vote-rigging operation is likely to survive.

Mr. Harper has denied any involvement by his party in a call campaign to misdirect voters. His 2011 campaign co-chair Guy Giorno, who said that suppressing the vote is a “despicable, reprehensible practice,” has been equally categoric.

In the run-up to voting day, EC officials had a list of complaints from 13 ridings. They found the alleged abuses so serious that, according to the Postmedia report, they immediately contacted Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton. He took a day to get back with a response that denied any wrongdoing, saying the calls were being made to ensure Conservative voters got to the right polling stations. Unsatisfied, EC officials went back to him again before voting began, but he responded in the same way.

The uncovered emails raise a question: if Conservative campaigners were only trying to assist their own voters, why were they giving out, as the Elections Canada officials saw it, false information on polling station locations? And why, if they were only dealing with their own supporters, would there be such a rash of protestations to Elections Canada?
But there are other questions: Why would the Tories stage a phone blitz on polling locations in the last week when, according to chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, only 61 of 20,000 polling locations were moved in that week? That’s one half of one percent. Then there is the Ekos poll purporting to show the vast majority of poll-location calls went to voters supporting opposition parties. Why would that be? Then there is Michael Sona, the former Tory operative in the Guelph riding, who has referred to the vote suppression operation as being “a massive scheme.”
- Environics compares the attitudes of citizens toward inequality in countries across the Western hemisphere. And the results show a majority of Canadians seriously concerned about the inequality which the Harper Cons are working to exacerbate - and eager to see more progressive taxation as part of the solution:
Canada has weathered the recent global economic recession much better than most other countries, and Canadians are among the most upbeat in the Western Hemisphere about their national economy and household financial situation. But not all Canadians are doing well financially, and there is widespread concern about income equality. Most Canadians feel their politicians are defending the rich to the detriment of the poor, and expect their governments to reduce income disparities.

On this issue Canadians fall somewhere between citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean (who more strongly endorse active government efforts on income inequality) and Americans (who are divided on this issue). What distinguishes Canadians is their support for reducing poverty and inequality through higher taxes on the rich.
- Which in turn provides some rather important context for the Agenda's discussion of poverty and a guaranteed annual income:

- So part of the problem in our current corporatist direction is that far too many governments are ignoring what Canadian citizens are supporting in no uncertain terms. But Ben Sichel suggests that the labour movement needs to work on building students' knowledge of the role of unions long before they join a workplace for themselves.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk notes that the Sask Party's move to sell off most of ISC makes sense only as part of a longer-term scheme to gut Saskatchewan's public sector. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

#skndpldr Debate 1 Notes

There's already been some coverage of the first Saskatchewan NDP leadership debate which took place Saturday night (link to come once the video is available). But I'll take a few minutes to add my observations - which will mostly stick to the differences around the edges, rather than the broad effectiveness of the candidates in discussing progressive themes.

Cam Broten got the first opportunity to speak, and made the most of it - pairing an effective discussion centred on his answer to the question of why he's running with effective command of the room. And he kept up that pattern through most of the policy discussions.

However, Broten did leave some question as to his adaptation to the debate as it developed. Most notably, Broten's closing statement consisted largely of an exhortation to take the challenges facing the party seriously - but that message of urgency was followed with a reference to a policy which had come under significant fire as lacking substance (his plan for a process to develop a strategy to facilitate greater involvement by women).

I'm not sure whether that combination represented a matter of sticking too closely to a pre-written script, or a questionable reading of the debate as it progressed. But either way, any doubt about Broten's ability to respond to developments in the heat of a debate figures to complicate his pitch that he's substantially better prepared to deal with a leadership role than his competitors.

The second candidate to speak was Ryan Meili, who easily put to rest my question as to whether he'd be left out on the policy front in a campaign where he's signalled an intention to leave detailed platform announcements until later on. Indeed, Meili stood out both in offering big ideas (such as a Bank of Saskatchewan to go with the familiar SaskPharm theme), and in talking bluntly about the causes of a lack of women in politics as in other leadership roles.

But while Meili's content more than kept pace with the field, his presentation didn't match up as well. Unlike in the 2009 campaign, all three of Meili's opponents are powerful, polished speakers - making Meili's soft voice, fast pace and occasionally distracting movements stand out in comparison (to the detriment of his substantive message). And while Meili's message about practicing more authentic politics offers an easy explanation for sticking with a speaking style that's more comfortable to him, he may be best served tailoring his presentation more to the benefit of the audience.

Not surprisingly, Erin Weir more than held his own in addressing the policy topics. In particular, the sharpest exchanges of the night were between Weir and Broten on small business taxes and encouraging women's involvement in politics - and Weir ultimately got the better of both arguments.

However, Weir's effectiveness in delivering prepared statements lagged behind his skill speaking off the cuff. Weir's opening consisted mostly of a recitation of his campaign biography, without much by way of theme or narrative to pull in the audience. And his closing was framed around a challenge against the other candidates on trust - which seemed highly counterproductive to the extent it effectively questioned the judgment of other candidates' supporters.

Finally, Trent Wotherspoon delivered an effective if unspectacular performance. He may have been helped by a format which didn't offer much room for competitors to press him with follow-up points, but Wotherspoon had little trouble with the follow-up questions posed by moderator Mitch Diamantopoulos, and also took plenty of opportunities to echo and co-opt other candidates' policy proposals and themes (again a smart strategy given the need to cultivate down-ballot support).

On the balance, my impression is that Meili and Wotherspoon likely helped their positions somewhat, while Broten and Weir may not have accomplished as much as they'd have hoped. But the most important message for the candidates to take away from Saturday's debate is that there's plenty of room to grow during the course of the leadership campaign - and I'll hope to see that growth manifest itself both among the candidates and within the party by the time the NDP's debate circuit makes its return to Regina.

Update: See Scott's observations as well.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Peter O'Neil and Tara Carman report on the Cons' strategy of importing temporary foreign workers to drive down wages across Canada. And Craig McInnes juxtaposes that plan against the need for viable careers for young British Columbians in particular:
More than a quarter of (Canada's temporary foreign workers) are in B.C., where in October there were 148,000 people listed as unemployed in the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey.

Meanwhile, 54,000 temporary foreign workers were in the province, working on farms, in construction, in trades, financial institutions, taking care of children and serving fast food.

Some of them are people with special skills that for some reason can’t be found here. That’s the argument for bringing in coal miners from China that has most recently shone a spotlight on the issue of temporary foreign workers in Canada.

But most of them are in jobs that employers say Canadians don’t want, either because of the nature of the work or where the work is.

Canadians include immigrants, of course, but the temporary foreign workers are not being invited to move to Canada, to bring their families and live the Canadian dream.

My question is why are the wages so low? Why is it that we encourage industries in this country that are so marginal they can’t produce a living wage for Canadians?
- And Lana Payne notes that we all stand to pay for the Cons' insistence on prioritizing corporate profits over all else:
In fact, the higher-than-forecasted deficit can be partly (some might say entirely) blamed on domestic decisions.

What we won’t hear about from the Conservatives is how their failed economic, labour market and tax policies have contributed to the higher deficit. It’s much easier to blame world economic conditions for all our woes.

But it doesn’t take a brilliant mathematician to deduct that a government that slashes taxes for super-wealthy corporations may end up taking in less revenues as a result. It also doesn’t take a genius to understand the link between policies and programs that suppress the wages and incomes of Canadians and how this just might impact on the amount of taxes they pay.

Billions of dollars in annual tax cuts to some of Canada’s biggest and most profitable corporations, including banks, oil and mining companies have certainly contributed to the deficit. And it doesn’t take a parliamentary budget officer to figure out that we all pay for these tax cuts to wealthy corporations.
- Meanwhile, Angella MacEwen discusses the consequences of the Cons' misplaced priorities - with the few jobs being created in Canada disproportionately falling into categories such as temporary work which provide no prospect of long-term career development.

- Adam Radwanski writes about Andrea Horwath's effort to offer Ontarians the chance to be heard in developing policy for the province (in stark contrast to her competitors' back-room decision-making):
Is it time to look seriously at raising taxes, perhaps on the corporate side, rather than just addressing program spending? Here she gives a little. “When you talk about taking a balanced approach, you look at both sides of the equation.” But that’s as far as she goes.
There are politicians who try to paper over their lack of policy specifics; Ms. Horwath wears them as a badge of honour. “I don’t necessarily believe that the way to do things is to sit in isolation, make up a whole bunch of policies based on internal brainstorming, and then sell that to the public,” she says. So she recently launched a “consultation on jobs,” which she identifies as her biggest priority, three-and-a-half years after winning the leadership.

It’s a marked contrast to the approach of Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who is putting out a series of “white papers” that float stridently right-of-centre positions on everything from tax cuts to labour policy to health care. And for now, Ms. Horwath’s low-risk approach seems to be working fairly well, with her party capitalizing on voter unrest as much or more than Mr. Hudak’s.

It’s not hard to see why. Mr. McGuinty is leaving office amid perceptions that he grew out of touch after too long in power, running a closed shop more concerned with self-preservation than Ontarians’ concerns. Mr. Hudak, after a poor introduction to voters in last year’s campaign, is struggling to shake an image as a typical politician willing to say whatever he thinks voters want to hear. Being open and accessible and not claiming to have all the answers has considerable appeal.
 - Finally, Charlie Smith suggests a simple policy change to end the constant stream of false attack ads by the Cons - proposing an effective regulator to take the place of ad industry self-regulation.

[Edit: fixed formatting.]