Saturday, April 13, 2013

#mtlqc13 - Day 2 Review

Aaron Wherry has been documenting the resolutions passed at the NDP's convention in Montreal - and so I haven't seen much need to comment on them in detail. But the most noteworthy development in today's policy debates came from a resolution which wasn't passed - but which nonetheless signalled the NDP's willingness to tackle difficult but important social issues based on members' input.

The following resolution was pushed up the priority list in the resolution panel, and came to the floor for debate this afternoon:
Resolution on Upholding Sex Workers’ Rights to Life, Liberty, Security, and Equality Submitted by Vancouver East
WHEREAS Canadian values include respect for human and labour rights of all persons, including the right to life, liberty, security, equality and freedom of expression and association as set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
WHEREAS Canadian courts, the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws and the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry concluded that criminalization of sex workers increases the violence perpetrated against them and decreases their access to police and other legal and social protections.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT we, the NDP, support the repeal of sections 210, 211, 212(1), 212(3), and 213 of the Criminal Code of Canada in order to improve the health, safety, equality and social citizenship of sex workers.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT we, the NDP, do not support the enactment of legislation that prohibits the purchase or sale of sexual services or sex workers’ ability to work with others.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT while the prostitution laws remain in force, we, the NDP, call on all Canadian police departments to immediately halt enforcement of ss. 211, 212(1), 212(3), and 213 and, instead, ensure sex workers have equal access to police protection and the justice system when they are the victims of crime.
Now, the resolution didn't pass. But that wasn't a matter of it lacking support on the convention floor: instead, after one strong speech favouring the resolution, Libby Davies moved that it be referred to federal council with instructions that it return a formal policy later this year. And that motion, combined with the obvious support of the convention for the cause of ensuring that sex workers are recognized as citizens rather than stigmatized, looks to ensure that the NDP will present an unprecedentedly inclusive policy in the years to come.

The other major development today was Tom Mulcair's speech to members following a successful leadership evaluation. And while I raised some questions about his past speech-making in yesterday's review (based in large part on an address to Saskatchewan's leadership convention which was generally strong on content, but rushed and wordy), he hit the mark today - combining his characteristic intelligence with a far better connection to the audience than I've seen from him in the past. And both that and the review vote bode extremely well for his prospects in holding and building on the NDP's current coalition in the face of a new Liberal leader.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom offers an insider's look at outsourcing:
Arlene says any outsourcing scheme begins with the institution’s senior management. Usually, she says, the aim is to transfer about 60 per cent of the affected jobs — often in back-shop areas like information technology — to India where wages are a fraction of those paid in Canada.

The remaining 40 per cent, which generally require more local support, are outsourced to third-party firms in Canada. They in turn, subcontract the jobs to individual Canadians.

The aim here, Arlene says, is to not only to save the bank money but ensure that it is legally insulated from those who work for it.

Technically, those Canadians doing outsourced work are viewed as self-employed. That means that the bank no longer has to pay statutory benefits such as Canada Pension Plan premiums.

In most cases, subcontracts with Canadian workers are renewed for up to two years. Then, in order to maintain the fiction that they are not real bank employees, they are let go. After a few weeks, they are rehired on another set of short-term contracts.

“It’s sad,” says Arlene. “Really and truly sad. If you’re on contract you have no security. You do exactly what you’re told or you’re gone. You look the wrong way at someone and you’re gone. If you even question someone, you’re gone.”
The former outsourcer says she now thinks outsourcing is monstrous. She says she left the field because she couldn’t bear it any more. She says she has seen too much damage up close.

She says outsourcing, either domestically or abroad, is destroying the dreams of young Canadians. She has a child of her own. She wants government to crack down on companies that, just to make a buck, deliberately kill good jobs.
- Meanwhile, Joanna Smith and Bea Vongdouangchanh both report on Joseph Stiglitz' speech yesterday - focusing on the need to combat inequality through investment in people and real regulation of rent-seekers and plutocrats - as providing an economic focal point for the NDP.

- Joe Oliver became the first cabinet minister to say publicly what seems to be the Cons' obvious operating principle of denying that climate change exists (or calls for any policy whatsoever).

- Finally, Alex Himelfarb comments on the importance of public service. And in a fine example of the antithesis of that principle, Sixth Estate explores the traditional dirty politics at work in Peter Penashue's remarkable boast that he used his cabinet position to deliberately refuse to approve a needed project in order to push funding into his own riding.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Musical interlude

Arcade Fire - Ready To Start

#mtlqc13 - Day 1 Review

Based on my posts leading up to the NDP's federal convention, it shouldn't come as much surprise that my main focus is on the substantive policy debates. And the first day saw some positive developments on that front.

Rather than sticking to the party's chosen list of topics for discussion, members intervened in the resolution panel on the economy to push resolutions on employment insurance (1-53-13) and pay equity (1-17-13) into the mix for approval in this afternoon's plenary session. And while those might not have come first among my own priorities on the economy, they certainly reflect both an injection of strong progressive values, and a demonstration that membership participation still has a substantive effect on the NDP's policy discussions.

The other noteworthy development on the day was Tom Mulcair's evening town hall. For all the talk of an attempt to bolster Mulcair's image by telling more of his personal story, that effort would have fallen flat if he hadn't lived up to the introduction in the subsequent question-and-answer session. But Mulcair reminded us that he's at his best offering well-thought-out responses to a wide range of questions - and it particularly helped for an NDP crowd that the questions themselves led to a more focused articulation of progressive values than Mulcair seems to default toward on his own.

Tomorrow will see plenty more plenary sessions along with a speech by Mulcair. But the first convention test for Mulcair and his party looks to be off to a good start.

#mtlqc13 - Preamble Ramble

Over the past few days, I've highlighted a few policy resolutions I'd like to see promoted and discussed at the NDP's federal convention this weekend in Montreal. But I'll take a few minutes to discuss the topic that's receiving the most media attention in advance of the convention - even if I see its significance as largely overstated.

Aaron Wherry compares the text of the NDP's proposed constitutional preamble to the existing wording here. And the trend to be seen in the existing language, the 2011 proposal and the new draft looks primarily to involve the use of lengthier and weaker wording to describe much the same set of concepts.

That means I'm not hugely excited to see the amendment pushed forward. If nothing else, I'd hope there's room for some editing - in part to cut down on the preamble's length, and in part to reinstate a few concepts (such as social ownership) which don't appear the current version, but remain consistent with the overarching vision of government as a force for the common good. 

That said, I also don't consider it a major problem if the new wording passes as is. Again, the general principles included in the new version leave plenty of room for all the progressive policy one could possibly hope to see - that is, so long as the role of government in pursuing the common good is defined through more detailed policy.

Which brings me back to my broader view of this weekend's convention. I don't see the constitutional issue as carrying too much weight one way or the other, but the treatment of policy resolutions which haven't been treated as party priorities (both in the ability of delegates to change the agenda to suit members' concerns, and in the party's response to resolutions that pass as a result) will be the most important test for the NDP. And if party loyalists manage to block any change to the preamble while being unable to substantially shape current party policy, that doesn't strike me as a positive outcome for anybody.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Carol Goar discusses how the Cons' latest attacks on Employment Insurance add just one burden to the backs of workers who have already borne the brunt of decades of corporatist policy:

(L)ast Sunday, employment insurance benefits in two-thirds of the country were quietly reduced. Existing recipients were spared but new EI claimants — starting with the 54,500 workers who lost their jobs in March — will be subject to tougher rules. Most will get less support.

Generalizations are impossible. The impact on any person depends on his or her employment record, skills and the health of the local job market. But by and large, EI applicants in Oshawa, Windsor, Hamilton, the Niagara region, Sudbury, Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Regina and Vancouver will fare worse under the new rules. (The effect in Toronto will minimal because EI claimants here never received the same benefits as their counterparts in the rest of the country.)
Employment insurance rates are set by formulas so complex they defy explanation. But the essence of this change is that the government has pushed the threshold to qualify for the most generous form of EI treatment out of reach for most Canadians.
Ironically, Flaherty’s objective was to make the EI system more equitable, a goal shared by Canadians and the Ontario government. They envisaged a uniform rate structure that would boost benefits for everyone. What the minister delivered was a plan to lower them.
It was equity of a sort — a stingy sort.
Sunday’s rule change was the government’s latest move toward a “flexible labour” agenda. It came on the heels of a crackdown on EI recipients last month to ferret out “false and inappropriate claims.” Federal officials made unannounced house calls, grilling recipients. The month before, the government imposed a requirement that repeat EI claimants accept any job in a 100-kilometre radius that paid as little as 70 per cent of their previous salary.
No doubt these measures will sharpen the private sector’s competitive edge. But they will drive down wages and make it harder for workers who lose their jobs to recover.
These trade-offs have far-reaching consequences. Over time, they will erode Canada’s standard of living and reduce the resilience of its workforce. All Canadians — even those with ostensibly secure jobs — need to pay attention.
- Meanwhile, Karl Nerenberg nicely documents the Cons' "old-fashioned red-baiting" as the preferred means of distracting attention from how ill-advised policies are hurting Canadians. But if there's anything wrong with Nerenberg's approach, it's found in his apparent assumptions that the Cons would see the label as a criticism rather than a compliment.

- In what should come as a shock to anybody who's paid absolutely no attention, Don Cayo finds that once again the NDP has a better track record managing publicly money than right-wing alternatives. And Vaughn Palmer notes that the B.C. NDP in particular is taking the all-too-rare step of building an election platform on more realistic budget assumptions than the ones put forward by the Libs - trading the nominal spending room which would allow for larger campaign promises for the prospect that the NDP's platform might actually be deliverable.

- Finally, let's round up some others' reports and commentary on the NDP's convention this weekend - with Dan Tan, Gloria Galloway, Mia Rabson, Bea Vongdouangchanh, Jennifer Ditchburn, Arash Azizi, Lawrence Martin and Thomas Walkom among others contributing to the discussion.  

#mtlqc13 Priority Resolution - Human Rights

The final panel on policy resolutions at the NDP's Montreal convention will deal with human rights issues. And the Young New Democrats of Quebec have proposed a resolution which covers a number of issues worth including in that discussion:
Resolution on Rights in the Digital Age
Submitted by the Young New Democrats of Quebec
WHEREAS protecting digital rights is necessary to develop a sustainable economy in the 21st century;
BE IT RESOLVED that a new subsection (6.10) be added to the Policy Book:
6.10 Rights in the digital age
New Democrats believe in:
(a) Ensuring all Canadians have affordable high-speed Internet access.
(b) Updating the notion of copyright for the 21st century, while protecting creators.
(c) Preventing malicious prosecutions for copyright infringement.
(d) Putting an end to the legal protection for “digital locks,” to enable Canadians to transfer their digital content from one medium to another.
(e) Protecting the right to privacy and free expression on the Internet.
(f) Reforming the patent system with such measures as patent lifespan that varies by sector and measures to limit malicious prosecutions.
(g) Making government more transparent by adopting open government principles.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Subsection 6.7 g be struck from the Policy Book.
Of course, the open government theme is addressed in a number of other resolutions (including two I've mentioned before). But the NDP will be well served to also embrace the combination of intellectual property policy oriented toward creativity rather than rent-seeking, a commitment to Internet accessibility, and protections for both privacy and free expression online. And in each case, the party has the opportunity to stand alone in taking the side of Canadian citizens in dealing with rapacious (and deservedly unpopular) corporate interests.

#mtlqc13 Priority Resolution - Governance

One of the most obvious sources of cynicism in politics - which the NDP should be seeking to combat at every turn - is the presence of issues where opposition promises turn into government inaction or even abuse. And the Cons have sadly offered a case in point when it comes to accountability and transparency.

That means it's particularly important for the NDP to establish a strong message on accountable government which fits into the party's grassroots values. And luckily, there's just such a resolution up for discussion:
Resolution on Open Government Submitted by Terrebonne-Blainville
WHEREAS new information technologies enable citizens to interact more directly with government and participate more directly in government decision-making;
BE IT RESOLVED that Subsection 5.8 of the Policy Book be amended as follows:
New Democrats believe in:
f. Promoting an open government strategy with the objective of encouraging public participation, facilitating communication between government and citizens, and making information accessible to citizens while tracking which information is most sought after by the public with a view to gradually making this government information accessible to the public in a user-friendly, modifiable form.
Once again, another, higher-ranking resolution deals with much the same subject matter (5-14-13). But the difference between the two lies in the distinction between transparency merely as a way of peering in on goverment activity, and two-way communication which facilitates citizen participation. And the NDP should be seeking to emphasize its commitment to the latter ideal.

#mtlqc13 Priority Resolution - International Affairs

The NDP's position on trade policy has of course been a hot-button issue both inside and outside the party - making it the area I'd see needing some discussion in Montreal. And while a number of other resolutions deal with the issue, one offers a particularly neat means to add an explicit commitment to the bigger picture while allowing for the approval of reasonable trade agreements (and avoiding unnecessary modifications to what's already a well-worded section of the policy book).
Resolution on Unfair Trade Practices Submitted by Beaches-East York
BE IT RESOLVED the following clause be added to Section 4.5 of the policy book, after clause b, and that subsequent items be reordered accordingly:
[4.5 New Democrats believe in] c) Classifying wage suppression, union suppression and lax environmental regulation as prohibited "unfair trade practices“ in international trade agreements.
Of course, there's room to import some other principles as well - such as ensuring that "unfair trade practices" aren't merely enforceable by corporate interests or measured in terms of lost profits. And if the resolution can be further strengthened to account for those types of considerations, then all the better.

But the starting point in addressing trade should be a concrete commitment to ensuring that social values are strengthened rather than undermined by international trade. And the resolution from Beaches-East York fits that goal.

New column day

Here, on how the Wall government is extending purely individual rights such as the right to privacy to corporations - and how that could lead to yet more corporate abuse in the future.

For further reading...
- The Hansard record from March 18 featuring Gord Wyant's approval of corporate secrecy in the name of civil libertarianism is here (PDF, starting at p. 2747). 
- The Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner's letter to Wyant questioning the "company's privacy" language (among other parts of Bill 65) is here (PDF).
- The Supreme Court of Canada's seminal decision on the quasi-constitutional nature of individual privacy is here; see in particular paragraph 64 and subsequent analysis (which was approved of by the majority which disagreed on the application of the agreed principles).
- Finally, I can't make mention of Mitt Romney's "corporations are people, my friend!" without including the most memorable context for it:

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Walkom adds another piece to the picture showing the Cons' efforts to shift both jobs and wealth offshore, pointing out that lax visa rules have only encouraged RBC-style outsourcing schemes. Craig McInnes recognizes that a cheap, low-rights worker strategy is a problem whether labour is imported to Canada or exploited abroad. Haroon Siddiqui, David Doorey, Heather Mallick and Barbara Yaffe express their own outrage about the deliberate elimination of Canadian jobs. And the Alberta Federation of Labour calls attention to the scope of the temporary foreign worker program.

- Mike de Souza offers a detailed look at how the Cons encouraged the oil industry to completely rewrite (and gut) Canada's environmental laws through omnibus legislation.

- And in case anybody was under the illusion that nobody has noticed the Cons' ethical abuses beyond the editorial pages, a new poll should put that to rest:
Fifty-eight per cent of Canadians disapprove of the Conservative government under Harper’s leadership, compared to 42 per cent who approve.

Canadians are especially troubled by the government’s actions in one area — secrecy and ethics.

The poll found that 69 per cent of people believe “the Harper Conservatives are too secretive and have not kept their promise to govern according to high ethical standards.” Thirty-one per cent believe the Tories have kept their promise.

Similarly, the poll found that 63 disagreed with the statement the “Harper Conservatives are living up to the promise they made when first elected in 2006 to provide an ethical, open and transparent government.”
- David Climenhaga exposes the Fraser Institute's main method of ensuring that their corporatist propaganda never faces any direct rebuttal.

- And finally, Peter Graefe rightly comments that with two parties with a combined legislative majority jockeying for position on the left in Ontario, now would be an ideal time for some significant action to combat poverty in the province.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#mtlqc13 Priority Resolutions - Social Policy

Not surprisingly, the social policy resolutions up for discussion this weekend include a wide range of issues - and I'll avoid highlighting the resolutions dealing with either familiar topics of discussion like gun control, marijuana decriminalization/legalization and housing.

Instead, I'll point out three resolutions which look to deserve particular attention:
Resolution on the Impact of Economic, Social, and Environmental Factors on Individual Health Care Submitted by the Quebec Section
BE IT RESOLVED that the following clauses be added to Subsection 3.1(r) of the Policy Book:
• Acknowledging that economic, social, and environmental factors impact individual, public, and community health and must be considered as social determinants of health; and
• Taking economic, social, and environmental factors into account when drafting economic, social, and environmental policy.
It shouldn't come as much surprise that I'd consider it a major plus to include some recognition of the social determinants of health as part of the NDP's official party policy. And while I'd like to see the wording strengthened and the issue promoted from a sub-point to a major theme in the longer term, this resolution offers a valuable starting point.
Resolution on Federal Funding for University Research Submitted by Hull-Aylmer
BE IT RESOLVED THAT a new clause be added to Subsection 3.2 of the Policy Book:
Ensuring that federal funding for university research is allocated primarily on a basis of public and/or scientific interest rather than commercialization potential or the interests of private business.
The federal government's influence over Canadian universities is of course restrained by provincial jurisdiction. But this resolution offers a means of expanding both the range of academic study carried out in Canada, and the public benefits we can expect to see flowing from federal research money.
Resolution on Guaranteed Annual Income Submitted by Fundy Royal
WHEREAS experiments with systems for Guaranteed Annual Income have shown positive results in terms of health and happiness, and economic stimulation, and
WHEREAS many low income Canadians are now forced to wait until the age of 65 (or 67) before they can afford to live with a minimal level of dignity, and (sic)
BE IT RESOLVED that the following clause be added to Section 3.4 of the Policy Book:
Fighting Poverty
New Democrats believe in:
e) supporting the implementation of a Guaranteed Annual Income system.
I'll note that a number of other resolutions - some higher in the current resolution list - also mention a guaranteed annual income. But those tend to fall short on one or both of two of my criteria by either focusing on small studies rather than broad principles, or failing to include the concept within the NDP's policy book.

I take it as implied that support for a guaranteed annual income or any other policy includes a desire to ensure its effective implementation, and think the NDP would be well served featuring a guaranteed annual income as part of its long-term policy menu. And so, I'd ideally want to see the Fundy Royal resolution (with the extra "and" deleted) moved to the top of the list.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Lana Payne offers an introduction to austerity for Newfoundland and Labrador residents who are just learning about it on a provincial level:
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also taken a rather deep liking to austerity.

It is a ready-made excuse to gut government and change the positive role it should play in our lives, in building a better society, in sharing economic wealth and mitigating the inequality gap.

It is another excuse to trash government as a catalyst to build opportunities for all citizens; another excuse to turn Canada into a fend-for-yourself country, where collective action is a thing of the past.
So in this regard, austerity fits nicely with the Harper conservative ideology.

Many economists have blamed austerity at the federal level for reducing economic growth. Three austerity budgets have resulted in fewer opportunities for Canadians, especially younger Canadians. David MacDonald, who leads the Alternative Federal Budget process, advised the Harper government to “turn off the austerity auto-pilot and get the economy going.” Instead of “budgeting with eyes wide shut,” Mr. MacDonald, an economist, urges government to address the issues that most Canadians struggle with every day, instead of making things worse and leaving Canadians to fend for themselves.
The cuts are beginning to form a theme. The Family Violence Intervention Court. Human Rights Commission. Adult Basic Education. Dental program for poor seniors. Arts and Culture. Libraries. They are the sorts of public programs that speak to the kind of society we wish to have; one that protects the vulnerable (abused women and children), that provides opportunities and second chances, that ensures our history and culture is not just for those who can afford it.
- Paul Buchhelt discusses how the corporate wealth-extraction machine is built on the backs of mere citizens. And Leo Gerard points out the bait-and-switch tactics used to focus people on tiny amounts of money distributed through social programs, rather than the trillions of dollars siphoned offshore for the benefit of the very few.

- Erin Weir writes that the problems with the Cons' temporary foreign worker program goes far beyond RBC:
The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has more than doubled since the Harper government took office. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration reports the presence of 338,000 temporary foreign workers at the end of 2012.

This temporary work force is now almost as large as New Brunswick’s entire employed labour force and far exceeds that of Newfoundland and Labrador (not to mention Prince Edward Island.) With remarkably little evidence or public consultation, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has added the equivalent of a small province to Canada’s labour market.
(T)he program’s expansion has not been targeted to perceived shortages. RBC is not alone in bringing temporary foreign workers to Toronto, a city with an unemployment rate well above the national average.

Since 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased by 24,000 or 60 per cent in Toronto, 18,000 or 70 per cent in Quebec, and 5,000 or 80 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. Together, these regions of high unemployment account for most of the post-recession increase in Canada’s temporary foreign work force. With the exception of Toronto as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, wages in these regions are below the national average.

Expanding labour supply, without an offsetting expansion of demand, increases unemployment and/or decreases wages. Because temporary foreign workers are not permitted to permanently settle in Canada and often remit earnings to their home countries, they are unlikely to contribute as much to Canadian consumer demand as to labour supply.

The government’s policy of allowing employers to pay temporary foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage obviously undercuts prevailing wages. Because temporary foreign workers are beholden to their employers, they have little ability to assert their workplace rights or negotiate wage improvements.

An econometric study based on data through 2007 published last year in Canadian Public Policy concludes, “The expansion [of the Temporary Foreign Worker program] in Canada to all low-skill occupations without limit has had an adverse effect on the Canadian labour market.” There is reason to fear that adding more vulnerable workers to weak labour markets since 2008 has further worsened unemployment and undermined wages.
- Peter Graefe notes that Quebec's example of higher taxes at the top, more income redistribution and greater direct social programming has produced a "Sweden on the Saint-Lawrence" that the rest of Canada would do well to emulate:
(E)very province has its own path to putting together movement pressures with political parties and with sympathetic bureaucrats to advance an equality agenda. The Quebec case does show that it is possible to make a significant difference on the provincial scale, which should perhaps push movements to make progress on the provincial front first, rather than trying to cobble together pressure on the federal government.

Perhaps more importantly, the specific policies and strategies adopted in Quebec are largely absent from the vocabulary of political actors in the rest of the country. Policies have been tried and shown to work. Their effects both on individuals directly affected, but also on big picture indicators like taxation, employment, inequality and poverty, have started to be catalogued. These examples should be up the sleeve of every social policy activist in Canada as solutions within the grasp of a provincial government. Movements for equality do themselves no favour when they leave this knowledge on the shelf on the assumption that Quebec is somehow as foreign as Sweden.
- Finally, Jason ambitiously asks what politics are all about - while offering some suggestions for Cam Broten in his role as the Saskatchewan NDP's leader.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cozy cats.

#mtlqc13 Priority Resolution - Environment

On the environmental side, I'll limit my focus to one priority resolution. That's in part because the NDP's existing policy book looks to largely cover the most important aspects of the environment, and because the resolutions submitted for the Montreal convention largely have a fairly narrow focus (which takes it outside my goals in assembling the priority resolutions list).

But one resolution does offer some important new material to define the NDP's direction, even if it looks fairly familiar based on the party's current policy:
Resolution on Energy and Pipelines
Submitted by Toronto-Danforth
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the following
clause be added to Section 2.4 of the policy book:
i. Opposing the shipment of unrefined oil-sands bitumen through pipelines (new or old) over long distances, and only supporting the shipment of refined bitumen in the context of (1) the refining taking place close to the source of extraction, (2) the end product being intended for consumption within Canada, and (3) a broader strategy that includes a move towards renewable energy sources and a just transition for the workers employed in oil-sands related industries.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT subsequent clauses in Section 2.4 be reordered as necessary.
This resolution can be seen largely as a specific application of existing party policy, including the following:
2.4 Energy
New Democrats believe in:
h Discouraging bulk exports of our unprocessed natural resources and fossil fuels and providing incentives for value-added, responsible upgrading, refining and petrochemical manufacturing in Canada to maximize the economic benefits and jobs for Canadians.
However, the new resolution provides significantly more clarity as to the standards applied by the NDP in limiting our reliance on the wholesale export of unrefined bitumen - along with needed recognition that the our policy dealing with the oil sands should be directly linked to a long-term shift toward more sustainable resources.

Because the above resolution doesn't focus quite as narrowly on hot-button issues as related resolutions (particularly those dealing with individual pipelines), I won't be surprised if it ends up getting lost in the shuffle. But I'll hope to see some effort put into an overarching set of principles as well - and even if there's ample room for debate about the specific of the Toronto-Danforth resolution, it offers an important starting point on that front.

#mtlqc13 Priority Resolutions - Economy

Following up on my earlier post, let's start taking a look at a few of the resolutions which I hope to see discussed and passed at this weekend's federal NDP convention in Montreal.

In addition to the criteria mentioned in my earlier post, I also won't spend too much time highlighting resolutions which already close enough to the front of the line to be likely to pass (or which largely duplicate such resolutions). Instead, I'll focus on resolutions which will need to be promoted in the order of precedence to have a chance of being discussed and passed.

For those not familiar with the convention process, amendments to the resolutions submitted as well as the order of discussion for the plenary sessions will be determined at Friday morning's resolution panels. Unfortunately, I personally won't be arriving at the convention until that afternoon - and I'll encourage readers who will be around for the Friday morning resolution panels to discuss how to move the resolutions forward.

Without any further ado, here are the two resolutions I'd like to see promoted out of the first resolution panel (Innovating and Prospering in the New Energy Economy):
Resolution on Consumers’ Rights Submitted by Winnipeg Centre
WHEREAS the public good is threatened when the independence of inspection agencies are compromised; and
WHEREAS the responsibility for ensuring that all industries in Canada are properly regulated rightfully rests with the government not the private sector;
Therefore be it resolved that the following clause be added to Section 1.13 of the policy book:
1.13 New Democrats believe in:
k. Ending self-regulation in all industries and ensuring that government inspection agencies are robust, scientific and independent of political and market influence.
Since I've written a recent enough column on much the same subject, I won't go into a lot of detail on the importance of an independent public service which avoids industry capture. But the above resolution nicely captures the concern about non-regulation and self-regulation - while neatly distinguishing the NDP from its main federal competitors who are all too happy to let industry write its own rules.
Resolution on Progressive and Fair Taxation Submitted by Halifax
Changes to read:
1.7 Progressive and fair taxation
New Democrats believe in:
a. A progressive tax system.
b. A tax system that is robust enough to support expanded, effective public services and programs.
c. Taxing capital gains and stock options at the same rate as salaries or wages.
d. An aggressive response to tax evasion, including the use of tax havens.
e. Converting deductions from taxable income to tax credits to simplify the tax system and make it more progressive.
f. Making tax credits refundable to assist very low income Canadians
g. Ensuring that profitable corporations pay a fair share of taxes.
h. Restoring estate taxes on estates over $1 million as an element of a progressive tax system.
i. Targeting tax reductions to help low and modest income Canadians.
j. Introducing a Financial Transactions (Tobin) Tax
k. Eliminating Tax Free Savings Accounts as a means of tax avoidance
A number of other resolutions (including some higher in the current priority list) deal with some of the issues included in this complete rewrite of the NDP's existing tax policy. But none comes close to hitting all the points included in the Halifax resolution - which commits the NDP to a highly progressive set of tax policies while leaving open the question of which ones to pursue immediately. And so I'd prefer to see this resolution passed in Montreal, with future discussion to be based on the above principles.

I'll note that the panel including these resolutions also features a number of issues surrounding labour, privatization and industrial policy - and I fully expect there to be strong advocates wanting to see those dealt with as well. But ideally, we'd see the above resolutions make it to the front of the line.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Linda McQuaig tears into the Cons for exacerbating the gap between the too-rich-to-pay-taxes class and the rest of us:
Ordinary citizens diligently spend hours calculating their income and deductions and meticulously filling out forms, fearful of the probing eye and relentless reach of the tax man. At the same time, some of our richest citizens quietly park billions of dollars on faraway islands where the sun delightfully reaches but the tax man delightfully doesn’t.
The enormity of the scam that tax havens offer the tax-evading rich — and the horrendous hole they leave in national coffers around the world — has long been known and largely ignored, even as governments obsess about the resulting deficits. That’s because the rich have managed to convince us that the shortfalls should be made up by the hapless saps who diligently fill out their returns, and by government employees who have the audacity not to be working in the private sector.
In reality, the [bilateral treaties favoured by the Cons]were so poorly designed they’ve been virtually useless in making it harder for Canadians to hide money offshore.
On the contrary, they’ve actually opened the floodgates to tax haven use. That’s because, once a tax haven country has signed one of these (largely useless) bilateral treaties, it qualifies for special treatment under the new Harper rules, allowing multinational corporations to route their profits through the tax haven, thereby avoiding Canadian corporate tax.
For the Harperites to claim they’re clamping down on tax havens would be like claiming a clampdown on bank robberies by setting up a turn-in-a-robber snitch line, while at the same time providing robbers with instruction manuals on cracking safes.
- Meanwhile, Barbara Yaffe notes that the Cons' deliberate attacks on the CRA (particularly when it comes to its ability to pursue tax evaders) only serve to make the general public cynical about our revenue collection system - presumably fitting the Cons' longer-term goal of undermining trust in our public institutions. Jason Fekete reports on the gap between the Cons' rhetoric on tax enforcement, and their choice to impose hundreds of millions of dollars in new cuts to the CRA. And Scott Klinger writes that the U.S. faces a similar problem of individuals being forced to pick up the bill for corporate and elite tax giveaways.

- Thomas Walkom highlights the other most prominent example of the Cons using the power of the state to grind down workers for the benefit of plutocrats - being of course their choice to encourage the corporate sector to import cheaper labour rather than training and employing Canadians:
This is the dirty little secret about job-training in Canada. Employers don’t train workers because most don’t have to.
They expect government to train workers at public cost. And if that doesn’t work, businesses expect government to let them import from abroad workers who are already trained.
(A)side from a few vague mutterings, the Conservative government does not seem prepared to seriously scale back temporary worker programs that allow business to cherry-pick cheap labour from abroad.

If companies knew they couldn’t import, say, skilled pipefitters from Europe, they might put more effort into training domestic workers to meet their needs.
But employers know they don’t have to train. Instead, they need only wait until the last minute and then complain of labour shortages.
Over the last decade, as my friends at the Globe and Mail have reported, the number of temporary workers admitted to Canada has more than tripled, from 101,000 to 338,000.
This in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s.
Business insists that such workers are needed because skilled Canadians are unavailable. But far too often the real reason is that foreign workers are willing to work for less.
- And Sunny Freeman discusses the Wall government's simultaneous and concerted effort to put the screws to Saskatchewan workers.

- Finally, Daniel Beland offers an accurate look at how Saskatchewan's electoral boundary revision process has (fairly and properly) played out. And needless to say, the province's Con MPs are up in arms over the possibility of fairness finding its way into the federal political system.

Monday, April 08, 2013

On changed incentives

Steve has already pointed out RBC's status as the leading beneficiary of corporate tax giveaways in the context of its outsourcing of Canadian jobs (using temporary foreign workers as an intermediate step). But it's worth highlighting that there's much more than a coincidental connection between the two.

After all, a tax system which includes meaningful rates on corporate profits and high-end individual earnings will implicitly increase the cost of prioritizing those ends over investment in an actual business. Which means there's less reason to let dead money accumulate within a corporation rather than investing, and also less to be gained by individual executives pursuing a dropped-watermelon strategy rather than trying to build a business which can sustain both employment and profits in the longer term.

Conversely, a system which facilitates a get-rich-quick approach for current executives serves as an incentive to do exactly what RBC is doing. And indeed, the public policy decision to encourage businesses to treat employees as disposable only highlights that executives will likely be seen the same way - which only exacerbates the change in incentives resulting from a lower tax rates applied to a cash-out-now approach.

In sum, RBC's outsourcing doesn't represent a betrayal of some public good which might have been expected to result from the corporate tax cuts carried out by the Libs and Cons. Instead, it's a logical consequence of their underlying philosophy - meaning that there's plenty of blame to go to Canada's corporatist parties as well as to RBC.

(Sean has more from a municipal perspective.)

(Update: See also Will McMartin on B.C.'s experience.)

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Michael Harris takes aim at Stephen Harper's thugocracy:
There is little that Stephen Harper has done that other prime ministers before him have not. But no one has used closure, time allocation, committee secrecy or omnibus legislation to a degree that renders Parliament itself irrelevant.

And he has done some other things that no prime minister ever has. He is the only one to have been found in contempt of Parliament. And has any federal government ever tabled a budget without also tabling the Planning and Priorities report? If the government’s spending details aren’t in the budget speech, aren’t in the omnibus legislation and aren’t in the estimates, isn’t Parliament then voting money without knowing how it will be spent or where cuts will be made?

The prime minister’s solution to the Warawa Mutiny is pure Stephen Harper and shows once again that this man is tone-deaf to his own shortcomings — a proclivity that will soon have him at Lying Brian numbers in the polls.
- Daniel Wilson wonders whether Harper is actively trying to pick a fight with Canada's First Nations. And Paul Adams explains how Harper has managed to avoid responsibility for his deliberate neglect in dealing with climate change, with these two elements striking me as particularly important:
Assessing risks: Human beings just aren’t that good at assessing probabilities and risks, or making the trade-offs between them, especially over time, as behavioural economists such as Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler have been exploring in recent years. That’s why surveys show we exaggerate the danger of being killed by a terrorist, why we buy lottery tickets when the odds are so bad, and why we don’t save enough for retirement. The risks of climate change have been difficult to imagine — at least until recently, when changes to the weather have become more dramatic. We find it much easier to conjure up the fear of losing our jobs or of paying more for gas at the pump.

The Harper government’s communication strategy:  The government’s approach to climate change has essentially been to make a lot of “policy noise”, proclaiming various targets without doing anything to achieve them, promising to harmonize with a non-existent American plan, and so on.  As a recent draft paper by two University of Ottawa scholars has suggested, this meaningless marching back and forth creates an illusion of government action that plays to the psychological weaknesses I described above. They call it “constructed ignorance”. The stunning thing is that the Harper government maintains the artifice of sharing the public’s concerns about climate change while at the same time using passive-aggressive tactics to check even modest steps to combat it at the international level — and even in Alison Redford’s Alberta.
(Which, needless to say, fits with my theory that the Cons are happy to voice their support for whatever climate change policy is furthest away from being implemented - at least until it comes time to put up or shut up.)

- Nick Fillmore takes a look at Ralph Klein's real legacy. And it's particularly sad to see that the "string of anti-social policies and programs" also looks to have been a blueprint for Brad Wall's corporate takeover of Saskatchewan.

- Verda Petry comments on the dangers of P3s:
The Wall government, with its accumulated deficit of $10.5 billion (LP, March 21) is fast approaching the $15-billion debt the Devine administration left when it was defeated in 1991. Add to the current debt the pillaging of Crown earnings and the growth in P3s and the result is that we and our descendents will be shackled with debt for the next several decades. No flexibility in programming will be possible for future governments.

Municipal officials and government ministers try to trick the public into believing that P3s are a "win" for everyone. This position is extremely deceptive. It is only a "win" for private developers who make a profit from investment in public infrastructure. For them, it is a secure investment because taxpayers will always be there to cover the costs of the debt.
- Finally, Alice provides a thorough look at the Labrador by-election - noting in particular that there's ample reason for each of the NDP, Libs and Cons to see a reasonable chance of winning the riding.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Stephen Maher points out why we shouldn't believe the Cons for a second when they claim to care about cracking down on offshore tax evasion:
The top level of Canadian society is a small club, and it includes politicians. The people who run the country are on excellent terms with the business people who squirrel away money in offshore tax havens.

Shea's meaningless tough talk was prompted by a CBC report that said Saskatchewan lawyer Tony Merchant has $1.7 million in a Cook Islands bank. Merchant's wife, Pana, was appointed to the Senate by Jean Chretien in 2002.

Do our politicians want the CRA to crack down on their friends and relatives?

Cockfield points out that the government is ruthless in prosecuting welfare cheats, but offshore cheats are able to skate.

"Super-rich people get tax breaks from tax officials," he said. "It's just part of the power structure."

It's clear that neither the CRA nor the government likes talking about the huge amount of Canadian money sitting in offshore bank accounts.
- Don Braid notes that Alberta's brief attempt to pretend to care about climate change has given way to a familiar "we'll do the least we can get away with" approach, accompanied by attempts to back away from an already-weak trial balloon. Barry Saxifrage highlights why Alberta can't be seen as anything but one of Canada's worst provincial offenders when it comes to exacerbating climate change.

- Meanwhile, Nathan Cullen writes about the impact of new pipelines on the people who stand to be affected - and who the Cons want to cut out of the process. And Andrew Nikiforuk (with help from Robyn Allan) points out that the arguments for massive new pipelines extending in every direction from the tar sands represent nothing but false promises.

- Trevor Herriot takes a closer look at the community pasture program the Cons have trashed without any apparent interest in what's being lost.

- Karl Nerenberg wonders what additional information investigators will be able to get from Michael Sona now that he's been officially charged (and again thrown under the bus by the party apparatchiks who controlled access to the Cons' voter database).

- And finally, Marc Spooner and Paul Orlowski make the case for revisiting the Saskatchewan Party's decision to impose standardized testing.

On priorities

Yesterday, I posted a brief overview of the policy resolutions set to be discussed at the NDP's federal convention in Montreal next weekend. But over the next few days, I'll go a step further in taking a look at the ones I see as most important for the party's development into Canada's leading progressive option over the long term.

Before I start listing individual resolutions, though, here are a few of the criteria I'll be applying in evaluating them.

First, I'll want to ensure that a priority resolution is substantive. It's well and good to offer statements of general principle or to state one's intention to study an issue, but I'll be looking for resolutions which provide some concrete definition to the NDP's policies in the years to come.

Second, a priority resolution should be forward-looking. While the convention is of course the product of a particular moment, I see it as better to define priorities which will remain relevant in future election cycles until such time as a policy proposal is fully implemented than to limit ourselves to reacting to the headlines. (On that front, I'll prefer resolutions which shape the NDP's long-term policy book to freestanding ones which will tend to be lost in the mists of time once the convention is over.)

Third, I'll be looking for resolutions which are distinctive. Thanks in no small part to the media Village, there's constant pressure on the party's leadership and caucus to equivocate or hew to the positions of other political competitors - and I don't see any particular value in having the membership further that cause. Instead, the most important contribution the membership can make is to evaluate which ideas set us apart from other parties.

Fourth, I'll want to promote resolutions that are innovative. It's natural that a large number of resolutions involve responses to immediate political issues, including the ones which are already being handled by the NDP's caucus. But I don't see the convention merely as a time to affirm that members agree with the caucus' opposition to the Cons' most egregious mistakes: instead,we should be looking to direct the party's attention to issues which haven't received the attention they deserve.

Finally, a priority resolution should be pragmatic. That doesn't mean that I want to limit the party's policy debate to bland incrementalism - but it does mean that I'll want to see some apparent means as to how an idea might be implemented in practice before making it a key focus for discussion.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resolutions submitted for the Montreal convention that look solid on all counts. And it'll be worth working to make sure those are the ones which receive the most attention from members at the convention - with the intention of ensuring that even media outlets inclined to focus solely on familiar frames are forced to notice there's a deeper progressive discussion happening within the NDP.