Saturday, October 17, 2015

On expert opinions

Following up on this week's column, let's highlight exactly how the NDP compares to its major national competitors, the Libs and Cons, in the eyes of the experts and civil society groups who know what matters most in assessing progressive policies.

I'll include all of the analyses I've linked in previous posts including the full list from the Income Security Advisory Centre, as well as a few other prominent progressive organizations and/or rankings which have shown up in the news. But please do let me know of any which should be added for the sake of completeness - and note that while I've omitted a few listed by ISAC to the extent they seem to fall short of differentiating explicitly or implicitly between the parties' platforms, I haven't left any out based on their conclusions.

Since comments on parties' platforms tend to take a few different forms, I'll divide the post into two parts: one dealing with explicit rankings or grades where parties can be compared quantitatively, and ones with commentary where there's some room for qualitative judgment.

Starting with the former, here are the areas where the organizations I've examined have assessed progressive priorities with some effort to quantify or rank them. (Note that there are some sub-topics where the NDP ranks second, but the list is based on adding up or averaging all grades for all topics.)

Climate change: Keith Stewart (Greenpeace)
Environment: David Suzuki Foundation
Health care: College of Family Physicians of Canada
Budget policy: David Macdonald (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)
Internet freedom: Open Media
Free expression: Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
First Nations policy: Assembly of First Nations
Housing: FRAPRU, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (tie)
General policy: Canadian Association of Social Workers (PDF)
Physician-assisted dying: Dying With Dignity Canada (tie)
[October 19 Update - Added:
Democratic Reform: Democracy Watch (tie)]

As for the number of organizations rating any other party first overall, the total is: zero.

[October 19 Update: We have our first exception, with the NDP ranked narrowly behind the Libs under...
Urban Issues: Council for Canadian Urbanism]

In the latter category which includes both organizations' analysis of platforms and implied preferences based on their summary of platforms in specific areas, we have:

Child care: Lynell Anderson and Iglika Ivanova (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives), Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada
Climate change: Erin Flanagan (Pembina Institute), ecojustice 
Community health: Canadian Association of Community Health Centres
Employment Insurance: Good Jobs For All Coalition (PDF)
Health care: Canadian Health Coalition, Ontario Health Coalition
Pharmacare: Campaign for National Drug Coverage
Tax fairness: Dennis Howlett (Canadians for Tax Fairness)
[October 18 Update:
Municipal policy: Federation of Canadian Municipalities]
[October 19 Update:
Disability policy: Council of Canadians with Disabilities]
And again, the total number of organizations generally finding another party's platform to be more desirable than the NDP's is: nil.

Now, I'm sure there are some organizations whose didn't find their way onto the lists and sources I've looked at. And again, I'll be happy to update this post for any more which deserve to be included.

But the overall theme looks to be abundantly clear: the people working hardest on progressive policy are effectively unanimous in preferring the NDP to any major alternative. And voters wanting to see progressive change - not to mention anybody following the Libs' supposed interest in consultation and evidence-based policy - should look to the people who know the issues best, rather than being swayed by the bloviations of the Libs in claiming to define what is and isn't progressive.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Steven Chase notes that the Cons' promise to let Canadian know the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership before they vote was broken with unusual speed and publicity. Michael Geist points out that we do know enough about the TPP to be sure it puts our privacy at risk, while Ryan Meili and Sarah Giles discuss how the TPP will tie the hands of our health care system. Andrew Jackson observes that the TPP may also lock Canada into the resource trap preferred by the Cons, rather than allowing us to develop a sustainable economy. And Armine Yalnizyan writes that it also figures to lock in an underclass of temporary workers who can be exploited personally, and used to drive down wages for everybody.

- Bruce Livesey reports that the Canada Revenue Agency is renting multiple offices from a landlord known for its own offshore tax evasion (who bought them during the Cons' earlier wave of public selloffs).

- Meanwhile, Dennis Howlett reviews where Canada's federal parties stand on tax fairness. And the Income Secury Advisory Centre offers a rundown of plenty more platform reviews on important issues.

- Nick Davies frames Stephen Harper as a master manipulator rather than somebody with the slightest interest in the public good. And Amira Elghawaby lists a few of Harper's more galling abuses while reviewing Les Whittington's new book.

- Mohammed Adam makes the case as to why he can't vote for Harper, while Pete McMartin doesn't see how the campaign can centre on any issue other than the imperative to change from continued Harper control. William Thorsell writes the editorial he thinks Canadians should be reading instead of the laughable corporate-ordered ones they're actually seeing. And Michael Harris sees the Cons as going down in flames.

- Karl Nerenberg writes that the Daniel Gagnier scandal - featuring one of Justin Trudeau's campaign co-chairs telling oil barons about how to manipulate a new government before one has even been elected - is only typical of the Libs' relationship to lobbyists. Michael den Tandt takes the view that the Libs' latest scandal signals their likely unwillingness to do much about democratic reform if they have any was to wriggle out of it. 

- Finally, Lana Payne writes that we should take the opportunity to push for a kinder and more caring Canada. And Robin Perelle argues that we should vote for the NDP's commitment to progressive values, rather than the Libs' compassion of convenience:
Though the Liberal and NDP platforms seem remarkably similar now, it’s the Liberal party that initiated cuts to transfer payments to the provinces in the mid-1990s, plunging health care and other pillars of Canada’s social infrastructure into a new era of underfunded decline.

In the Liberal party’s push to renew some of that funding now, it differs from the NDP on one key point: it cut the funding in the first place. The NDP, in contrast, has consistently put forth a vision of Canada that values social services and cares for the most vulnerable members of our society.

“The NDP knows that one of the most important ways to judge the conscience of our country is how we treat our most vulnerable citizens. Our government has to do more. Much more,” the NDP writes in its 2015 platform.

It’s language like this that’s absent from the Liberal platform.
This election, I’m ready to give the NDP its chance to form government and to redirect our country along more genuinely compassionate lines.

Who are you voting for?

This seems pertinent

In light of the Cons' latest misleading ads, let's take a quick stroll through the offence provisions of the Canada Elections Act:
480.1 Every person is guilty of an offence who, with intent to mislead, falsely represents themselves to be, or causes anyone to falsely represent themselves to be,
(a) the Chief Electoral Officer, a member of the Chief Electoral Officer’s staff or a person who is authorized to act on the Chief Electoral Officer’s behalf;
(b) an election officer or a person who is authorized to act on an election officer’s behalf;
(c) a person who is authorized to act on behalf of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer;...

482. Every person is guilty of an offence who:
(b) by any pretence or contrivance, including by representing that the ballot or the manner of voting at an election is not secret, induces a person to vote or refrain from voting or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate at an election.
Because along with the even more obvious, it certainly looks like we'll be hearing about plenty more Con prosecutions which might see these provisions become much better known.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Musical interlude

Tritonal feat. Skyler Stonestreet - Electric Glow

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Alex Himelfarb writes about the urgent need to reverse the vicious cycle of austerity. And Toby Sanger takes a look at the economic records of Canada's political parties, and finds that the NDP ranks at the top of the class not only for balancing budgets, but also for reducing unemployment and raising wages.

- Meanwhile, Shawn Katz calls out the Libs for being all PR and no substance when it comes to progressive values:
In the media echo chamber, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s most substantive claim to the mantle of “change” in this election is his rejection of the balanced budget orthodoxy that has been used by neoliberal politicians as the premise for slashing social programs. It's a shrewd target for Liberal strategists.

Dig deeper, however, and we find it has been the victory of austerity politicians to successfully confuse the two: the real source of austerity policies is less the smokescreen of balanced budgets than the emptying of the public purse by decades of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
The problem with this shallow narrative, as well as Trudeau’s absurd attack line about the NDP adopting “Harper’s budget” by promising to balance the books, is that it focuses only on the bottom line — and media headline — while ignoring the actual programs and policies that compose the government agenda.

A truly progressive program is one that aims for the reduction of social and economic inequalities in society and the strengthening of solidarity. In this election, that mantle goes indisputably to the NDP, who are alone in proposing the first major expansion of Canada’s social safety net in decades.

True to the traditions of social democracy, the NDP’s signature proposals for new universal child care and pharmacare systems are transformative social policies that would help those at the bottom of the economic ladder the most, as would their massive reinvestments in health care, which earned the party first place in the electoral report card issued by the College of Family Physicians of Canada
They would pay for these investments through a range of measures targeting those at the top, including a two-point increase to the tax rate on large corporations and the closing of tax loopholes used by CEOs.

Taken together, these policies would amount to the most significant push in a generation to rebuild the tattered public domain. They would signal the end of the austerity era in Canada, and a modest first step in reversing the tide of corporate power and privilege that is undermining our democracy.

Next to these robust efforts to reduce the inequalities that soared under the Liberals’ watch in the 1990s, Trudeau’s vow to tax “the 1%” is akin to striking a coup in the bumper sticker wars: the measure is laudable, but the Liberal plan will do precious little with the acquired funds aside from shifting it slightly down the ladder towards the upper middle class.
- Elizabeth Thompson and BJ Siekierski shed more light on Daniel Gagnier's role lobbying for Trans-Canada (and seeking to position himself to keep doing just that) while acting as the Libs' campaign co-chair.

- Lynell Anderson and Iglika Ivanova compare the federal parties' child care plans to an expert proposal for $10 per day care in British Columbia. And Susana Mas reports on the Assembly of First Nations' review of the parties' platforms.

- Jordan Press reports on Joe Oliver's habit of wasting public money for his own luxury (like so many of his fellow Cons). And Jorge Barrera writes about the connection between drug financiers and cash donations to the Cons.

- Max Cameron writes about the prospects for co-operation in a new Parliament.

- Finally, Michael Hollett argues that Jack Layton's message of "don't let them tell you it can't be done" is particularly important as we approach what could be a historic election day.

On late definitions

A day after the Prairie Dog duly mocked corporate-ordered endorsements of the Harper Cons (which should be entirely familiar based on past campaigns), we've seen a spate of newspapers falling in line. And I'll argue that there may actually be more reason to be concerned than usual about the impact of those new messages.

Plenty of observers have asked whether anybody really votes based entirely on a newspaper endorsement. And for the vast majority of voters, the answer is "probably not".

But at the end of a campaign where the Cons have received almost nothing but (hard-earned) scathing reviews from all but the most blinkered of commentators, a new set of editorial endorsements might well create a meaningful difference in how people talk about the party - representing yet another example of a perceived change in tone which might swamp the overall assessment of a party. And all just before a large number of people decide how to vote.

Which isn't to say there's much to be gained by calling out the endorsements themselves. But it's well worth making sure that the Cons continue to be defined by all they've done wrong (and plan to continue given the chance) - not by the willingness of the corporate media to put up with it.

Update: Due credit to Justin Ling as well for his take on the pattern. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New column day

Here, making the case that Canadians should vote less based on perceptions of momentum (in terms of both policy and political positioning), and more based on where our parties and leaders actually stand.

For further reading...
- The platform comparisons referenced in the column include Keith Stewart's on climate change, the College of Family Physicians of Canada's on health care, David Macdonald's on budgeting, and OpenMedia's on digital policy.
- Meanwhile, David Macdonald also takes a look at the key messages being presented by each party. 
- Finally, those looking to delve further into the platforms can again read them at the following links: Conservative - NDP - Liberal. Or for condensed versions, see among others the Tyee, Buzzfeed and the National Post, along with my earlier platform reviews.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Robyn Benson offers her take on the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as an election issue. Peter Mazereeuw notes that the nominal labour protections in the TPP - which were of course negotiated without workers having a seat at the table - won't mean anything if governments aren't willing to take stands against the same businesses which dominated the discussion. And Bill Curry reports that the TPP will prevent governments from doing anything about the use and abuse of temporary foreign workers.

- Meanwhile, Emily Peck highlights how many workers are being exploited through extra "voluntary work due to existing employment laws which are going unenforced. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh points out the need for more discussion and action to deal with precarious work in Canada's federal election - as well as the fact that the NDP is the one major party which recognizes the issue.

- Damian Carrington reports that even BP has reached the point of publicly acknowledging that we can't feasibly exploit all possible oil reserves. Which means that the Cons' pattern of constant obstruction observed by Marc Jaccard places them as even more irresponsible than the industry actually making money by overheating the planet.

- And Karl Nerenberg reports on one of the Libs' own internal oil lobbyists promising change while offering clients more of the same - and they figure to carry plenty of weight after an election no matter how quickly they scurry out of the light once exposed.

- Finally, Martin Lukacs writes that the real barbarism posing a threat to Canadians is Stephen Harper's disregard for civilization and human rights.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Jim Stanford points out that the Harper Cons' already-dismal economic track record is only getting worse. And Nora Loreto notes that even on the Cons' own estimates, the Trans-Pacific Partnership looks to result in Canada paying more in compensation to industries hurt by another corporate rights agreement than we'll see in economic impacts.

- Ritika Goel discusses Canada's desperate need for a federal housing strategy, which is promised by the NDP alone among our major political parties - meaning we can add one more item to CUPE's list of areas where the Libs' platform falls short. And David Macdonald compares the progressivity of the party platforms on offer in the ongoing election campaign.

- Jill Treanor reports that half of the world's wealth is now officially in the hands of the 1%, while Canadians for Tax Fairness reminds us that fair taxes should be a key demand as we decide how to vote. And Katie Allen writes that greater inequality is leading to an ever-less-fair playing field for children not born into wealth and privilege.

- But lest we think there's no hope for improvement, George Monbiot points out that people are generally predisposed toward unselfish values - only to act based on the belief that others don't share that outlook:
A study by the Common Cause Foundation, due to be published next month, reveals two transformative findings. The first is that a large majority of the 1,000 people they surveyed – 74% – identifies more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness and justice than in money, fame, status and power. The second is that a similar majority – 78% – believes others to be more selfish than they really are. In other words, we have made a terrible mistake about other people’s minds.
The effects of an undue pessimism about human nature are momentous. As the foundation’s survey and interviews reveal, those who have the bleakest view of humanity are the least likely to vote. What’s the point, they reason, if everyone else votes only in their own selfish interests? Interestingly, and alarmingly for people of my political persuasion, it also discovered that liberals tend to possess a dimmer view of other people than conservatives do. Do you want to grow the electorate? Do you want progressive politics to flourish? Then spread the word that other people are broadly well-intentioned.

Misanthropy grants a free pass to the grasping, power-mad minority who tend to dominate our political systems. If only we knew how unusual they are, we might be more inclined to shun them and seek better leaders. It contributes to the real danger we confront: not a general selfishness, but a general passivity. Billions of decent people tut and shake their heads as the world burns, immobilised by the conviction that no one else cares.

You are not alone. The world is with you, even if it has not found its voice.
- Finally, John Milloy suggests we should be somewhat relieved - though not rendered complacent - by the justified backlash against the Cons' politics of division. And Peter Russell and Doreen Barrie argue that the Cons' lack of respect for the rule of law represents yet another reason to demand change.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Dining room cats.

Lessons not learned

Yes, plenty of people are pointing out Stephen Harper's decision to be less prime ministerial, more game show host as the election campaign comes to an end. But we should note also that he's doing that in the face of a noteworthy cautionary tale.

After all, the last time Harper used a TV format gimmick to try to further his political plans, this was the takeaway...

So how long until we learn that the cash being used in Harper's photo ops is being paid under the table?

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Noah Smith weighs in on the effect of cash transfers in improving all aspects of life for people living in poverty. But Angus Deaton recognizes that individual income will only go so far if it isn't matched by the development of effective government. 

- Maude Barlow discusses how the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other corporate rights agreements may render moot any effort for global action against climate change.
And Bill Tieleman raises the question of why Justin Trudeau and the Libs are willing to take the Cons' word for it on the TPP even as they rightly brand Stephen Harper as untrustworthy elsewhere:
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist, warns about the TPP.

“The real concern is that the whole thing is being written by corporations behind closed doors ... the consumers, who are not at the table, get screwed,” Stiglitz says.

But Trudeau is neither concerned nor opposed, saying last week: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities.”

So on TPP, Harper says “trust me” while Trudeau says “trust Harper” and trust free trade.

Trusting Trudeau on C-51 didn’t work – neither will it on the TPP.
- Cory Doctorow examines the TPP's draconian crackdown against basic computer security measures in the name of strengthening the hand of media giants. And Kent Roach and Craig Forcese argue that the Cons' bluster about security has done plenty to attack our rights while doing nothing at all to actually make Canadians safer.

- Joe Fiorito writes that the Cons' idea of relief for refugees is to leave some of the world's most vulnerable people in limbo for a year or more.

- Finally, Jack Knox discusses the combination of nationalism and racism that's represented the Cons' main campaign theme. And Michael Harris reminds us that we need to prove Harper wrong in betting on a combination of cheating, hatred and apathy to eke out another term in power.

Monday, October 12, 2015

#elxn42 Platform Review - Liberals

Finally, let's take a look at the Liberals' platform. Leaving aside the question of whether the Libs can plausibly live up to their campaign messaging of simultaneously being more progressive than the NDP, more business-friendly than the Conservatives, more devoted to the revolution than the Marxist-Leninists and more subcutaneous esplanade imbroglio than the Surrealists, what can we observe from their platform that might not be noticed in their mass messaging?

For the most part, the answer is "not much": having created large pools of money for purposes yet to be determined as the core of their platform, the Libs mostly leave matters to future determination. But there are a few points worth noting:
  • avoiding the lapsing of some types of funding, including infrastructure funding which would be paid at the end of the fiscal year directly to municipalities (p. 14), and foreign aid and military spending which would not be allowed to lapse (p. 65, 69);
  • measures to seek out Canadians who are entitled to services, including proactive voter registration (p. 27-28) and steps by the CRA to advise people of available benefits not being claimed (p. 33);
  • setting aside a fixed percentage of program funds to experiment with new approaches (p. 37);
  • eliminating a Labour Market Impact Assessment fee for temporary foreign workers hired as caregivers (p. 63); and
  • creating a Cabinet committee dedicated solely to Canada's relationship with the U.S. (p. 67 - and note the juxtaposition against the NDP's plan for a committee to address First Nations issues).
More generally, the most striking aspect of the Libs' platform is its inclination to only partially reverse some of the Cons' most controversial actions while in power. (In this respect, the Libs' position on C-51 seems to be fairly consistent with a general pattern of accepting the Cons' decisions subject to only minor tweaking later.)

For example, the Libs plan to keep the Cons' distinction between "designated countries of origin" when it comes to evaluating refugee claims: their reform of that new and highly-dubious policy is limited to appointing a panel to determine which countries to list (p. 65). In contrast, the NDP promises to eliminate the distinction altogether.

Similarly, the Libs pledge to "review" the Cons' attacks on environmental laws (p. 42), but do not make a clear pledge to reverse them as the NDP does. And they promise to "refocus" foreign aid toward African countries and poverty reduction (p. 65), but not to actually increase that aid.

In sum, then, the Libs' platform suggests significant reluctance even to undo the damage the Cons have done. And so voters focused on change rather than triangulation may want to look elsewhere.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

#elxn42 Platform Review - NDP

I've pointed out before that Tom Mulcair's practice - both in pursuing the NDP's leadership and in leading the party - has been to continue largely with the party's existing policy base.

In keeping with that principle, the NDP's platform doesn't contain many surprises for anybody who's kept a reasonably close eye on the party's activity over the past few years. But there are certainly a few points worth highlighting - particularly to the extent they contrast against the plans of the Cons and Libs.

Some of the more noteworthy promises which haven't received much notice so far include the following:
  • in addition to delivering the funding and pharmacare program promised throughout the campaign, resuming federal enforcement of the Canada Health Act (p. 1, 33);
  • expanding parental leave, including by providing specific leave for a second parent (p. 7);
  • not only reforming the temporary foreign worker program, but also ensuring that temporary foreign workers have a path to citizenship (p. 19);
  • modifying Employment Insurance eligibility rules to take into account the changing nature of work (p. 20);
  • cracking down on both unpaid internships and two-tier employment contracts (p. 26); and
  • deferring government appointment powers to board jointly selected by the government and Official Opposition (p. 56).
What's particularly worth noting, however, is the difference between the NDP position and the Libs' in areas where there's broad agreement about the need for action of some kind.

Anybody who watched the debates may be familiar with the distinction in the parties' positions on climate change - with the NDP wanting to commit to a target which can then be the subject of future planning, while the Libs talk about wanting to take action while declining to be pinned down as to what can or should be done. But the same distinction arises in other areas as well, particularly the ones which are likely to be of the most concern to progressive voters.

Both the NDP and the Libs promise some specific actions to combat poverty among children and seniors. But the Libs stop there, while the NDP pairs its immediate steps with an ultimate poverty target of zero and a commitment to establish a council and interim targets along the way (p. 28).

And both the NDP and the Libs promise to work on child care plans. But the NDP has targets as to how many spaces should be created and at what cost (p. 6-7), while the Libs leave for later any decision as to what a "framework" might look like.

To some extent, that distinction fits with one of the Libs' campaign messages: the NDP is indeed willing to ensure that federal money and authority is used to achieve specific outcomes. But it's left to progressive voters to decide whether they prefer a government which knows what it wants to accomplish and orients discussion with the provinces and other parties toward that end - or whether they're prepared to settle for one which doesn't see the need to decide.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

On technological preferences

Shorter Diane Francis:
I don't much like Facebook, but this Google machine is neato. I just typed in "Harper Conservative Talking Points", and it practically wrote my column for me!

#elxn42 Platform Review - Conservatives

Given the lengths Stephen Harper has gone to in limiting how his party is presented publicly as well as the Cons' general status quo campaign theme, it may come as a surprise that the Cons' platform includes 159 pages - making it nearly twice the length of any other party's. But anybody hoping for the Cons to do more than waste paper in the process is out of luck.

To be clear, there's a trend toward including talking points and contrast messaging in all of the platforms. But the Cons' stands out in distilling Harper politics to its essence - then serving up far more of that than any reasonable voter could possibly want to read.

To start with, the Cons bury minor and/or vague policy declarations within pages upon pages of the same material you've heard ad nauseum from Stephen Harper if you've paid any attention to him during the campaign.

As a key example off the start: the very first section of the platform, covering seven pages of the Cons' platform, could be described as a matter of substantive policy with four words: "balanced budget" and "tax lock". The rest is window dressing and largely-false attacks.

But that's not the last you'll hear of those same talking points. Instead, the subsequent section on the economy does little more than rephrase them under various subheadings, and numerous further sections repeat them again.

Meanwhile, the few promises the Cons do make are largely couched in language about continuing stakeholder consultations - which might seem more appropriate for an opposition party needing to get its bearings in government, but raises the question of why issues worth identifying and acting upon haven't already been discovered during the Cons' 9 years in office.

A particularly stark example here is the promise to "Increase funding to efforts to help women escape the sex trade" (p. 117), which neither mentions any such current or proposed efforts, nor includes any actual costing.

For those looking for promises which haven't yet been subject to much attention, here are a few which might be worst some attention:
  • continuing to set arbitrary limits on the number of regulations through expanded "one-for-one" rules and new cuts to those which already exist (p. 24), with no regard for their effect or importance;
  • pushing for provincial and territorial education curricula designed to serve "employer and market needs" (p. 30);
  • increasing the size of provincially-nominated immigration programs for the purpose of more widely distributing immigration across the country (p. 32);
  • increasing and indexing the lifetime capital gains exemptions to create a tax haven for an individual's assets above $500,000 (p. 64);
  • establishing an "equivalent-to-spouse" tax credit to create a splitting-type mechanism for single seniors (p. 66) - though note that nothing of the sort is proposed for families; and
  • establishing a matching funding mechanism for museum endowments (p. 130).
As for more general themes, a few do stand out.

First, the Cons largely echo George W. Bush's theme of pushing an "ownership society" at every turn - setting a target for 700,000 new homeowners, with numerous policies then aimed at reaching that goal. Needless to say, we should pay close attention to how that worked out for Bush and the U.S. housing bubble.

Second, the Cons dedicate multiple promises to funding PR and marketing campaigns on issues ranging from agricultural promotion (p. 39) branding the lobster industry (p. 42) to challenging environmental questions about forestry practices (p. 44) to boosting pro-Ukraine messaging in Eastern Europe (p. 92). Which seems noteworthy in signalling that the Cons have come to see propaganda as a public policy priority in and of itself.

Finally, it's worth noting that while the Cons' platform contains numerous promises to continue or expand some existing programs, it falls far short of covering current federal government operations. So anybody looking to determine what the Cons plan to cut in the future can likely start with the areas where there's no commitment to continue doing what's being done already.

#elxn42 Platform Reviews - Overview

The combination of a majority government and an extra-long campaign period has left Canada's major political parties with ample time to refine their election platforms. And regardless of what your disingenuous neighbourhood Wildrose MLA might tell you, those platforms represent the best indication as to what policies you can expect each to pursue if given the chance.

All three major parties put in the time and effort to prepare a detailed platform of 80 pages or more. But each also left relatively little time for that platform to be reviewed by the public.

For the most part, we can fully expect each platform to mirror a party's broader election messaging. But in order to see if there's either more or less than meets the eye, I'll take some time today to examine each of the platforms, with a particular focus on:
  • any noteworthy themes or patterns within a platform itself; 
  • anything particularly important that hasn't been the subject of much public discussion;
  • anything that contradicts or conflicts with a party's public messaging; and
  • any glaring omissions from a party's platform.
For those interested in doing the same, the platforms are available in PDF as follows: Conservative - NDP - Liberal. And I'll suggest that even people who have already decided or voted may find them worth a look to see how the parties are looking to portray their planned actions in government.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Mariana Mazzucato argues that in deciding how to vote, we need to challenge the Cons' assumptions as to what the federal government can do to encourage development:
Markets are themselves are outcomes of different types of public and private sector investments in new areas. Countries like Italy that have had low deficits but a lack of such investments, end up with high debt/gdp ratios. So, what should we be talking about? Public spending must be seen as part of the co-creation process by which markets are formed. The question should be about what kind of markets Canada wants to lead in, and what kind of actors and interactions are required to get there.

This is key for Canada as it continues to lag behind in key innovation performance indicators and its investment in innovation to date has largely been hands-off and indirect, via tax credits. It could learn lessons from its international peers – including the US – who do this kind of thing better with mission-oriented, direct investments across the innovation chain – not only in basic research. Canada continues to rely too much on tax credits to stimulate R&D, when the real driver of R&D tends to be where the private sector perceives the new exciting opportunities to be. A more courageous public sector could be driving this opportunity creation in the area of renewable energy, also to get Canada out of the trap of the extractive sectors.
- Meanwhile, Jeremy Nuttall reports that even as the Cons have made a show of limiting the use of disposable foreign labour through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, they've opened up new channels to help their corporate buddies drive down wages.

- Paula Span writes that inequality only tends to grow with time as the advantages enjoyed early in life perpetuate themselves to increase inequality in health and economic outcomes. And Les Leopold points out that matters are only getting worse as the super-rich try to secede altogether from the world of public goods which most people rely on.

- Ryan Meili reminds us that a lack of housing in Saskatoon (and elsewhere) represents a health emergency, not merely a freestanding policy failure. And Lynell Anderson and Iglika Ivanova discuss the child care promises on offer from Canada's federal parties.

- Finally, Michael Harris anticipates that the Cons' bigotry is about to produce some well-deserved blowback. And both Marie-Marguerite Sabongi and Robert Fisk are appalled to see the Cons' combination of prejudice and wilful ignorance as major themes of a Canadian election campaign.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

On continuing leadership

Others have responded to Chantal Hebert's latest by pointing out her past track record of telling the NDP when to change leaders. But even leaving that history aside, it's worth seriously questioning her assumptions.

To start with, I'm rather less certain than Hebert that even Stephen Harper will be out of the picture altogether by the next federal election, if only due to his suppression of any viable successors within his own party.

Given enough time (a majority or stable minority arrangement), a resignation and leadership race would be a logical course of action for the Cons. But if another election looks plausible in the near future, I wouldn't expect either Harper to step down willingly, or his party to assemble any movement to oust him. And in the event of an election either during a leadership campaign or after a new leader has flopped, Harper has made sure he's effectively the only person the Cons could ask to step in on short notice.

More importantly for my purposes, though, Hebert looks to be far off base in trying to guess what the NDP's priorities will be.

Once again, the most likely range of outcomes on election day involves a minority Parliament - meaning both that experience and readiness will be at a premium in navigating difficult political negotiations, and that another election will loom in the near future. And neither of those realities would point toward the knee-jerk disposal of a popular, respected leader who's just led the NDP to its second-best seat count ever.

And weighed against those reasons for the NDP to encourage Mulcair to stay on is...what, exactly?

Mulcair's leadership runner-up relied on a core group of supporters who have since been brought back into the fold to run the current campaign. So there's little reason or basis for them to back a challenge based on any perceived missed opportunity. And there's been no indication of hard feelings within the NDP caucus or among its past leadership contenders that would leave anybody eager for a fight.

As a result, any ouster would have to result from an insurgent campaign drawing almost entirely on people outside of the NDP's caucus and party apparatus. But a minority Parliament would offer a chance for Mulcair to push the key policies which most motivate the NDP's grassroots as the price of support. And whether he manages to bring those policies into effect or highlights the fact that it's other parties who are blocking them, there wouldn't be a great deal of motivation to criticize him so long as Mulcair sticks to his longtime practice of generally (if not invariably) following the path previously set by the party's membership.

That leaves the possibility of Mulcair stepping down by choice. But here, let's look again at Mulcair's choices in joining and leading the NDP.

In 2007, Mulcair chose to run for a party in fourth place nationally with no seats in Quebec, and whose main asset was its popular leader who expected and hoped to be around for some time to come. If anybody had told Mulcair he'd be a respected national leader contending for power in a three-party race in 2015 only to (as so many people have phrased it) peak at the wrong time, would that have been seen as grounds for abandoning ship?

Moreover, the NDP's path toward government was never without some hiccups. The 2008 election most certainly didn't achieve all the NDP hoped, and the nomination window for 2011 saw the party fall to the low teens at a point when there was an opportunity to bail out.

Through those far more difficult times, Mulcair and the rest of the party kept fighting - the party winning Official Opposition status in 2011, Mulcair winning the leadership in 2012, and both subsequently reaching heights never before achieved.

Of course, if the party can't scale those heights again in this campaign, it will represent at least somewhat of a disappointment based on short-term expectations. But that represents reason to determine how to do better - not to follow the Libs' destructive course of perpetually sacking leaders and trashing institutional memory, only to make the same mistakes over and over again as a result.

While the pundit class may lack an attention span beyond the narrative of the day, I'd anticipate more perspective from Mulcair and the NDP alike. And so I'd hope and expect that we'll see Mulcair lead the NDP into the future.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Edward Keenan writes that a lack of affordable child care is the crucial financial pressure facing families across the income spectrum. And Michael Wolfson discusses the dangers of talking about taxes in a vacuum without recognizing what we lose by failing to make sure everybody pays a fair share.

- Sam Thielman notes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership's crackdown on intellectual property may seriously threaten our freedom of expression, while Michael Geist highlights the potential for content-blocking and the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out how the TPP transfers massive amounts of power to rightsholders over citizens. And Doug Bolton reports on the recognition that the TPP's restrictions on access to medications will cost lives, while Scott Sinclair takes a closer look at the impact on Canada.

- Meanwhile, Aaron Gluck Thaler highlights a new student movement to fight against C-51 and other unwarranted intrusions on privacy.

- BJ Siekierski and James Munson (with Kevin Page's help) examine how the Harper Cons have trashed Canada's civil service without any idea of the consequences, then covered their tracks for a future government to try to retrace.

- Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust write that Exxon engaged in a campaign of public climate denial even as its own researchers knew perfectly well that its business was damaging our planet - and outright welcomed that prospect to the extent it might make Arctic reserves more easily accessible.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg offers his take on talking about the federal election around the Thanksgiving dinner table - rightly noting that the similarities between the NDP and Lib platforms on some (if not all) points don't represent a reason to ignore the parties' histories and values.