Saturday, April 09, 2016

Choose your progressives

Choose your drug policy: harm reduction...
...or harm retention.

Spun out

Sadly, there are far too many half-baked outside arguments being made about the federal NDP's leadership review and how it connects to provincial-level choices. (To be clear, I contrast those against some genuine concerns being raised by members.) But let's highlight one particularly telling example of how the NDP in general is being misrepresented by the same people trying to push Mulcair out of the picture.

Here's the Alberta NDP's platform in the campaign which resulted in its historic victory last year, emphasizing a royalty review, an increased minimum wage, more progressive taxes, reversing cuts and enhancing public services.

The exercise for the reader is to assess whether this better reflects:
(a) a "rush to the centre", as Warren Kinsella says in an attempt to tar the NDP's successful campaigns with the same brush as its unsuccessful ones; or
(b) "a progressive platform consistent with the NDP's values", as I argued in pointing to it as an example worth following.

I'm not sure how anybody can conclude (a) without needing to do so in order to fit a convenient narrative. And again, we can fairly say that anybody whose main agenda includes trying to diminish the NDP's progressive victories shouldn't be paid much heed in deciding on the NDP's future.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Musical interlude

Deftones - Prayers/Triangles

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Angella MacEwen discusses how most of what's sold as "free trade" serves mostly to hand power to the corporate sector at the expense of the public. Ashley Csanady and Monika Warzecha point out that the same is true for Ontario's business subsidies and tax credits which are normally advertised as benefiting workers. And Paul Tukker reports on the publicly-funded cost to clean up abandoned mines in the Yukon as yet another example of how we're paying the price for exploitative corporate practices.

- Meanwhile, the Canadian Press contrasts the B.C. NDP's push to take big donors out of politics against Christy Clark's insistence on being able to fund her campaigns with corporate money.

- Coral Davenport discusses new research showing that it's possible to decouple economic development from increasing carbon emissions.

- The Globe and Mail questions the Libs' sudden loss of interest in access to information now that their actions stand to be held to account.

- Finally, Desmond Cole calls out an insidious attempt to label as "violent" peaceful protests and their response to state violence.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Up for discussion

Kady O'Malley has already highlighted a few of the noteworthy resolutions (PDF) submitted to this weekend's NDP policy convention. But I'll point out a few more which look to me to deserve attention.

First, in the category of simple good ideas regardless of one's ideological orientation...
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the following be added to Section 1.5 in the policy book:
1.5.f. Amending the Employment Insurance Act (severance) and the Income Tax Act so that employees who have lost their jobs due to plant closure can, on a one-time-only basis, retain their severance packages and be able to invest some or all of that severance money into RRSPs even if the investment is above their RRSP contribution limit and can, immediately upon termination of employment, collect the Employment Insurance to which they are entitled without any loss of severance monies.
About the only concern is that this might be too narrowly framed in applying only to plant closures. But it's well worth looking at ways to make sure that EI does more for workers (see also 3-05-16 among other resolutions for examples) - and the principle that EI should supplement severance packages rather than swallowing them up for workers in an especially difficult job market its the bill.
NDP Quebec Section 
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the NDP require that for each device purchased, the consumer must have access to the following information:
§ A clear indication making it possible to know if the device is repairable and the duration of the availability of separate parts and accessories, as well as the device’s reasonable life cycle;
§ An explanation of the product’s environmental impact provided by the producers, such as:
§ Impact of CO2 emitted when the product was produced;
§ Preservation of natural resources: quantity of non-renewable resources (gold, silver and tin) in the composition of the product;
§ Instructions for recycling the device or returning it to the producer for recycling.
This would fit neatly into the categories of consumer protection and environmental policy, at least allowing people to make more informed purchasing decisions and hopefully encouraging the development of more responsible production processes.
NDP Quebec Section, Richmond-Arthabaska, Jonquière 
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the NDP support the adoption of legislation limiting the length of an election campaign to a maximum of 45 days. 
I'm not sure if anybody saw any merit in Stephen Harper's extended 2015 campaign for any purpose other than his own partisan advantage. But a legislated limit on the campaign period would seem a logical response to the issues raised when a prime minister can otherwise singlehandedly extend timelines and increase expense limits.

Meanwhile, a few other resolutions fit with ideas which have been discussed elsewhere, but haven't been given extensive attention among Canada's federal political parties. Among those are 1-18-16 (among others) on postal banking, 1-21-16 on a financial transaction tax, 1-27-16 calling for a review of tax policy including challenging the Cons' GST cuts among others dealing with more progressive taxation, 1-67-16 providing for an inheritance tax, 3-06-16 on a basic income, 3-16-16 and others supporting a fully funded mental health and addictions strategy, 3-89-16 to eliminate mandatory minimum criminal sentences, and 6-04-16 to call for an end to carding.

And several more offer some important fodder for discussion, including a charter of citizen and corporate responsibilities (1-47-16), a detailed plan to transition to a low-carbon economy as the basis for the next campaign (2-24-16), a prohibition against genetic discrimination (3-26-16), a fund to encourage youth involvement in politics (5-12-16), and a move toward more ongoing participatory policy-making (7-14-16 among others).

Of course it's doubtful that this weekend will even scratch the surface of the above (along with many more worthwhile ideas which have been put before the convention). But there's certainly no lack of thoughtful ideas worth taking away even if they don't make it to the floor - and hopefully several of the above will find their way into platforms and policy before long.

New column day

Here, on the leadership choices facing the federal and provincial NDP - and why neither should be too quick to assume that changing leaders will necessarily help to rebuild after election disappointments.

For further reading...
- I've dealt with the background to the federal party's decision on Mulcair in a previous series of posts leading to last night's performance review, as well as this column. And plenty more people have offered varying takes on Mulcair's leadership which deserve a look (even if I don't necessarily agree) - including Nicholas Ellan, Peter Thurley, Tom Parkin, Benjamin Fox Dickerson, Bill Tieleman, Peggy Nash and Dan Harris.
- Mulcair's latest rating as a potential prime minister can be found via Nanos here (PDF). And Cam Broten's approval ratings from the provincial election campaign are here and here, showing him at a steady 39%.
- Finally, CBC offers a roundup of NDP reactions to this week's election result. 

[Edit: updated link.]

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

On performance reviews

Following up on this post, I'll weigh in with my own take on the federal NDP's leadership review - based primarily on the question of what Tom Mulcair seems to have taken away from the 2015 federal election, and how it will position the party in the years to come.

As alluded to in some previous posts, I'd sum up my expectations in the wake of the election to be roughly the following:
- to critically assess what happened in the previous election campaign to determine what lessons can be learned, both for better and for worse;
- to put to rest any (however implausible) question as to which is the most progressive party in Parliament;
- to prioritize MP empowerment and outreach over caution and discipline;
- to transition away from "default opposition" status toward a stronger focus on policies and values; and
- to focus on long-term and broad-based movement-building, including with a concerted effort to approach people who were excluded from involvement with the party.

And on all counts, I'd see Mulcair as having at least taken meaningful steps down the right path.

The NDP's interim report and final campaign review (PDF) has received plenty of attention. And both offer at least a useful high-level set of reflections and ideas. 

But some of the more noteworthy moves since the election also include significant issue-based initiatives by MPs, as well as a strong policy focus on inequality, precarious work and fairness for First Nations. And Mulcair's own pre-budget tour featured ample interactions with party activists and interested newcomers alike, while his pre-convention discussions have included some important recognition of the need to build from the NDP's membership base.

The most important question for me is then whether those steps should be seen as a temporary nod to the base in light of the impending leadership review, or the starting point in building the movement needed to elect a truly progressive federal government. And I see both reason for optimism that Mulcair himself recognizes the need for a change in course following the election, and another opportunity to address any continued shortcomings at the next NDP policy convention.

When the generally positive direction in a new political environment is combined with the strengths Mulcair has always brought to the table, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can work on building given the opportunity. And so I'll be voting to support Mulcair in Edmonton - with both the hope and the expectation that we'll see more sustainable party renewal without a leadership race than with one.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- In the wake of the Panama Papers, Don Pittis writes that tax shelters serve only to ensure that the wealthy don't pay their fair share for a functional society - meaning that everybody who can't afford to engage in financial shenanigans is left to pick up the slack. Neil Macdonald discusses the different rules purchased by the few who can afford them. And Ben Chu highlights why we need to crack down on tax avoidance to do anything about burgeoning wealth inequality, and Daniel Leblanc reports that the NDP is leading the charge to do just that.

- But Bruce Livesey documents the lobbying pressure on the part of the wealthy which stands in our way. And ThinkPol points out that the Panama free trade deal pushed by both the Cons and the Libs has only privileged tax evaders over the public.

- Robert MacDermid offers a few suggestions to reduce the impact of wealth on political financing - though it's worth noting that election and party funding represents only a small portion of the influence of the corporate elite on our political system. And the Pacific Gazette notes that an independent MLA has introduced legislation to bring British Columbia's political financing rules up to par.

- Ainslie Cruickshank discusses the need to remedy health inequality in Canada.

- Finally, Noah Zon argues that we need our anti-poverty programs - and notably the Canada Child Benefit - to keep up with the cost of living. And Anita Khanna calls for a push to finally end child poverty in Canada for good.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- CBC and the Star have both started reporting on the Panama Papers - offering a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg of international tax avoidance. And the Star also recognizes why we shouldn't let grey-area tax scheming pass without appropriate scrutiny, while Canadians for Tax Fairness reminds us of the wider problem.

- Meanwhile, Neil Macdonald points out how much more room there is for government priorities to shift toward the public interest, noting in particular that Canada's federal government spends three times as much on tax baubles as on health care.

- And Thomas Walkom follows up on the need for the federal government to enforce the Canada Health Act in the face of provincial governments (including Brad Wall's) who are eager to shred it.

- Charles Wohlforth offers a first-hand account as to how campaign donations can influence policy-making. And Noor Javed reports on how developers' donations in particular affect municipal decisions.

- Finally, Elizabeth Thompson reports on CUPW's renewed call for postal banking to improve both Canada Post and financial services to the public.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Sunday, April 03, 2016

#SKVotes - Election Day Reading

For those still examining their options in Saskatchewan's provincial election (or just wanting to remember the campaign that's been), here's a quick look at what I and others have had to say.

- You'll find my columns since the campaign began in earnest (all touching on the election at least in part) here, here, here, here and here. I also reviewed the Saskatchewan Party and NDP platforms as well as the single leaders' debate, and appeared on Canadian Glen's The View Up Here to chat about the election.
- And for points worth keeping in mind about the Saskatchewan Party's stay in power, see here and within links about their climate change obstruction, here and here on their attitude toward Saskatchewan's poor, here on their racism against First Nations people, and their privatization debacles.
- Meanwhile, among other sources deserving of a read before voting, Tammy Robert stands out as having had plenty worth discussing over the course of the campaign. And CBC and the Leader-Post each have dedicated election coverage worth checking out.
- And for anybody looking for voting information, Elections Saskatchewan has you covered.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- John Ross makes the case for a focus on the social determinants of health in all kinds of public policy-making:
Many studies show that if you work long hours in low-paying jobs and live paycheque to paycheque, constant life stresses have far more negative health effects than the causes listed on public health posters.

Life for many Canadians is more complicated than recommending a “healthy lifestyle.”

Society broadly needs to change the circumstances for all members of our society to enable people to have options and live differently. In our small province we could actually achieve this.

Donald Berwick, former CEO of the Institutes of Healthcare Improvement, said, “Any healthcare funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must — must — redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition re-distributional.”
How about this radical suggestion?

Start spending proportionally less on disease care and more on addressing the inequities of the determinants of health (and disease)?

‘Quality health care’ should be access to equitable income distribution, education, employment, food and housing security. That is not currently the case.
- Meanwhile, the Toronto Star calls for a concerted effort at all levels of government to address the needs of precarious workers. And Lois Weiner sees the Chicago Teachers Union's strike as an important step in challenging fundamentally unfair laws designed to silence workers. 

- Scott Vrooman points out that for all the bleating over relatively small budget numbers, there are far more important deficits that we should be addressing - including the glaring gap between any progress to limit greenhouse gas emissions and the steps needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. And Robert DeConto and David Pollard find that the feedback loops created by a warming planet in fact look to be substantially worse than typically assumed.

- Solomon Israel canvasses how the system of low-threshold arrests and peace bonds set up under Bill C-51 (and seemingly to be left in place by the Libs) raises severe civil rights concerns without making anybody safer.

- Finally, Jennifer Ditchburn writes about the future of open government in Canada. And Mike de Souza catches the National Energy Board deleting a sensitive internal e-mail.