Friday, April 17, 2015

Musical interlude

The War On Drugs - Red Eyes



And as a bonus, Lon Borgerson and the Prince Albert Riding - Heave Steve

The democratic alternative

Some time ago, I put together this list of principles worth considering when talking about structured cooperation between political parties. And consistent with Ian Gill's own warning about his lack of connection to party structures, his proposal for a secret pre-election pact manages to fail on nearly every front.

But while there's some reason for question about Gill's intended direction, the bigger issue is his presumption that we need our political parties to drag us there. So let's clarify the options available to Canadians who want to further an "ABC" agenda in the lead up to this fall's election.

While our votes are necessarily limited to choosing from among the options available to us in our home riding, every other form of political involvement can be done wherever and for whichever party an individual sees fit.

Is your priority to donate to and volunteer for the candidate with the strongest perceived likelihood of defeating a Con in your home riding? You're welcome to do so and organize others to join you. And you can be pretty well assured that whichever candidate you ask to support won't turn you away.

Are you enough of a party loyalist to want to make sure your efforts elect a candidate of your partisan stripe? You can choose which candidate and riding you help out with - whether local or not.

Or are you enough of an anti-Harper activist that you don't care who you're helping or where, so long as you maximize your marginal contribution to defeating Con MPs? Again, you don't need a party operative's approval (or worse yet, a backroom deal) to determine where your efforts are best applied.

And with all of those options available to every Canadian, there's absolutely no need for parties to strike hidden deals, declare candidates to be sacrificial lambs, or alienate core supporters by telling them they're supposed to direct their efforts toward electing adverse parties.

If enough people share the viewpoint that defeating as many Cons as possible is the top priority, they have the capacity to seek out what appear to be the most important ridings and systematically tilt the balance in favour of opposition parties. (And while the same option may not be available for actual voting purposes, a strategy based on working to persuade people now will have far more impact than yet another hastily-assembled vote-swapping scheme.)

So the message shouldn't be to hold your nose and do as you're told based on a backroom deal to divide up volunteer efforts. Instead, everybody has the opportunity to influence the election in a way that allows them to hold their head up high. And we should be encouraging progressives to get in the habit of doing just that.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jeffrey Simpson lambastes the Cons' determination to slash taxes and hand out baubles to the rich for the sole purpose of undermining the fiscal capacity of government to help Canadians. And Jeremy Nuttall highlights how a cuts to the CRA are allowing tax cheats to escape paying their fair share with little prospect of detection.

- Jacquie Maund makes the case to include dental care as part of a full public health system. And Carolyn Shimmin discusses the connection between childhood poverty and poor health which can impose burdens lasting a lifetime:
2. There is a direct link between socioeconomic status and health status. Robust evidence shows that people in the lowest socioeconomic group carry the greatest burden of illness. This social gradient in health runs from top to bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. If you were to look at, for example, cardiovascular disease mortality according to income group in Canada, mortality is highest among those in the poorest income group and, as income increases, mortality rate decreases. The same can be found for conditions such as cancer, diabetes and mental illness.

3. Poverty in childhood is associated with a number of health conditions in adulthood. More than one in seven Canadian children live in poverty. This places Canada 15th out of 17 similar developed countries, and being at the bottom of this list is not where we want to be. Children who live in poverty are more likely to have low birth weights, asthma, type 2 diabetes, poorer oral health and suffer from malnutrition. But also children who grow up in poverty are, as adults, more likely to experience addictions, mental health difficulties, physical disabilities and premature death. Children who experience poverty are also less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to live in poverty as adults.
- Michael Spratt writes that the Cons' posturing on crime isn't intended to produce legislation which is viable from a policy standpoint or even constitutionally valid, serving instead to generate a steady stream of grievances to rile up their base.

- Craig Forcese debunks the spin that the Cons' terror bill has anything to with matching international standards rather than racing to the bottom when it comes to civil rights. Dr. Dawg reminds us that even before C-51, we have dangerous laws on the books allowing Canadians to be detained or to have freedoms severely restricted based on nothing but speculation. And Andrew Mitrovica notes that due to the Cons, even the federal government is less able to exercise oversight over CSIS than it was before.

- Finally, Ryan Meili interviews George Lakoff about some of the ways progressives can better challenge political messaging from the right. And Cass Sunstein highlights new research on the values which motivate voters of different political persuasions.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New column day

Here, on Brad Wall's appalling admission that the Saskatchewan Party's plan for a low-carbon economy is to move into Ontario's basement rather than pursuing sustainable development in Saskatchewan.

For further reading...
- Wall's comments and other provincial positions in the lead up to this week's premiers' meeting can be found here.
- Geoffrey Vendeville reported on the earlier cap-and-trade agreement between Ontario and Quebec. And Yasmine Hassan discussed the massive Quebec climate change rally.
- The Saskatchewan greenhouse gas bill which has been passed but never proclaimed in force can be found here (PDF).
- Joe Romm reports on the new cost-effectiveness of electric car batteries here. And Tom Randall and John Lippert both point out that storage costs are also plummeting for solar power generation.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Henry Mintzberg rightly challenges the myth of a "level playing field" when it comes to our economic opportunities:
Let’s level with each other. What we call a “level playing field” for economic development is played with Western rules on Southern turf, so that the New York Giants can take on some high school team from Timbuktu. The International Monetary Fund prepares the terrain and the World Trade Organization referees the game. Guess who wins.

The rules of this game have been written by people educated in the economic canon of the already developed West. The “developing” countries of the world are supposed to open up their markets to global corporations that stand ready to enter with their manufactured goods.
...
Now, just as the international economic agencies are waking up to the consequences of their levelling, a new set of rules is making the playing field even more level: companies can take on government themselves.

Thanks to intense lobbying, a host of bilateral trade agreements provide for special courts of arbitration that enable private companies to sue sovereign countries. This has been made necessary, so the argument goes, to protect companies from governments that renege on contracts. Fair enough.

But instead, these courts are being used by global companies to do something quite insidious: stop legislation, even on matters relating to health, culture, and environment, that they claim to reduce their current or expected profits. “Today, countries from Indonesia to Peru are facing investor-state suits.”1 In fact, companies needn’t go that far: just by threating [sic] such lawsuits, which may require legal costs the countries can’t afford, some countries have been bullied into cancelling proposed legislation. And, by the way, in this version of the game the goals are scored at only one end: governments cannot use these courts to bring claims against the companies.
- And thwap reminds us of the essential connection between democratic mechanisms and popular activism as a counterweight to the outsized influence of wealth.

- Meanwhile, Charles Rusnell reports on both Alberta's appalling instructions forbidding workers from participating in the province's election campaign even on their own time without management notice and approval, and its hasty retreat only after the attempt to silence the province's civil servants was exposed.

- Michal Rozworski highlights the complete lack of policy merit behind the Cons' false-balance bill, while Frances Russell points to Manitoba's experience in particular as demonstrating its damaging effects. And Karl Nerenberg offers a few suggestions for alternative legislation which might actually do some good.

- Finally, Amira Elghawaby discusses why Canadian Muslims have particular reason to worry about the elimination of civil rights under the Cons' terror bill. And the Canadian Journalists for Free Expressions are keeping up the pressure against C-51.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Eric Morath points out that a job (or even multiple jobs) can't be taken as an assurance that a person can avoid relying on income supports and other social programs. PressProgress offers some important takeaways from the Canadian Labour Congress' study of the low-wage workers. Angella MacEwen writes about the spread of the $15 minimum wage movement in Canada.

- Meanwhile, Carol Goar writes that while we should be looking to improve our social safety net, we need to do so while taking into account the real experience of the people relying upon it.

- Jason Warick reports on Eric Howe's findings that Saskatchewan is severely limiting its own future by failing to boost aboriginal participation in our economy. And Mitchell Anderson reminds us that Alberta (among other Canadian jurisdictions) has turned resource development into little long-term gain:
Which place is doing a better job of capturing public value from a public resource? Dividing resource revenues by production reveals some shocking figures. Norway realized revenues of $87.69 per barrel in 2013. Alaska managed $38.54. And Alberta? Just $4.38 -- one-twentieth what our Norwegian cousins managed to rake in.
...
Alberta has already produced 15 per cent more conventional oil and gas than Norway, and didn't have to go 200 kilometres out in the North Sea to get it. Even at current depressed prices, Alberta oil, gas and bitumen production to 2013 would have a combined market value of $1.7 trillion. So where did the money go?

The answer is not economic nor political. It is cultural. Albertans have accepted a consistent and repeated message from a number of vested interests that taxation is bad, government is inept, and public resources should be privatized. Once voters believe that, effective government oversight is politically impossible and industry gets to keep a larger portion of Canada's resource pie -- estimated to be worth some $33 trillion based only on our inventory of petroleum and timber.
...
So what does Norway do to ensure their private sector partners don't walk away with most of the resource wealth?

• Norway acts like an owner. Companies doing business in Norway are under no illusions about who is in charge. Misleading or lying to Norwegian authorities can lead to forfeited tenures or even jail time.

• Norway taxes to the max and makes no apologies about it. Taxation on oil profits is currently close to 80 per cent. One former energy minister even chewed out his bureaucrats in full view of enraged oil executives when they threatened to pull out of the country after taxes were raised. Noting that none had actually walked away, he told his underlings "we should have taken more!"

• Norway taxes profits, not extraction. Alberta instead sells oil and bitumen by the barrel, creating virtually zero incentives for efficiencies or value added. The Norwegian government wants companies to make money because for every dollar they make, Norway makes four. With such clearly aligned interests, companies are lining up to do business there.

• Norway captures and distributes wealth. Petroleum helps finance some of the most generous social programs in the world and every Norwegian knows it. With public buy-in like that, companies have certainty their investments are welcome and their product can get to market. Companies spending billions in the oilsands have no such assurance given the pitched battles around resource policy here in Canada. No public buy-in, no certainty. Sorry fellas, there's no free lunch on that one.

• Norway stashed the cash. All petroleum revenues go into a stand-alone oil fund administered by the Norwegian Central Bank -- not their government. This firewall prevents elected officials from getting lazy about budgeting since they can only access four per cent each fiscal year. This now-massive pot of money is also only invested outside of the country to avoid inflating the currency.

• Norway put public players on the field. One of the first things Norway did was start Statoil, the first of their two state-owned oil companies. They now own about 40 per cent of its production and 50 per cent of its reserves. These investments and risks have richly paid off and typically now bring in as much revenue as taxation. What stake does Alberta own in its production? Zero, and the balance sheet shows it.
- Finally, L. Ian MacDonald writes that the Cons' environmental irresponsibility looms as a leading cause of the death of pipeline expansions. And Barbara Yaffe slams the ineffective response to the English Bay oil spill by multiple levels of government.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cornered cats.





The petulant son

Shorter Justin Trudeau:
When I say I plan to do politics differently, what I mean is that I'm willing to leave Stephen Harper in power based on the most petty and frivolous excuses anybody's ever heard.
No longer is there any pretense that a flat "no" to a coalition with the NDP is based on policy differences (however implausible). Instead, Trudeau is ruling out the possibility of cooperation based on personal hostility toward Thomas Mulcair - which of course couldn't be further from matching the public's perception of the NDP's leader, particularly among people with whom Trudeau supposedly shares the goal of ousting the Harper Cons.

And in related news, Leadnow's commitment to bringing down the Cons is once again reflected by its willingness to back a party which places Trudeau's personal hangups over the good of the country.

Update: Josee Legault has more

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Krugman highlights the policy areas where we need to look to the public sector for leadership - including those such as health care and income security where we all have a strong interest in making sure that nobody's left behind. And Andre Picard reminds us of one of the major gaps in Canada's health care system, as expensive prescription drugs can make for a devastating barrier to needed care.

- Meanwhile, Paul Buchheit duly criticizes the combination of increasing wealth for the lucky few in the U.S., and increasing poverty at the bottom of the income scale.

- Warren Bell looks back at the years of deliberate attacks on environmental protection that led to the English Bay oil spill crisis, while Tim Harper argues that Canada's federal government would be a great place to start cleaning up the mess. Kai Nagata notes that public outcry over exactly the types of issues raised by English Bay may have succeeded in stopping the Northern Gateway pipeline. And Andrew Leach rightly makes the point that Stephen Harper bears personal responsibility for Canada's pattern of delay and denial on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector:
Over the course of the prime minister’s time in office, oil prices have gone from the $50s to the $140s, down to the $30s, back above $100, back to the $40s and sit around $50 today. We’ve had proposals for regulations, cap-and-trade, and regulations again, but it seems that no policy which would restrict GHG emissions from the oil sands can get to the finish line. Why? It’s not prices, and it’s not the oil and gas lobby. It’s one thing – a prime minister who, to use MacDougall’s words, hasn’t seen fit to instruct, “the entire team (to put) its shoulder to the wheel until victory is achieved,” and a policy is imposed.

Stephen Harper is happy to see these difficult policy choices pushed to a later date and, in so doing, will have us make exactly the mistakes he said we wouldn’t make again – promising aggressive action and not delivering it. When the world meets in Paris in late 2015, Canada will still likely not have policies imposed on its oil sands sector and, despite the oil price crash, will still expect emissions to increase far beyond our Copenhagen commitment. Will the world, again, be willing to take the word of a prime minister, whoever it may be, who says we won’t make the same mistake three times?
- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries see the Cons' false balanced budget legislation as being absolutely hilarious in light of their track record of fiscal mismanagement. But Rick Smith notes that the Cons' anti-labour zealotry is rather less amusing - particularly as C-377 gets pushed through the legislative process yet again (minus the amendments which would have made it at least somewhat less toxic).

- Finally, Brent Patterson offers yet another example of how trade agreements can severely limit democratic decision-making, as Argentina stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars for prioritizing usable water above a profiteer's revenue stream.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Lonnie Golden studies the harm done to workers by irregular schedules. And Matt Bruening comments on how Missouri, Kansas and other states are passing draconian restrictions on benefits by trying to get the middle class to envy the poor.

- Meanwhile, Scott Santens expands on the connection between increasing automation and a basic income which could ensure that people displaced from jobs by technological advancement aren't left without a livelihood. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh talks to Guy Standing about a basic income as a means of relieving against reliance on precarious work:
What is the “precariat”?

The precariat consists of a growing proportion of our total society. It is being habituated to accept a life of unstable labour and unstable living. Often they’re unable to say what their occupation is, because what they’re doing now might be quite different from what they were doing three months ago. (They) have to do a hell of a lot of work that doesn’t get counted (i.e. job training, travel time, job applications). People in the precariat find themselves in the situation where the level of their education and qualifications is almost always higher than the sort of labour that they’re going to be able to obtain. This is the first time in history when an emerging part of our citizens are losing rights. (With) many of the benefit cuts, there is no due process. I think that leaves scope for tremendous amounts of injustice.

You warn that the precariat is also very vulnerable to poverty traps.

People in the precariat rely very heavily on money wages. You cannot apply for benefits until two weeks after you’ve lost a job, for example.The gap between losing a job can be months, not weeks or days. Now, if you think about it, that means there’s very little incentive to take a low-paying job, especially as you could then subsequently be unemployed again.

For you, a big part of the answer is a guaranteed basic income for all. Why?

In terms of social justice you could say, look — everybody should receive a dividend from the investments of past generations to give us the security to develop our capabilities. But in addition, a basic income would be a modest way of redistributing income, because we’ve got chronically unequal societies. There is no other way in which the precariat could obtain basic security.
- But Sunny Freeman notes that the Cons are in fact likely to push more Canadians into debt and other poverty traps if their false balanced budget law has any substantive effect. And Seth Klein warns against following the path toward a zombie policy whose harms are well known.

- Mike Blanchfield reports that the Cons have turned Canada into one of the most miserly countries in the world when it comes to supporting international development. And Michael Harris writes that despite hundreds of millions of dollars in ad spending trying to convince us otherwise, the Cons don't rate any better on competence than they do on ethics or values.

- Finally, Lauren Dobson-Hughes argues that an election campaign is the wrong time for civil society groups to try to influence public policy, while offering an alternate suggestion as to how the spotlight of a campaign can benefit social causes:
An election campaign should be *the* place for civil society organizations to engage. To shape public opinion, to highlight the problems we face, to represent their members, and to push candidates to prove they’re worthy our votes. It says something about the state of democracy that election campaigns are essentially, a policy discussion vacuum.

So where is the value in elections campaigns, for civil society? I’d suggest elections are a much better tool for invigorating your base, educating them and providing them with an outlet for their passions. They can attend all-candidates debates, write letters to the editor, host policy discussions amongst themselves, and identify potential champions of their issues. This is democracy in action. Its impact on political decision-making is debatable, but as a means of empowering Canadians to engage politically, it can be very effective.

And perhaps therein lies the disconnect. Civil society wants to engage in elections. They feel they have (and should have) a crucial role to play. In many cases, they are deeply involved. And yet, their involvement appears entirely unconnected to any impact.

This sounds awfully cynical. And that’s not the intent. But if you’re going to engage as a civil society organisation, do it with your eyes open.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On projection

Shorter Leona Aglukkaq to Canada's provinces:
I'm very disappointed in all of you for my government's longstanding failings, and demand that you take responsibility immediately.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- PressProgress documents how the Cons are driving Canada's economy into the ditch. And Michael Babad reports that economists with a better grounding in reality than Stephen Harper are begging the provinces not to impose the austerity demanded by the Cons.

- Kara Santokie writes that if the Cons' balanced-budget legislation has any effect at all, it will be to attack Canada's social programs when they're needed most. And Louis-Philippe Rochon sees the false balance bill as standing out even among the Cons' bad ideas.

- Dylan Matthews questions whether workers present and future should be satisfied with low-paying, precarious jobs or contracting arrangements. But for those looking for positive ideas, the final report from Unifor's Good Jobs Summit offers some much-needed suggestions as to how we can improve matters.

- Positive Money explores how our financial system is set up to systematically transfer money from those with the least to those with the most, while LOLGOP observes that the resulting inequality is similarly caused by design. And Patty Winsa reports that increased reliance on fund-raising to support core school functions is leading to a huge and widening gap in education based on the wealth of a child's parents.

- Michael Harris argues that Stephen Harper should be appearing as a witness at Mike Duffy's fraud trial based on his close connection to every aspect of the charges. And Murray Mandryk writes that Duffy's own record of a life of patronage encouraged by the PMO offers a compelling reason why the Senate needs to be abolished.

- Finally, Stephen Maher laments the fact that the Cons' actions in office have been based solely on political calculations rather than the passing of constitutional and useful legislation - though one has to wonder when that became news.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Jackson argues that contrary to the attempt of the Ecofiscal Commission to impose right-wing values like tax slashing and devolution on any action to deal with climate change, we in fact need the federal government to take a lead role:
While it is sensible in the current political context that provinces not wait for federal leadership, this does not mean those pushing for climate action should lessen our pressure on the federal government to lead. At a minimum, the federal government should be requiring all of the provinces to take some modest first steps to reduce emissions through carbon pricing along the lines set by BC and Quebec, perhaps soon to be followed by Ontario.

The Commission is right to point out that the emissions profiles of the provinces are very different, and that we would be wise to avoid levying carbon taxes in such a way as to set the stage for large transfers of fiscal resources between provinces. But it would be quite possible, as the report notes, to set a national minimum price on carbon that gives the provinces access to most of the revenue to fund their own climate change priorities.

The Commission’s report further notes that it would be “desirable” for the federal government to co-ordinate future provincial carbon pricing policies to ensure that businesses operate on a more or less level playing field. It could have added that there is a need for federal leadership in developing clean technologies and renewable energy generation and conservation programs, all of which have to be funded.

The clear failure of the Harper government to deal with climate change is no reason to give up on federal leadership writ large.
- Meanwhile, Ben Adler points out there's no reason to think that building new pipelines will reduce the risk of train explosions - particularly when the same people pushing for the pipelines are the same ones demanding lax standards for oil-transporting trains. And North Shore News writes that the English Bay fuel spill is as much a black mark on the Cons and the B.C. Libs as on the growing affected area.

- Patrick Caldwell highlights how cuts to tax collection agencies serve to undermine the public good on multiple levels - first by making them more difficult to deal with, then by reducing public revenues. And it's worth pointing out the final step, as the deliberate destruction of a tax collection service can only open the door for profiteers to take over the function of collecting revenue.

- Lynn Vavrick discusses the role of a presidential candidate in shifting votes in the U.S., finding that entrenched party loyalties far outweigh individual candidates. And Geoff Dembicki points out the potential for young voters to radically change Canada's electoral math.

- Finally, Tony Burman writes about the desperate lack of CSIS oversight even before it stands to be handed massive new powers under C-51, while Andrew Mitrovica draws a similar conclusion in interviewing CSIS' former inspector-general Eva Plunkett. And Gerald Caplan writes that while Tom Mulcair has been careful to avoid living up to the label his opponents have attempted to slap on him as the NDP's leader, Canadians have every reason to be angry with the Harper Cons.

On foundational assumptions

Shorter John Geddes:
Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. And so the miserable results of Stephen Harper's consistent privatization, free trade obsession and corporate tax slashing don't count as a conservative record.

The definition of privilege

Connor Kilpatrick is right to observe that while we should be willing to take note of privilege in many forms, we should be especially concerned with organizing to counter the grossly outsized influence of the very few at the top whose whims are typically allowed to override the common good.

But there's a handy dividing line available to assess the difference. After all, there's already been plenty of work done in sorting out who has the most influence on the U.S. political system.

On the best evidence available, any privilege associated with middle-class status or involvement in mass movement has effectively no effect on government policy. In contrast, the privilege associated with belonging to the top 10% or the organized business lobby includes the capacity to overrule anybody else in how we're governed.

To be fair, the Gilens/Page data is based on the U.S. rather than Canada. But when the Cons' key policies like corporate tax slashing, individual tax havens and income splitting focus their handouts on the top 15% here, there's little reason to think a substantially different standard applies here than in the U.S.

So it's not hard to see who's in the currently-excluded class, and who has enough privilege to warp public policy in their favour. And anybody short of the top 10% should have every incentive to change the balance between public-interest politics and elite domination in favour of the former.