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.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

On credibility blows

Presumably, at some point in the future, the Wildrose Party will run in another Alberta election campaign, with Derek Fildebrandt as one of its candidates.

And plenty of us will have the popcorn ready to see how they try to explain their now-on-the-record belief that it's somehow a betrayal - rather than a desirable state of affairs - for a government to fulfill its promises.

On conversation pieces

Following up on this post, the stretch run of the election campaign (particularly a holiday weekend with advance polling already underway) is exactly the time when our messages in talking to unpersuaded voters will matter most in shaping the results. And I'll offer a few suggestions as to how to argue for both a new government, and the best possible alternative.

First, the main theme should be the need for change - putting the focus squarely on the Cons' failings and the need for a new government to reverse them. But as I've noted before, that doesn't mean implicitly or explicitly insulting people who have voted for the Cons in the past; instead, it means making a case as to why any past reasons for supporting the Cons longer apply.

On that front, it's worth highlighting the contrast between Con promises/branding and actual outcomes: promised wait time guarantees gave way to the abandonment of any health policy whatsoever; promised emission reductions gave way to climate obstructionism; promised honesty and accountability gave way to a corrupt and secretive party and PMO; promised economic competence gave way to stagnation and uncertainty. And whether or not a voter gave the Cons the benefit of the doubt in the past, the important point is to ensure that doesn't happen now.

Second, in differentiating between the opposition parties, it's important not to reinforce Con messages. And since the Cons have been abundantly clear about their three primary themes (economy, security, bigotry), it should be easy enough to avoid reinforcing Harper's messaging on any of them.

Finally, I'd suggest that due to the dangers of voters giving up on the possibility of change, it's not helpful to argue that any national opposition party is unable or unwilling to deliver change of some sort - and conversely, it's important to point out how change can occur across party lines.

To be clear, that leaves ample room to make the case that one party is more desirable than another in the contents of its platform and/or the likelihood of delivering on it. But I'd draw a distinction between saying another party is too similar to the Harper Cons - which at least leaves the Cons isolated as the worst of the lot - and saying that it's no better than the Harper Cons, which opens the door to arguments between supporters of different opposition parties which may leave observers thinking there's nothing to choose between any of the parties.

There's still plenty of room for the campaign to shift - either for better or for worse. But it's possible to make sure that our own messages lead to improvement in terms of both support for our preferred parties, and a wider case for change in this election and beyond.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Don Pittis examines the Cons' record on jobs and the economy, and reaches the inevitable conclusion that free trade bluster and corporate giveaways have done nothing to help Canadians - which makes it no wonder the Cons are hiding the terms of the deals they sign. And John Jacobs writes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership only stands to make matters worse:
Canada is exporting goods that create few domestic jobs and importing goods that create jobs elsewhere. This accounts for some of the decline in manufacturing employment over the past decade in Canada and points to long-term challenges in creating jobs and increasing wages. The exchange rate volatility associated with being a “mining and energy superpower” has also contributed to the decline in manufacturing jobs. For workers, Canada’s free trade experience is one of stagnating wages, increasing income inequality, and relatively higher levels of unemployment.

The TPP, like all modern “free trade” agreements, contains no concrete measures to directly protect or create employment. On the contrary, it ties governments’ hands in pursuing employment and industrial strategies. Jobs are simply assumed to follow automatically from tariff reduction and providing increased protection for investors. They, and not the government, should have complete freedom to decide when, where and how goods and services are produced. Recent history tells us that companies have a poor track record when it comes to translating this freedom into jobs or growth.

Ultimately, though the TPP is not about trade or increasing prosperity for most Canadians, one can understand why Canada’s corporate elite are cheerleading the deal. It entrenches their role as drivers of the Canada economy and “consitutionalizes” their rights to profitably exploit Canada’s resources. For the rest of Canadians, accepting the TPP will have long-term detrimental impacts on the prospects for full employment, economic prosperity, and the ability of Canadians to sustainably manage their economy.
- Anne Kingston highlights how the Cons' and Libs' promise of increased parental leave may only push women out of the workforce if it isn't paired with either specific second-parent leave, or a commitment to the availability of child care. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh notes that at the moment, child care is often problematic both for the parents who can't find it and the workers who are severely underpaid for the responsibility.

- Tasha Kheiriddin speculates that the Cons' continued attacks on women who wear niqabs are based more on a desire to create divisions between minorities than an expectation of exploiting general prejudice - though it's hard to see how either could be excusable as a basis for political decision-making. Tabatha Southey offers a twist on the "leader you'd like to have a beer with" test by pointing out Stephen Harper's choice to bring a bear to the bar with him. And Naomi Lakritz readies her own complaint about Stephen Harper to the Cons' barbaric cultural practices hotline.

- Mike Robinson writes about the Cons' deliberate suppression of altruism as a Canadian value, while calling for our other parties to stand for cooperation and mutual recognition. And Kady O'Malley notes that the NDP is again taking a stand for exactly that in order to ensure a new and better government.

- Finally, Carol Goar writes that the Cons are trying to fundamentally change Canadian democracy by eliminating any meaningful connection between representatives and voters. And Andrew Coyne suggests some simple steps to start repairing Canadian democracy.

On unaccountability

Shorter Harper Cons:
It has come to our attention that we may have come to power on a platform of "whistleblower protection". This was a typo: our plan was instead to pursue "whistleblower prosecution". Don't you dare tell anybody about the error.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Musical interlude

Some pre-election music courtesy of...

Hey Rosetta! & Yukon Blonde - Land You Love

Land You Love - Hey Rosetta! & Yukon Blonde from Phil Maloney on Vimeo.

And for a bonus, Blue Rodeo - Stealin' All My Dreams

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Armine Yalnizyan highlights how Volkswagen's emissions cheating scandal is just one more compelling piece of evidence against trusting the corporate sector to regulate itself:
The trend is towards asking industries to monitor themselves (at their own suggestion), which they quite happily will do, and tell you what they think you want to know.

Now there is a role for self-regulation. Most adults practice self-regulation to some degree. But when we pass laws against certain types of behaviour, we don't think people should police themselves. We hire police to ensure that the laws are obeyed.

Corporations' sole purpose is to make money. That motive doesn't make them more trustworthy than individuals.

If the VW story isn't a huge wake-up call about the failure of corporate self-regulation, I don't know what is. We need good rules, well enforced. Without good enforcement, good rules are just a charade of fairness.
- And needless to say, the fact that a political party is approved as unwilling to act in the public interest is hardly a vote of confidence - which, as Linda McQuaig notes, is exactly the pitch Conrad Black is making for Justin Trudeau and the Libs.

- Meanwhile, Andrew MacLeod finds Con and Lib candidates alike supporting Republican-style drug testing for EI recipients - as the desire to unleash the corporate sector's worst impulses is characteristically paired with the desire to intrude on individual privacy. 

- CBC reports on the Cons' reassurance that people can avoid the effects of two-tier citizenship just as long as they renounce their heritage. (But it's worth noting even that position may not be based in fact, since one need only eligible for other citizenship to have Canadian citizenship revoked, not actually maintain it.)

- Finally, CTV reports that Stephen Harper's PMO inserted itself into decision-making about Syrian refugees for the clear purpose of excluding Muslims. And Tim Harper is the latest to point out that the Cons' xenophobia should be called out as more than just a distraction.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

To summarize...

...the Cons' campaign is effectively down to brainstorming new ways to gratuitously attack women who wear niqabs, regardless of the excuse used to do so or even the non-existence of the circumstances where new discrimination would be imposed.

New column day

Here, on how the Cons' multi-billion dollar price tag for Trans-Pacific Partnership compensation makes clear that every party is planning to spend large amounts of public money reshaping Canada - leaving us to choose which we value most out of the NDP's social programs, Libs' temporary infrastructure spending or Cons' corporate control.

For further reading...
- My previous column comparing the NDP and Lib plans is linked here. And I first noted the burgeoning cost of the TPP (including both direct costs and compensation) here.
- Armine Yalnizyan's review (PDF) of past Canadian recessions includes some discussion as to how free trade led to the 1990 downturn.
- David Reevely notes that the Cons' compensation cheques to politically-crucial businesses serve as a compelling indication that the TPP will indeed hurt Canadian industries, while David Molenhuis makes the same point about the auto sector in particular. And Scott Sinclair and PressProgress detail the expected impacts on supply management and the auto sector respectively.
- Cory Doctorow examines the TPP's appalling copyright restrictions, while Michael Geist argues that the Cons are misleading Canada about what they mean.
- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall reports on the work of Canadians for Tax Fairness in pointing out what the TPP will cost out of the public purse. John Nichols weighs in on the corporatist bent behind the TPP as a whole. And Don Pittis writes that the issues underlying the TPP are indeed similar to those behind other free trade deals which have harmed the public interest.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Scott Santens writes about one possible endpoint of the current trend toward precarious employment, being the implementation of a basic income to make sure a job isn't necessary to enable people to do meaningful work. And Common Dreams reports that a strong majority of lower-wage workers support both unions, and political parties and candidates who will allow them to function.

- Harvey Cashore and David Seglins follow up on the multiple connections between the Cons, the Canada Revenue Agency and KPMG even as the latter was under investigation for facilitating offshore tax evasion.

- Joe Friesen breaks the news that Stephen Harper's PMO specifically intervened to stop Syrian refugees from having their claims processed.

- Meanwhile, Harsha Walia and Dana Olwan ask whether the Harper Cons are really going to cling to power through bare racism, while Andrew Coyne notes that the forces at play are more insidious than fear alone. And Rick Mercer sums up what the election campaign is ultimately all about:

- Finally, Jason Childs and Alexander Siebert compare (PDF) the liquor retail distribution systems across Western Canada and find there's little reason to privatize anything other than to push more alcohol into citizens' hands.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

On power dynamics

Paul Wells offers his thoughts on what might happen if the Cons lead in the seat count in a minority Parliament. But I'd think it's worth noting two other considerations to counter Wells' take that the Cons could hold on with substantially less than half the seats in the House of Commons.

First, particularly if the combination of NDP and Lib seats adds up to a majority, it's hard to see which of the parties running flat-out on the need for change could possibly do anything but vote down the Cons' first throne speech.

The issue isn't one of relying on technical arguments against fairness and public opinion, but acting out of fairness to supporters based on their clearly-expressed opinion. Any action which kept the Cons in power would be guaranteed to alienate the large mass of people who want to vote Harper out more strongly than ever, while allowing the other party to be seen as the more effective opposition as another election loomed.

Which leads to the second consideration. As I've noted before, if Stephen Harper stays in power, then Stephen Harper retains the ability to call another election any time he wants it. And that's not in the interest of either of the parties who are already being squeezed by a prolonged election campaign.

Of course, Harper would have the constitutional entitlement to try to cling to power. But I'd think the chances of the Cons holding onto power past a throne speech in a minority Parliament would be limited to extremely narrow sets of circumstances - perhaps including the Cons being able to induce MPs to cross the floor or at least leave their existing parties, or winning the support of a Bloc presence sufficient to get them over a majority threshold. And if the NDP and the Libs between them have the ability to bring about a change in government, both principle and politics dictate that should be the result.

On campaign reflections

There's been a flurry of discussion elsewhere about the NDP's campaign over the past couple of weeks, and I'll chime in quickly with my own take on how the campaign has developed so far - and what we should hope for as it reaches its conclusion.

To start with, I see two points where there's some basis for fourth-quarter-commercial-break quarterbacking as to the NDP's campaign strategy.
First, I've previously pointed out the inherent flaw in the Cons' plan to brand Justin Trudeau as "not ready": while it might have been a valuable message as long as it stuck, it was subject to disproof based on Trudeau's performance during the campaign. And while I don't see Trudeau as having been particularly strong, he's at least cleared the painfully low bar set for him by the Cons. (Conversely, the high expectations of Mulcair based on his personal reputation and performance in Parliament seem to have led to strong debate performances being largely dismissed by the commentariat.)

That matters because the NDP seemed to be counting initially on the Cons' personality-based case against Trudeau to stick throughout the campaign and make Mulcair look stronger by comparison. Now, with the "not ready" theme looking like it's going to be something less than a decisive ballot question, the NDP is building off of relatively little previous messaging of its own to paint Trudeau as "not change".

Second, the NDP seems to have expected the campaign to consist primarily of a war between the Cons and the Libs which would allow it to come up the middle as the least-worst option.

On that front, the NDP's early-campaign rise in the polls might have represented more hindrance than help. When the NDP took the lead, Tom Mulcair became the main target for his rivals for several weeks - and the resulting wave of negative messaging has at least cut into Mulcair's lead over his opponents in terms of personal approval.

That said, there's still plenty for the NDP to build on as the campaign draws to a close. Mulcair remains the most popular of the federal leaders, the NDP is still well within striking distance in terms of both headline polling numbers and underlying issue support and voter consideration, and it still has a memorable and worthwhile platform which can be re-emphasized now that it's clear that trying to stay above the fray won't be enough.

And as a bonus, the Trans-Pacific Partnership unveiled by the Cons looks like exactly the kind of issue which will help clarify the difference between a faux progressive in Trudeau who wants to claim the title only when convenient, and a party actually committed to putting people first. So I'll echo the sentiment that the path to victory for the NDP involves standing on principle and making the case for a government with the capacity and willingness to act for the good of citizens.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Paul Theroux comments on the gall of corporations who move jobs to the cheapest, least-safe jurisdictions possible while trumpeting their own supposed contributions to the countries they leave behind. And Wilma Liebman sees more progressive labour legislation as one of the keys to encouraging workers to organize and secure better working and living conditions.

- The Star's editorial board writes about the need for far more debate about poverty and precarity in Canada's federal election. And Max Ehrenfreund discusses the connection between income and life expectancy, while noting that inequality is going up (and the poorest class is seeing absolute declines) in both.

- Hilary Beaumont, Rachel Browne and Justin Ling report on the Libs' apparent plans - in both their platform and Justin Trudeau's own public statements - to unleash large-scale domestic surveillance on Canadians. (And the apparent clarification that they don't know what they're actually promising doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their general interest in civil liberties, including their vague tut-tutting about C-51.)

- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt contrasts the option of an inclusive, multicultural society against that of a Con-approved "snitch state" where everybody's looking for reason to report everybody else as unCanadian.  And Neil MacDonald sees the Cons' deliberate discrimination as the barbaric cultural practice we should be concerned about.

- Finally, Heather Mallick summarizes how the Harper Cons have gone out of their way to ruin Canada.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Deconstructing cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood highlights how the Trans-Pacific Partnership will do little but strengthen the hand of the corporate sector against citizens. Duncan Cameron notes that even in the face of a full-court press for ever more stringent corporate controls, there's plenty of well-justified skepticism about the TPP. And Olivia Chow compiles both plenty more concerns with the TPP, and the evidence that the Cons' obsession with trade agreements is doing nothing to help Canada economically.

- Upstream calls for Canadians to vote for a healthier society in the upcoming federal election. And Kimberly Noble points out how poverty and deprivation affect children's development - resulting in worse results for everybody. 

- Catherine Latimer discusses the prison crisis created by the Cons' combination of dumb-on-crime policies and lack of investment to deal with the increased demands on the correctional system.

- The CCPA provides a much-needed overview of the Harper Cons' disastrous record over their past two terms in power.

- Which means it's no surprise that the Cons are left with little but fearmongering to try to cling to power as pointed out by Heather Libby. But Sandy Garossino writes that Harper and company are putting women at risk with their choice of targets for xenophobia and exclusion. And Joseph Heath rightly argues that the Cons have gone far beyond the realm of defensible policy to the point where there's no innocent or reasonable explanation for their choices:
I usually lean towards the more charitable interpretation of people’s motives. And I try very hard to be charitable with conservatives, in part because I disagree with them on so many points, and so am likely to be biased in the direction of being uncharitable. Thus I have really been working hard to resist the tendency – which many of my colleagues have – of writing off the Conservative Party entirely, as being outside the scope of “reasonable” political conviction. I’ve also been doing what I can to encourage centre-right conservatives to be more assertive in controlling the drift into extreme ideological positions that one can see in the right wing in Canada. At this point, however, I’m starting to have trouble. My most charitable reading of the current situation is that it can be blamed on this Australian strategist they brought in, who’s basically been telling them to play the anti-Islam card, because hey, what does he care what happens to the country – he doesn’t have to live here (never thought I would find myself missing Jenni Byrne!). But even then, I’m having doubts.

Psychologically, I’m starting to feel that I should put the Conservative Party of Canada into the same mental category that most people put the National Front in France – not as a representative of a reasonable political position, but as more of a cancer on the body politic. For the moment I’m still resisting that – holding out some faith in the decency of Canadians – but the way things are going I may need to reconsider.

The one thing I can say, however, is that after Friday’s press conference, I can no longer regard it as morally acceptable for anyone to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada. A week ago, I could still persuade myself that reasonable people could disagree over how to vote in this election, but no longer.