Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Capped cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Sherri Torjman comments on the importance of social policy among our political choices, while lamenting its absence from the first leaders' debate:
(M)arket economies go through cycles, with periods of stability followed by periods of slump and uncertainty. Canada has weathered these economic cycles, and even major recessions, largely because of our social-policy initiatives. Income-security programs, in particular, are vital economic measures. The problem is that most of these have withered and shrunk in recent years and are in need of major repair.

Why is social policy so important to the economy?

First, income-security programs act as household shock absorbers when times are tough. Employment Insurance, childcare benefits, public pensions and welfare are intended to ensure that all Canadians have at least some money to pay for necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.
Second, income-security programs act as fiscal stimulus when the economic wheels start slowing. They put money directly into the hands of large numbers of Canadians, whose collective spending can jump-start our economic engine and help keep it running.
Finally, certain income-security programs stabilize the economy by bolstering low wages. These earning supplementation programs are controversial, with many arguing that decent living wages should be employers’ responsibility. In the meantime, millions of Canadians struggle on low and unstable incomes.
Shock absorber, fiscal stimulus and economic stabilizer: These are all crucial roles of social policy and of income-security programs, specifically. They blow wind into the sails of the economy and help ensure a smoother economic ride.

While their vital roles are central to the country’s economic health, they are relegated to the sidelines in most debates. An economic-policy discussion without its intrinsic social-policy component is definitely incomplete.
- Angella MacEwen challenges the theory that deficits necessarily have anything to do with progressive policy, while Nora Loreto fact-checks the Libs' spin about the opposition parties' placement on the political spectrum.

- The CCPA's Good for Canada project offers an important summary of what we should be looking for in order to reduce inequality. And Jim Hightower writes that some of the wealthiest Americans are looking to fight inequality for everybody's good including their own.

- Michael Harris calls out the Cons' continued reign of fear. But Chantal Hebert writes that the goal of scaring voters away from opposition parties no longer seems to be in reach for Harper and company, as they're the party spooking away voters they need to form government. Which goes to show that the Harper propaganda discussed by Andrew Nikiforuk is far from having its intended effect.

- Finally, Sandy Garossino notes that the revelations about Mike Duffy's bribery, cover-up and trial represent just the latest example of Stephen Harper's war against the law. And David Krayden comments on the laughable plea of knowing nothing from the PMO when it comes to one of its most significant issues from the Cons' time in office.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Branko Milanovic answers Harry Frankfurt's attempt to treat inequality as merely an issue of absolute deprivation by reminding us how needs are inherently social:
“[Under necessities] I understand not only the commodities that are indispensable for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.” (Book 5, Chapter 2)
Smith’s observation has far-reaching consequences. If our needs depend on what is socially acceptable, then they will clearly vary as between different societies. They will depend on the wealth of such societies or wealth of our peer groups. Consequently, our needs are (1) even in theory endless (because development has no material limit), and (2) they are thoroughly relative. We cannot distinguish between that part of the needs which is presumably due to ourselves, our “real” needs that, according to Professor Frankfurt, determine whether “[we] have good lives, and not how [our] lives compare with the lives of others” and the other part which is presumably due to the environment.

It is futile to try to distinguish between the two. We do not know what are our needs until we live in a society and observe the needs of others. So, pace Professor Frankfurt, we cannot just imagine that others do not exist as he enjoins us to do. All our needs are social.
- Meanwhile, John Rentoul reports on a new poll showing just how many social needs are going unmet in the UK, as two-thirds of people don't see themselves having any meaningful influence in shaping their own society. And Robyn Benson comments on the Cons' silencing of anybody who has anything to say beyond their own talking points.

- Guy Boulton discusses new research into the link between poverty and brain development. And Amy Traub points out that equal pay for women would go a long way toward reducing poverty in the U.S.

- Lobat Sadrehashemi, Peter Edelmann and Suzanne Baustad highlight how the Cons' rushed policy on refugees is designed to prevent valid claims from being fully assessed. And Dean Beeby takes a look at the Cons' costly broken promise of a database to track missing persons.

- Finally, Rick Salutin writes that whatever its end result, Donald Trump's presidential run should offer us a disturbing indication as to how anti-democratic leaders can use democratic systems to take power.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On transitions

Bob Hepburn makes clear that while the Libs may still be in denial about the importance of cooperating to remove the Harper Cons from power, their best friends in the media are under no such illusions. But the most noteworthy contribution to Canada's discussion about post-election options comes from Aaron Wherry - particularly in highlighting what factors have, and have not, been taken into account in determining who gets a chance to form government:
(A) Progressive Conservative government in Ontario in 1985 was defeated in the legislature and replaced by a Liberal government that had signed a governing accord with the NDP caucus. Interestingly, it is recounted in this piece for Canadian Parliamentary Review that when the defeated premier, Frank Miller, tendered his resignation with Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, he advised that an alternative was prepared to govern: “It would appear that the Honourable Leader of the Opposition is able to gain the confidence of the House at this time.”

The lieutenant-governor of the day, John Black Aird, then issued a statement to explain the change:
In my capacity as Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen in Ontario, I have this day asked Mr. David Peterson to form a government, he having assured me that he can form a government which will have the confidence of the Legislative Assembly for a reasonable length of time.
On the advice of counsel with whose opinions I agree, I have advised Mr. Peterson that the agreement between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, a copy of which had been delivered to me, has no legal force or effect and that it should be considered solely as a joint political statement of intent and that the agreement cannot affect or impair the powers or privileges of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario nor of the members of the Legislative Assembly.
Wherry goes on to note that there are also two precedents in which alternative governments might have had the opportunity to form government without the consent of the incumbent: the federal Parliament in 1980 when other parties did not seek the opportunity to replace Joe Clark's PCs (who had already won a confidence vote), and again in 2004 when no confidence vote was brought against Paul Martin's Libs. And there's one example of a party actually finishing second in seats and forming government over the objections of the incumbent which had lost a confidence vote (that being Saskatchewan's legislature in 1929).

But the review of the historical record suggests a few points to keep in mind. The Governor General actually holds a great deal of discretion in determining what factors matter in assessing an incumbent's request for dissolution and/or the right to continue governing - with a previous confidence vote and a signed agreement encompassing a majority of representatives being less than determinative (if significant at all) on their own. And the transition process (like so many other aspects of our system of governance) relies in substantial part on the good faith of the leaders involved in assessing their prospects of winning Parliament's support, which we can't take for granted from Harper.

All of which means that we shouldn't consider a seeming defeat for the Cons - whether the loss of a majority or a drop in the party standings - to completely close the door on Harper clinging to power. And we should thus stay motivated to make sure the electorate's verdict leaves Harper and the Governor General no choice but to allow for a transfer of power.

The secret platform

It never figured to take long for the Cons to start making up numbers for lack of any legitimate criticism of the NDP's platform - and Jason Kenney has charged into the breach. But it's worth noting the source of many of the supposedly-costed items, which consist of NDP MPs' committee reports.

To be clear, committee reports represent an important contribution in Parliament's governance of public policy. And what makes them stand out is that fact that they offer independent review by representatives tasked with assessing particular issues - who can then be expected to reach their own conclusions on the optimal solutions for those issues in a vacuum.

But because reports are necessarily focused on specific areas of review, they can't generally be taken as a statement of the decisions which a party might make in balancing competing priorities. And that's exactly where voters normally have reason to look to a party's platform as an integrated set of policy choices for the next term of office - and to ignore any attempt to let opposition parties treat committee reports as a substitute.

That said, there is one exception which is only highlighted by Kenney's stance.

It's well-known (and recently confirmed) that due to the meddling of Stephen Harper's PMO, Conservative caucus members - MPs and Senators alike - don't have the freedom to conduct independent reviews of legislation or policy choices that we'd expect from the rest of our parliamentarians. And so it's probably fair to treat the Cons' committee reports as reflecting Stephen Harper's judgment - a conclusion which is only reinforced by his right hand man in saying he consideres other parties' representatives' reports to be party policy.

That means that Harper is on the hook to answer for, say, the proposals from his Senate caucus to pursue government certification of imams, or to gut the CBC. And the opposition parties may want to take a far closer look at the Cons' committee reports as the campaign progresses - since no less a figure than Jason Kenney considers them to be part of his party's platform.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Dana Flavelle examines how many Canadians are facing serious economic insecurity. And Kevin Campbell discusses how the Cons are vulnerable on the economy due to their obvious failure to deliver on their promises, as well as their misplaced focus on trickle-down ideology:
During this election it is essential to understand that we live in an era of persistent financial insecurity among the majority of the population. Household balance sheets are in a tenuous state throughout the industrialized world, particularly in Canada. This inevitably affects how citizens choose to vote. Healthcare, education, ethics and the environment — they all matter a great deal and undoubtedly influence voter behaviour. But the party that secures economic confidence wins elections in this country.
The reality is that the parties of the left actually focus heavily on the well-being of the most vital driver in the economy: you. The household. And by that, I do not mean nuclear families alone. I mean any household, including single people, single parents, childless couples and widowers. I mean everyone who orbits around the average or the median, and certainly those who survive on less. The household is the engine to which the rest of the economy responds. It is a strong foundation of employment, consumption and tax revenue that propels everything else in the system.

Corporations and investors simply respond to demand — and aggregate demand is not powered by the top one per cent or even the top 10 per cent. Disposable income flows when we create the conditions for the average household to adequately feed, clothe and shelter itself, supported by the opportunity to be healthy and educated.
A Leger poll released last week placed “stimulating the Canadian economy” as the top issue for the October election, sequentially followed by the related subjects of “helping middle-class families” and “job creation.” The NDP leads on the latter two items and is nipping at Harper’s heels on the first. If recent history is any guide, victory will come to the party that evokes the greatest confidence on such issues.

Progressives can, and must, earn that confidence.
- Meanwhile, Roderick Benns talks to Alax mayor Steve Parish about the benefits a basic income can provide in both fighting poverty and ensuring economic security. 

- Martha Friendly highlights the need for child care in Canada - as well as for the federal government to be involved in funding and developing a functional system. And Joey Porter reports on the Cons' gross failure to deliver even approved funding for clean water for First Nations.

- Dave Cournoyer takes a first look at Alberta's royalty review panel and the benefits it should produce for the public. And Mike De Souza reports on what happens when environmental regulators actually do their jobs - as Nexen is being required to demonstrate it can operate pipelines safely in the wake of its spill, rather than being let off with a promise to do better.

- Finally, Harriet Sherwood examines a global crackdown on human rights organizations and other civil society groups. And Sheena Goodyear reports on how Tony Turner's Harperman fits into the wider issue of allowing public servants some voice in the political system in which they work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

On balanced options

Dave McGrane offers a historical perspective on how deficits for their own sake shouldn't be seen as an element of left-wing or progressive policy, while Excited Delerium takes a look at the policies on offer in Canada's federal election to see how it's possible to pursue substantive progressive change within a balanced budget. But let's examine more closely why it's wrong to draw any equivalence between the Trudeau Libs' platform, deficits and progressive policies (despite their frantic efforts to pretend there's no difference between the three).

Taking the Libs at their word, their current plan is to engage in deficit spending over the next few years, then balance the budget by 2019. So to the extent one might be inclined to prefer a measure of fiscal health other than balanced budgets (such as keeping debt at a stable proportion of GDP), the Libs aren't offering that choice - only a delayed return to balance, with the additional money spent in the meantime being necessarily limited to short-term projects. 

And once the budget is balanced, the Libs are attacking the very idea of national programs such as the NDP's child care plan - which is designed to fit within balanced budgets while actually building a substantial new social benefit in the longer term.

Fortunately, we don't need to look far to see the Trudeau philosophy in action, as his leading provincial proxy is offering up exactly the mix of unfocused short-term infrastructure spending, privatization in the name of false economies and cuts to actual programs implied by the federal Libs' platform. 

The contrast between the NDP and the Libs then represents a classic case of long-term planning with permanent returns, versus instant but fleeting gratification. And Canadian progressives who have seen the Harper Cons deliberately inflict long-term damage on our federal institutions should be wary of settling for the latter.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michal Rozworski calls for the election to include far more discussion as to who benefits from our economy as it's designed, and who gets left behind. Michael Wilson examines how Canada's economy has become far less equal over the past few decades. And Michelle Zilio talks to Munir Sheikh about the "made in Canada recession" under the Harper Cons, as a rare divergence between Canada and the rest of the world is seeing us headed in the wrong direction even as the U.S. and other developed countries do relatively well.

- Joanna Smith examines some of the key e-mails showing the Cons' interference with an independent Senate audit. Andrew Mitrovica discusses the Duffy trial and some of the more noteworthy media coverage. Michael Spratt highlights the public's interest in the trial and in assigning responsibility for Harper and his minions, while Michael Harris argues that the Duffy scandal has exposed the Harper PMO as a rogue operation interfering in actual governance. The Globe and Mail notes that the same mindset which led to the initial cover-up is leading the Cons to keep trying to stick their nose where it doesn't belong. And Tabatha Southey riffs off the concept of Duffy as the elephant in the room for the PMOs.

- Colette Derworiz reports on how even basic public-interest information has been shut down during the election campaign. And Kathryn May tells Tony Turner's story as to how a simple protest song has resulted in a scientist being sidelined from his job.

- David Rider reports on the NDP's C-51 push as the election looms 51 days down the road. The Montreal Gazette slams the civil rights abuses inherent in kettling as a crowd control technique. And Michael Geist looks to recent Senate reports for a hint as to just how much worse the Cons' attacks on rights might get if they get the chance.

- Speaking of which, Marc Swelling argues that this fall's election will ultimately come down to the core question of whether voters want four more years of Stephen Harper or not. And while the answer looks to be "no" for the moment, we'll need to make sure that position doesn't change during the rest of the campaign.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Musical interlude

Big Data feat. Joywave - Dangerous

And as a bonus, Tony Turner's Harperman:

On crystallized positions

I've largely held off on discussing federal polls since few of them seem to be out of line with my initial assessment of the election as a three-way race with the NDP in a narrow lead, but with plenty of room for movement during the election campaign.

But EKOS' latest signals that we may have reached the point where more of the same is news in and of itself - particularly for the party which most needs to try to change the direction of public opinion.

While there might once have been reason to wonder whether public assessments of the NDP and Lib leaders would hold up until the glare of an election campaign, those questions seem largely to have been answered. One could have doubted whether Tom Mulcair's high approval ratings would hold up when he was still unknown to a substantial number of voters - but he's still in strong positive territory with only 12% of respondents giving a "don't know" or no response. And while Justin Trudeau likely won't be returning to his honeymoon levels of support anytime soon, he seems to have leveled off at a neutral-to-positive assessment despite being the target of years of concentrated attacks.

As a result, the Cons are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to leadership. Instead of being able to rely on Harper being seen as bland but acceptable by enough people to vote them into office, they now have no choice but to try to attack the credibility of more-popular leaders in a spending-limited environment when the lone spokesperson they dare to put in front of a camera is disliked by two-thirds of the population (and distrusted by even more).

Similarly, the change/no change question seems to have been decisively resolved against the Cons. It may have been possible to point to vote splitting as a factor operating in their favour when enough voters to make up a majority were satisfied with matters as they stood; it's rather more difficult when the wrong-track and change numbers are into the high 60s, particularly when voters don't trust the government's claims as to how the country is doing.

In sum, we've reached the point where people know exactly what they think of Stephen Harper and his party, both in general and in relation to their opponents. And it's hard to see how two more months of the same from the Cons can turn the public in their favour.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Joseph Stiglitz notes that the recent stock market turmoil may be most important for its effect in highlighting far more important economic weaknesses. And Richard McCormack discusses the link between stock buybacks, inequality and economic stagnation - meaning that a plan to eliminate loopholes for stock options may also have positive spillover effects for the economy as a whole.

- Barry Schwartz writes about the meaning of work, while noting that a focus on theoretical efficiency by eliminating all satisfaction from a work day may be leading to worse results for employers and employees alike:
(W)hen given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder. Such cases should serve to remind us there is a human cost to routinizing and depersonalizing work. Too often, instead of being able to take pride in what they do, and derive satisfaction from doing it well, workers have little to show for their efforts aside from their pay.
In the face of longstanding evidence that routinization and an overemphasis on pay lead to worse performance in the workplace, why have we continued to tolerate and even embrace that approach to work?

The answer, I think, is that the ideas of Adam Smith have become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: They gave rise to a world of work in which his gloomy assumptions about human beings became true. When you take all opportunities for meaning and engagement out of the work that people do, why would they work, except for the wage? What Smith and his descendants failed to realize is that rather than exploiting a fact about human nature, they were creating a fact about human nature.

The transformation I have in mind goes something like this: You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you’re a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems — but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you’re a teacher who wants to educate kids — but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you’re a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism — but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.

Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don’t even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were.
To be sure, people should be adequately compensated for their work. Recent efforts across the country to achieve a significant increase in the minimum wage represent real social progress. But in securing such victories for working people, we should not lose sight of the aspiration to make work the kind of activity people embrace, rather than the kind of activity they shun.
- Tana Ganeva exposes how some of the lucky few most insulated from homelessness and poverty demean the people who struggle to face those obstacles every day. And Jeffrey Simpson theorizes that our politics are lacking for big ideas and generosity.

- Edward Keenan writes that the most disturbing aspect of the G20 police abuses was the eagerness with which the people responsible for maintaining social order abandoned any attempt to preserve democratic rights.

- Finally, Aaron Wherry discusses the "snowflake" organizational model which is developing as the alternative to top-down messaging. And that model may make for an interesting contrast against the Cons' most limited broadcasting structure yet, as candidates are being told not to engage with media, public debates or any other format which could possibly deviate from central messaging.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On final choices

Following up on this post and some additional discussion, let's take a look at the question of what options would be available to Stephen Harper if he decided he wanted to escape a drubbing at the polls by cancelling the federal election. And fortunately, the answer looks to be "not much".

The Canada Elections Act does allows for a writ to be withdrawn, but only with some important limitations (emphasis added):
59. (1) The Governor in Council may order the withdrawal of a writ for any electoral district for which the Chief Electoral Officer certifies that by reason of a flood, fire or other disaster it is impracticable to carry out the provisions of this Act.
(2) If the Governor in Council orders the withdrawal of a writ, the Chief Electoral Officer shall publish a notice of the withdrawal in the Canada Gazette and issue a new writ ordering an election within three months after publication of the notice.
(3) The day named in the new writ for polling day may not be later than three months after the issue of the new writ.
The key point in this section is that an order to withdraw a writ is available only based on the Chief Electoral Officer's determination that it's impracticable to proceed with an election. And the limitation by "electoral district" is also likely to be significant, as it reflects an intention to account for local disasters rather than a desire for a do-over across the country.

Now, Harper might try either to claim some inherent authority to stop an election in its tracks, or to bully the Chief Electoral Officer into interpreting the provision extremely broadly. But it's doubtful that either the Chief Electoral Officer or Governor General would go along with those types of moves in the face of what the law says (particularly in the absence of any statement that discretion is reserved).

The more real danger is then that rather than using a message of fear to avoid the election altogether, he'd instead try to lean on the last issue where he's had any success turning public opinion in his favour over the last couple of years.

But the example where that's worked may limit the possibility of a repeat performance. After all, the Cons (with the Libs' support) were able to impose their own choice of limitations on rights in the name of security by passing C-51. So an actual attack or threat would only serve as an indictment of the Cons' failure to accomplish what they promised.

Alternatively, the Cons could be planning for an announcement of arrests or C-51 "disruptions" as a means of claiming success. But that would only go so far in changing the subject, particularly if the public has already tuned Harper and his party out for other reasons.

In sum, while we need to watch out for fearmongering as the last arrow in Harper's quiver, it's not clear that it will serve either as an excuse to avoid the polls or a major factor in shifting votes.

On statements of values

It's true that a party's policy book is not the same as its election platform.

But it's also true that there is more to a party than a single campaign or platform. And considering that the difference between a policy book and a platform can be pointed out in a single sentence, I'm hard-pressed to see what the NDP stands to gain by limiting access to the policy goals developed by its members.

On needless machinery

Those of us who have seen the Libs focus much of this year on criticizing the Cons' partisan advertising might be rather surprised to learn they don't think there's any room to cut or redirect any current federal spending, and in fact consider it offensive that anybody might suggest such room exists.

But on a closer look, there's actually a consistent theme behind the Libs' message. While their petition on advertising criticizes the Cons for wasteful spending, it doesn't promise to change anything other than to create a new commissioner position to oversee future publicity - meaning that it could simply increase the cost of continuing ad spending.

So let's see if we can summarize the opposition parties' take on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Cons have spent on government advertising.

The NDP sees a waste of public money which could be put to better uses, and asks "why not stop?"

On the other hand, the Libs refuse to consider whether cuts might be appropriate, and ask "why not pay more?"

So which of those seems like the more appropriate response? It's up to Canadians to decide.

Keep Quiet - Chess Master At Work

Yessiree, Stephen Harper's choice to impose a longer election period rather than waiting to see whether his party would have a shred of credibility left after the PMO went under the microscope looks more brilliant by the day.

New column day

Here, on Donna Harpauer and the Saskatchewan Party are dismissing their own advisory group's recommendation to work to cut Saskatchewan poverty in half by the end of the decade.

For further reading...
- The StarPhoenix echoes Donna Harpauer's defeatism.
- Danielle Martin and Ryan Meili make the case for a basic income, which appears as one of the advisory group's recommendations. 
- And for a review of the multiplier effects of different fiscal choices, see Mark Zandi's analysis here (PDF) - showing infrastructure spending and income supports accomplishing far more than tax cuts or corporate giveaways.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Michal Rozworski reminds us that austerity in Canada is nothing new under Con or Lib governments, while pointing out what the public needs to do to repel it:
The campaigning Stephen Harper boasts that his tough austerity policies saved the Canadian economy. Lost in the rhetoric are two important facts. As most economists will tell you today, austerity measures are lousy ways to expand jobs and investment. And Harper's Conservatives were just carrying on the work of their austerity embracing Liberal predecessors.

The first round of Liberal cutbacks were quick and deep. A greater share of government expenditures redirected towards debt repayment created additional false scarcity of funds for direct spending. Spending on federal government programs and transfers to provinces, cities, and individuals fell by over five per cent of GDP from 1993 to the turn of the millennium. Spending growth did not just slow: absolute expenditures decreased.

Reduced fiscal transfers to provinces put the squeeze on local governments. Since the 1990s, Canada has seen provincial governments -- not just governed by Liberals and Conservatives, but also by New Democrats -- impose austerity further down the line. Since provinces are responsible for many basics like health, education, and welfare benefits, shrinking transfers have further eroded the working class's social wage. Privatizations, workfare schemes, tuition increases -- all were applied (unevenly) across the country.

Overall, the sharp turn to austerity created a more punitive welfare state. While Canada's economic growth in the mid to late '90s fed off that in the U.S., the character of its reforms was also in line with the Clintonite agenda. There was a similar push to create conditions for business expansion even less encumbered by working class demands. A major strategy was an attack on the social wage -- public spending on goods, services and income supports for people in Canada.
There is now more than one generation that has grown up with austerity and little else. Despite, or perhaps because of this, the youngest generation today is more inclined towards left politics than any other. Yet the space for even modest social-democratic politics has rarely been narrower. This opening and closure exist side-by-side in contradiction. To make the contradiction a productive one, we need an honest appraisal of political forces and how power operates: a political economy of the present.

Upon this foundation, we can create a political space that rekindles the imagination -- one that has less risk of falling into a mythologized, and wholly false, vision of the 1990s. Going back further, we also need to come up with more than simple nostalgia for the postwar prosperity, whose contradictions created the lumbering monster that still chews at our horizons.

Stopping and reversing austerity in Canada, as anywhere, requires an honest assessment of the forces allied in its favour. A consensus that has emerged over decades will not be broken easily. While putting a single man's face to it may be useful to start the conversation, we will need to go further, examining the systemic challenges that prevent a parting with austerity -- whether the slow-simmering kind Canadians are now experiencing, or sharper variants.
- And Bruce Wark follows up by challenging the media's failure to recognize what's already been lost to past cuts.

- Kevin Campbell argues that the success of progressive parties and voters will depend on our ability to highlight their ability to do more for citizens' economic security. And Kevin Lynch points out that plenty of economists are on board to work on economic growth through fiscal rather than monetary policy.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on a new study from the Atkinson Foundation and Mowat Centre discussing the need for community institutions such as universities, hospitals and municipalities to foster local development rather than needlessly sending money elsewhere.

- Finally, Dan Leger notes that the Cons and their supporters are thoroughly in denial over the facts about the Duffy scandal - though it's hard to see where else they could go without abandoning the party under Stephen Harper. And Chantal Hebert sees the combined scandal and cover-up as reflecting the Harper Cons' core character.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On biased decisions

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Duffy trial has revealed that the Harper Cons sought to make the Senate as subservient to the PMO as the Cons' trained seals in the House of Commons:
Mr. Rathgeber said the PMO staffers’ handling of the situation was all too familiar and speaks to a “culture of invincibility” among some of the PMO staff.

“It’s shocking, but it validates everything I’ve ever said about their modus operandi. They have no ethical, or sometimes legal, boundaries and I would say without any doubt that a Senate report into expenses is a higher level of improper interference but that level of micromanagement goes on in House of Commons reports all the time,” he said.

Opposition members have long alleged that since the Conservatives have had a majority on every committee since 2011, no committee report is tabled until the PMO signs off on it.

“There is no part in the Ottawa bubble that they think is beyond their reach or their ability, quite frankly, to manipulate or control,” said Mr. Rathgeber.

“The fact that Parliament is supposed to be independent from the government and is supposed to be a check on the government is completely perverted in their view. They don’t see Parliament, either the House of Commons or the Senate, as being a check on executive power. They see the government caucus as an extension of PMO communications and their rubber stamp.”
Mr. Beardsley said that near the end of his time in the PMO he could see a shift toward the office “tightening up” and becoming more proactive in its “micromanagement” of issues. He has looked through the emails himself and considers them proof of what was speculated about the change in management under the succession of chiefs of staff leading up to Mr. Wright.
Nor should it come as much surprise that the Cons' political direction has been based on developing excuses to reach a desired outcome, rather than actually applying rules as they stand.

But it's worth highlighting what that combination means for one of their primary attacks on the NDP.

Remember that the only decision-making body which has claimed to find a problem the NDP's parliamentary offices is the uber-secretive Board of Internal Economy - a committee of MPs with a Con majority.

The NDP has gone out of its way to have somebody evaluate its actions other than MPs acting as puppets for the PMO. And the Cons have refused any such neutral assessment.

So let's ask: is there any reason to think the BOIE's Con members operated under anything other than the PMO's instructions in sitting in judgment of a political opponent? And if not, shouldn't the Duffy scandal tell us everything we need to know as to whether that judgment is based on anything more than Stephen Harper's politically-motivated orders?

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Robert Reich discusses the unfairness of requiring workers to take all the risk of precarious jobs while sharing few of the rewards:
On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.

It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whatever party – contractor, client, customer, agent, or intermediary – pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours, should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

Presumably that party will share those costs and risks with its own clients, customers, owners, and investors. Which is the real point – to take these risks off the backs of individuals and spread them as widely as possible.

In addition, to restore some certainty to peoples’ lives, we’ll need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.
- Max FineDay writes that while the work structures which are increasing stress on workers may be new, the principle of ensuring that everybody's basic needs are met has is anything but. And Sean McElwee discusses how different our public discourse would look if we heard about the plight of people living in poverty as regularly as we're informed of stock market fluctuations.

- The Star reminds us that the Cons' useless "tough on crime" rhetoric is as empty now as it's ever been.

- Meanwhile, Chinta Puxley reports that Canadians continue to be at risk due to the Cons' cuts to food inspection and other health and safety services.

- Steven Chase exposes the secrecy behind the Cons' plans to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.

- Finally, Bill Tieleman writes that nasty, negative politics only survive because they seem to work - while recognizing that the only way to change that reality is to demand better in numbers which ensure that appeals to the worst in people don't sway enough votes to swing elections.