Saturday, October 22, 2011

Burning questions

Has any government, anywhere, ever done as little in a four-year term as the Saskatchewan Party will admit to planning in its platform?

Does anybody expect the Saskatchewan Party to break the mould?

And if not, what's been left out of the platform that's actually on Brad Wall's agenda for the next four years?

(Handy hint: remember that the Sask Party promised not to pass essential-services legislation or sign the TILMA before doing both.)

The counterargument

Yes, that sound you heard yesterday was Canada's Overton window making a much-needed move to the left. And Brian Topp's call for to actually fund better public services through taxes looks to have a positive influence on both his own leadership candidacy, and the state of Canadian political debate for at least the next election cycle.

After all, it's seldom been disputed by any of the opposition parties that many of the Cons' tax loopholes and cuts have been utterly indefensible as a matter of public policy. But for too long, the perceived alternative to the Cons (who have quite explicitly talked about their desire to slash services in the name of tax giveaways) has been a party which prefers to pretend that there's no tradeoff needed between services and taxes, rather than one that actually argues that the benefit of the former justifies the latter. (And we're still hearing echoes of the position that it's foolish to engage in a genuine debate over taxes rather than simply ceding the field to the Cons.)

Even worse, at times the NDP too has found it easier to simply talk about leaving tax levels where they are than to make a case for increasing public revenue to achieve important social goals.

But we now have four years to shape public expectations before we'll see another trip to the polls - meaning that there's no time like the present to start changing the underlying assumptions of voters. And it's a huge step that one of the anointed front-runners for the role of leader of the Official Opposition - and indeed somebody who's unlikely to be the furthest-left candidate as the leadership campaign progresses - is making the case that we should be demanding more civilization, and be willing to contribute to its price.

Of course, the Cons will howl. But as we all know, they'd be doing that anyway - and the difference now is that Canadians will actually see a forceful argument on the other side. So far better to directly counter the Cons' attacks on both our revenue base and our willingness to fund public services, rather than staying silent and ensuring that their damage becomes permanent.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Marc Lee reminds us that income disparities are only a small part of the picture of an increasingly unequal economy - with wealth inequality looking far worse:
These numbers are striking, with 58% of wealth in the hands of the top 10%. But we hit a bit of a wall when it comes to looking further up. There does tend to be a bit of fractal pattern that happens with distribution, so if the top 10% get 58% of the wealth, a rough estimate is that the top 1% would get 58% of the income of the top 10%, so about one-third of the total wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom half of households have a teensy 3% of total wealth, with the bottom 10% completely underwater (liabilities greater than assets, or negative net worth).
- Dr. Dawg documents the Cons' latest Parliamentary abuses:
Closure is not a new measure, but using it on the very first day of debate, as it was last evening, is uncommon, and using it so routinely is, I believe, unprecedented.

Parliamentary committees, too, have been effectively shut down by the ruling Conservatives: in the past, when they were in a minority, the tactic was maximum disruption.

And the war on various independent watchdogs/agencies continues apace. One after another, they have been hobbled or neutered. Dictatorship, after all, doesn’t require independent assessment.

Harper’s Conservatives—elected by only 39% of those who voted—have shown themselves to be literally contemptuous of parliamentary tradition, and the rule of law.

In a nutshell, the Conservatives hate democracy. Canadians are just beginning to realize, I think, how viscerally and deeply this hatred runs.
- In the department of taking good news where we can get it, at least one Con MP is willing to discuss climate change as a problem. But while Michael Chong deserves full credit for joining the multi-party climate change caucus, it surely speaks volumes that the rest of his party-mates can't be bothered.

- Finally, Stephen Maher unloads on Tony Clement and the party that's keeping him in Cabinet:
Clement's defence is that the mayors made the recommendations, which they didn't, and that Baird made the decision, which he didn't.

We need to know why there was no paperwork for the auditor general, because we are up Muskoka River without a paddle if politicians are able to hide their files from the auditor general, the only official with the power to pierce the veil of secrecy in Ottawa.

Clement's explanations are gibberish, and he does not appear to have the judgment necessary for his current job as president of Treasury Board, the minister in charge of enforcing spending rules.
Clement owes his seat and his job to Harper, and he seems to do whatever the prime minister asks, cheerfully acting as Harper's smiling spear carrier on ugly files, such as the government's unsuccessful push to shut down Vancouver's Insite program for drug addicts, and the successful push to kill the mandatory long-form census.

Prime ministers need loyal servants, so even though Clement's G8 shenanigans show that he is farcically ill-equipped to carry out his job, Harper is unlikely to move him or to force him to fully account for the rule-breaking porkfest in Muskoka.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Musical interlude

Lange vs Gareth Emery - Another You Another Me

Helpful hint

If the best thing anybody is prepared to say about a policy is to recognize that it contains exceptions which don't go far enough, that's not exactly an endorsement.

Parliament In Review: October 6, 2011

On a personal note, October 6 saw the first question period that I'll be able to blog about after seeing in person - as well as the first time I've heard of question period leading with an event I've attended. But the more important development was the start of what looks to be an extended clash between the Cons looking to shut down debate on any issue whatsoever, and the opposition parties decrying the complete lack of democracy involved in passing massive changes with minimal discussion.

The Big Issue

The strongest challenge in principle to the reflexive stifling of debate came from Thomas Mulcair, who used the traditional Thursday question to ask just how little debate is enough:
The government is using the term “enough debate”. For the second time in two weeks, it is using a guillotine to cut off the normal work of parliament that we were elected by Canadians to do.

Bill C-13 was cut off after exactly three hours of debate. That is a budget bill. It is one of the primary reasons we get elected to the House and after only three hours of debate, it is cutting it off.

I would like, on behalf of all Canadians and the House, to understand when, in the opinion of the majority Conservatives, there has been enough debate.
Other opposition members raising strong criticisms of the Cons' habit of shutting down democratic discussion included Nathan Cullen, Wayne Easter, Pat Martin, Geoff Regan and Andre Bellavance. But as Pierre Dionne Labelle noted, there's no particular reason for surprise about the tactic given how accountability-averse the Cons have been from their first day in office.

Of course, the opposition isn't without some means to at least try to shame the Cons into more openness. And on that front, Claude Gravelle introduced two bills to provide specifically for the disclosure of information about foreign takeovers that the Cons have covered up.

Let's Talk About the Economy

The line of the day in the debate on the Cons' budget bill went to Pat Martin as to how somem investments provide more stimulus than others:
If the Conservatives want social benefit and social change from their spending and to put more money into circulation to stimulate the economy, the single most important thing they could do is to elevate all seniors out of poverty. For $700 million, for less than one-tenth essentially of the corporate tax cut, all seniors could have been at least lifted to the poverty line. Seniors do not squirrel that money away in an offshore tax haven. They spend it in the local economy and it gets re-spent four times before it finds its natural state of repose in some rich man's pocket.
As another theme worth watching, the NDP started to push back against the Cons' constant "why didn't you vote for our funding?" refrain by noting just how reckless the Cons have been in throwing around public money.

The debate over the refundability of tax credits also featured prominently once again, with Marc Garneau, Kevin Lamoureux, Tyrone Benskin and Raymond Cote all getting into the act. But the most telling intervention came from James Bezan, who helpfully instructed that since the tax credit already costs "a lot of money", we should make sure payments are directed toward those who don't need them.

Meanwhile, Dennis Bevington observed that corporate tax cuts are particularly inappropriate at the federal level since provinces may face pressure to compete with each other, while Matthew Kellway questioned their effectiveness at any level when they haven't apparently created jobs or stimulated investment as promised. Don Davies pointed out that conservatives have caused the largest deficits in Canadian history and would have caused a worse financial meltdown than we actually experienced in 2008 if they'd had the chance. Jamies Nicholls and Charmaine Borg both pointed out the value of the per-vote party funding being trashed by the Cons. Cote noted that loopholes in the Cons' job creation tax credit may result in it both rewarding shell games, and failing to fund actual jobs. Anne Minh-Thu Quach pointed out that the Cons are doing nothing to preserve and improve our public health care system. Robert Chisholm pointed out that infrastructure investments have long-term economic benefits as well as serving as short-term stimulus.

Finally, John Carmichael responded to Jasbir Sandhu's question about Canada's deteriorating balance-of-payment position and value-added development by suggesting they're worth celebrating. And Rodger Cuzner rightly claimed the fact we've had any stimulus at all over the past couple of years as a result of the cooperation of the opposition parties.

In Brief

Randall Garrison slammed the Cons for taking any opportunity to oppose same-sex unions by intervening in a case to deny benefits to a UK civil partnership. Megan Leslie pointed out that oil lobbyists have directly expressed their gratitude for the Cons' work in covering up oil sands emissions data, while Dennis Bevington questioned Canada's lack of involvement in a U.S.-approved release of oil into disputed areas of the Beaufort Sea. Tyrone Benskin lamented the Cons' utter refusal to deal with the need for social housing. Nycole Turmel pointed out Tony Clement's absence from the International Conference of Information Commissioners, and directly challenged Stephen Harper has to the role his office played in Clement's G8 scandal. And Mathieu Ravignat questioned both the remarkable $73 million price tag on the Minister of Justice's website, and the use of $10 million on press conferences when they have dedicated press rooms available in Ottawa.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Frances Woolley points out just how much more efficient public-sector health services are compared to private-sector alternatives by contrasting the cost of surgery on people with the far higher rates charged to private payors for veterinary services.

- Which leads nicely into Erin's critique of the Saskatchewan Party's effectively-nonexistent health care plan - particularly when the negligible amount of funding on offer is put in the context of the party's determination to push private service delivery.

- Just months into the Cons' majority, they're already starting a war on grandparents.

- Finally, Marc Lee takes on the luck vs. merit argument as to how the wealthiest among us reach that status - pointing out that the former factor is a major component in virtually any case. And that goes a long way to explaining how Mike Moffatt's salary analogy breaks down in utterly neglecting the possibility that the factors which add value to a business might arise from factors other than the sheer charisma of a single executive.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A sad commentary indeed

Yes, it probably is a victory for the federal opposition parties to win hearings into the effect of cuts to Veterans Affairs as a result of Con members who failed to show up in time for today's meeting. But isn't something fundamentally wrong when any actual investigation into government action is seen as an exception arising solely from neglect, rather than the default expectation of our elected representatives?

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Joyce Green sees the Saskatchewan NDP's proposal for First Nations revenue sharing as a desperately-needed starting point in remedying what should be out greatest shame as a province and country:
Saskatchewan is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in Canada, itself one of the wealthiest states in the world.

That wealth is based primarily on expropriation of aboriginal lands and exploitation of its resources.
The wealth has not been "shared" with First Nations and Metis peoples, and quality of life indices demonstrate the disparities.

The Third World poverty and social immiseration in aboriginal communities has been noted by several United Nations committees as constituting violation of Canada's obligations under international law, and of the human rights of aboriginal peoples.

Meanwhile, provincial governments hide behind the fig leaf of constitutional jurisdictional arguments to avoid spending on status Indians.

Lingenfelter's proposal is a welcome initiative, much in need of detail and budgetary commitment.
- And speaking of improving standards of living, the unveiling of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing looks to offer the prospect of a far more comprehensive means of evaluating policy choices - as well as a more realistic assessment of how we've fared over the past couple of decades than a GDP-only evaluation.

- Peggy Nash's apparent entry into the NDP's leadership race should fill in the largest gaps in the current field. But I'd think there's probably room for one more upper-tier candidate to build on a prairie base - particularly since Nathan Cullen's proposal for electoral cooperation with the Libs (which Steve discusses here) may make it tougher for him to win over populists who see the Libs more as part of the problem than part of any solution.

- Finally, it's great to see Carolyn Bennett recognize that voter suppression is a serious problem in Canada. But it would be all the better if she'd explain why her party backed one of the very forms of suppression she's now criticizing.

New column day

It's bad enough having a federal government whose reaction to social problems is to tell the provinces, "No, you go first in dealing with them. I insist." But it's much worse having a provincial government whose response is to refuse to do anything more than copy what the federal government is doing.

Hence today's column, on how the Saskatchewan Party is mirroring the federal Cons' reliance on boutique tax credits over far more effective uses of public money.

For more on how the strategy has been panned at the federal level, see Jeffrey Simpson's latest.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parliament In Review: October 5, 2011

After the previous day's relatively non-partisan and specific focus, October 5 saw a return to broad debate on the economy - thanks to both a day of debate on the Cons' budget bill and a number of queries in question period.

The Big Issue

Under the economic theme, the most noteworthy development was a strong challenge against the Cons' free trade boosterism. Thomas Mulcair pointed out that reciprocity is sorely lacking in Canada's trade relationship with the U.S. Brian Masse noted that the Cons were not only putting appearances ahead of substance in valuing a photo op with Barack Obama more than the actual terms of any deal but getting rebuffed even in that pitiful pursuit - raising serious questions about their negotiating mettle. And Bob Rae demanded that the Cons give Parliament a chance to debate any agreement before locking Canada into it.

Meanwhile, Irene Mathyssen commented on the need for both public and private investment to build a strong economy. Eve Peclet challenged the Keystone XL pipeline by noting that her riding actually saw its refinery close down - putting to rest the spin that Canada doesn't have unused refining capacity. Sadia Groghue asked what the Cons plan to do for Canadians who haven't found the jobs promised as the benefit of corporate tax slashing, to about as little response as would be expected. Mulcair pointed out the environmental, social and financial debts being increased by the Cons as the cost of supposed fiscal prudence, and observed that the Cons' public-private partnerships seem to have a conspicuous habit of transferring resources from the former to the latter. John McCallum repeatedly questioned the Cons' refusal to make their tax benefits refundable such as to help those who need them most. Peggy Nash noted that if the Cons wanted to run government like a business they'd be looking to invest in a period of low interest rates and high unemployment, and also challenged the Libs to focus more on the availability of EI benefits rather than the cost of premiums.

Finally, the statement of the day went to Pierre Dionne Labelle:
They say that cutting corporate taxes will create jobs. That is not true. It is entirely untrue. The facts complete disprove such claims.

Just look at the example of Ontario, where the combined federal-provincial corporate tax rate was cut by 45% between 1999 and 2010. During this same period, investments in equipment and machinery dropped from 8% to 5%. The money these companies saved in taxes was not reinvested in the economy, did not create jobs, and was not used to buy machinery. Where did this money go? It went into hedge funds. It went into speculative bubbles. And what happens to bubbles? Sooner or later, they burst.
Private Interests

Facing questions from Joyce Murray about his party's choice to slash Audit Services Canada, Jacques Gourde revealed what the supposed cost-cutting measure is really all about:
Audit Services Canada is provided as an optional service for government departments that wish to acquire private sector audit expertise.

The services that Audit Services Canada provide are completely optional and provided on a fee-for-service basis, which is similar to the private sector. Many departments already acquire supplemental audit services directly from the private sector instead of using Audit Services Canada.
That's right: what was spun as a cost-cutting measure won't actually save the federal government a dime. Instead, the goal is to make sure that the cost of auditing is passed into corporate coffers - and any decrease in public auditing capability is only a side benefit.

Planning to Fail

In keeping with Megan Leslie's recent criticism of the Cons' environmental backsliding, Cheryl Gallant claimed that the Cons' decision to pour over $400 million into AECL at the same time as it's being sold off for a fraction of that amount is somehow an environmental program.

In Brief

Peter Julian re-introduced corporate responsibility legislation, while Scott Simms introduced a private members' bill to allow for CPP and OAS benefits to be paid bi-weekly at the election of a recipient. Marc Garneau offered the Cons a chance to answer honestly that they'll have to buy less F-35s than promised in order to stick to their supposed price figure - only to be met with a refusal to acknowledge even that seeming inevitability. Linda Duncan slammed Joe Oliver for his bizarre claim that the land where oil sands development is taking place is otherwise uninhabitable. And John Baird once again stood to answer a Charlie Angus ethics query only to say that it had nothing at all to do with him.

Fighting back

It's probably been nothing more than a matter of time before a few more of the institutions in crosshairs of the Cons and their allies started fighting back rather than hoping to lay low for four years. And the CBC's brilliant takedown of Quebecor - just as the Cons aim to turn committee hearings into a show trial against our public broadcaster - looks to provide a template for many more to follow.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Both the Star-Phoenix and CBC cover an important study from the Human Early Learning Partnership pointing out the difficulties facing today's Saskatchewan families compared to the standard of living a generation ago.

- No, neither NAFTA nor any other trade agreement will ever actually protect us from the whims of the U.S. when it comes to market access. But we can look forward to the Cons continuing to insist we have absolutely no choice but to sign whatever additional agreements cross the Prime Minister's desk because shut up.

- Aaron Wherry documents what may be one of the saddest moments in politics I've heard in some time:
“One practical step that could be taken to deal with the lack of progressivity in the tax system, which, by the way, was referred to yesterday by the Minister of Finance as a big plus for Canada, would be to make the non-refundable tax credits refundable,” he ventured. “Those tax credits apply to kids who are taking piano lessons, kids who are on the margins. Their parents are so poor that they cannot pay taxes. Why will the Prime Minister not change the bill before the House and make sure that those kids can get those benefits?”

On this there was mostly laughter about how silly the Liberals are.
- Lynn Parramore points out that the international vilification of Greece omits a rather important part of the story: a huge part of the problem behind the country's crushing debt has been a lack of payment for exceptionally high levels of work by its citizens who are now being asked to take further massive pay cuts to benefit the financial industry.

- Finally, Dene Moore reports on the embarrassing conditions facing First Nations students across the country as documented by the National Panel on First Nations Elementary and Secondary Education - with one of the major problems being funding of only half that available for other Canadian students. Clearly this is just one more reason why sharing resource wealth with First Nations is inconceivable.


Daniel Leblanc emphasizes the even lower score for Quebec's provincial government in Nik Nanos' trust barometer. But isn't it rather striking that the Cons' federal government - which has supposedly enjoyed a free ride since winning a majority - is still falling short of a passing grade on trust? And if Stephen Harper isn't managing to win over Canadians even while facing a set of three interim leaders, isn't there ample reason to doubt whether he'll be able to do so once the NDP in particular sets its new course?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline outreach.

Presented for discussion

And we're off, with the first major internal point of discussion in the NDP's leadership race.

As a matter of strategy, it's fairly easy to see Nathan Cullen's announcement as a logical move - both to build his own name recognition at a point when most commentary is setting a Topp vs. Mulcair narrative (with Paul Dewar as the candidate receiving the next most attention), and to tap into one of the main ideas that likely won't find favour among the major candidates.

But it remains to be seen whether Cullen will alienate more support within the NDP than he'll attract in proposing the idea. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the strategic benefit of any first-choice support (hello, Pat Martin!) which Cullen might win as a result gets counterbalanced by much greater difficulty in winning over second-choice support.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Parliament In Review: October 4, 2011

Tuesday, October 4 was an opposition day, featuring a motion from Bob Rae on a national suicide strategy that provoked somewhat more agreement than usual. But that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty worth debating.

The Big Issue

While all parties naturally agreed that more needs to be done to prevent suicides both generally and in specific areas, there was plenty of disagreement on both the principles underlying the issue and the role of the federal government in addressing it.

One of the main opposition points involved the prevalence of suicide in First Nations communities for which the federal government bears direct responsibility - with Carol Hughes, Pat Martin, Charlie Angus and John Rafferty among many to comment on the high rates of First Nations suicides as one of Canada's greatest failings (while Linda Duncan dealt directly with the Cons' failure to deliver promised help). Meanwhile, Libby Davies pointed out that the risk of suicide is also higher for GLBT youth, while Hedy Fry and Peter Stoffer both pointed out that recent wars and Vietnam alike saw more troops commit suicide than die in combat.

Claude Patry noted that volunteers trying to address mental health in the workplace are often overworked and underresourced. Bob Rae sought to have the motion reflected in government policy. Megan Leslie offered to withdraw her own bill if the Cons would introduce a suicide strategy - signalling a positive willingness to put outcomes ahead of a desire for personal credit.

For the Cons, Harold Albrecht quoted Margaret Somerville in trying to paint suicide as a matter of insufficient spirituality. And Patrick Brown and Merv Tweed, to their credit, commented on the link between homelessness, mental illness and suicide - albeit without any indication that they can push their party to do much on any combination of those issues.

But lest anybody thought the issue might be entirely non-controversial, the vote saw the Bloc's members oppose the motion without having participated in the debate.

Good News Where You Can Get It

Most observers, on being told that they're engaged in potentially destructive activity without meaningful information about its impact, might consider that reason to take a step back rather than claiming victory.

But then, most observers are not Peter Kent. Instead, he responded to Megan Leslie's questions about a lack of information on the impact of tar sands development past and present by saying we should all be satisfied that the Cons have managed to convince the environment commissioner that they might eventually address the information deficit at some point in the future - with any actual policy changes to come only after that.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel challenged Stephen Harper to live up to the Cons' agreement with the NDP's jobs motion. Malcolm Allen questioned the Cons' spin that corporate tax cuts do anything at all to create jobs. Nina Grewal saluted Lieutenant Colonel Harjit Singh Sajjan as the first Sikh in Canada to take command of a regiment. Christine Moore questioned the Cons on the revelation that the cost of their F-35s has now doubled. Charlie Angus and Alexandre Boulerice continued to question the Cons' G8 patronage - with Boulerice's comments on the role of the Prime Minister's Office looking like a particularly fruitful avenue for further exploration. And Don Davies followed up on the scandal surrounding Prince Edward Island's nominee program with a series of adjournment questions on immigration.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Climenhaga responds to the Cons' union-bashing in the guise of accountability by pointing out who actually exerts disproportionate influence under a cloak of secrecy:
(M)aybe the bright light of a freshly charged forensic accountant's flashlight would be just the thing to shine on the books of private corporations who benefit from tax breaks and subsidies. This goes double for "think tanks" like the Fraser Institute and the Frontier Centre (neither of which are anything more than market-fundamentalist PR agencies) and AstroTurf groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (which does not represent the interests of taxpayers) and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (which does not represent the interests of independent businesses).
(U)nions have little to fear from more modest reporting requirements similar to those faced by public companies. After all, as Stanford correctly points out, most unions disclose their audited financial statements to an elected board of directors anyway, whence they are distributed to local executives, and upon request to members.

Of course, not all unions do things that way. Many publish their complete audited financial results, in spite of the fact this is not required by law, and distribute them to 100 per cent of their membership. Any member of the public, of course, may access that information. Such complete openness seems to do them no harm.

On the other hand, right-wing think tankers, secretive AstroTurf "federations" and companies that hide behind the fact their shares are not traded publicly have plenty to fear, especially from the extreme level of reporting that would be required by the union-hating plotters in the PMO.

Well, maybe it's time that they be required to behave in an open fashion too? If so, Hiebert's rules would be an excellent place to start.

Indeed, wide open corporate and propaganda institute reporting would be a worthwhile demand for the young people who are this week protesting against the depredations of the 1 per cent who own and manipulate everything around the world.
- Chantal Hebert suggests that the Occupy movement should focus on voting instead of direct activism. pogge recognizes that there's plenty of need for improvement on both fronts.

- Aaron Wherry wonders whether more sitting days for Parliament and Canada's legislatures might allow for better debate - and ideally, greater public confidence in the political process.

- Meanwhile, after years of the Cons torquing every procedural measure they can think of to stifle debate, it's a plus to see the NDP Official Opposition fighting back. Though it's all the better when the Cons' attempts to dictate the terms of Canada's political coversation backfire on their own.

On boomerang effects

Accusing one's opponents of having a hidden agenda has become a matter of standard-issue political strategy. But accusing one's opponents of having a hidden agenda identical to one's own takes rather more creativity. And chutzpah. And contortionism.

So kudos to the Sask Party for at least introducing some novelty into Saskatchewan's election campaign. But I'm really not sure they've thought through the message.

Because if we assume the Sask Party is right in claiming that Dwain Lingenfelter's deepest, darkest political secret is that he could turn out to be Brad Wall...well, that's more a scathing indictment of a disconnect between Wall and the province than an endorsement of the current premier. And voters would have every reason to respond to that choice by voting for the prospect of something better, rather than the certainty of four more years of Wall.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Dan Gardner eviscerates the Cons for their stubborn insistence on mandatory minimum sentences in even the most ridiculous of cases:
Imagine a university student living in a rented apartment with her boyfriend, suggests University of Toronto criminologist Tony Doob. She grows a single marijuana plant. She rolls a joint for her and her boyfriend. And just like that she's a "trafficker" subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of nine months in jail.

Are these outcomes simple, clear, and predictable? Hardly. They're shocking as hell. But mandatory minimums have a nasty tendency to do that.

Remember the infamous case of the pizza thief sent to prison for life in California? The law didn't say "pizza thieves shall get a life sentence." The law said anyone convicted of a third felony would get a life sentence. Pizza theft is normally a misdemeanour. But that poor sap had committed previous felonies and a different law said that petty theft committed by anyone convicted of felonies must be prosecuted as a felony. So misdemeanour pizza theft became his third felony and he was sent to prison for life - an outcome almost everyone thought was insane.
(M)andatory minimums don't actually do away with discretion.

They merely transfer it from judges, by restricting their ability to choose the sentence, to prosecutors, who choose the charge. The system is still ambiguous, uncertain, and unpredictable. It's just ambiguous, uncertain, and unpredictable in a different way.

Mandatory minimums are a fraud.
- Adrienne Clarkson profiles Rathika Sitsabaiesan's journey from refugee to MP - precisely at a time when Canadians are being asked to crack down on such new arrivals.

- Yes, it's impressive to see even Mark Carney taking a positive view of the Occupy movement. But let's wait to see whether that recognition is reflected in the monetary policy Carney coordinates with a government far more inclined toward empty words than any meaningful action to ensure a fairer or more stable economy.

- Finally, Paul Krugman points out that institutions tend to generate patterns of behaviour - meaning that an utter refusal to acknowledge obvious misconduct both figures to reflect greater problems that already exist, and creates an expectation that even worse actions will go similarly unaddressed. Insert Tony Clement reference here.

Selective personal responsibility

Shorter Tasha Kheiriddin:

It's utterly unfair to protest the leaders of the cult of short-sighted corporate greed. After all, they couldn't have done half as much damage if they hadn't attracted so many followers.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Monday Morning 'Rider Blogging

At the very least, the Saskatchewan Roughriders' 2011 playoff hopes ended in a game where the team started to show what it could accomplish under the right circumstances.

After three weeks of utter offensive futility, the 'Riders put together scads of productive drives, with Darian Durant, Andy Fantuz, Weston Dressler and Wes Cates all posting solid individual performances. The defence was largely effective in keeping the Lions from following suit, forcing Travis Lulay into a low-percentage pass offence and keeping B.C.'s running game relatively quiet. And the special teams nearly kept pace with their Lion counterparts - making for a particularly impressive accomplishment for Chris Milo in matching up against the CFL's most ruthlessly efficient kicker.

But once again, the 'Riders couldn't build on that base of basic competence with a single big play to tilt the score in their favour. A couple of 'Rider defensive backs were able to jump passes, but none were able to hold onto one to put points on the board. While B.C.'s single deep completion of the game saw Arland Bruce waltz into the end zone, the 'Riders' resulted in Dressler's momentum carrying him out of bounds with nothing but green space between himself and the end zone. And another quick strike to Andrew Harris effectively put the game out of reach.

Which means that we should enjoy the taste of what the 'Riders' current group can do in 2011 - as it's now time to focus less on the familiar, and more on sorting through younger players to see who might have a future with the team. And hopefully there will be enough big plays mixed in with the inevitable rookie mistakes to give the organization something to look forward to.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Helpful Tip of the Day

Jim Flaherty, fresh off of five years of claiming that Canada's recession, deficits and increased unemployment levels are all the result of international forces beyond his control as a mere finance minister, is now telling Canadians it's utterly pointless to protest corporate control since we're completely free of any influences which might serve to increase inequality. Thanks, Deficit Jim!

Parliament In Review: October 3, 2011

Monday, October 3 saw another day dedicated largely to debate of the Cons' anti-refugee bill.

The Big Issue

As might be expected after several days of debate, the Cons' single set of poorly-reasoned talking points was beginning to get stale. And Kevin Lamoureux nicely highlighted the absurdity of the Cons' reading off scripted messages rather than participating in a debate over a serious policy issue.

But the opposition parties weren't without some more important points to make.

The most important observation may have been Glenn Thibault's commentary on how the anti-refugee bill also attacks current Canadian residents, allowing for the indefinite detention of any foreign national based on mere "suspicion" of a crime:
Think carefully about what this would mean. This provision would mean that any person in Canada who is not a citizen can become detained on the mere suspicion of criminality, with no need for proof or evidence. Simple suspicion would become enough to not only arrest but to also indefinitely detain people.

The rule of law in a democracy is founded on the principle that the police's powers of arrest and detention are only legitimate if there are reasonable grounds for arrest; specifically, the notion of reasonable grounds means that there must be an objective component to the notion of suspicion. This objective component is met by evidence. Suspicion alone is subjective. There would be no way to prove whether that suspicion is warranted or not, and this would leave the system open to abuse.
Meanwhile, Francois Lapointe challenged the Cons to put more effort into catching actual smugglers rather than attacking the refugees who are all too easily exploited, then pointed out that an Australian process which similarly failed to provide any appeal for refugee claimants was found to be illegal. Ted Hsu and Jean Crowder duly mocked the Cons' argument that refugees fleeing an abusive government would read up on Canadian legislation or base their decision on price points, while Dennis Bevington pointed out the real damage to Canada's reputation if we're seen as disapproving of immigrants. Hsu also questioned the cost involved in what's sure to be a legal challenge to the Cons' bill. Paulina Ayala noted that immigrant communities are in fact relatively safe and productive rather than posing the threat claimed by the Cons. And Jinny Sims noted that actual smugglers aren't targeted at all by the bill, since they already face the maximum possible penalty under Canadian law.

Upper Chamber Music

The other bill discussed on the day was the Cons' Senate tinkering bill, which also featured a few noteworthy interventions. Claude Gravelle documented a few of Stephen Harper's past criticisms of the chamber he's now seeking to further empower, and highlighted the abuse of public money by senators working as fund-raisers and campaign managers. Stephane Dion pointed out that a provincial-based system for electing senators would likely lead Senate elections to be funded by the corporate cash that's been removed from the federal electoral system. Hsu and Dennis Bevington both noted that the provision to have the Prime Minister consider the results of an election provides exactly zero substantive change from the status quo. And Randall Garrison repeatedly questioned who in the world would consider a costly and unfairly-distributed second chamber as a plus if they had the opportunity to design an electoral system from scratch.

From the Cons' side, James Bexan and Blaine Calkins slammed the concept of proportional representation as the "worst thing that could happen to democracy". And Calkins apparently considers the fact that NDP and Lib candidates haven't run in Senate elections as a reason to favour them.

Back and Forth

The Cons presented a ways and means motion to implement their budget. And after confusing matters by briefly opposing the Cons' budget legislation, the Bloc resumed their previous support of the Cons.

Still No Apologies

In case anybody thought the Cons might concede some mistake in trying to drag a sitting judge in front of a Parliamentary committee, Dean Del Mastro made clear that they'll do no such thing.

In Brief

Chris Charlton introduced a private member's bill to protect seniors' benefits by ensuring that cost-of-living increases in CPP payments aren't then deducted from GIS benefits. Jean Crowder challenged the Cons to provide an actual plan to make child care better available to Canadian families. Jean Rousseau presented a private member's bill to protect Quebec's relative representation while allowing for redistribution of seats in the House of Commons to better reflect population shifts. Charlie Angus continued to point out examples of rule-breaking and political distribution of public money by Tony Clement.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Jim Stanford rightly says that it's long past time for the Occupy movement to refocus our economy in the wake of a free-market-induced crash and stagnation:
In the 1930s, the last time capitalism failed so destructively, radical opposition movements won the day: Demanding both immediate aid for the Depression’s suffering, but also bigger structural changes in the economy. Pressured by these radical forces, governments’ response went well beyond “stimulus.” Instead, government was given powerful, countervailing powers to offset the skewed dominance of business and wealth – everything from unemployment insurance to stronger regulations (aimed especially at finance) to union-friendly labour laws.

This time around, in contrast, the stronger political response to crisis has come from the other direction. Justified by deficits that were the consequence of the meltdown (not its cause), tough-love conservatives have so far seized the offensive. For every socialist out denouncing the failure of capitalism, there have been 10 Tea Partiers on the streets demanding a purer, harder incarnation of it.

The financiers who pushed us over the edge in 2008 are back in business, as profitable as ever. Most of us, meanwhile, can barely keep our heads above water. That teetering imbalance should be a recipe for left-wing revolt. So where is it?

Judging from the spirited, friendly, and optimistic crowds at this weekend’s occupation protests, perhaps that sleeping radical giant has finally been awakened....
In retrospect, the radicalism of the 1930s didn’t exactly charge out of the gates following the 1929 crash. It took years of trial and error, in the context of the continuing failure of the economy to fix itself, before the left really got going. So perhaps the current occupations will come to constitute, for this decade, something like the 1935 On to Ottawa March was to the 1930s. It started out as a small, rag-tag expression of frustration over years of human hardship. It came to symbolize a powerful, broad demand for change, influential far beyond its numbers.
- Michael Geist worries that the Cons' commitment to open government may be shutting down in a hurry now that they hold a majority.

- Bruce Johnstone points out that the Cons' decades of work to tear down the Canadian Wheat Board apparently haven't included any effort to plan to transition away from a single-desk model - which only figures to exacerbate the damage they'll do in abolishing it.

- Erin notes that the Sask Party's math skills are only looking more and more pitiful as Saskatchewan's election campaign progresses.

- Finally, both Laurie Monsebraaten and Malcolm write about the difficulties facing former NDP MP Dan Heap and his wife Alice - with a particular focus on the much more difficult circumstances which surely face many more less prominent citizens without the same resources as a relatively prosperous couple with two dozen relatives ready and able to pitch in at a moment's notice.

Not this again

Mike Moffatt is just the latest to engage in the thoroughly tiresome habit of painting a Nordic-model tax system as a panacea for reducing inequality while utterly ignoring the massive structural differences that make such a model work - not to mention the role that business and government have played in exacerbating those differences in North America.

But I'll challenge Moffatt and his cadre to embrace the full model. Please, please do start backing increased unionization rates and worker input into industrial policy - and then we can start taking the associated tax theory seriously.

Update: Also, what pogge said.