Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your afternoon reading.

- Stephen Maher exhorts the Cons to stop stifling democratic debate, featuring a strong point by NDP MP Jack Harris:
When Harris was first elected to Parliament in 1987, he said, and Brian Mulroney had a majority, the government regularly adopted opposition amendments.

"We don't expect you to adopt every one of our amendments," he said. "We'd like you to, but we don't expect you to. We expect you to listen to them with respect. We expect you to consider them seriously and we would hope that you would adopt some of them that are either improvements to the bill, because you haven't thought of those things or you're willing to consider new ideas. That's not a bad thing."
...
It is easy for politicians to take advice from obsequious underlings and pass their time bragging, cutting ribbons, handing out cheques and receiving respectful applause. But it is dangerous to believe your own press releases, and wise to listen carefully to your critics.

The Conservatives have a majority. They should get over themselves and let the opposition MPs do their (expletive) jobs.
- Meanwhile, Chris Cobb highlights another perverse effect of the Cons' dumb-on-crime legislation. And Boris rightly slams another draconian bit of legislation that's far too likely to pass as a Con private member's bill absent some strong public outcry.

- JJ points to Chris Hayes' scoop about the effort of Republican-connected lobbyists to attack the Occupy movement on behalf of banksters.

- Dave Johnson highlights a few of the services that should be kept public - but have all too often been privatized based on the right's desire to hand over free profits to the corporate sector.

- Finally, a couple of new sources to watch in Saskatchewan: Slim Evans, featuring a review of some of the points the Saskatchewan NDP can stand to improve in the years to come; and an effort to Stop John Gormley.

Leadership 2012: Coming Attractions

With the Saskatchewan election over and a personal move soon to be completed, I'll be covering the NDP's leadership race in much more detail in the very near future. And based on the pace of coverage even in the early stages of the campaign, I won't pretend to be able to catch and comment on every article or column addressing the race.

But I'll give some advance notice of a couple of features which are coming soon.

First, while acknowledging that there's always some danger in discussing politics as a sport rather than a matter of democratic governance, I'll plan to unveil my own purely subjective leadership rankings - not as a matter of endorsement, but of tracking who appears to have the most plausible path to the leadership at any given point in the campaign.

Second, I'll expand on my previous summaries with detailed (and regularly updated) candidate profiles.

On both fronts, I'm highly interested to see what campaigns are up to at any given time. Again, I won't be able to comment on all events as they arise, but I'm well aware that the key goal for every candidate at this point will be to reach and convince the NDP's actual and potential membership. So please feel free to send updates to the e-mail to the right, and I'll take into account what I see from each campaign in discussing the race as it evolves.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Marc Lee presents an alternative economic vision to the capital-first-and-only approach that currently serves as conventional wisdom.

- Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson suggests five philosophical principles that can help the NDP to form government in 2015 on a social democratic platform:
More – not less – public investment is needed to increase private sector productivity and future economic growth.

Expanding public programs is a more equitable, and also a much more cost effective, way to provide the services we all need.

Expanding public programs is key to shoring up an equal opportunity, middle class society.

We need a strong and productive private sector as well.

Unions shape an equal society.
- And Ken Georgetti expands on the last point:
The people who have been occupying financial districts in Canadian and American cities are motivated by anger over the glaring economic unfairness that exists in our society. The labour movement welcomes what these young people camping outdoors in tents are saying -- because we have said the very same thing for many years.
...
Unions have traditionally contributed to a healthy middle class in a number of ways. They limited to some degree the share of total national income that goes to corporate profits. That corporate share now is near a record high in Canada and the U.S. as the bargaining power of unions has weakened.

Unions have also been able to narrow the pay gap between senior managers and professionals and the rest of the workforce. There is certainly a need for income differentials to compensate employees for taking jobs that require greater skills, effort and responsibility, but the pay gap has risen to absurd levels. As recently as 1995, the average pay of Canada's highest paid 50 CEOs was 85 times the pay of the average worker. Just 15 years later, their average compensation had skyrocketed to 219 times the pay of the average worker.

Unions are also successful in reducing systemic wage gaps in workplaces. Being in a union means better wages for women, workers of colour, aboriginal people and people with disabilities.

It is also true that the more equal wage structure in unionized workplaces will set wage and benefit standards that spill over into non-union workplaces. Those non-union workers tend to be better paid when they live in communities with a critical mass of unionized workers earning decent wages. Experts at the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have confirmed the labour movement's argument that the single best mechanism to narrow the income gap is broad-based collective bargaining.

The final and most important reason why countries with strong labour movements are more equal is that unions advocate for government policies that benefit all working people, not just their own members. Employers, especially large employers, tend to be hostile to unions because we challenge their power in the workplace and the wider society. Beginning 30 years ago, government policies that shifted power and wealth to those who already had more set the stage for today's growing inequity.
- So of course it shouldn't be hard to tell who stands to benefit as Brad Wall and his government keep on attacking unions.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Musical interlude

Audioholics - External Key

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- pogge rightly questions the Cons' continued efforts to have decisions made by ministerial fiat rather than through public debate.

- Glen McGregor eviscerates Brian Lilley's thoroughly inaccurate attack on Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.

- Murray Mandryk suggests that Saskatchewan's New Democratic Party needs to remove the "democratic" part of its identity in choosing a new leader. But I'm not sure how the concept of a top-down "leadership vetting process" is supposed to be seen as an improvement from a vote among members, especially as a response to a leadership campaign where the establishment favourite was able to clear the field in large part thanks to the impression of impenetrable institutional support.

- Finally, in the good news department, CBC reports that at least one person who arrived at Occupy Saskatoon mostly out of a need for temporary housing found along the way that it's worth working for the group's cause of greater equality.

Compare and contrast

One Western premier has some perspective on what a provincial leader can expect to accomplish on the global stage:
She regretted, but didn't condemn, the Obama administration's decision to delay approval of the mega-project until after 2013. And she displayed refreshing humility about her own power to change minds in Washington.

"To presume that somehow the premier of Alberta could come into this city and absolutely change the course of an independent regulatory process that's conducted over six government departments is a little too rich for me," she said. A welcome show of honesty, after decades of various federal and provincial blowhards going south to wave their tiny fists.
Needless to say, Saskatchewan's premier is rather in the latter category.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Charlie Angus' concerns about the Cons' Albany Club schmoozing nicely parallel my take on the entire lobbying apparatus they've built up:
Mr. Angus said the Albany Club reception is an example of the kind of informal lobbying, through cozy relationships, that has grown under Mr. Harper’s watch.

“My concern with lobbying isn’t the person who comes and knocks on the door of an MP’s office and dutifully records, it’s the people who have access to power, it’s the people who have access to the back rooms and the private clubs, those are the people who can be much more effective as lobbyists and they’re technically not even lobbying, by just opening doors, and that’s the disturbing part.”
- Tim Harper slams the Cons' rhetoric that any dissent is to be equated with treason, while Allan Gregg suggests an alternative to the Harper model of talking-point politics.

- But John Ivison, who should know better, makes the bizarre argument that we should give a pass to the Cons' current anti-democratic abuses because they've committed worse in the past.

- Finally, George Monbiot discusses the self-attribution fallacy and its application to the sense of entitlement held by the ultra-wealthy:
This is not to suggest that all executives are psychopaths. It is to suggest that the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills. As the bosses have shaken off the trade unions and captured both regulators and tax authorities, the distinction between the productive and rentier upper classes has broken down. CEOs now behave like dukes, extracting from their financial estates sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the businesses they parasitise. They are no more deserving of the share of wealth they’ve captured than oil sheikhs.

The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are the chosen ones, possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as wealth creators. But they have preyed upon the earth’s natural wealth and their workers’ labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

What has happened over the past 30 years is the capture of the world’s common treasury by a handful of people, assisted by neoliberal policies which were first imposed on rich nations by Thatcher and Reagan.
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Until recently, we were mesmerised by the bosses’ self-attribution. Their acolytes, in academia, the media, think tanks and government, created an extensive infrastructure of junk economics and flattery to justify their seizure of other people’s wealth. So immersed in this nonsense did we become that we seldom challenged its veracity.

This is now changing. On Sunday evening I witnessed a remarkable thing: a debate on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral between Stuart Fraser, chairman of the Corporation of the City of London, another official from the Corporation, the turbulent priest Father William Taylor, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network and the people of Occupy London. It had something of the flavour of the Putney debates of 1647. For the first time in decades – and all credit to the Corporation officials for turning up – financial power was obliged to answer directly to the people.

It felt like history being made. The undeserving rich are now in the frame, and the rest of us want our money back.

The upward trajectory

Alice posts the latest NDP membership numbers, showing a sharp spike in several regions of the country even before the leadership campaign has started in earnest. And the immediate growth looks to have the potential both to significantly change the calculations involved for the NDP leadership contenders, and set a base to start boosting the party's still-uninspiring fund-raising totals.

But it's particularly worth noting that aside from Quebec, the two provinces with the strongest growth were Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador. After all, both of those provinces saw provincial election campaigns this fall which could have pushed the numbers in either direction - upward based on greater public attention to politics, or downward based on the provincial parties' priority being a get-out-the-vote operation rather than membership-building. And the fact that the former consideration looks to have overwhelmed the latter bodes extremely well for the party as the leadership campaign takes centre stage in Canada's political conversation.

Meanwhile, the lone bad news came from Alberta, where as the National Post noted the party's membership dropped substantially. And based on the need for a stronger counterweight to Con dominance on both the provincial and federal scenes, I have to wonder whether the growth potential in Alberta from this point forward might be higher than in any other province aside from Quebec.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Walkom suggests that the systematic eviction of Occupy camps from Canadian cities may only help the movement to evolve from its first form:
City administrations in places like Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver are inadvertently handing demonstrators something they desperately need — a way to honourably end stage one of their protest and build on it something more pointed.

As a short-term tactic, the decision to occupy parks in order to draw attention to global inequality was spectacularly successful.

In a world buffeted by recession, it focused public attention on the epicentre of the economic crisis — the global financial system.
...
There must be an end point at which those involved in the action can say: Yes we won something. Not everything, maybe, but something.

In cities like Halifax and London, Ont., where the occupy movements have been expelled from public parks, city officials provided that end point. Depending on how a superior court judge rules Saturday, Toronto protesters may face the same fate.

Yet none of this need spell defeat for the occupiers. They now have a chance to strengthen their fragile alliances with other organizations, such as labour unions, that are dissatisfied with inequality in Canadian life.

More important, they can now redirect their energies toward the specific elements of Canadian political economy that encourage such inequalities — from the tax code to municipal outsourcing to the provincial welfare system to the federal government’s war on labour.
- Don Drummond points out that there's plenty to be done to improve Canadian health care besides giving in to the right's relentless demands to privatize.

- Yes, it's outrageous that the Cons are raiding the Canadian Wheat Board's contingency fund (which would otherwise have been distributed to farmers) to pay a small portion of the costs of demolishing the CWB's single desk on its way to being sold off. But it's well worth noting the more basic point that the existence of a fund which gives farmers a share of the benefits of commodity arbitrage is the type of collective benefit that will be lost as the CWB is thrown on the mercy of the market.

- Finally, Ben Christopher notes that labour and management alike are aghast at the Cons' attacks on Canadian unions.

On selective funding

Most of the focus on this story has been based on the exclusion of opposition parties from global climate talks. But the bigger scandal should be who the Cons are willing to fund to attend:
Canada's delegation will include members of the governing Conservative Party, as well as business leaders and other experts.

Taxpayers will still pick up the tab for the official delegation, but Mr. Kent said the group will be smaller than in past years.

The Evironment Minister added that he does not see any value in bringing along his political rivals.
So while the Cons are gleefully shutting out elected MPs from a global discussion of climate change, they're entirely willing to fund the corporate sector - surely the last group which needs to lobby on the public dime - in presenting a united front against any meaningful action. Which signals that the Cons' interest isn't in efficiency so much as exerting as much negative impact as possible - and that we have every right to ask why on earth business leaders should be pretending to represent Canada's interests at our expense.

New column day

By all accounts, Brad Wall's greatest political success came when he stood up for Saskatchewan's interests against international capital and the federal government rather than allowing them to run roughshod. This week, I ask why he hasn't done the same more often.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- Paul Dechene is duly scathing in comparing the City of Regina's tax giveaways to big business (which are of course added on top of hundreds of millions in provincial tax abatements) to its utter refusal to provide any benefits to non-profit organizations:
Been thinking about building an office tower downtown but not sure if you can afford it? As reported earlier on the Dog Blog, there’s good news on the horizon for you! Executive Committee is meeting this very day — at this very moment, in fact — to help make your office tower more affordable!

They’re voting on an “economic development incentive for construction of downtown office space” to help stimulate the market. The property tax exemption will amount to a 20 per cent discount for three years for new “Class A” and “Class B” (henceforth referred to as “Super Fancy” and “Pretty Darn Fancy”, respectively) office space.
...
Now, I know what you’re thinking… A 20 per cent discount?? That’s peanuts. That isn’t nearly enough to get me to build a swank, Fancy Nancy Approved tower downtown!

But what if I told you that that 20 per cent is just the tip of the property tax exemption iceberg? If you can attract some head offices into your new building, they’ll be eligible for some pretty significant exemptions as well.

Remember Mosaic, for instance? We wrote about them last December. You know how much property tax is being paid on their portion of the soon-to-be-built Hill Tower III?

Zip! Nada! Nothing!

They got a full one hundred per cent property tax discount — even though at the time they only qualified for an already-hefty 75 per cent discount — because council likes them so much. Now that deal seems to have been cut kind of on the fly, so who knows what kind of sweet deals you and your tenants will be offered.

That is, unless they’re a non-corporate, non-head-office kind of tenant. Those guys can’t count on anything. As we mentioned in the Mosaic piece from December, Souls Harbour sought a tax exemption on some property of theirs but were turned down because no one is even contemplating a tax exemption for their type of work. And more recently, (at the Nov 8 council meeting in fact) the Saskatchewan Abilities Council — a registered charity that helps people with disabilities — requested a tax exemption on some property they own but were turned down for lack of a specific program to grant such an exemption.

But lack of a specific program at the time didn’t stop council from giving Mosaic an extra 25 per cent off their property tax bill, amirite?

I mean, it’s not like non-profits and all their do-goodery contribute anything to the community in the form of dollars and cents.
- Greg Weston points out that Canada has much more to lose than supply management by participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership - including the few points it refused to concede to the U.S. through NAFTA.

- And as Michael Den Tandt notes, those apparent concessions - sold as being the result of our lacking any bargaining power - are utterly unnecessary given Canada's importance for the U.S.' economy.

- Finally, it's great to see Canadians are fairly skeptical of political advertising. But I'd be curious to see how ads affect viewers in ways they may not appreciate at the time - particularly in the case of long-term negative campaigns which seem to be depressingly effective at branding leaders even when their content isn't seen as accurate or reasonable.

Now 2-Tier Health Care

Having linked to Allen Thompson's column on the Cons' immigration crackdown this morning, let's note one of the significant changes the Cons are making for medium-term Canadian residents (emphasis added):
Second – The government is introducing the new "“Parent and Grandparent Super Visa,”" which will be valid for up to 10 years. The multiple-entry visa will allow an applicant to remain in Canada for up to 24 months at a time without the need for renewal of their status...Parent and Grandparent Super Visa applicants will be required to obtain private Canadian health-care insurance for their stay in Canada.
So what impact does that requirement (which doesn't seem to exist for other forms of immigration figure to have on the makeup of Canada in the future? Most obviously, it will set up financial barriers for immigrants who would otherwise have a chance to reunite with family in Canada, ensuring that nobody gets into the country without enough spare wealth to buy private insurance.

But more striking are the potential structural consequences.

By imposing a mandatory system which provides easy business for private health insurers, the Cons will give a greater toe-hold to such insurers within Canada's health care system. And by decreeing that medium-term residents of Canada will be excluded from the social benefits of health care and thus left to fend for themselves, the Cons are taking a bite out of the principle of universality - which will presumably make it easier for them to tell the same immigrant communities later that the principle isn't worth defending.

Which is to say that the Cons' regressive immigration policy may end up damaging much more than just our reputation for openness to new arrivals. And it's well worth pushing back against that result.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Frances Russell laments Stephen Harper's determination to replace democracy with court rule:
Pierre Trudeau started it. Stephen Harper is finishing it off.

The "it" is the effective demise of parliamentary democracy and the installation of "court government" ruled by an all-powerful prime minister and his hand-picked, unelected, unaccountable "courtiers."

Fiercely partisan, these "courtiers," like their medieval predecessors, have only one purpose: to protect, advance and polish the image of the "king" -- the prime minister.

Not only are formal and traceable lines of policy-making and accountability gone, but parliamentary government has been turned on its head. The prime minister doesn't account to Parliament; Parliament accounts to -- serves -- the prime minister.
...
There are other, more egregious examples: routine in-camera motions muzzling parliamentary committees and their opposition members, routine closure motions introduced simultaneously with all legislation.

But, Wiseman says, the prime minister's most dangerous undermining of Parliament to date was former governor general Michaƫlle Jean's decision to grant Harper prorogation in December 2008 to stave off parliamentary defeat.

"Canada's Parliament," according to the director of the Constitution Unit at University College, London, "is more dysfunctional than any of the other Westminster parliaments," he continues. "No prime minister in any Commonwealth country with a governor general, until Harper, has ever sought prorogation to avoid a vote of confidence. Only in Canada has a government secured the prorogation of Parliament to save itself from political defeat and only in Canada has the governor general been party to it."
- Glen McGregor rightly asks whether the Cons will repay riding-level reimbursements affected by their in-and-out guilty plea. And it's hard to see how they could escape that consequence when - as I noted here - they've admitted as a party that the scheme resulted in riding associations claiming those expenses without ever paying a dime.

- Allen Thompson points out that the Cons' immigration clampdown is based on trying to set a reduced value on parents and grandparents. But the most striking change is the fact that the value of extended family has effectively been set at zero for the time being, thanks to the Cons' refusal to allow any new applications.

- Finally, Kim MacRael reports on the Cons' latest gratuitous dumb-on-crime posturing which figures to deliberately make Canada's criminal justice system less effective:
Prisoners who are placed in segregation as a form of punishment could also be denied visits from family and friends under the federal anti-crime bill, a measure the Canadian Bar Association calls “mean-spirited” and counterproductive.
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The bill proposes fundamental changes to the way inmates are treated behind prison walls, including the elimination of a rule requiring administrators to impose the least restrictive measures necessary on prisoners. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the committee this fall the changes are based on recommendations from guards and would “modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries.”

Under the legislation, administrators could limit visits to those being punished with solitary confinement for up to 30 days at a time.

Michael Jackson, a member of the Canadian Bar Association’s committee on imprisonment and release, said the plan runs counter to research on prisoner behaviour. “Segregation tends to ratchet up prisoners’ anger and makes them more difficult to control, [and] allowing visitors is one way of trying to alleviate it,” he said.

Mr. Jackson pointed to a 2008 study from Florida State University researchers that found prisoners who were visited by family and friends were less likely to reoffend. “To say we’re going to toughen up conditions by taking away visits is very mean-spirited and it doesn’t make correctional sense,” he said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cuddling cats.



On first steps

It's undoubtedly great news to see that the NDP is making strides in its Quebec membership numbers even before its leadership campaign has started in earnest.

But it's worth being cautious about talk of tripling the party's membership from a base which had almost nowhere to go but up. And between the efforts of MPs to build their ridings and leadership candidates appealing to new NDP voters, we shouldn't consider it out of the question for the numbers to triple another couple of times over by the time the NDP's next leader is elected.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Yes, there's plenty of reason for outrage that the Cons are selling access to cabinet ministers through a high-priced club. But this isn't the first time Con cabinet ministers have dedicated their profile to the interests of reactionary interest groups, and it surely won't be the last.

- And it surely shouldn't come as any surprise that the Cons' attacks on institutions they despise such as the CBC are no less brazen - now to the point of apparent illegality.

- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt offers a reminder of a time when the Prime Minister responsible for an all-out crackdown on independent thought in his party was himself seen as a relatively thoughtful back-bencher.

- Finally, Erin points out that for all the spin that all talk about royalty reviews being put off indefinitely by this fall's election results, the Sask Party and its allies look to have recognized their own vulnerability on the issue.

Parliament In Review: October 25, 2011

Tuesday, October 25 saw another day of discussion about the Canadian Wheat Board. But this time, the topic of debate was set on the opposition's terms, as the proceedings focused on Niki Ashton's motion calling to allow grain producers to vote for themselves as to the Wheat Board's future rather than having their single desk trashed by fiat.

The Big Issue

The passage of the day goes to Djaouida Sellah on how Ashton's motion fits into the Cons' broader contempt for democracy:
The motion asks the government to do three things: consult, step back and accept. The government needs much more practice in order to excel at these activities. I hope it will start practising right now.
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I was not joking when I said I was rising to defend democracy. In case the government has not noticed, people are currently demanding their right to speak. They want their voices to be heard. A stunt like this only fuels public cynicism about our respectable institutions. The government has to listen to reason and hear the voice of the people. It has to take a step back and accept the verdict handed down by the farmers.

This government has to stop showing contempt for the public. It has to stop looking down on those who do not share its views. Democracy is much more than just winning elections. Democracy is about holding ongoing discussions with the public. I do not mean it is about controlling the message, as the Prime Minister's Office does; it is about listening to the needs and opinions of the public.
And Linda Duncan wondered what happened to the Cons' one-time claim to care about transparency and grassroots democracy.

Meanwhile, Jamie Nicholls questioned the Cons' use of "life, liberty and property" (see e.g. Brad Trost) as reflecting a deliberate change in Canada's social values, while Pierre Dionne Labelle listed a few examples of the Cons' efforts to destroy collective institutions. Kennedy Stewart pointed out that the Cons' actions were contrary to both the outcome and process of democracy. Frank Valeriote criticized the Cons' anti-democratic "resistance is futile" message. Wayne Easter noted that the other cooperative institutions (such as provincial wheat pools) which once offered the collective benefits of the Wheat Board have since been thoroughly corporatized. Carol Hughes asked about the effect on food security of undermining the Wheat Board, while also expressing concern about the continued erosion of family farming and wondering about the effects of granting yet more power to international megacorporations. Ted Hsu noted that the business sector often sets up what amount to single-desk structures as a means of achieving the best possible price for a product.

And on the Cons' side, Mike Lake cited the Cons' election results in a few ridings as the only votes the Cons needed to justify trashing the Wheat Board. But it can't escape notice that one of the ridings he pointed to was Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette - home of MP Robert Sopuck and his criticism of exactly what the Cons are doing:
The Tories have tried to eliminate the single desk and rejig how wheat board directors are elected, but Sopuck said only farmers should decide what happens to the wheat board.

"There's a lot of support for the wheat board over all parts of the political spectrum from left to right," said Sopuck.
Money Is No Object

I'm sure Peter MacKay thought he was sticking to his ideological guns in defending his party's insistence on pushing ahead with the purchase of F-35s even as other countries are backing off in droves. But his exact response to questions about the value for money involved in the purchase is probably worth framing for future reference:
Mr. Matthew Kellway (Beaches—East York, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, this minister has no answers.

His “just trust me” approach has gone from incredibly hopeful to ridiculously irresponsible as the government moves ever closer to blowing the budget on these jets that do not even work.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Officer has already pegged the cost overruns at a staggering $53 million per plane. How many more millions is this minister planning to spend to get working radios on these things, and how much more is he going to spend so that they can land?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, there is the difference. This is a government that is prepared to spend millions on important equipment that saves lives and provides mission success for members of the Canadian armed forces. That is the difference.
So the answer to how much more the Cons will spend to force through the purchase seems to be...whatever it takes to be able to claim to have bought something. Which looks like an ideal way to ensure that the Canadian public will be utterly ripped off - and all while failing to do more to support Canada's military than could be done through a remotely rational purchasing process.

In Brief

At the same time as the Keystone XL pipeline earns headlines on both sides of the border, Pierre Jacob questioned the Cons about a pipeline leak in his own riding. Nycole Turmel asked about Peter Kent's involvement in Tony Clement's G8 patronage scandal. Tyrone Benskin pointed out the Cons' concerted effort to avoid recognizing the CBC's 75th anniversary. Joy Smith spoke to her private member's bill, which (unlike the Cons' government-based attack on refugees) actually cracks down on human trafficking rather than immigration generally - and earned opposition support as a result. Joyce Murray provided evidence that the Cons' dumb on crime strategy is destined to be a miserable failure, only to be met with the Cons' unwillingness to countenance anything of the sort. In response to Francoise Boivin's question, Diane Finley went into some detail about the Cons' plan to shift social priorities into the big-money charitable sector. And Matthew Dube noted the debt burden and lack of opportunity facing new graduates.

[Edit: fixed date.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Purple Library Guy nicely sums up how the financial industry has become completely detached from anything that could be considered useful in generating real economic growth:
When you abstract something, it tends to make it possible to do it on a larger scale, with more complexity. And originally, that's what finance was for. With the abstraction of money as a fungible claim on wealth, there were a lot of games you could play to arrange for the stuff you wanted done to claim the wealth needed to do it, at the right time, on the right scale, in theoretically arbitrary places.

But if you can do that, you can play games for other purposes. Increasingly nowadays the financial sector does not operate to enhance investment in genuine production. Rather, it acts first as a rentier and second to create money and paper profits, out of nothing, that are re-invested in nothing but more paper profits.
...
(F)inance capital makes nothing. Rather, it steals. It makes up new money in the finance capitalists' hands, reducing the value of that held by traditional capitalists through a form of inflation in financial assets. In a way it's like a kind of really large scale counterfeiting. That's one reason why all the bubbles. One thing that almost makes it worse is that the tricks are mostly not very stable, as we've noticed; the apparent value is apt to disappear as soon as enough people lose confidence that it really exists.

Capitalism is a system I don't much like, but it is a system for doing real things that can generate real productivity gains, technological advance and so on. Its claims to be the only possible such system are specious. But finance capitalism isn't even a system. It's a method for cannibalizing an existing system, rendering it for its value until nothing but the bones are left. When finance capital becomes dominant, capitalism has serious crises. And finance capital has probably never been as dominant as it is today.
- Thomas Walkom offers up a few lessons for Stephen Harper based on his utter failure to sell the Keystone XL pipeline south of the border:
The first is that, politically, the environment still matters. Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have successfully ignored environmental critics at home. But, as the U.S. president’s abrupt reversal on the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrates, such critics still wield considerable clout in countries that Canada is desperate to do business with.

The second is that continental energy integration — a long-standing dream of both the Conservative Party and its allies in the oil industry — is neither as simple nor advisable as it might seem.
- Peter Thurley points out who stands to suffer most from the Cons' crackdown on refugees.

- Finally, John Warnock notes that Saskatchewan's voter turnout - already unimpressive based on the numbers released by Elections Saskatchewan - looks much worse when taking into account unenumerated citizens of voting age.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Leadership 2012 Links

A few updates on the NDP's leadership campaign...

First, there's Pierre Ducasse's take on what he's looking for in a candidate - including various factors which might point to numerous candidates ultimately winning his support:



Meanwhile, Ipsos Reid offers up the latest polling on the Canadian political scene, and confirms that the NDP has had no trouble convincing voters that it's the real alternative to the Cons even as its leadership campaign is just getting started.

And finally, Cathryn Atkinson at Rabble has posted a new set of leadership links and resources - including committee and voting information from the contenders in Parliament. Which looks like a useful enough set of information to make the cut for my own reference page.

Parliament In Review: October 24, 2011

Monday, October 24 saw another day dedicated largely to discussion on the Canadian Wheat Board - with the Cons simultaneously declaring that there's nothing to debate and failing to respond to the concerns pointed out repeatedly by the opposition, while a few extra points against the bill found their way into the conversation.

The Big Issue

Perhaps the most noteworthy development in the debate was an observation as to one of the main contrasts between the Wheat Board as it stands and the shell the Cons want to leave to be demolished over the next few years, as Wayne Easter repeatedly questioned why the Cons' legislation would fire all of the directors actually elected by farmers while leaving their own anti-CWB appointees in place - particularly those with a direct stake in destroying the Wheat Board due to their interests in its competitors.

Meanwhile, Pat Martin slammed the complete lack of evidence, planning or competent management in the Cons' determination to trash the Wheat Board as quickly as possible before pointing out plenty of evidence that farmers benefit from the Wheat Board as it stands. Andrew Scheer rejected Wayne Easter's argument that the Cons' legislation violates the privilege of MPs. Yvon Godin repeatedly called for the Cons to keep their promise to allow farmers a vote on the fate of the Wheat Board. Kevin Lamoureux responded to the Cons' "count the seatzzzz!" rhetoric by pointing out how similar arrogance caused the Mulroney PCs to implode in Western Canada. Ryan Cleary noted that Newfoundland is moving toward its own marketing board for fish, while Gerry Byrne raised similar questions about an existing program for freshwater fish. In question period Ralph Goodale asked why the Cons are so eager to see all the most important decisions about Canada's farming industry made by U.S. agribusinesses, while querying whether the Cons would do anything to stop foreign takeovers in the grain industry. And Malcolm Allen pointed out how consistently the rhetoric of "trust the market!" has proven disastrous for ordinary people who end up paying the price for the errors of the corporate sector.

Screen Plays

The other bill discussed at some length was Con MP Patrick Brown's private member's bill to set up a national cancer screening strategy. But while there was little dispute on the substance of the bill, opposition MPs did raise a couple of noteworthy points as to how it fits with the Cons' normal view of health care: Anne Minh-Thu Quach pointed out the need for improvement in the wider health care system rather than the single issue alone, while Hedy Fry noted that the Cons' willingness to take steps toward direct action to combat breast cancer makes it implausible for them to claim they can't do anything about other health issues based on jurisdiction.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel slammed the Cons for bulling ahead with the purchase of F-35s with no regard for whether they'll function in the Arctic. Robert Chisholm again noted the Cons' incompetence in dealing with supposed friends and allies. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe questioned the Cons' determination to direct the spoils of tax-free savings accounts to the people who need them least. And Jean Crowder questioned the Cons' spin that there's reason to cut Service Canada jobs as unnecessary at a time when EI claims are actually rising.

On agreed facts

Most of the commentary on the Cons' publicly-admitted law-breaking has focused on the mere guilty plea itself. (And I'll point to Sixth Estate's post as deserving of a look.) But the agreed statement of facts - which the Cons have equally admitted as true in the process of pleading guilty - tells a far better story than either the plea alone or the (unfortunately) minimal punishment.

After years of denials, the Cons have publicly acknowledged:

- that they allocated expenses to candidate campaigns which not only didn't agree to the arrangement, but weren't even capable of doing so:
The advertising expenses had previously been booked as part of the Party’s national advertising campaign. A number of local campaigns committed to the media buy transfer; however, a number of commitments received and acted upon by Donison were in respect of ridings where no candidate or Official Agent had yet been chosen or confirmed for the riding.
...
Ridings in media market areas in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, in which little or no local or regional media broadcast contracts had been bought for Party advertising, were not accepted as participants in the media buy transfers. Donison later explained this omission to Don Plett, President of the Party National Council. Donison explained the omission of four (4) Manitoba ridings, as being due to the fact that “"we were in the hands of the ad people who had already made the market commitments on Day 1 of the campaign before we decided to do this""."”
- that they persuaded candidate campaigns to participate with the promise of free rebates for money not actually spent:
The selling points used to persuade local campaigns to participate in the media buy were that it was without cost to the local campaigns, because the Fund would be providing the monies, and the promise that the media buy ‘expense’ to the local campaign would be eligible for the 60% rebate of paid election expenses from Elections Canada.
- that the Cons' advertiser fabricated paperwork after the fact to pretend that ad buys originated with candidates' campaigns, even as it continued to operate based on the instructions of the central campaign:
On December 9, RMI rebooked the existing advertising contracts with broadcasters under a new RMI client name, which RMI called “"the Official Agents for Conservative Party candidates"” by means of a standardized email to media outlets. This message identified RMI as the purchasing agent for the Party. Each message said that they needed to “"shift dollars"” from the Party to “"the Official Agents for Conservative Party candidates"”. No specific candidates or ridings were identified. RMI noted that “"(t)his in no way changes the overall commitment we as agents have made on behalf of our clients."” RMI then specified that either “"all weight"” or specified dollar amounts of the “"current bookings"” were to be transferred from Party to the “"new advertiser name"”.
...
When effecting the switch of advertising on December 9, RMI insisted that it was unwilling to deal with each local campaign which would be participating in this regional media buy program. It insisted that all media buys on behalf of candidates pursuant to this program be invoiced to the Party and paid by the Party. RMI received instructions regarding the switching of advertising and payment exclusively from the Party and the Fund.
- that the Cons themselves then manipulated their own numbers to make candidates' contributions match available cap room, rather than corresponding in any way to what any candidate received:
The invoiced media costs were for the media costs as allocated by RMI, or as apportioned by the Party and the Fund for campaigns sharing regional media markets. In two cases in Quebec, Kehoe reduced the invoice costs from RMI amounts to avoid campaigns going over their spending limit. The amounts that could not be invoiced as first planned were then distributed as increased costs to the remaining campaigns.
- and finally, that the Conservative Party and Conservative Fund of Canada both illegally failed to report campaign expenses, including not just the disputed advertising funds but also office expenses - resulting in the Cons overspending their campaign limit:
However, the Party and the Fund admit only that the costs of advertising, including Quebec advertising production costs, that the Fund ought to have reported to Elections Canada, but did not, totalled $9,737,722.11, rather than the $9,174,392.60 that was reported. Thus the Party and Fund admit that the cost of the advertising expenses not reported was $563,329.51.
The cost of the office expenses for the Party offices in Montreal and Quebec City not reported by the Fund in its election expense return of the Party’s national election expenses was $116,250. Thus the Party and the Fund admit that the total amount of expenses that the Fund failed to report to Elections Canada was $679,579.51.
...
Thus the Party and the Fund admit to spending $420,480.15 over the statutory spending limit.
Needless to say, the above admissions go far beyond the Cons' spin about mere administrative technicalities (while looking at the amount of the fine alone largely misses that point). And it's well worth making sure to tell the whole story as to the deception and manipulation which the Cons have now publicly admitted to make sure the Cons face appropriate consequences from the public - rather than seeing the whole dispute as being over the penalty, and making it all the more likely that the Cons will pay no further price for their electoral law-breaking.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to end your weekend.

- Jeffrey Sachs muses that the Occupy movement may just be the beginning of a sea change in American politics:
Both parties have joined in crippling the government in response to the demands of their wealthy campaign contributors, who above all else insist on keeping low tax rates on capital gains, top incomes, estates and corporate profits. Corporate taxes as a share of national income are at the lowest levels in recent history. Rich households take home the greatest share of income since the Great Depression. Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose to restore democracy and shared prosperity.

The first age of inequality was the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century, an era quite like today, when both political parties served the interests of the corporate robber barons. The progressive movement arose after the financial crisis of 1893. In the following decades Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson came to power, and the movement pushed through a remarkable era of reform: trust busting, federal income taxation, fair labor standards, the direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.

The second gilded age was the Roaring Twenties. The pro-business administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover once again opened up the floodgates of corruption and financial excess, this time culminating in the Great Depression. And once again the pendulum swung. F.D.R.’s New Deal marked the start of several decades of reduced income inequality, strong trade unions, steep top tax rates and strict financial regulation. After 1981, Reagan began to dismantle each of these core features of the New Deal.

Following our recent financial calamity, a third progressive era is likely to be in the making. This one should aim for three things. The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in Washington.
- It doesn't seem to have registered at all among political commentators. But the Cons' plans to unilaterally reallocate federal health dollars toward Alberta at the expense of other provinces look to make for a significant change for the worse in ensuring that services are available and comparable across Canada:
Under the 2004 accord negotiated by then-prime minister Paul Martin, the provinces were guaranteed that the federal contribution to medicare - known as the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) - would rise annually by six per cent for a decade. This year, the provinces will receive $27 billion through the CHT.

Although the deal bought a measure of political peace with the provinces, not all were entirely pleased.

The agreement, which was agreed to by the former Klein government, pays Alberta approximately $558 per capita (nearly $2 billion in total) compared to a minimum $805 per person for every other province...

Alberta has been calling for equal treatment with the other provinces, and it appears that message has been received in Ottawa.

"The government of Canada is committed to moving to an equal per capital allocation of the CHT as of 2014-15," say the internal documents prepared for Penashue.
And at the same time, the Cons are denying any willingness to take into account either fiscal capacity or actual health care costs in doling out federal money. Which means that while Alberta stands to gain, there will be less money available to fund other provinces - and it's well worth keeping an eye on who ends up losing out.

- But don't bother complaining on Stephen Harper's public Facebook page, as you can count on any dissent being promptly disappeared.

- And finally, Thomas Walkom points out that the Ontario's Liberals haven't done anything to reverse the trend of privatized and less-efficient power generation; instead, their main contribution has been to make the entire process far less transparent to the citizens who will end up footing the bill.