Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Michael Harris comments on Stephen Harper's reckless choice to gamble that Theresa Spence in particular and First Nations issues in general will go away on their own, rather than exhibiting any leadership whatsoever:
Stephen Harper has placed his bet. It is clear from his strategy that he believes he will be going neither to a meeting nor a funeral and that sufficient pressure can be brought to bear on Chief Spence that she will voluntarily discontinue her hunger strike. That is why he has placed the prestige of Leona Aglukkaq and Patrick Brazeau squarely on the barrelhead by having both of them support the government’s position.

If Harper is right, his victory will be, at best, a partial and temporary one. Yes, there will be people who will praise his steadfastness on matters of protocol as a sign of leadership. But those will mostly be white people who are simply tired of wrestling with the profound issues raised by Chief Spence.

As for Canada’s aboriginal peoples, they will have been humiliated yet again. And this time, the humiliation will have been inflicted by a government which has imposed new rules for the environment and resource development without consulting Parliament, let alone the original stewards of this land. If all Harper’s government has to give to First Nations is ceremonial gesturing, trouble — big trouble — lies ahead.

But there is also the possibility that the PM’s calculation will prove to be the biggest mistake of his political life, and one of the national tragedies of Canadian public affairs. And all because Harper has turned what should have been an exercise in emotional intelligence into just another game of political hardball.
- Susan Delacourt suggests that the de-normalization process applied to tobacco products might be appropriate for guns as well:
(I)f American politicians are serious about tackling that plague of gun violence, they might want to consider how they have dealt with the buyers and sellers of tobacco. Through a combination of bans, stigma and yes, chipping away at rights, tobacco is still a legal product but it’s been “denormalized” — removed from the mainstream of daily life, with smokers made to feel intensely responsible for the ills they inflict on society.

That wouldn’t be a bad outcome of a sustained campaign against guns either, especially that responsibility part.

Who knows? With the right mix of political will and anti-gun measures, Americans might dream of a day when neither cigarettes nor firearms are brandished in public.
- And Tabatha Southey offers up some well-deserved mockery toward the NRA's attempt to argue that the only cure for gun violence is more guns.

- Glen McGregor proposes a few simple steps toward better political reporting.

- Finally, Ipsos Reid's poll results showing over 60% of Canadians disapproving of the Cons' environmental failures are significant enough on their own. But I find some of the wording to be especially noteworthy:
The Ipsos Reid survey suggests that 61 per cent of Canadians disagree with the statement “the Harper government is doing a good job at protecting Canada’s environment.”
The survey also found that 63 per cent of Canadians disagree with the statement “the Harper government has struck the right balance between economic growth and environmental protection and management.”
Now, based on conventional wisdom, the latter question would be significantly more favourable to the Cons than the former: it encourages the respondent to think about what's supposed to be the party's strength on the economy, and ask whether that offsets any concern about the environment.

But apparently Ipsos Reid's respondents were even less inclined to give the Cons a pass on the environment when asked whether they'd struck the right balance than based on environmental considerations alone. And that looks to me to suggest some vulnerable territory on the economy and general trust in the Cons' decision-making along with the obvious weakness on the environment.

On forced growth

Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign has featured plenty of discussion as to how to define success as a party and a province. But it's well worth contrasting the varying forms of quality-of-life and social health themes being debated within the NDP against an announcement which epitomizes the appallingly narrow focus of the Wall government:
Saskatchewan's Premier Brad Wall is pledging to hike crop production by 10 million tonnes over the next decade.

According to the Saskatchewan Agriculture Ministry, total crop production was 25.9 million tonnes in 2011, up 8.7 per cent from the 2001-10 average.
...(T)he government says its growth plan is focused on increasing crop production and boosting agricultural exports.
Now, there are certainly circumstances where an increase in crop production could be a major plus for Saskatchewan.

However, there's a difference between pursuing a plan where increased production might be the result of a focus on developing healthy industries and communities, and focusing on growth-for-the-sake-of-growth. And like the Sask Party's general governing philosophy, Wall's announcement positively reeks of the latter theme.

Even putting aside the possibility of considering social health or well-being, one would expect an economic plan to at least address industrial sustainability, jobs and incomes as end goals. After all, those are the only excuses that can possibly serve to make the general public see any benefit out of corporate-focused development.

But they don't even rate a mention in Wall's preferred development path.

Instead, Wall is pitching "more stuff" as the highest possible good - with no regard for what gets produced or how changes in production patterns affect farmers, workers or communities. Which signals that we can look forward to policies favouring the most exploitative possible model of corporate farming over any interest in smaller-scale or localized production.

And of course, Wall's new focus comes at a time when both the provincial and federal governments are also going out of their way to demolish longstanding programs which ensured some balance between the short-term desire to wring every possible cent out of Saskatchewan's soil, and the province's longer-term sustainability.

In other words, Wall is apparently applying his party's rip-and-strip resource philosophy to agriculture as well at exactly the time when that approach looks to do the most damage. And we may need to start planning now to repair Wall's mess down the road.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Pam Palmater explains the historical background to Idle No More:
(M)ost Canadians are not used to the kind of sustained, co-ordinated, national effort that we have seen in the last few weeks — at least not since 1969. 1969 was the last time the federal government put forward an assimilation plan for First Nations. It was defeated then by fierce native opposition, and it looks like Harper’s aggressive legislative assimilation plan will be met with even fiercer resistance.

In order to understand what this movement is about, it is necessary to understand how our history is connected to the present-day situation of First Nations. While a great many injustices were inflicted upon the indigenous peoples in the name of colonization, indigenous peoples were never “conquered.” The creation of Canada was only possible through the negotiation of treaties between the Crown and indigenous nations. While the wording of the treaties varies from the peace and friendship treaties in the east to the numbered treaties in the west, most are based on the core treaty promise that we would all live together peacefully and share the wealth of this land. The problem is that only one treaty partner has seen any prosperity.

The failure of Canada to share the lands and resources as promised in the treaties has placed First Nations at the bottom of all socio-economic indicators — health, lifespan, education levels and employment opportunities. While indigenous lands and resources are used to subsidize the wealth and prosperity of Canada as a state and the high-quality programs and services enjoyed by Canadians, First Nations have been subjected to purposeful, chronic underfunding of all their basic human services like water, sanitation, housing, and education. This has led to the many First Nations being subjected to multiple, overlapping crises like the housing crisis in Attawapiskat, the water crisis in Kashechewan and the suicide crisis in Pikangikum.

Part of the problem is that federal “Indian” policy still has, as its main objective, to get rid of the “Indian problem.” Instead of working toward the stated mandate of Indian Affairs “to improve the social well-being and economic prosperity of First Nations,” Harper is trying, through an aggressive legislative agenda, to do what the White Paper failed to do — get rid of the Indian problem once and for all.
- And Native Writes Now notes that Christie Blatchford for one isn't shy about saying that she considers the project of eradicating any distinct First Nations culture to be complete:
What Christie Blatchford wrote is offensive to the highest degree; but it should be remembered as the most honest interpretation in a national journal of the ultimate goal of the last 150 years of cultural genocide. Once Native Peoples no longer have any of the characteristics of a nation their claim to any Aboriginal Rights and Titles no longer exist. Christie Blatchford is laying claim to the success of the Canadian governments policy of cultural genocide through assimilation.

They haven't won, but we cannot deny that they are winning. We have to acknowledge Christie Blatchford for publicly announcing the motive. We have another battle and that is the one within our communities, our homes and our minds and spirits. It is our responsibility as Native people to remain idle no more in reclaiming, protecting and preserving our identity by learning and sharing our languages, cultures, traditions, rights and history. This is where most of the battle lies, this is the victory that cannot be taken away. This is it. This is the line in the sand. Idle no more.
- Meanwhile, Naomi Wolf writes about how the previous movement which rallied significant numbers of people in pursuit of a fairer and more equal society was systematically dismantled through collaboration between governments and the corporate sector.

- But Hugh Mackenzie points out that the right-wing propaganda mills seeking to declare inequality a dead issue don't have any basis in fact for doing so:
One of the hallmarks of liberal democracies post-Second World War has been the shared sense that we are all in this together. The breadth of the middle class meant that while there are differences in the way people live, people could still remain connected to one another in fluid social relationships. The middle class has been the glue that binds.

As income inequality worsens, Canadians have become increasingly polarized. We’re divided between a tiny but immensely powerful elite that consumes a wildly disproportionate share of society’s resources and the rest of us.

We are losing that connectedness. We tend not to live in the same neighbourhoods, and when we do, figurative and literal gates that separate us mean that we might as well be living on different planets.
Our kids don’t go to the same schools. They don’t study the same things in college or university. They move into the workforce with wildly disparate life expectations and graduate with wildly different debt burdens.
There has also been a dramatic shift in the share of those costs borne by different social groups: Elite Canadians are paying less at the same time they are castigating our public programs. They also happen to be largely insulated from the impact of the decline of public service in Canada. They don’t feel our pain.

Most Canadians, however, are affected by reduced investments in education, which has long been cast as the ticket to income mobility. The majority are affected by inflation in tuition. But those at the top of the income scale have choices. They can pay the higher fees. They can avoid the consequences of under-investment by sending their kids to private schools or to private universities in the United States.

The rest of us have to live with the consequences.

And the richest of the rich have the ultimate social choice. They can choose what society to be part of.

Thanks to global economic integration and the greater mobility that goes with it, those with means can choose which country to live in, which country to earn their living in, which country to send their children to school in, and which country to pay their taxes in, and there is no need for those countries to be the same. They have similar options in terms of gated communities and private programs tailored to those with deep pockets.

This matters at an individual level, because it says to the 99 per cent that the system isn’t fair. The physical and social infrastructure that makes our society work depends on everyone contributing their fair share of the cost, so that the majority benefits from this collective investment in one another.
- And Jordan Brennan and Jim Stanford also argue that broad-based prosperity makes for a better result for everybody than a society that exacerbates the gaps between social classes:
(T)he growing gap in income distribution — and the myriad costs it imposes on society and our governments — is not inevitable. It reflects changes in economic and political power among the different stakeholders in society. Measures that limit the power and wealth of those at the top, and reinforce the structural bargaining position of those at the bottom, can ensure a broader distribution of incomes and wealth, and allow us to capture an important economic and fiscal “equality dividend.”

Inequality need not be a partisan, left-right issue. If we learn from the scientific evidence regarding the multi-dimensional costs of inequality, we will realize that creating a shared prosperity benefits all sectors of society (not just poor people). And then policy-makers from both ends of the political spectrum can join in building a more balanced and efficient society.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Question and answer

Sixth Estate and impolitical have both followed up on the Cons' attempts to attack Canada's opposition parties for having the nerve to ask questions of their government by noting that in contrast to the Cons' spin, the UK offers answers to MPs' questions at a hundredth of the cost. But I'll note that there's plenty more worth comparing between the two systems of questions and answers.

Let's compare the answers to written questions provided by the respective governments of Canada and the UK for October 31, 2012.

The Harper Cons answered two questions in the following terms:
Question No. 827--
Mr. Hoang Mai:
With regard to environmental assessment on the proposed new bridge on the St. Lawrence River at Montreal: (a) why was this assessment done using a screening type of assessment rather than a comprehensive study; (b) what type of assessment will this project be subject to, under the new regulations and changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as proposed in bill C-38; (c) how many comments did Transport Canada receive concerning this project, before the April 4th Transport Canada deadline, in terms of the Draft Environmental Assessment Guidelines under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, (i) how will these comments be assessed by Transport Canada, (ii) will these comments be made public; (d) what specific expertise will the following federal authorities contribute with respect to the environmental assessment, (i) Health Canada, (ii) Parks Canada, (iii) Federal Bridge Corporation Limited/Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated, (iv) St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation; (e) what are the financial costs of the environmental assessment; (f) is Consortium Dessau Cima+ the only firm in charge of environmental assessment, (i) have they agreed to respect the preliminary timeline of mid-2014, (ii) will the drafting of the reports by all firms be made public soon after this date, (iii) what are the details of the contract, number T8080-110362, reference number 236518; (g) have the responsible authorities delegated the performance of the environmental assessment to any other party and, if so, (i) have the other parties agreed to respect the preliminary timeline of mid-2014, (ii) will the drafting of the reports by all firms be made public soon after this date; (h) what is the government’s policy in the eventuality that the responsible authorities conclude that the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects; (i) what are the public consultation processes involved in the environmental assessment and their timelines; (j) have the responsible authorities established a list of main interested parties and, if so, is it public, and, if it is not public, why not; (k) how many public consultations have been organized to listen to local constituents’ concerns, what was discussed, and are reports available; (l) which First Nations were included in the consultation, when, what points in the process what were discussed, and are reports available; and (m) will the official opposition have the opportunity to examine and comment on the environmental assessment according to subsection 18(3) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act?
Hon. Denis Lebel (Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, on January 22, 2012, the minister announced the launch of the environmental assessment, which is expected to be completed by December 2013.

The federal government announced on April 23, 2012, that the consortium Dessau/Cima+ of Montreal has been retained to complete the federal environmental assessment for the new bridge for the St. Lawrence. The assessment will include the environmental and technical components required to formulate recommendations to minimize repercussions of the project on the environment and on communities. The public, the local consultative groups, the private sector and the community groups will have an opportunity to participate in the environmental assessment process. 
Question No. 863--
Ms. Marie-Claude Morin:
With regard to Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision 2011-291: (a) what measures are in place to guarantee service for the 13,000 households in Quebec that could be deprived of service; (b) how much funding has been allocated to this issue; and (c) in case of loss of service, what is the plan to provide telephone and high-speed Internet services to the affected residents?

Hon. James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, with regard to (a), the CRTC can assure Canadians that they will not lose service due to this decision. One of the key policy objectives of the Telecommunications Act is to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality to all Canadians in both urban and rural areas. This includes the households served by small incumbent telephone companies in Quebec. The CRTC generally has two approaches to achieving this objective.

One approach is to rely on market forces to deliver high-quality service at a reasonable price. Where competition is strong, customers have a choice of service providers and these companies provide customers with innovative new services. In Quebec, wire line services will soon be available from competitive service providers. These will complement advanced wireless and satellite providers that already offer voice and Internet services to rural subscribers in Quebec.

With regard to (b), in areas where there is not enough competition to achieve this objective, the CRTC’s approach is to provide an annual subsidy to incumbent carriers in order to ensure access to telephone services at affordable rates. In 2011, the total amount of subsidy provided to incumbent carriers across Canada was $156 million; $6.5 million of this subsidy went to the small incumbents that provide service in Quebec.

With regard to (c), it should be noted that the CRTC monitors telecommunications markets across Canada, including the Quebec markets in question. The CRTC has broad powers under the Telecommunications Act that can be used as necessary to achieve its policy objectives, which include access to telecommunications services. 
By way of contrast, here are the three first questions and answers from a much longer list of UK questions from the same day:

Northern Ireland


John Woodcock: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the average time taken by her Department to settle invoices to external suppliers or contractors was in each of the last three financial years. [125307]
Mike Penning: My Department publishes prompt payment statistics in its Annual Report and Accounts each year.
Comparable figures for the Northern Ireland Office as it is now configured are not available following the completion of the devolution of policing and justice functions on 12 April 2010. In 2010-11, the Department paid 97% of suppliers within 10 days; 43% of payments were made within five days. In 2011-12, the Department paid 97% of all suppliers within 10 days, and 30% within five days.

Press: Subscriptions

Jonathan Ashworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to which magazines, journals and newspapers her Department subscribes. [125350]
Mike Penning: My Department does not subscribe to any publications but have the following newspapers delivered for which we are billed monthly by the newsagents:

Irish Independent (Monday to Sunday)

Irish Times (Monday to Saturday)

Daily Mail (Monday to Friday)

The Telegraph (Monday to Friday)

Financial Times (Monday to Friday)

The Guardian (Monday to Friday)

The Independent (Monday to Friday)

The Sun (Monday to Friday)

The Times (Monday to Friday)

The Spectator (Monday to Friday)

Belfast Telegraph (Monday to Saturday)

News Letter (Monday to Saturday)

Irish News (Monday to Saturday)

The NI Daily Mirror (Monday to Friday)

The Sunday Life

Communities and Local Government


John Woodcock: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the average time taken by his Department to settle invoices to external suppliers or contractors was in each of the last three financial years. [125304]
31 Oct 2012 : Column 214W
Brandon Lewis: The following table shows the average time taken by the Department for Communities and Local Government to settle invoices to suppliers during the last three financial years.
Financial year Average time (in days)
2009-10 6.29
2010-11 4.33
2011-12 4.15
The invoices included in the table are for all suppliers as DCLG does not distinguish between supplier types.
Now, I haven't been a regular reader of the UK's questions and answers, and presume that the above examples are in keeping with how questions are normally dealt with. But I've watched Canada's Hansard closely enough to see the sample above as being normal if not downright generous as an example of the Cons' responses (as they're at least relatively free of spin if equally lacking in substance).

So what differences can we see between the two sets of questions and answers?

To start with, Canadian MPs seem to be far more effective at asking detailed questions which would actually tell an important story if a useful answer were provided, with Hoang Mai's question #827 serving as a prime example on that front. And one might see that as a basis to think we'll get good value paying more for answers.

Here's the problem, though: while the questions and answers would seem like an important means of holding the government accountable, they're rather less useful when the answers consist of nothing but boilerplate talking points and PR messages vaguely related to the subject area of the question asked. And that's all the Cons are deigning to provide. 

While Mai's question includes a specific inquiry as to the number of comments received on the St. Lawrence River bridge project, Denis Lebel's answer utterly fails to provide that piece of information which should be readily available - sticking to pointing to the Cons' own press releases as somehow reflecting a full answer.

Likewise, James Moore's answer to question #863 conspicuously ignores Marie-Claude Morin's question as to the amount of funding allocated to services affected by a particular CRTC decision - instead pointing to overall program funding amounts which have nothing at all to do with the question.

Needless to say, that consistent obfuscation is in stark contrast to the UK's responses, which consist of little more than facts generally responsive to the questions asked. And the difference signals the utter breakdown in accountable government in Canada under the Harper Cons.

We should expect any remotely competent government to ensure that questions can be answered without too much cost or difficulty - whether a question originates within a federal department, or from an MP. And the UK example shows it's entirely possible to get that done.

But the Cons have apparently decided that their interest in limiting the flow of potentially useful information to opposition parties outweighs any sense that a government should actually inform elected representatives about its actions. 

In pursuing that strategy, they first decided that it's easier to not answer questions than to actually address them. And to add insult to injury, they're now trying to claim it's the opposition parties' fault that the Cons can't cut and paste unresponsive content from their own press releases for an average cost of less than $4,000 per question.

The key takeaway is then that the Cons are both inefficient and ineffective in answering simple and direct questions which are intended to hold them to account. And that should serve as yet more evidence that the Cons are in fact far more interested in making sure government doesn't work than in operating it with even the bare pretense of competence.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses the contrast between Theresa Spence's selfless efforts to improve the lives of First Nations citizens, and Stephen Harper's callous indifference:
Is a hunger strike the answer? I honestly do not know, but then I have not known Chief Spence’s anguish. After all, she says her act is not about “anger, it is about pain.”

But I do so worry about this brave woman who starves herself while waiting for a meeting with the prime minister. I worry because Stephen Harper is a very stubborn man.

And Chief Spence is asking him, for once, to govern with his heart. I fear, and so want to be proven wrong, that this is not possible for this prime minister.

As I write this, Chief Theresa Spence had spent 15 days, including Christmas Day, on a hunger strike. By the time you read this, more days will have passed.

It is impossible not to compare the differences between this woman and the man she is trying to meet. She inspires hope. He trades in fear. She unites, while he divides.

And yet, this prime minister may have finally met his match. A match made out of desperation, hope, courage and a whole lot of heart.
- Meanwhile, Sixth Estate offers a much-needed primer on the relationship between First Nations and the government of Canada:
(S)ince aboriginal peoples had pre-existing sovereignty over the land, that sovereignty must be extinguished and the land formally ceded to the government of Canada by means of treaties. That’s not their law, or a made-up modern myth: it’s our law. In the Western legal tradition, cession must occur either by formal agreement or by military conquest. Conquest didn’t happen in Canada, and it has been a war crime since 1945, so that option’s out. The only alternative is treaty. This principle was established as legal precedent in Canada by the British after the Seven Years’ War, and it has at least in theory applied ever since.

To that end, and leaving aside some fairly huge additional complications, there are basically two types of First Nations in Canada: ones that have ceded their territory to Canada by means of a treaty, and ones who have not done so. In the latter case, which covers most of British Columbia, for instance, technically “Canadian” society is an extra-legal occupation of aboriginal land. Of course, recognizing this, the First Nations have little incentive to settle for relatively low compensation (the way bands on the Plains did), and the federal government has little incentive to agree to high compensation now, as opposed to kicking the can down the road. As a result, the treaty process is basically a quagmire.

In Ontario and on the Prairies, though, land treaties were signed. The Attawapiskat Cree’s relationship with the Crown was laid out in Treaty Nine. That treaty states, among other things, that in exchange for surrendering all lands, the “Indians” will have continuing hunting, trapping, and fishing rights; that they will have reserves equal in size to 128 acres per capita; that they get $4 each per year in perpetuity; and that the cost of all aboriginal education will be covered by the government. There is no promise to provide healthcare in the written text of the treaty, but it was probably guaranteed verbally, and in any event by the time Treaty Nine was signed the federal government had already agreed to cover the medical costs of all aboriginal people living on reserves as a matter of course.

So there you have it. You can’t abolish reserves, or aboriginal welfare programs, unilaterally and without their consent. I’m sorry. It’s out of my hands, and it’s out of your hands. Now, you may feel — as I do — that we should abolish the Indian Act, shut down the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, get rid of reserves, and do any number of other things, and that as long as things like reserves and the Indian Act and Aboriginal Affairs persist in their present form, aboriginal peoples can never be truly free and their status will always be in some sense colonial as a result.

But none of those things can be done unilaterally. Ironically, the people presently braying that we get rid of the Indian Act and “make the Indians” modernize are doing exactly the same thing as the people who passed the Indian Act in the first place: saying that we know what’s best for aboriginal people in this country, and we’re going to provide it for them, whether they want it or not.
- Lisa Johnson gives her take on Simon Enoch's study of corporate power in Saskatchewan:
Mapping Corporate Power in Saskatchewan suggests that Saskatchewan corporate leaders like Paul J. Hill, Bill Doyle, Gavin Semple and others play a prominent role shaping provincial policy. It also connects some dots between these leaders and national corporate advocacy groups such as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute — which, the report says, points to the “growing political clout of Saskatchewan’s corporate leadership beyond the province.”

 Of course, special interest groups have been purchasing access to and influence over public officials long enough for Canadians to know that the political field of play needs to be regulated. Remember that Stephen Harper, at the helm of the business-backed National Citizens Coalition back in 2004, took the federal Liberal government to court in an effort to remove the $150,000 cap super-rich donors had on their gifts to political parties or politicians. The Supreme Court ruled that even if spending limits appeared to violate individual freedoms, it was for good reason. Limits prevent those with the deepest pockets from dominating public discussion and controlling the whole democratic process.

But the lesson is clear. When money talks, the public needs to watch.
- David Olive discusses how the F-35 fiasco makes for a case study in poor decision-making.

- And finally, Ralph Surette highlights the Cons' attempts to import a U.S.-style gun culture to Canada.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Musical interlude

Better than Ezra - Desperately Wanting

New column day

Here, on how Canadians have a far more positive view of protest movements than of the politicians whose actions bring about the need for activism - and how joining movements like Idle No More can ensure we have less to complain about.

For further reading.
- Environics' polling on public support for British Columbia's HST movement, Occupy and the Quebec student strike is discussed here
- In contrast, see Angus Reid's finding that only 27% of respondents respect politicians - and Ipsos Reid's conclusion that only 9% trust them.
- Which makes for just the time to point out that Idle No More is only picking up steam as a movement.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Night Cat Blogging

Slightly belated thanks to the holidays, but...

Santa Cats

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Broadbent responds to the Fraser Institute's attempts to minimize the importance of growing inequality:
Economists tell us the chances of finding and keeping a good job today depend more than ever on a high level of education and skills required by new technologies in the marketplace and the loss of unskilled jobs to developing countries. But we have largely failed to equip the unemployed and precariously employed with the skills they need to survive in a new economy. Nor have we adequately increased income supports like the Working Income Tax Benefit for those who work hard but still cannot get ahead.

We cannot dismiss growing inequality by pretending, as the Fraser Institute does, that all Canadians are still getting the equal chances that existed a generation ago. Gross income inequalities destroy equality of opportunity, and even the advantages of any rising incomes for the poor can be wiped out by a less progressive system of taxation or cuts in public investment. The gap between the rich and the poor, and the eating away of the middle class, are cementing the privileges of the most affluent and undermining the legitimate hopes of those who want to do much better.

Canadian values demand that we do something about rising inequality before we turn into a winner-take-all society with a permanent underclass. We are in this together, and that means we must once again care and share. 
 - Petti Fong reports on the Cons' choice to allow HD Mining's illegal whims to override a court order when it comes to the disclosure of temporary work permit records, while Dr. Dawg wonders whether this means we're officially granting China extraterritorial rights over Canada.

- Meanwhile, Will Campbell notes that civil servants pointed out the weakness of the Cons' voluntary drug shortage reporting long before patients started to suffer from a lack of notice that their medications were disappearing. And Mike de Souza's year-end feature reflects on the Cons' attacks on the environment.

- But let's listen to a couple of voices pointing out that we need to focus on what can be done to improve matters, not merely what isn't being done by our current rulers. Zoe Williams writes that defeatism ultimately helps the right-wing cause by ruling out the possibility of change for the better - and most of her message is readily transferable to the Canadian scene:
On the subject of benefits, can we pause to consider how incredibly low that figure of fraud is? In so many other areas of dishonesty – tax avoidance, expenses claims – the rot is never contained to a small core, it always spreads over time, it becomes peer-normalised and then grows exponentially, until the only people who aren't doing it are cranks. And yet, here we are, with this body of people among whom the number of fraudsters is tiny. On top of the honesty, consider in-work benefits, the number of people doing jobs that won't cover their rent, won't cover their childcare, won't put food on the table without government subsidy – working, in other words, for the sheer joy of work. This is a work ethic to die for.

The housing crisis is not a threat, it's an opportunity. We need more social housing, we need a more vigorous construction industry, and we need things for a government to invest in, rather than rounds of quantitative easing, delivering money into the hands of the top 5% and eroding pension annuities. We could climb out of recession on the back of this "crisis" at the same time as halting the hegemony of the private landlord, which is perverting wage spending-power and intensifying inequality. This is one of the few levers the government could actually pull to influence the economy.

UK education is ranked sixth best in the world, and not because Toby Young has set up a free school. The NHS is amazing: not because it's a socialist project, but because it is mind-blowingly good, and efficient, at what it does.

This government wants to govern a nation of crooks, fighting over the last crust of bread. In fact, we are an honest, industrious people with natural resources coming out of our well-educated, disease-free ears. Happy New Year.
 - And finally, Aaron Genest makes a more general case for basing our attempts to speak out and organize on optimism rather than fear:
I think that we (as campaigners) should be telling people up front that it will be a long haul. Tell them that the issues are complex, that interests for the status quo are well entrenched, and that, despite lots of people and investment, it may take years of continued effort before we see significant progress.  On any issue. This means, of course, that the fear-based approach to galvanizing action will fail.

As well it should.

Making people afraid, whether for good or for evil, is the wrong way to approach change. It makes them reactionary, less likely to recognize positive movement (on either side of an issue), and less likely to be taken seriously. It polarizes a debate. So while fear-based tactics are highly successful in getting people to click a Like button or to donate $10 right now, they harm the long term goal of creating an active, politically astute (populace) willing to have serious policy discussions at every level.

So let’s commit to the long game. Regardless of the issue, its apparent urgency, or the value of winning this particular fight, let’s take a page from Lessig’s #rootstrikers campaign. Always build to the next fight. Engage your supporters at the highest level you can and help them move into a more nuanced role. All the while, build your database, encourage engagement, foster discussion, and be up front about the longevity of the campaign. Frame things in terms of battles, if necessary, but never lose sight that they are only skirmishes in a greater theatre.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#skndpldr Roundup

Not surprisingly, the last week has been fairly quiet on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership front. But I'll offer comments on a couple of developments I hadn't yet discussed.

To start with, Joe Couture reported on questions about the similarities between Cam Broten's leadership platform and the policy report produced from the process he chaired in advance of the previous election. And while I don't see the issue being quite as serious as both Erin Weir and Ryan Meili make it sound in their quotes within Couture's report, I do think it works to the detriment of Broten's core message.

After all, Broten's campaign theme has revolved around his experience and readiness to lead immediately. And he hasn't hesitated to point to his role in the policy review process in support of that argument.

But it strikes me as curious that Broten didn't apparently get out in front of inevitable questions about similarities between his platform and issues already discussed by the party - for example, by pointing back to the consultations and votes held in support of the policy review at the time he was unveiling his leadership platform. Which looks in retrospect like both a missed opportunity to speak to one of his own putative strengths, and an obvious source of potential criticism which has now materialized.

The other main development in recent weeks was Ryan Meili's proposal for a provincial Faith and Social Justice Commission - which looks noteworthy both as a means of ensuring ongoing engagement with faith groups who share common goals with the NDP, and for its accompanying statement of support from Lorne Calvert (reflecting a noteworthy step forward in encouraging past party leaders to comment on the party's current direction).

Again, I'd expect the campaigns to be fairly quiet over the next little while. But since the break in the action offers an ideal opportunity to take stock of where the candidates stand, I'll have plenty to add over the next week - so stay tuned.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Wednesday reading.

- Pat Atkinson highlights what should probably be the story of the year for 2012: the continued degradation of Canadian democracy under a government which views Parliament and the public with an alarming degree of contempt:
Harper's Conservatives see Parliament as a nuisance. Committees meet in secret, and opposition MPs aren't to reveal what is learned. And it is clear that most of Parliament's power has been centralized into a prime minister's office that is determined to control governing party MPs and even its cabinet ministers.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Manitoba, describes the power and effectiveness of Canada's Parliament being "at the bottom of the heap."

"It has lost tremendous ground in terms of public support and confidence," he says.

So why should Canadians care about parliamentary democracy and whether the Harper government introduces two several-hundred-page omnibus bills? After all, the prime minister has a mandate from the people of Canada to govern.

But as Canadians we need to remind ourselves that we elect members of Parliament, not a government or, for that matter, a prime minister. We live in a parliamentary democracy which is "a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them."

Each time precedents, procedures and even laws are tossed out the window by the prime minister in the name of political expediency with little or no debate, it chips away another brick in our democratic foundation.
Democracy in Canada isn't quite what it used to be. Maybe next year we will start to pay attention.
- Meanwhile, David Pugliese reports on the Cons' efforts to hide even previously-available information about a Canadian troop killed by Israeli forces. [Update: And Dr. Dawg points to the report for those all the more curious about it now that it's being suppressed.]

- The Vancouver Sun makes the case to keep the Christmas spirit in mind throughout the year:
Whatever the origins of the current unofficial Boxing Day holiday, it's an opportunity to remember that while Christmas is always accompanied by a lot of natural Canadian generosity, it's needed all year round, not just on a seasonal basis.

It's one thing to make sure the homeless and the marginalized get a Christmas dinner and some festive cheer to mark the annual festival, it's another to make a commitment to keep the giving going at those times when it's still needed but not so high profile.
Whether we're out there today indulging ourselves or taking it easy at home in recovery mode, let's not forget that the spirit of Christmas isn't a momentary affair that ends on Dec. 26 - it actually begins there.
- Meanwhile, Gail Shea thinks Canada's unemployed should be a bit more charitable toward employers who would like to use them on the cheap.

- Finally, the Tyee's Ideas series checks in on the remarkable progress of the Rolling Jubilee:
In November, Perisic and members of Strike Debt launched the Rolling Jubilee, an initiative that buys up debt only to erase it. Described as a bailout for the people, the project uses online donations to purchase debt in secondary markets (where collectors pay pennies on the dollar for loans already charged off by the banks). Instead of employing aggressive bounty hunting tactics, Occupiers forgive the debt.

It's a symbolic gesture, allowing a few Americans struggling with out-of-control medical, credit card and student debt to start fresh. "We're trying to shine a light on the predatory nature of the industry," she says. "At the same time we're trying to shine a light on how the system works." So far nearly $500,000 in donations have rolled in: enough to buy over $9 million in distressed debt.

"It obviously touched a nerve," Perisic says of the Jubilee's eager public response. Combined with donations to Occupy Sandy, another relief-focused branch of Occupy 2.0, donations to the OWS movement in November 2012 outpaced donations for all of 2011. "We've been getting so many emails," she continues. "What's become obvious is that people are really looking for something to plug into. They want to be part of some collective action."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your Christmas reading.

- Naomi Klein comments on what we should take from the Idle No More movement:
Chief Spence’s hunger is not just speaking to Mr. Harper. It is also speaking to all of us, telling us that the time for bitching and moaning is over. Now is the time to act, to stand strong and unbending for the people, places and principles that we love.

This message is a potent gift. So is the Idle No More movement – its name at once a firm commitment to the future, while at the same time a gentle self-criticism of the past. We did sit idly by, but no more.

The greatest blessing of all, however, is indigenous sovereignty itself. It is the huge stretches of this country that have never been ceded by war or treaty. It is the treaties signed and still recognized by our courts. If Canadians have a chance of stopping Mr. Harper’s planet-trashing plans, it will be because these legally binding rights – backed up by mass movements, court challenges, and direct action will stand in his way. All Canadians should offer our deepest thanks that our indigenous brothers and sisters have protected their land rights for all these generations, refusing to turn them into one-off payments, no matter how badly they were needed. These are the rights Mr. Harper is trying to extinguish now.

During this season of light and magic, something truly magical is spreading. There are round dances by the dollar stores. There are drums drowning out muzak in shopping malls. There are eagle feathers upstaging the fake Santas. The people whose land our founders stole and whose culture they tried to stamp out are rising up, hungry for justice. Canada’s roots are showing. And these roots will make us all stand stronger.
- And Chelsea Vowel highlights the dire straits facing Canadian First Nations which have necessitated the kind of action we're now seeing.

- Jane Miller laments how far too many people have been trained to sneer at the poor. But Jason DeParle notes that the education system which is supposed to give students of all backgrounds a chance to succeed is in fact serving largely to exacerbate existing inequality.

- Finally, David Climenhaga and Ian Welsh both argue that it's long past time to discuss genuinely Christian values at Christmas - with a heavy emphasis on the admonition that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me".

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Michael Harris asks why Stephen Harper is afraid to look Theresa Spence in the eye:
(Harper) believes that the government’s lying about all these things is far less important than the fact that it is the government. Incumbency is a magic potion. Under its influence, people are supposed to swoon. All too often, they do. That’s the way oligarchs think. Richard Nixon put it in a nutshell when he famously said that if the president did it, then it wasn’t a crime.

Stephen Harper has arrived at the exalted position of Tricky Dick. He thinks that the necessity to tell the truth binds other people, not him. He doesn’t adjust to facts, he manufactures them, and when that doesn’t work, he defies them. The F-35 doesn’t just prove his gross incompetence in the expenditure of mountains of tax dollars — it also shows the arrogant belief that he doesn’t have to explain himself to people he believes would be baffled by an elevated game of checkers.
The PM’s view is that you win some, you lose some. Actually, he’s lost quite a few and will probably lose more in 2013 because of the alleged unconstitutionality of much of his justice legislation as contained in poorly-debated omnibus bills. And that is a universe the prime minister is comfortable in — the winner-take-all world of expensive court rulings and a grinding process — life as an elitist joust where he with the longest lance usually prevails.

Which is why Stephen Harper can’t understand Chief Theresa Spence. She is trying to get things done in the old way, using a habit of liberty not well understood by oligarchs or by people who are demoralized by the state of Canadian politics. She is asking for a face-to-face meeting with the man who is supposed to be working for her, for the people, not just his chosen people. She is asking for something Stephen Harper is not much good at giving — personal answers.

Chief Spence’s request might be the fatigue of a front-line respondent to the worst poverty in the country. It might be dismay at how Harper’s promise to forge a new relationship with Canada’s aboriginals has utterly failed to materialize. It might be the Harper government’s statutory war on the environment without bothering to get aboriginal approval for profound legislative change. It might be cuts to native health care or the abominable state of reserve education. Whatever it is, it has put Stephen Harper in an unfamiliar place — on the defensive.
- But then, Boris notes that if Harper manages to make matters worse by refusing to meet with Spence, he may only use the resulting popular outcry to consolidate his own power. And the fact that Idle No More is receiving plenty of attention on the world stage might not dissuade him from seeing that as an entirely acceptable outcome.

- Jeremy Nuttall takes a look behind the shadowy mining corporation responsible for deliberately establishing a long-term workforce of "temporary" workers:

"Extensive research by United Steelworkers employing sources in China indicates that while Huiyong does hold investments in mines in Shanxi province and the vice general manager of Huiyong, Ma Zhifu, is also the president of the board of a Shanxi mine, there is no publicly-available evidence that the company actually operates any mines," reads the report.

"The company itself seems to consist of little more than an email address, phone number and street address located in a modest building in a Beijing suburb. It has no obvious website -- none in Chinese, none in English."
Recently The Tyee phoned Huiyong Holding's headquarters in Beijing looking for information about the firm, but was told by a receptionist only the company's head could answer such queries.

The receptionist refused to help The Tyee contact the company head or give the person's name.
- Finally, Cameron Dearlove points out how social determinants of health can be applied in an individual's life. But to me, the most important takeaway from the list is that the determinants themselves aren't of much use unless they're applied on a social level: indeed, a belief that it's enough to personally avoid poverty, low-paying jobs or poor housing may be part of the reason why so many people accept similar problems for others.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Murray Dobbin connects a pattern of economic trends which has seen more and more wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people to the elimination of public discussion about work life:
The neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s proposed unfettered capitalism -- privatization, a downsized state, deregulation, free trade, low taxes and last but not least so-called "labour flexibility." That convenient euphemism simply means reducing the power, and independence of labour through cuts to EI and welfare and maintaining high unemployment levels that suppress wages. All of these initiatives were driven by globalization -- the hyper-competition of a voracious capitalism driven by finance capital.

But globalization is in its death throes and national economies are back. Those countries able to take advantage of robust domestic economies will fare better than those still trying to compete in a world of ever-increasing trade which no longer exists. Domestic economies thrive on high wage jobs and citizens who actually have money to spend and savings to fall back on when things get tough. They thrive when workers thrive -- when they feel valued, have enough leisure time to rest between work days, and are able to fully separate work from family life and, of course, when they have access to child care and elder care.
The days of ever-expanding trade are over but suddenly that strong domestic economy -- a safety net at a time of global recession -- has been severely weakened. Corporate CEOs and governments show no sign of having figured this out so the misery is likely to continue. Unions are scarcely any more attuned. Perhaps they should base their organizing and bargaining efforts more on work-life balance issues and demonstrate that they, at least, understand the problem.
- But then, Dr. Dawg notes that another problem has contributed to our continued corporatist drift - and it will take far more discussion about what we can do better (rather than merely what we're trying to preserve) to truly motivate citizens who have tuned out petty squabbles over what slightly different corporate-friendly options are available.

- And Sheila Pratt reports on Environics polling showing both that conservative economic messages have little resonance with the public at large, and that a strong majority of Canadians support protest movements to ensure citizens' needs are better reflected in public policy.

- Meanwhile, Bill Tieleman points out that continued poverty and inequality are antithetical to the spirit that should animate the Christmas season.

- Finally, Susan Delacourt laments the selection of Luka Magnotta as Canada's newsmaker of the year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Saturday reading.

- Kate Heartfield worries that the NRA knows exactly what it's doing with its jaw-dropping response to the Newtown shootings - and that it should be all too familiar based on the tactics of the Harper Cons:
It’s ridiculous, but ridiculous works, time and time again. “Elite” no longer means rich and powerful. It means smart. It means anyone who takes the time to look at the evidence and construct a logical argument. Not to be trusted, that. So all academics and journalists are suspect. The only way a journalist can avoid being seen as an elite is to go on the attack against other journalists, to promise, for example, to provide the straight talk that the so-called Media Party doesn’t want you to know.

This works. The Conservative government doesn’t have to construct a fact-based defence of its environmental or crime policies, because it doesn’t matter that they don’t make sense. No conservative (in the ideological, not the partisan sense) really thinks that costly, top-down regulation is the best climate-change strategy, for example. But it doesn’t matter, when it comes to the party’s electoral chances, which is all the party cares about. The policies don’t have to make sense. They just have to come attached to some boilerplate about how ivory-tower academics don’t understand the real world, or how statistics lie.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne buries the lede in an otherwise unremarkable summary of the Cons' policy direction:
(A)t year’s end, it’s still not entirely clear whether the government has learned anything. We may stick with the F-35. We may not. We may go to competitive bids. We may not.
Meanwhile, the robocalls scandal has slowly dragged on, a steady drip of voter complaints, revelations arising from Elections Canada’s continuing investigation, and court testimony. Nothing as yet indicates any senior Tories knew about or colluded in attempts to mislead or harass voters in the last days of the campaign, but neither does it seem plausible that it was all the work of a few overzealous kids. The calls are too many, in too many ridings, with too much sophistication required.

Last, there are the omnibus budget bills, I and II: the point at which the government’s emerging policy ambitions and continuing contempt for Parliamentary democracy converge. I’ve said my fill about these earlier, so I’ll be brief here. When much of the government’s legislative agenda can be pushed through in a single bill, or two; when “debate” on these hydra-headed monstrosities is itself cut short by government fiat; when these arrive on top of the whole long train of abuses to which Parliament has already been subjected, starting under past governments but with conspicuous enthusiasm under the present – then the question for next year, and for years to come, is clear. It is whether we will still live under a Parliamentary system of government, or something else.
 - Michael Wolfson makes the case for a stronger Canada Pension Plan which pairs any age increase in benefit payments with recognition that lower-income seniors need an alternate source of income:
An expansion of the benefit levels of the CPP should be phased in more rapidly, say over 20 to 25 years rather than the 47 years implicit in all the current discussions. In parallel, the age at which full benefits from the CPP would start should rise gradually from 65 to 70. More rapid phase in of benefits, of course, means payroll taxes would have to rise. But a delay in the age when benefits become fully payable would reduce the need for tax increases.

Finally, the long run structure of the Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) portions of Canada’s public pension system should be coordinated with any changes to CPP to assure it is fair to those with lower incomes – a point clearly lost on the Harper government with their most recent cuts to OAS and GIS.

These options open the possibility of a more creative and better pension bargain – more adequate pensions that are also fiscally sustainable. Are Canada’s finance ministers ready to think outside the box?
- Finally, Brad Lavigne's analysis of the NDP under Tom Mulcair focuses almost exclusively on what Andrew Potter would consider the cynical side of the party's interests. But it's well worth noting that the NDP's upcoming policy convention will provide an ideal opportunity to discuss exactly where members actually want to be on that spectrum - and to assess Mulcair's responsiveness to members' concerns.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Musical interlude

Blue Stone - Worlds Apart (Dark Mix)

On alternatives

A couple of polls this week have been used as evidence that the Cons are largely in control of the federal political scene. But I'll argue that while each suggests the limitations of a possible course of action, taken together they point to plenty of reason for hope over the next few years.

Let's start with Ekos' numbers, which suggest a current 32-26-24 three-party race - which is being interpreted by Frank Graves to mean that the Cons are in a strong position due to their relatively stable base and high anticipated turnout. But to my mind, a low, stable support number along with a large but fluid set of opposition votes may prove highly dangerous for the Cons.

After all, the Cons' greatest advantage over the past few years has arguably been their success in identifying a single key opponent who remains somewhat undefined in the public eye, then directing their entire political machine toward annihilating that threat.

But the 2011 election showed that such a strategy has its limits - as a campaign that's too effective in demolishing a primary opponent may allow a secondary one to rise above the fray. And EKOS' numbers look to me to put the Cons in a nearly impossible quandary.

It's far from clear that the Cons' attack machine will work anywhere near as well trying to take down two distinct opponents as it has in focusing on a single threat. But I'm not sure the Cons would have much choice but to try a split strategy if both the NDP and the Libs are within striking distance, as an all-out assault which succeeds in cutting into one opponent would figure to free up second-choice votes to move to the other's camp. And that result could be particularly damaging for the Cons if the shift happens too late in an election campaign to allow for a change in course.

Meanwhile, Eric Grenier's follow-up discussion suggests that an attempt to wedge the NDP and the Libs into a single party would produce relatively little benefit as a starting point, as a distribution of either the Libs' or the NDP's second-choice support would leave the Cons with a two-point lead over a single opponent, rather than a single-digit lead over two.

But the key distinction in Grenier's scenario is that the Cons would then know exactly which opponent represents the greatest threat, and would figure to able to unleash their well-oiled smear machine to tilt the balance even further in their own favour.

Of course, I won't deny my own view as to which party is best suited to replace the Cons with a more progressive alternative - and I still think there's a compelling case that the NDP has more potential to build an outright progressive majority than the Libs or any hybrid party. But voters with absolutely no preference as to who replaces the Cons may be best off working to ensure that there multiple options to neutralize Harper's attack strategy - rather than encouraging the type of dynamic that's played right into Harper's hands.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jim Stanford is the latest to point out that the Cons see accountability and transparency solely as punishments to be inflicted on their perceived enemies, not as values to be applied to their own decision-making:
Following Mr. Hiebert's logic, any organization in society that benefits from a tax expenditure (no matter how indirect) should be required to post similarly detailed and intrusive financial and expenditure data on a government website. Here is the current listing of federal tax expenditures. Every organization connected to any expenditure listed in that catalogue (whether the personal, corporate, or HST sections) should be ready for the precedent set by C-377. A partial list of "supported" institutions would include: every small business, anyone who owns farming or fishing property, any company that declared a capital gain, any logging company, any company claiming accelerated depreciation, any company offering flow-through shares (and any investor owning one), anyone with an RRSP or RESP, any mutual fund or life insurer, and financial service provider. In short, everyone and every business is "supported" by the taxpayer, just like unions. Hence each owes us an equivalent degree of accountability and transparency. Some critics of C-377 from within the business community actually worried about the precedent set by this legislation, one day being applied to them.

Another point I've used lately is the asymmetry of the disclosure requirement given the nature of the relationship between unions (who have to disclose anything over $5,000) and businesses (who do not, if they are privately held, have to disclose anything). Unions by their nature confront employers in many bargaining, representation, and organizing situations. Under C-377, the employer will now much detail about how much the union is spending, and on what. In many cases, that will be valuable intelligence for a company resisting a union organizing drive, bargaining demand, or representation case. The union, however, knows nothing about how much the company is spending. That creates a very uneven playing field.

Imagine if the TD Bank had to disclose everything it spent over $5,000 on. As one wag put it on Twitter yesterday, all those fancy Bay Street restaurants would be out of business in a week if every bill in excess of $5,000 had to be posted on a government website!
- Michael Harris and John Baglow both point out the sad contrast between the Cons' empty gestures, and their lack of action to improve the living conditions for aboriginal Canadians. But while Stephen Harper has callously dismissed plenty of similar messages before, the developing activism of aboriginal citizens may be rather more difficult to ignore:

- Carol Goar discusses the Caledon Institute's proposal to extend the Working Income Tax Benefit to meaningfully reduce poverty among lower-income Canadians. But Armine Yalnizyan rightly recognizes that we can't meaningfully address poverty without seeing it in the context of greater inequality:
(I)mproving the lives of the poor means providing either more opportunity or more cold, hard cash. That involves money, which is where follow-through usually falls off, because it means some form of redistribution. And that brings us back to income inequality.

The IMF has warned that higher inequality is correlated to shorter spells of growth, and more market volatility. The Conference Board of Canada cautions that Canada’s levels of inequality mean squandered potential. Just this week, TD Bank CEO Ed Clarke acknowledged inequality in Canada has been growing for the last 30 years, raising a challenge for society that demands discussion.

Whether you want less poverty or a more robust economy, greater innovation or improved productivity, better life chances or a healthier democracy, the way forward in Canada involves reducing income inequality.
- Finally, pogge points out that the same Con government currently insisting on social benefit cuts due to projected cost increases had no interest whatsoever in making sure that past surpluses were used to actually fund the benefits - signalling that they're really more interested in attacking benefits for the sake of attacking benefits rather than ensuring that they're sustainable.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On dubious partners

I've mostly avoided commenting on the federal Libs' leadership race based on the need for the party's own membership (and supportership in this case) to decide on a future direction for itself. But with one of the candidates explicitly running on a platform of cross-party dealings, I'd think there's some room to analyze whether she has much prospect of reaching out to other parties.

Which brings us to this:
With one lonely exception, the top tier of contenders for the Liberal helm has veered sharply to the right, much to the private consternation of some of the stalwarts of the party's once-influential left wing.

"All I'm hearing is we're going down the Reagan/Thatcher slipstream," despairs one prominent veteran Liberal.

"I don't believe that the way you're going to offer an alternative (to the Harper Conservatives) is to be a pseudo-Tory."
Among the top tier contenders, so far only Vancouver MP Joyce Murray has staked out turf on the left. She's an ardent environmentalist, favours a carbon tax, opposes pipelines through B.C. and supports full legalization of marijuana. She also advocates co-operation with the NDP and Greens in the next election in ridings where a united progressive front could defeat the Conservatives.
So what's wrong with this picture? Well, I'll point out a couple of obvious concerns with Murray as a standard-bearer for left-leaning and pro-cooperation Lib supporters.

Murray's first political involvement came at the provincial level in British Columbia - where she was apparently perfectly comfortable teaming up with federal Conservatives in Gordon Campbell's "free enterprise coalition" for the purpose of defeating the NDP. Which means any claim that she's now committed to joining with the NDP to defeat Conservatives would represent a complete turnaround from her values when she first entered politics.

And before she was elected as an MP in Vancouver Quadra, Murray first took a run at New Westminster-Coquitlam - a riding where the Libs stood in third place even as they clung to power nationally, and where a slightly more successful attempt to pursue progressive votes on her part might well have allowed Con MP Paul Forseth to hold onto the seat against an ultimately successful challenge from the NDP's Dawn Black.

Moreover, during her stint in B.C.'s cabinet, Murray formed part of the Campbell government which  passed multiple unconstitutional laws to attack workers and slashed the public sector, while at the same time running up the provincial debt in order to hand tax goodies to high-income individuals and the corporate sector based on the false promise that economic benefits would result. So she doesn't have much basis to claim principled disagreement with the Harper Cons on the economic policy front. And her own record as the minister who was happy to eliminate "environment" from her own title doesn't exactly serve as a source of confidence either.

In summary, one could hardly design a candidate with less claim to have practiced what Murray is now preaching: her past political choices are utterly antithetical to the theme of cooperation to defeat the right, and her stint in provincial government makes for a better fit with the Tea Party than a progressive party. And Lib leadership voters wanting to see cross-party cooperation may want to look for an alternative candidate who won't be quite so toxic to potential progressive allies.

New column day

Here, expanding on this post as to Simon Enoch's study of corporate power in Saskatchewan - and suggesting that we use the networks mapped out by Enoch in analyzing the Saskatchewan Party's corporatist policy choices.

Again, Enoch's study is available here. And you'll find some of my previous writing about Enterprise Saskatchewan and the Wall government's corporatist inclinations here and here.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Walkom discusses the meaning of the Ontario Libs' attempt to take collective bargaining rights away from teachers in the context of the wider labour movement:
The union movement is one of the last remnants of the great postwar pact between labour, capital and government.

That pact provided Canadians with things they still value, from medicare to public pension plans. Good wages in union shops kept pay high, even in workplaces that weren’t organized. Unions agitated for and won better health and safety laws that covered all.

True, union rules made it more difficult for employers to axe slackers. But they also ensured that when someone lost his job, it was for real cause — not because he or she had refused to sleep with the boss.

Some employers were content with all of this. Many were not and, as their profits came under pressure, demanded what they called greater flexibility — in wages, work practices and hiring.
Over the past 30 years, most Canadian governments have devoted themselves to eliminating anything that interferes with this flexibility.

So think of this latest foray against teachers as part of a package...

How can employees be encouraged to accept the discipline of this new world when they see some, such as teachers and other public sector workers, still making good wages?

The former Tory government of Mike Harris certainly tried to solve this problem and bring the teachers’ unions to heel. At one point it outlawed work-to-rule tactics and made it mandatory for teachers to coach sports after school. But in the end the Tories backed down.

Now it’s the Liberals’ turn. This government has given itself the power to set teachers’ wages and working conditions arbitrarily. It calculates that most voters will be envious enough of teachers that they will support its plans. It may be right.
- It's long past time for Stephen Harper's contempt for the provinces and social institutions alike to lead to some sustained backlash. And Robert Ghiz' comment about Harper sabotaging health-care talks looks like an important step in that direction.

- Meanwhile, Craig McInnes picks up on an obvious problem with the Cons' CPP obfuscation and delay tactics - as the longer we wait to implement a system which actually provides for a secure retirement, the higher the cost will be for the people working once a policy change is implemented.

- pogge notes that the rest of the world is well aware of Canada's turn for the worse under the Harper Cons - with a failing grade on human rights from Amnesty International serving as the most recent example.

- Finally, Andrew Potter's distinction between naive and cynical politics is well worth a read. But I'm not sure the proposed division actually represents much of a change from at least some conceptions of left/right politics: is there any meaningful difference between Potter's terminology and, say, George Lakoff's "nurturant/strict parent" model which includes more clear ideological content?