Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Heather Scoffield reports on the Canadian Index of Wellbeing's stunning finding that Canadian quality of life declined by a quarter between 2008 and 2010, while the Vancouver Sun and Lindor Reynolds comment on the collapse in well-being far beyond the economic damage of the recent recession. And Jane Gleeson-White puts the need for such measures of well-being into a global context:
GDP is a partial and misleading measure of national wealth and wellbeing. The problem is that it does not measure key goods in our economy, those unpriced but priceless services carried out by domestic workers and by nature – for example, the coastal defence of coral reefs, the pollution-filtering of wetlands, the nutrient recycling done by the soil and the unpaid work we do in our homes.

And yet GDP does include bad elements such as pollution, crime, cigarettes and their related health costs and environmental disasters, which boost GDP and so generate economic growth.
Under current GDP measures, countries that cut down forests for timber exports, dynamite their reefs for fish, pollute and degrade their soil for intensive agriculture and allow farms and factories to contaminate their waterways get rich.

The services provided by nature and households are not included in GDP because we consider their work to be free. But these services are not free – and we are beginning to pay their hidden costs in environmental destruction and climate change.
- Meanwhile, the Cons continue to work more on illusions than reality - as John Geddes discusses the millions of public dollars being spent to bolster Conservative branding and gloss over the gross failures that have led to our decline in well-being:
These are not supposed to be political ads. They feature no Conservative politicians. Still, they hardly feel like public-service spots. They aim to set a mood, rather than convey practical information. And get ready for more of the same on other key Tory themes. Under fire from the Opposition NDP for planning to gradually raise the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 from 65, starting in 2023, the government has budgeted $8 million for OAS ads. With Harper’s image as an economic leader tied so closely to streamlining approval of natural-resource projects, his government has $5 million earmarked for ads to promote that thrust. “The problem with this kind of advertising,” says Queen’s University politics professor Jonathan Rose, “is that it serves no public policy purpose.”
Beyond the content of federal ads, serious questions surround how much money is being spent on them. Approved ad budgets for each department are disclosed quarterly on the website of the Treasury Board, the central agency overseeing federal spending. But those quarterly figures don’t seem to be a reliable predictor of actual advertising outlays. In 2010-11, the last year for which final figures are available, $65.4 million in ad spending was approved on a quarterly basis, but $83.3 million was ultimately spent, according to the government’s annual report on advertising. Asked to explain how $17.9 million more was spent that year than initially approved, a Treasury Board official said departments are allowed to dip into their general budgets to top up ad spending.
- Lawrence Martin rightly wonders why the Cons' attempt to lock Canada into a long-term investment deal with China absent any discussion or debate hasn't resulted in more of a reaction. But then, with Jim Flaherty looking to sell off the CMHC, it's not as if there's been a lack of other issues similarly demanding a response.

- Finally, the Star weighs in on Jason Kenney's grab for unilateral and unaccountable power to determine who's able to enter Canada:
(T)here is well-founded concern that this new law could be applied inconsistently and arbitrarily. And proponents of free speech may argue that it shouldn’t be the role of the government to keep out those with views we may find collectively reprehensible.

Yet Kenney says he will try to ensure that the law can’t be abused. He intends to issue a list of criteria by which one can be denied before the parliamentary committee, and reach out to his own party and the opposition for feedback. He insists he isn’t looking for “some broad generalized power to prevent the admission of people to Canada whose political opinions we disagree with.”

But the question is: if Kenney can already step in for “exceptional cases” at the border, why the need to enshrine it in law? And given his government’s track record, how can we be sure the law won’t be abused? We can’t. This is a bad plan and the minister would be wise to drop it now.

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