Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Doug Saunders points out that we have a relatively simple choice between seeking to exact revenge on criminal offenders and actually reducing crime:
We know exactly why Norway has such lower recidivism numbers. Prisoners, being under constant observation, are very easy to study, and they’ve been studied like mad. Cambridge University criminologist Friedrich Lösel recently compared scores of studies in a dozen countries and found they reached almost identical conclusions.
He found that what causes prisoners to reoffend at lower rates, everywhere, is basic education, vocational and employability programs, anger management and therapy while behind bars (or, in Norway, no bars). On the other hand, things that cause prisoners to reoffend more after release include longer sentences, strict discipline, deterrent “shock incarceration” programs and regular sanctions (such as withdrawal of privileges).
In other words, we have a stark choice: We can punish people more, or we can reduce crime more. One cancels out the other. Sadly, though, it is a sense of anger and vengeance that motivates policy decisions in most countries these days.
- Gerald Caplan observes that there are indeed radical foreigners spending large amounts of money to silence Canadian voices when it comes to the oilsands by highlighting both the ownership interests and the propaganda factory funding of the Koch brothers.

- Tim Kiladze writes that economic bubbles tend to develop as a matter of herd behaviour even when participants have perfect information about what investments are really worth - making it all the more dangerous to have corporatist governments eager to play into the hype of indefinite, single-industry growth.

- John Moore nicely sums up how Quebec's protesting students are only seeking a fair shake compared to the system which allowed their parents an affordable education. But I'll particularly highlight his point as to how those quickest to demand sacrifices from young people (and others) are typically the most privileged themselves:
We hear a great deal these days about how we have to be reasonable about the times we live in. Corporate officers pulling in massive salaries and bonuses even as their companies lose money say average working men and women have to understand that the age of job security, pensions and even a middle-class wage are behind us. Have any of them offered to take the lead by surrendering even a fraction of their benefits? Are Federal Labour Minister Lisa Rait and Quebec Premier Jean Charest prepared to trim their gold-plated pensions to set an example to the students and workers they condescendingly lecture about the “new reality”?
Today’s youth face a grim future not of their own making. Is it any wonder that they’re angry about it? What they are asking for is what previous generations so eagerly gobbled up for themselves. If those generations now believe their entitlements were too generous, then, perhaps, in the spirit of sharing the burden, they might want to give some of them back.
 - Finally, while I don't agree with all of Chris Selley's take on the Quebec protests, he's at least right in pointing out that activism is a natural outcome when people have reason to doubt that democratic outcomes will reflect their concerns:
It is often said that if young people want to make a difference, they ought to vote. The hackneyed nature of the observation belies the gobsmacking truth of it – assuming, that is, that governments are actually capable and willing to give voters what they want. In the May 2011 federal election, for example, just 39% of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 cast a ballot. That likely represents something like two million unused votes. Add in 25-to-34-year-olds, who voted at a 45% clip, and you’re up to about four million votes, or roughly a quarter of the total ballots cast. Young people would not have to vote monolithically to increase their clout hugely. But if they voted predominantly left-wing, they might change the political and policy landscape at a stroke. Presumably tuition fees would then increase at a slower rate, if at all – again, assuming political parties actually respond to their supporters.

So, what are young Quebecers’ options in this regard? Well, Mr. Charest and his Liberals are the enemy, tired and perhaps more than a bit corrupt – we shall see what Justice France Charbonneau’s inquiry finds. There is the separatist Pauline Marois and her Parti Québécois, which backs the protesters. But then, 15 years ago, as education minister in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government, she was the one proposing tuition hikes. You don’t have to be very cynical to suspect she’s being a bit cynical. François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, urges the students to compromise. Why not just spit in their faces?

Parliament in Review: May 1, 2012

Tuesday, May 1 saw more debate on a couple of relatively non-contentious bills - along with a prime example of the Cons' blinkered focus on mandatory minimum sentences.

The Big Issue

In continued debate on the Lucky Moose self-defence bill, the NDP pointed out some of the ways the legislation could have been improved if the Cons had been willing to listen. Wayne Marston pointed out that some more recognition of battered spouse syndrome in particular would have been appropriate, while Guy Caron noted that in general some greater discretion in assessing the circumstances of a given event would be a plus.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth May criticized groupthink within parties - and Alex Atamanenko agreed as to the need to listen to voices outside one's own caucus. Linda Duncan highlighted the importance of not using the weight of the legal system to criminalize poverty. And Andre Bellavance confirmed the Bloc's support for the bill in advance of its passage.


Pierre Poilievre did his best to make debate on a railway safety bill into an ideological and partisan battle by using a tired trope about the "few legitimate roles of government" amidst a paean to the minister giving him orders about the bill - earning some well-deserved criticism from Pat Martin. But Olivia Chow and Mike Sullivan expressed support for the bill despite noting that it falls far short of dealing with the need for improved rail service - while Philip Toone highlighted the latter point.

Meanwhile, Duncan raised questions about environmental cleanup and reclamation of railroad beds. And Martin called for a specific project to deal with Winnipeg's rail yards, while also pointing out that railroad cost is just as big an issue as safety for prairie farmers.

In Brief

Alexandrine Latendresse introduced a bill to require that officers of Parliament be bilingual. Thomas Mulcair made a statement for International Workers' Day, while Alexandre Boulerice questioned how they could possibly justify forcing unemployed Canadians to desperately accept "any old job". Megan Leslie slammed the Cons' cuts to Parks Canada, Helene LeBlanc followed up questioning their attacks on research and data collection, and Randall Garrison pointed out that the loss of the Canadian Emergency Management College may prove disastrous for communities who count on it to train emergency workers. Parm Gill spoke to a private member's bill imposing new mandatory minimums for gang recruitment, with Pierre Jacob and Irwin Cotler signalling a willingness to study the bill further but wondering whether it actually figures to serve any useful purpose. Anne Minh-Thu Quach asked adjournment questions about the Cons' shameful asbestos boosterism, leading to Jacques Gourde's stunning response that his own government's refusal to apply international hazardous substance standards somehow served to justify continued promotion of the industry. And Andrew Cash called out the Cons for a particularly egregious non-response from Jim Flaherty on a question about housing which was met with what appears to have been a verbatim recitation from Rob Ford's campaign material.

[Edit: fixed introduction.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Michael Harris rightly tears into the Cons for turning our federal government into Versailles on the Ottawa:
The Harper government has more than a touch of Queen Nancy. It has already morphed into Versailles on the Ottawa. The facts, and the rules, are being made up as this crowd goes along – the usual decline into middle age of a government headed for the exit.
A professional public service is what gives bone and muscle to the idea that we are ruled by institutions and not men – a notion now in abeyance in Canada. In places where democracy is not at bay, that is what keeps public policy from becoming the means by which a government rewards its cronies and punishes its opponents – blandishments and enticements for on-siders, lumps of coal and worse for the less auspiciously aligned.
What happened to the man who, when confronted with the autocratic machinations of a doomed Liberal minority, said on a spring night in 2005, “When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”

When a government loses that, all it has left is Versailles until a din is raised around the Bastille.
- Sixth Estate nicely sets out how the Cons want to exercise Big Brother-style surveillance and control over EI applicants, while Kayle Hatt points out that the actual regional division in federal politics is the Cons' determination to force workers from elsewhere into the Western resource sector. And Thomas Walkom sums up what's behind the Cons' attacks on the unemployed:
Behind this week’s changes to Canada’s Employment Insurance system lie bone-headed ideology and contempt.

The bone-headed ideology stems from the Conservative government’s primitive, Economics 101 view of the world.

The contempt is that of comfortable, well-heeled politicians who, deep down, assume that those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs lack moral fibre.

The government’s new rules deal with none of the program’s real problems. As the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre suggested last year, aid to fishermen (which represents less than two per cent of benefits paid out) might be better handled through the kind of support programs available to farmers than EI.

But this government’s solution is to force 60-year-old Atlantic fishermen to pick fruit.

If there is a theme to the changes announced this week by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, it is wage reduction. To this Conservative government, anything that might interfere with the mythical free market — and particularly with the market’s downward pressure on wages — is anathema.

Are cash-strapped farmers forced to bring in desperately poor workers from South America to harvest crops? Then the answer is not to reform the food system so that farmers — and farm labourers — can make a living wage. It is to make more Canadians so desperate that they will take be forced to take these Grapes of Wrath jobs.
- Cindy Harnett reports on just one more of the Cons' attacks on the environment - this time the shuttering of any monitoring of ocean pollution by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey duly compares Con MP David Wilks to those who actually show some leadership and vision:
Before we mock Mr. Wilks, let's take a look at the big picture. Let us consider those who have led and inspired humanity, and then let us sit back a moment and picture just how much more stable the world would have remained had it only contained a few more men like the affable Mr. Wilks.
I imagine, for example, there would have been far fewer people burned at the stake had Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg's Castle Church and the sixth one had been, “Look, I don't think we should dismiss the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church out of hand. Nay, I am firmly convinced that these initiatives will bring jobs and growth measures to the Canadians of Kootenay-Columbia.”
Who would have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Abject Apology and Endorsement of the Economic Action Plan?
And there's a certain understated charm to the immortal words, “We will serve them daiquiris on the beaches. That way they will stay longer and maybe later we can get a game of Frisbee going.” Much, I imagine, as there would have been to the unassuming, “I have a dream, but I won't bore you all with it, because I know other people's dreams are never very interesting.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Musical interlude

Sou Kanai - Awakening (Sunn Jellie Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Julian Beltrame reports on the Cons' concerted efforts to add to corporate bottom lines by attacking working Canadians:
One of the measures is so sneaky, says NDP MP Pat Martin, nobody seemed to notice the line buried deep in the 452-page Bill C-38 that simply states, "The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act is repealed," giving no explanation.

With those 10 words, Ottawa intends to wipe out a 1985 law compelling contractors bidding on federal contracts to pay "fair wages" and overtime.

"I would have missed it and I'm from that industry. It was number 68 of 70 bills that they changed," said Martin, a former journeyman carpenter and construction worker.

Martin notes that unlike most measures in the budget bill, there was no prior discussion of the measure or even a signal such a change was contemplated.

"It's a solution without a problem. The only conclusion I can come up with is that it's a war on labour and the left. It's what the Americans did with the right-to-work states and the end result is $8 or $9 an hour is now the average wage in places like North Carolina."
(Perrin Beatty's claim that employers will take anybody willing to work) is hard to square with a national unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent, and new figures showing there are 5.8 unemployed workers for every vacancy. Officially, there were 1.37 million Canadians actively looking for work in April, and that doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of discouraged workers, involuntarily self-employed or part-timers wishing to be employed full-time.

Labour economist Erin Weir of the United Steelworkers says he has never bought the labour shortage argument, noting that in a market economy if that were the case wages would be increasing. Instead, they are barely keeping up with inflation.
 - Tim Harper criticizes the Cons' EI slashing as well for pushing Canadians into dead-end jobs. And Susan Riley echoes the point that the Cons' plan has nothing at all to do with evidence or reality:
It sometimes seems the only people slow to understand that the majority of jobless Canadians are not scofflaws, living the high life on their $485 (maximum) weekly benefit while “suitable” jobs go begging, sit in the Harper cabinet.
Finley has repeatedly advanced the hoary myth that EI benefits can be a “disincentive” to finding work. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, hearkening back to his days as a taxi driver and hockey referee, grumped that “there are no bad jobs.” And Jason Kenney, the hard-working immigration minister, seems to think the unemployed need to be prodded to drive to the next community to work, even though his home province is teeming with Maritimers who have left behind family and friends in pursuit of a paycheque.

In fact, senior federal officials predict fewer than one per cent of current EI recipients will be denied benefits as a result of these changes — which suggests “abuse” is hardly widespread. In that light, the Finley reforms look like a solution in search of a problem.
Like other elements of the sprawling “budget” bill, the EI measures, to take effect in 2013, seem hasty, driven by anecdote rather than evidence, much less face-to-face consultation with those affected. They will likely be marginal in impact, for better or worse.
- Seth Klein points out that increasing inequality (which the Cons are doing so much to exacerbate) figures to be a major obstacle in the way of action on climate change.

- Finally, Dan Arnold nicely sums up the most important takeaway from David Wilks' remarkable shift from claiming he'd oppose his government's omnibus bill if only he thought it could make a difference, to falling back in line:
(T)he man has no one to blame for this controversy other than himself. If he truly supports the budget - as he now claims to do - he should have thanked his constituents for their feedback, said he'd consider what they said, then explained to them why he supported the budget.

If he truly opposes the budget - as he said he did yesterday - he should vote against it. Wilks is wrong when he says one MP can't make a difference. John Nunziata and Bill Casey brought more attention to the budgets they opposed than they ever would have by meekly supporting them. Michael Chong's opposition to the Quebec Nation resolution may have prevented Harper from going further down that road. I also like to think that the more acts of defiance we get, the more likely we are to see an attitudinal change in Ottawa that gives a greater say to individual MPs. Some may disagree with me, but I think that would be a welcome shift.
 [Update: fixed formatting.]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Parliament in Review: April 30, 2012

Monday, April 30 featured discussion of two opposition motions dealing with the federal government's responsibility to ensure the safety of Canadians. And on both fronts, the Cons went out of their way to disclaim any such role for our public servants.

The Big Issue

Jack Harris started off the safety theme with a motion to the effect that Canada's search-and-rescue capability should meet an international standard of 30-minute readiness. But perhaps Harris' most important point (particularly in light of recent developments) came in response to a typical Con "why'd you vote against our budget? huh?" straw man:
I hope all Canadians are listening to that kind of nonsense. We are getting a little sick and tired of hearing those kinds of remarks. We voted against our own salaries. We voted against your salary, Mr. Speaker. When we vote against the budget on a matter of confidence, which is what we do, it because we do not agree with the Conservatives' approach to the whole running of government. We vote against every item in that budget. It has nothing to do with picking out a particular thing and voting against it. The government and the member, I am sorry to say, have fallen into that same trap of illogic and disrepute, frankly, by trying to accuse the opposition of not supporting things that are good for Canadians, when people know full well that we want to see search and rescue given sufficient and better priority than it has been given. Nobody puts that on the floor for a vote, except we are doing it right now and we will see how that member votes when the time comes.
Chris Alexander answered by claiming that the international standard pointed to by Harris doesn't exist, and suggesting that it's not the place of Parliamentarians to question whether our search and rescue system can be improved. And that debate - continued by Ryan Cleary and Mark Strahl - made for the less contentious of the two safety discussions.

What came next was Bob Rae's motion on food safety comparing the Cons' CFIA cuts to the reckless slashing that led to Ontario's Walkerton debacle - with Hedy Fry discussing the parallels in detail, while Andrew Cash expressed his amazement that the Harper Cons were defending the Harrisites' failures (when as Kirsty Duncan noted, even Harris himself apologized after the fact). And Guy Caron nicely summed up the Cons' own sorry history of regulatory demolition by reviewing their listeriosis outbreak.

But the discussion expanded to general regulatory issues - with the Cons looking even worse on those. Elizabeth May noted that the Cons see the federal role in environmental protection as being limited to fish and migratory birds, while Pierre Dionne Labelle highlighted the fact that a reduced set of criteria will inevitably lead to important points being missed. Pierre Nantel mused about the sheer naivete behind the Cons' belief that corporate self-regulation would address safety concerns. Peggy Nash pointed out the Cons' plan to simply adopt "industry regulations" without anybody looking at the public good. Ted Hsu met the Cons' attacks on research and data collection by pointing out that "what gets measured gets done". And on the Cons' side Pierre Lemieux nicely echoed the difference in schools of economic thought, suggesting that the real issue is whether the public has confidence in our food supply whether or not that confidence has any basis in fact, while claiming that eliminating services and forcing provinces to build up regulatory systems of their own isn't actually a "cut".

Us vs Them

The Cons have regularly made it clear that mere ordinary Canadians arrested abroad can expect as little legal assistance as they can get away with providing. But in response to Paul Dewar's question about corruption and fraud charges against key officials at SNC-Lavalin, Bob Dechert clarified that corporate criminals have his government's full support.

In Brief

Nathan Cullen gave notice of the NDP's intention to raise the standard of debate in the House of Commons, while Charlie Angus slammed the Cons for making Parliament subservient to the whims of a controlling executive. Hoang Mai questioned cuts from the Canada Revenue Agency when it has an obvious need for internal investigation to go with its responsibility in revenue collection. Romeo Saganash was dumbfounded at the Cons' cuts to aid for the world's poorest countries, while Bev Oda replied that her idea of productive aid is creating profits for businesses rather than saving lives. Robert Chisholm rightly pointed out that water systems are interconnected, making it entirely dishonest to claim (as the Cons do) that regulators can safely ignore everything other than major waterways. Libby Davies wondered why the Cons had chosen not to follow up on a campaign promise to help the parents of gravely ill children. Judy Foote noted that the community access program being slashed by the Cons is still a vital source of internet access. May wondered why a Prime Minister who once went ballistic over a single definition change in a past budget bill was now scrapping an entire regulatory regime among other parts of an omnibus attack on the environment. And in adjournment proceedings Philip Toone wondered if the Cons had bothered to figure out how many costs would be downloaded to the provinces in cutting the OAS (spoiler alert: "no"), while Andrew Cash criticized the complete neglect of housing in the Cons' budget.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Duncan Cameron discusses how the Cons have already taken Canada and the world in exactly the wrong direction. But Murray Dobbin points out that we should be working on how to change things for the better once they're finally removed from office, and has a few noteworthy suggestions:
Ironically, the projection of extremely low economic growth for the foreseeable future actually provides an imposed opportunity to examine what we desperately need to do anyway - begin to put together plans for a sustainable economy, a redefined prosperity that is not based on unfettered growth in the private sector - the economy of stuff.
If ever there was a time to move in this direction it is now - with corporations sitting on over $700 billion in cash which they refuse to invest because their own policy preferences and reckless behaviour has destroyed demand for private goods and services. Perhaps a tax on idle capital would make sense - a declaration by government that if the private sector can no longer allocate capital investment in the interests of the country and its citizens, then we will take some of it back and allocate it ourselves as public investment. It's not that we don't need investment. A no-growth economy is actually a misnomer, for what its advocates are really talking about is a different kind of growth - the kind that only governments can create: mass transit, green energy, a national food strategy, child care, pharma care, home care, culture and anti-poverty programs including affordable housing.
In the end it is all about reclaiming the commons - robbed from us by the one per cent and the perverse ideology of neo-liberalism. Maybe we could begin with a small step in that direction - by reinstating Sunday closing. I know, there are lots of objections (its initial roots in Christianity being one) but imagine there actually being a day when you couldn't buy more stuff. We could bring back an ancient commons tradition: talking to each other.
- Of course, we're still stuck with the Cons for now, with waste, lies and cover-ups all part of a typical day's work. But the fact that this time the lie was explicitly directed at the media should help emphasize why declarations from the Cons' spokesflacks aren't fit to print.

- While Nanos' poll of issues taken verbatim from the Conservative Party website has received far too much attention today, let's take a step back and ask this: what purpose does it serve to merely repeat and entrench the governing party's list of priorities, rather than actually testing what Canadians consider to be most important? (Particularly when Canadians given an open or thorough set of choices tend to have a rather different set of concerns?)

- Finally, Thomas Walkom discusses the CAW/CEP plan for Canada's labour movement to expand its presence well beyond unionized workplaces. And it's worth noting that the right-wing push to slash public services and supports may only offer plenty of opportunity for unions to attract support by picking up some of the slack.

New column day

Here, on how we know better in our personal lives than to think money is everything - and how we should expect public policy to follow the same principle.

For further reading, see my earlier posts on the subject. And the best-developed Canadian means of measuring is the Canadian Index of Wellbeing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Brian Topp weighs in on Canada's history of raw resource exploitation that should offer a lesson for anybody interested in learning. And pogge points out why Thomas Mulcair is right to dig his heels in, while Frances Russell observes that Mulcair is just plain right.

- Meanwhile, this may be the most appalling example yet of the Cons combining a short-sighted obsession with the export of raw resources with an utter unwillingness to do anything about climate change:
Although greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands have more than tripled since 1990, according to the same inventory statistics, their emissions per barrel have decreased by 26 per cent over the same time period. But Kent suggested that some of the reductions were achieved by transferring activities and their associated pollution to other sectors such as the refining industry.
"This reduction is due to technological innovation and equipment turnover, increased reliability across operations and the avoidance of upgrading emissions by exporting more crude bitumen," said Kent's statement.
So it's not that anybody is pretending that less emissions are being produced as a result of the exploitation of the tar sands - only that Kent is trying to claim environmental success by moving actual emissions off of Canada's balance sheet onto somebody else's with a level of brazenness that would make the minds behind Enron blush.

- Karl Nerenberg and Michael Qaqish raise effectively identical questions about the NDP's strategy - wondering in particular whether it's being too reasonable in responding to the Cons' childish smears and bullying tactics. But I'll note that the long-term path to success for the party involves changing how Canadians view politics rather than engaging on the Harper Cons' terms - and the more it's possible to build public support by raising the standard people expect from political leaders, the better.

- Finally, Pat Atkinson makes the case for full-day kindergarten.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Slumbering cats.

Parliament in Review - April 27, 2012

Friday, April 27 saw another day of relatively non-contentious debate on the main bill up for discussion in the House of Commons. But there was plenty of reason to question why the focus would be as narrow as it was.

The Big Issue

That main bill was the Cons' elder abuse legislation, intended to add a new factor in criminal sentencing where the victim was vulnerable due to age. And both of the opposition parties fully endorsed the bill in substance.

But once again, the Cons' focus on sentencing raised larger issues as to why they wouldn't put more effort into preventing crime in the first place. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet noted that the justice system itself may be intimidating for seniors, Laurin Liu highlighted the effects of poverty and social exclusion in making seniors vulnerable, Elizabeth May expressed her concerns about institutional abuse and Francois Lapointe discussed how telemarketing and pressure sales tactics could target seniors. Liu contrasted the Cons' criminal-based philosophy against her own bill to automatically enroll eligible seniors to receive the GIS. Judy Sgro criticized the Cons' focus on ad campaigns rather than community organizations.

Meanwhile, the debate also led naturally to talk of the Cons' efforts to slash OAS benefits. Alain Giguere rightly observed that exactly the same issues were raised during Brian Mulroney's stay in power with Mulroney claiming that the system we can afford today absolutely had to be slashed back at that time. And Robert Goguen provided a remarkable answer to Wayne Marston's question on that point:
Mr. Wayne Marston: 
Mr. Speaker, when the government gave its reasons for the changes to OAS, $36 billion a year is what it cost, escalating to $109 billion, there is no argument there. We agree with the government on that, but the assumptions the Conservatives are using do not take into account an average of 2% growth in the GDP, as projected by their own Minister of Finance over the next number of years. That would pay for it.

Mr. Robert Goguen:
That is very interesting, Mr. Speaker. According to the hon. member, this system is sustainable. The question I would ask him is, in the following 20 years, how many people will have dialysis? How many people will have cancer treatments? How many people will have medical treatments which will go well into the future because Canadians continue to live longer and health care goes up?

These two things run in tandem. We have no way of predicting exactly how much medical treatment will be needed. We know it will increase. We know the demography of the Canadian population is becoming significantly older. With age comes medicare. With age come health costs. We are taking steps to protect seniors in the future.
So rather than relying on actual forecasts as to the costs of Canada's retirement system (which take into account exactly the costs that can be reasonably projected), Goguen's argument was based on two premises: first, that the future is constantly in doubt; and second, when in doubt, slash benefits. Which doesn't offer much reason for confidence that more needed programs won't be gratuitously attacked in the future.


While the media paid plenty of due attention to the mocking response to Stephen Harper's "soft on Hitler!" gaffe, it largely missed an even more telling exchange in members' statements. After reading off some of the more hilarious #harperhistory Tweets, Dan Harris offered this suggestion to the Cons:
I hope the Conservatives take this humour in stride and do not respond with more of their humourless anger.
Needless to say, Scott Armstrong followed with...about the most humourless and angry statement one could imagine, which deliberately repeated Harper's ludicrous message.

In Brief

Peggy Nash, Kirsty Duncan and Elizabeth May opened what's become a major debate about the elimination of environmental protection in the Cons' toxic budget, while Guy Caron pointed out the failure of the Cons' much-touted CCS projects in the oil sands. Rosane Dore Lefebvre questioned the Cons' decision to eliminate the CSIS inspector general, while Dennis Bevington wondered why funding for the aboriginal justice strategy had been allowed to expire. Francoise Boivin challenged the budget bill's attacks on employment equity. Alexandrine Latendresse pointed out how many municipalities had already expressed justified concerns about the secretive CETA negotiations. And Joy Smith's bill on trafficking in persons passed with all-party support.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dana Flavelle and Rachel Mendleson both cover Lars Osberg's study on the harmful effects of inequality. But let's highlight the key conclusion from the original source:
(T)he continuation of a divergence in income growth trends necessarily creates changing flows of consumption and savings. Although aggregate demand can be maintained in the short run if the savings of the increasingly affluent are lent to those with stagnant incomes, their increasing indebtedness leads inevitably to financial fragility. The trend in the U.S. and Canada to rising income inequality thus leads to periodic financial crises, greater volatility of aggregate income and, as governments respond to mass unemployment with counter-cyclical fiscal policies, a compounding instability of public finances.

The conundrum in all this inequality-induced macro-economic instability is that it clearly can be avoided. A steeply progressive income tax system can reduce the imbalances of financial flows, lessen the volatility of GDP and help pay off government deficits. Yet, in both the U.S. and Canada, the progressivity of the income tax system has been substantially eroded, over the same period in which the pre-tax incomes of the top 1% have grown most strongly. Even if an occasional deviant multi-billionaire protests that his income tax rate is absurdly low, indeed less than the tax rate of his employees, he is outgunned by the other billionaires who contribute to anti-tax crusades. There appears to be little likelihood of a return to the progressivity of tax regimes during the era (1946 to late 1970s) when income shares were roughly stable in North America, and massive financial crises were avoided.

The recent historical experience of Canada and the U.S. is clearly inconsistent with the simplistic political economy theories that predict that the ‘median voter’ in a more unequal society will vote in more redistribution and more progressive taxation. Indeed, recent history offers much more evidence consistent with the ‘deeper pockets’ model of political influence — that one can expect great wealth to be used in the political process to accentuate further wealth inequality.
- Meanwhile, Renata D'Aliesio manages to pitch Canada's drop from second to sixth in the OECD's latest quality-of-life assessment as good news. But it surely can't escape our notice that it's continued inequality that's pushing Canada down in the world. And that goes doubly when (as Glen Pearson notes) we have plenty of money to eradicate hunger and poverty if we're willing to limit how much we spend on military vanity projects.

- Jim Stanford points out that corporate-oriented free trade agreements have proven a flop on all counts - even in measuring the trade they're supposed to encourage:
Total exports of goods and services were equivalent to 31 per cent of Canada’s GDP last year – down from 38 per cent when the Harper government was elected (and 46 per cent in 2000). If the goal is truly boosting trade (as opposed to enshrining business-friendly economic rules or propping up authoritarian governments in Latin America), then this government is failing miserably.
Canada’s export failure cannot be blamed on foreign trade barriers. Instead, we must look in the mirror – at the structural inadequacy of our business sector. Canada has chronically failed to nurture and develop domestically based globally active firms that produce innovative, high-value products for world markets. Working to fix that problem (through proactive technology, innovation and sector-development strategies) would do more for our actual trade than all the free-trade talks in the world. If you truly believe in trade, don’t be distracted by the trade deals.
- And finally, Bea Vongdouangchanh reports on the copyright bill the Cons are set to force through Parliament, featuring this apt observation from Tyrone Benskin on the difference between holding hearings and actually listening to concerned citizens:
Mr. Benskin told The Hill Times last week, however, that the “sweeping bill” was “rushed” and more importantly, the government did not listen to stakeholders. 
“This is their argument for every single solitary bill they’ve put forth: we talked about it in 1792. It’s ridiculous. Yes, they did see hundreds of people and yes they did hear hundreds of hours of testimony. And they ignored each and every hour of that. It’s one thing to say, ‘I heard it,’ it’s another thing to say, ‘I listened to it.’  They have selective hearing,” he said.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 26, 2012

Thursday, April 26 saw ample discussion of private members' business - and if the Cons are now cracking down on such debate, the results of the day's proceedings might give us some clues as to why.

The Big Issue

While it didn't receive as much media attention as another issue which was debated for substantially less time, Irene Mathyssen's motion to reverse the Cons' attacks on OAS produced plenty of noteworthy discussion. Mathyssen pointed out how the move would increase poverty rates among senior women in particular. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe noted that private pension plans might not be designed to account for OAS not being available at age 65, while Mike Sullivan pointed to a similar issue with provincial benefit plans. Linda Duncan asked who if anybody the Cons had consulted. Stephane Dion observed that the OAS is already fairly stingy compared to other countries' programs, while Eve Peclet mused that a fairer tax system would allow for far better income security and Don Davies highlighted the fact that the Cons' frequent and frivolous tax slashing had created the budget deficit they now claim to want to fix on the backs of retirees. Paulina Ayala observed that it's younger Canadians who will suffer from the change, while Mylene Freeman both worried about the fact younger Canadians don't have spare money to put aside to make up for a destroyed social safety net (a point echoed by Alexandre Boulerice) and recognized that lower- to middle-class seniors will suffer most from an income perspective. Dan Harris quipped that "ample notice about getting hosed does not change the fact that we are getting hosed", while Wayne Easter described the cuts as "grand theft" from workers under 54. And a number of speakers including Judy Foote, Fin Donnelly and Davies pointed to the Cons' campaign promise not to cut individual benefits which was broken by the attack on OAS.

Meanwhile, Pierre Poilievre hearkened back to the good old days when the average senior would die before receiving a nickel in OAS. But perhaps the more interesting contribution from the Cons was Kellie Leitch's emphasis on the OAS changes not affecting CPP eligibility or benefits based on that program being "fully funded for the next 75 years at current contribution rates" - which might be worth filing away for future reference if that becomes the next form of retirement security to meet with the Cons' budgetary axe.

The Settled Issue

Meanwhile, Stephen Woodworth's abortion motion was the other main topic of discussion. But while Woodworth made a fool of himself by confirming that he wasn't prepared to accept the most likely outcome of exactly the study he claimed to want, plenty of speakers from all parties - including Francoise Boivin, Hedy Fry, Gordon O'Connor and Niki Ashton - made it clear that Woodworth's regressive stance wasn't going to get him anywhere. (Though contrary to what so many people said at the time, O'Connor's seems to have been one of the less impressive of the speeches.)

In Brief

In response to Malcolm Allen's order paper questions on a Crop Logistics Working Group, Gerry Ritz helpfully pointed out that the group hadn't accomplished anything and didn't plan to report back to anybody other than Ritz himself. Niki Ashton questioned the Cons' elimination of the Women's Health Contribution Program. Nathan Cullen's Thursday question included a request for an update on the Elections Canada motion the Cons reluctantly accepted a couple of months earlier. Guy Caron again asked for some explanation of the Cons' move to shift an EI processing site from Rimouski to Thetford Mines, and again received nothing approaching a meaningful answer. And Anne Minh-Thu Quach asked why the Cons are doing nothing about obesity as a public health issue.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Robert Cross and Glen McGregor point out how "Pierre Poutine" covered his tracks in the course of sending out fraudulent robocalls to direct voters away from the correct polls. And it's particularly worth noting how blatantly the entire scheme was planned to conceal the Cons' misdeeds even before the robocalls themselves were recorded.

- Dan Gardner rightly recognizes that the output of a political system often has much more to do with broad agreement among multiple parties rather than the choices of any "great man" at the centre of it. But I'm surprised he doesn't point out today's Canada as a rather glaring counterexample (even if "great" isn't the word many would use to describe Stephen Harper): would anybody outside the Cons' propaganda department claim that the current government's policy direction has anything in particular to do with following a national consensus, rather than trying to wrench the country as far from it as they can get away with?

- Heather Mallick takes aim at Jim Flaherty's belief that Canadian workers should have no choice but to accept any job they can get.

- Alexis Stoymenoff reports on what may be one of the more interesting consequences of the Cons' obsession with pipelines: namely, will the seizure and destruction of citizens' property prove as controversial on the federal level as it did (say) in propelling the Wildrose Party to its gains in Alberta?

- Finally, Alice comments on the political calculations which figure to go into any by-election in Etobicoke Centre. But perhaps more interesting than a close race for a single seat is this choice facing the Cons:
A risk for the (Cons) in pursuing the appeal is that it will further commit them to the position taken by Mr. Opitz's legal counsel before the Ontario Superior Court that it is not necessary for every procedural detail of the Elections Act to be followed in order to have a vote counted. This is the exact opposite of the strategy being pursued by the Republican Party south of the border, where very strict voting rules are being promulgated in Republican-controlled states apparently in order to curtail voting by certain groups and in areas less favourably disposed to their party.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 25, 2012

Wednesday, April 25 saw one of the more noteworthy economic debates we've seen in the current session of Parliament, as a former-PC-turned-Liberal raised the issue of income inequality to a noteworthy response from the Harper Cons.

The Big Issue

Scott Brison presented what should have been a relatively non-controversial motion - calling not even for immediate action to address income inequality, but merely for study of the issue with a focus on "welfare walls" rather than substantive redistribution. But Dany Morin recognized that the Cons are doing everything in their power to reduce public knowledge of the issue - and sure enough, Brison's motion was met with admonitions from Shelly Glover and Cathy McLeod that their party doesn't believe the issue deserves any discussion.

Meanwhile, Peggy Nash nicely summed up what we already know about the corrosive effects of inequality. And Hoang Mai lamented the Cons' refusal to recognize reality. But the Cons made it abundantly clear that they don't see inequality as a problem worth addressing - meaning that we can expect at least three more years of matters getting worse.

First Principles

Another day of debate on the citizen's arrest bill led to plenty of discussion about the parties' general philosophies about criminal justice. Mike Sullivan noted that the Cons' anti-refugee bill treats newly-arrived individuals as offenders, then made the point that few if any potential offenders will look into the possible sentences before deciding to engage in criminal activity.  Raymond Cote questioned how the Cons can favour judicial discretion when it comes to the reasonableness of a citizen's arrest but not when it comes to sentencing, and suggested that we take an epidemiological point of view in evaluating our criminal justice policy. Charlie Angus commented that dealing with crime has to be a community effort rather than relying unduly on individual action. And Craig Scott pointed out that the committee process had been highly effective in addressing C-26 - again raising questions as to why the Cons are so eager to shut it down most of the time.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel criticized the Cons for slashing support to co-operatives in the budget. Charlie Angus pointed out that Bev Oda was a repeat offender when it came to frivolous spending of public money which went unaccounted for until opposition parties raised the issues. Romeo Saganash compared the cost of Oda's limo rides and five-star hotel rooms to the much smaller price of saving children through programs which the Cons are cutting, while Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet noted that the Cons had sunk to a new low in refusing to fund programs covered by a homelessness partnering strategy. Fin Donnelly contrasted the Cons' rhetoric about merely wanting to change fisheries regulation to avoid regulating ditches against their admission that part of the goal was to grease the skids for massive pipeline projects. Maria Mourani presented a private member's bill to review the extraterritorial activities of Canadian businesses. And in adjournment proceedings, Linda Duncan questioned the Cons about their choice to limit consultation with First Nations on resource projects which affect their land and livelihood.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- While some of us may recognize that there's little reason to lend much credence to the talking points spewed out by any Con spokespuppet, others have tried to give the benefit of the doubt as long as possible. But Lawrence Martin notes that even by those standards, John Baird is losing any pretense of credibility. And Susan Delacourt notes that the Cons - while never known for maturity or reasonableness - are getting more childish by the day.

- Doug Saunders offers a look at what a Canada of 100 million people might look like. But let's recognize as well that we're far less likely to reach that point following the Cons' path of preferring disposable temporary foreign labour to an immigration policy that actually allows families to settle in Canada.

- Bruce Johnstone laments the fact that he's being proven right as to the harmful effects of eliminating the single-desk Canadian Wheat Board on western agriculture. 

- David Climenhaga classifies Dutch disease alongside climate change as areas where the Cons and their oil-sector allies are trying to shout down inconvenient truths.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey comments on the G20 report from Ontario's Independent Police Review Director:
(T)he G20 was a weekend of excess in every way. It seemed as if too much money had been spent on the whole affair. I was reminded of parties I once attended in the mostly unfurnished, newly rented homes of freshly successful film directors. Sometimes I’d think, “What is it that does this to people? A man earns some decent money and all of a sudden there’s an ice swan on the table.” A 30-year-old guy starts making $2-million a year, and suddenly he’s throwing his 50th wedding anniversary party. He forgets himself. He forgets the demographic he will be serving that weekend.
Close to $1-billion was spent on security for the G20 gathering. It was as if the officials won policing a summit in a lottery. Ostentatious displays of policing were everywhere – hundreds of riot-gear-clad officers charging repeatedly through peaceful crowds, banging their massive riot shields like so many big-screen TVs ordered in bulk for the guest bathroom.
Like the ice swan, these expenditures bore almost no relation to the events at hand. 
The G20 was the result of an unparalleled level of co-operation between federal, provincial & municipal governments. This would be inspiring had it not been three levels of government working together to deprive Canadians of their rights.

Some senior Toronto police commanders are expected to be charged shortly for a variety of misconduct offences. Currently 28 front-line officers face disciplinary hearings on complaints including unlawful arrests and use of excessive or unnecessary force.

We owe it to the protesters who marched peacefully, holding up signs with which I frequently did not agree, to get answers. Those protesters are placeholders for the time when a cause moves me, or anyone else, to demonstrate. I am grateful to them.

We also owe those answers to the many decent police officers who realize that the role of the police is never, as one officer interpreted his directions from superiors that weekend, to “own the streets.”

Parliament in Review - April 24, 2012

Tuesday, April 24 saw a day of debate focused on a relatively non-contentious piece of legislation: a citizen's arrest bill which largely reflected Olivia Chow's work after charges were laid against David Chen of the Lucky Moose.

The Big Issue

When it came to the substance of the bill, there was little disagreement among the three parties in Parliament. Leading off the discussion was Con MP Robert Goguen, who recognized that by working with the opposition parties in committee the government had managed to improve the initial wording of the legislation - raising an obvious question as to why they aren't interested in doing the same more often. Jinny Sims carefully distinguished between the limited expansion of citizen's arrest provisions and any danger of vigilantism, while Linda Duncan and Charlie Angus highlighted the Trayvon Martin case as an example as to why we should be careful about encouraging anything along those lines.

The one dissenting voice was that of Elizabeth May, who not only questioned the inclusion of a single provision allowing for an arrest after a reasonable time, but indicated her intention to vote against the entire bill as a result. And Jack Harris recognized May's sincere concerns, while suggesting that an associated proliferation of private security firms might need to be addressed by the provinces.

The Wrong Prescription

Full credit goes to Con MP Terence Young for questioning the overuse of statins to reduce cholesterol. But Young's party-approved remedy looks like a bizarre way to counter the undue influence of big pharma in pushing its choice of profit drivers:
Most patients can lower their cholesterol with diet change and exercise without the risk of serious adverse effects from statin drugs. Since doctors generally ignore safety warnings from regulators, patients should get the best available evidence on statins from their pharmacists and by doing their own research.
In Brief

Ruth Ellen Brosseau offered a statement on Montreal's massive Earth Day rally, while Megan Leslie slammed the Cons for restricting media access to environmental scientists. Chow questioned the erosion of Canada's rail capacity under Lib and Con governments alike. Ted Hsu's question on the actual net impact of closing prisons was met with the remarkable response from Vic Toews that it would cost not a single penny to house the same prisoners elsewhere. The Cons pushed through their ways and means motion on the budget. Hedy Fry spoke to a private member's bill on cyberbullying, while Dany Morin asked whether more should be done to prevent rather than punish such harm and Goguen noted that the list of offences included in Fry's bill might be incomplete. And in adjournment proceedings Jamie Nicholls sought answers about a long list of Con patronage appointments, while Randall Garrison followed up on the Cons' air travel regulations which discriminate against transgendered travellers.