Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Andrew Nikiforuk discusses how Alberta and other petro-states have ended up destroying their treasuries and their democratic systems alike by relying excessively on volatile resource prices:
Thanks to the volatile nature of the world's most lucrative commodity, various petro states find themselves short of cash. And that's because most petro states don't know how to budget let alone govern.

Like any plantation economy, petro states operate pretty much like irrational monocultures: they know how pump oil, sell oil, talk oil and spend oil. But they don't know how to save or diversify its slippery wealth.
...
In addition to honesty gaps the size of tar sands mining pits, Alberta, like many petro states, has a dismal tax problem. The province's one party state draws, on average, 30 percent of its revenue from oil and gas projects. For more than 40 years Alberta's Tories have ruinously used these same petro dollars to distort, undermine and degrade a proper taxation system as well as enrich its cronies.

This explains why Alberta Treasury can still advertise Alberta as a fantasy honey pot with "low personal and corporate income taxes, the lowest fuel taxes among provinces, no capital tax, no payroll tax, no health premiums, and no sales tax" while the province chocks up one deficit after another and Redford cries bitumen bubble tears.

U.S. political scientist Michael Ross attributes such behavior to the pernicious "taxation effect" of oil: "When government derive sufficient revenues from the sale of oil, they are likely to tax their populations less heavily or not at all, and the public in turn will be less likely to demand accountability from -- and representation in -- their government." 
- Sarah Jordison suggests a simple strategy to deal with dumbed-down politics and politicians - which I'd supplement only by suggesting that it's equally important to highlight the exceptions to the current rule:
Responding to political spin with our own savvily crafted sound bite isn’t enough.  In fact it encourages the perception that if problems don’t have a simple solution they can’t be solved so it’s best to just not think about it.

If we’re going to succeed in building a better world with a government that is actually responsive to the needs of our people, a critical piece of our work must be to create a public appetite for deeper public policy discussions based in fact and not ideology.

This may seem like an insurmountable task, but really it starts by including a simple question when talking to the press or a gathering or even your friends and neighbours:

Does their simplistic spin really ring true with you?
- Dean Beeby neatly contrasts the Cons' bluster about openness against the entirely justified conclusion that they're getting more secretive and less responsive by the year:
The Harper government is dismissing a report that ranks it 55th in the world for upholding freedom of information, saying it has a sterling record for openness.

But a four-page document outlining the federal rebuttal took five months to release after a request under the Access to Information Act — underscoring the very delay problem that contributed to Canada's dismal ranking.

A human-rights group based in Halifax has issued three report cards since 2011 on Canada's anemic standing in the world with regard to so-called right-to-know legislation.

The Centre for Law and Democracy used a 61-point tool to measure Canada's legislation against that of other countries, in co-operation with Madrid-based Access Info Europe.

Canada's standing in September 2011 was 40th of 89 countries, fell to 51st in June last year, then to 55th of 93 countries last September, behind Mongolia and Colombia.
 - Finally, Bruce Campion-Smith finds that Pamela Wallin is included on the list of Con senators who have declared their residence to be in Ontario despite having been appointed as a representative of another province. And the more the Cons make clear that they don't see the Constitution Act, 1867 as being worth the paper it's written on when it comes to defining the required qualifications for senators, the more skeptical we should be of any claim that we're stuck with every other aspect of an elitist anachronism.

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