Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your weekend.

- Dave Coles introduces readers to the Cons' latest attack on labour - with a backbencher's private member's bill again serving as an excuse to introduce unprecedent restrictions on union organization.

- Michael Harris suspects that the Cons' attempt to delay any public review of their burgeoning Senate slush fund scandal by a referral to the Auditor General is doomed to fail. And Karl Nerenberg discusses exactly what the slush fund means - including the holes it highlights in Canada's party financing system.

- Martin Regg Cohn rightly calls out Jim Flaherty for once again trying to use a federal cabinet post to bully Ontario's provincial government. But it's also worth noting that in addition to misrepresenting the type of policy under consideration in Ontario, Flaherty is also being dishonest about the rationale used to sell his own party's tax cuts - which included generating tax room to be available for additional provincial revenue:
Our government firmly believes that unanticipated surpluses, the last area I wanted to mention, should be used primarily to reduce the debt and reduce federal taxes rather than to launch new policies in areas where the federal government is not best placed to design or deliver programs.

This, in turn, creates tax room that provinces and territories can consider filling for their specific needs and purposes. It supports the premise that governments need to be accountable to Canadians for their taxing and spending decisions. That clarity of roles and responsibilities is essential by ensuring that Canadians can hold governments accountable for their actions.
- Michael Geist discusses his appearance in front of the Standing Committee on International Trade to discuss the most dangerous elements of the TPP - as well as the secrecy surrounding its negotiations:
(I)t is deeply troubling that DFAIT has established a secret insider group with some companies and industry associations granted access to consultations as well as opportunities to learn more about the agreement and Canada's negotiating position.

I realize that Minister Fast denied the existence of such a group when he appeared before you last month.  However, documents I obtained under the Access to Information Act indicate that the first secret industry consultation occurred weeks before Canada was formally included in the TPP negotiations in a November 2012 consultation with telecommunications providers. All participants were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.  

Soon after, the circle of insiders expanded with the formation of a TPP Consultation Group. Representatives from groups and companies such as Bombardier, the Canadian Manufactures and Exporters, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, and the Canadian Steel Producers Association all signed a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement that granted access to "certain sensitive information of the Department concerning or related to the TPP negotiations."

I have copies of the signed NDAs here that make specific reference to the TPP Consultation Group.

The creation of a secret TPP insider group suggests an attempt to shy away from public consultation and scrutiny of an agreement that could have a transformative effect on dozens of sectors at a time when we should be increasing efforts to gain public confidence in the talks by adopting a more transparent and accountable approach. I believe the TPP's highly secretive and non-transparent approach runs counter to Canadian values of openness and accountability. We should be actively encouraging participants to increase TPP transparency and should lead by example by ceasing the two-tier insider approach to trade agreement information. 
- Finally, Will Hutton discusses why tolerance is of limited value without some associated commitment to human dignity:
Tolerance of other people's differences is a core element of a liberal order, but a good society is one where we go beyond just shrugging our shoulders at someone's sexual preferences, religious beliefs or ethnicity. It is one in which we engage with each other, create law and justice as a moral system enshrining human dignity and accept mutual responsibilities. The aim is to live with dignity, to be able to make the best of one's capabilities and to expect that the consequences of undeserved bad luck – what Dworkin called brute bad luck – would be compensated by society in a mutual compact. This is a million miles from the Economist's arid conception of liberalism.

Nor are these disputes just airy-fairy differences between intellectuals – they go to the heart of how we live, what we do and say. Unless we take a much more robust and rounded view of liberalism, tolerance ends up as indifference, disengagement and refusal to respect other people's ambition to live with dignity. Anything goes...

In successive areas of public policy – "reform" of criminal justice and legal aid, the health service, climate change, employment law, social security – the debate is similarly defined wholly in terms of the need to assert individual rights and choice, to minimise social and public responsibilities and, above all, to roll back taxes. If the facts or scientific evidence do not support this drive, then the facts are changed or the science ignored.
(I)if the right is dominant, a rounded liberalism has one advantage. The right's world leads to economic stagnation, social atomisation and a destructive nationalism. Nor, ultimately, is there happiness and dignity to be found by living as a tax-avoiding, climate-change-denying anti-feminist while mouthing how tolerant you are. There is a quiet and mounting crisis in conservatism. Liberalism, in its best sense, could capitalise on the opportunity. It is a pity Ronnie Dworkin won't be around to be part of the fight back. We'll just have to do it by ourselves.

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