Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Debbie Chachra discusses why an effective government is a necessary element of civilization - and why charity can't fill in the gap:
Taxes aren't the only way to pay for civilization, of course: community groups, charities, and churches also contribute. But I consider myself a fairly prudent consumer, and I want my money to be used well.

Even excellent charities are inefficient. Take food banks. We have a distribution system that goes from farms to warehouses to grocery stores. Food banks then set up more warehouses and pick-up sites to get sustenance out to those in need, often food that's already gone down the first chain. It's far more efficient to give people the means to use the retail distribution network than to create and have them use an alternate system.

Charity is also ad hoc: it's difficult to get help to people who need it in a systematic way that makes sure no one falls through the cracks. And charities, especially ones that do take on the challenge of large-scale issues, need to spend much of their income asking people like me to help.
(W)hile I regularly donate to charities and I believe they play an important role in society, I don't want them in lieu of more efficient systems. I don't want to go to fundraisers to pay the medical bills of artists; I want them to have health insurance. I want to be able to go to meetings on the other side of the country and buy chicken for dinner without worrying about my safety. And I want programs like WIC to provide services that reduce the need for more expensive interventions. 
- Barbara Kermode-Scott writes that big pharma's move to trash British Columbia's Therapeutics Initiative is being met with some international response from doctors who want more information about drugs than what manufacturers put in their promotional materials.

- CBC's series on offshore tax evasion continues with a look at the role Barbados plays in concealing large amounts of wealth siphoned out of Canada. 

- Graham Thomson writes that the Redford PCs' response to a judicial finding that they've deliberately and wrongfully shut the community out of environmental review processes has been to operate in denial that the decision was ever made.

- And Aaron Wherry surveys how Canadian courts have rejected the Cons' mandatory minimum sentence approach to criminal justice.

- Finally, Glen Pearson's takedown of backroom power brokerage is well worth reading (and applying as a test to all political parties):
For whatever reason, these former kingmakers, having had their day, refuse to ride quietly over the horizon. But for all their expertise and experience, their veiled arrogance hints of the kind of political class thinking that increasingly repels the average citizen. The brutality of their language sounds exactly like the regular partisan rants that emanate from the House of Commons on any given day of the week. It is the old politics that sees voters turning away from the political space in droves.
There is a new democracy [slowly] emerging to fight such shadows, not only in Canada, but in other nations at present that is calling for increased respect, an instinct for cooperation, that is commensurate with the significant challenges faced by communities and reacts with revulsion to those who play at politics while unemployment rises, jobs grow more scarce, our infrastructure deficit runs in the billions, and our middle class facing the greatest challenges in a generation. In such a world, the playground of former kingmakers appears not only out of place, but downright maddening.

The new democracy is more about citizen activism than backroom shenanigans and pressing for transparency than secret dealings. It ultimately opts for cooperation over contention, public policy over punishing partisanship, and a sense of the integration of power over its ideology. This is the politics more and more Canadians are requesting, but it's all fluff and airy ideals to the likes of Reid and Kinsella. They prefer the smell of the trenches over the messy work of the grassroots. Elections are their game, not engagement.

Ironically, our public fate in Canada depends on the outcome of the war between these two practices of democracy. How can citizens possibly win out over such courtiers, when power itself prefers the secret corridors over the public thoroughfares? Well, it's slowly happening regardless of the backroom boys. Activism in our communities is inevitably filling the vacuum left by an increasingly vacuous hunt for political power for its own sake. But this doesn't suit the power players, who show little interest in our daily struggles and who, ironically, are guilty of the same trait they accused Michael Ignatieff of: they're just visiting.

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