Saturday, March 02, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your Saturday.

- Bill Curry breaks the news of the Cons' next round of public service slashing - with Canada Revenue Agency employees whose work far more than pays for itself once more looming as one of the main targets of a government determined to ease the way for tax evasion and avoidance.

- Jodie Sinnema reports on the Parkland Institute's ideas for a more progressive tax system in Alberta. And it's particularly worth noting that Albertans themselves recognize the value of fair taxes even as their government continues to insist on the need to cater to the wealthy:
A survey of 1,207 residents in 2012 found 60 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed higher-income earners should pay a greater share in taxes.

“They’re quite open, certainly much more open than the pervasive mythology that you see perpetuated by the government and some other pundits around this issue,” Stunden Bower said. “People who have the capacity to pay more should pay more.”
- Stephen Maher rightly questions why the Cons are so eager to harass EI recipients while simply taking Senate appointees at their word that we should keep shovelling public largesse their way:
I would like the government to treat those two sins — filing a fake EI claim and filing a false declaration of primary residence — in exactly the same way.

There should not be one rule for senators and another for fish plant workers, who smell worse but are more honest than a lot of politicians.

If it’s OK for Duffy to just pay back the money he received as result of an incorrectly filled out form, then it should also be OK for people who fill out those EI forms incorrectly to just pay the money back.

And neither Duffy nor jobless fish-plant workers should have inspectors popping by their frigging houses unannounced.
- Finally, Bruce Owen's story about an unprovoked physical attack on Manitoba NDP MLA Kevin Chief is well worth a read - both in highlighting Chief's personal response, and as a reminder that there are other (and more constructive) responses to crime beyond the obsession with vengeance that serves as the Cons' inevitable reaction.

On social roles

The work (PDF) of the Saskatchewan Election Study in analyzing public views of unions is worth a read generally. But it's particularly worth noting that the element of union activity which the public considers to be most valuable is also the part facing the most regular attacks from Brad Wall and his corporate boosters.

Here's Loleen Berdahl and David McGrane on the comparative views of different union roles:
In so far as people perceive unions as narrowly defending the interests of their own members, the public reaction is negative. Indeed, almost three in five (58.1 per cent) respondents feel that unions generally ask for too much. However, the public is more positive regarding the broader role of unions, and a strong majority (64.8 per cent) feels that unions play an important role in promoting better working conditions and wages
Unions will not find a sympathetic public if they are perceived only to be fighting for more money for their members. To garner public support, the union movement needs to frame its communication around its struggles to improve the lives of all workers, and how they aid the most vulnerable in Saskatchewan.

In fact, those who aren't in the workforce (full-time caregivers, students, retirees and the unemployed) are some of the biggest supporters of unions.
And it surely isn't a coincidence that Wall and his party have tried to stifle the most popular (and arguably the most important) part of the role of Saskatchewan's labour movement.

For the most part, the Sask Party hasn't publicly argued that unions should be limited in their role of representing members in dealing with particular employers - even if its specific legislation has been far more extreme than the party's message for public consumption.

But it's been another story when it comes to the role of unions in promoting better working conditions and wages generally. Wall has personally launched broadside attacks against "politically active" unions in general, while his party has tried to silence particular unions who have dared to speak out. And Wall's corporatist cheerleaders have been happy to echo the message that unions should be prevented from doing anything beyond negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements.

Fortunately, the Saskatchewan Election Study polling data offers a strong indication that the general public disagrees with Wall's desire to limit the scope of union activity. And the more the Sask Party tries to crack down on what citizens in general recognize to be an important service, the more likely we'll see the labour movement emerge ahead of Wall's corporate backers in the court of public opinion.

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Plenty more commentators are taking a turn duly mocking the Cons' Senate shenanigans. Here's Tabatha Southey:
In fact, Mr. Duffy lives and votes in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, in a home he purchased five years before he was appointed to the Senate in 2008. He has a modest, seasonal cottage in Cavendish, PEI, which is reportedly seldom used.

There are signs there may be a number of these houses across the country – dark, lifeless, spooky places children rush by after sundown because some people say those houses have senators. Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, now-independent Senator Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Senator Mac Harb are also being investigated for questionable secondary-residence expenses.
Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, said this that week the mere signing of a declaration of qualification form claiming to be from the Island qualifies one for the Senate. Apparently there’s an “if I clap my hands, I am actually Tinkerbell” clause in there somewhere, officially making being a senator the best job in the world.
And Scott Feschuk:
1. Belittle. When reporters suggested Duffy was inappropriately pocketing up to $22,000 a year in living expenses (he claimed his primary residence is in P.E.I., even though he’s lived near Ottawa for decades), the senator’s response was to mock them. Do some “adult work,” he said. When that didn’t end the scrutiny, he told one journalist: “It’s none of your business.” This is a great way to win over taxpayers, who love it when a partisan crony—appointed by fiat to a cushy job with a great pension—explains that what he does with their money is none of their concern.
4. Deflect. For weeks, Duffy told reporters there’s no story here. He urged them to instead focus on “real issues” like energy development. This is a great gambit because reporters always do what they’re told by a politician who’s up to his neck in it. For instance, if you’re caught cheating on your spouse, just tell those nosy reporters to focus on what really matters: the fact that mangoes are delicious. Yes, when they find you naked in a motel, they’ll probably ask questions like, “What does this say about your personal integrity?” and “What’s with the clown mask?” But give them the skinny on mangoes and they’ll be rushing to the pay phones to yell: “STOP THE PRESSES—I’VE GOT BREAKING FRUIT NEWS!” Works every time.
And finally Thomas Walkom:
Duffy’s problem, which he appears to share with others, is that if he doesn’t live in P.E.I. he is constitutionally barred from occupying any of that province’s four Senate seats.

Whoops! When the Senate leadership went after the former television reporter for his expense accounts, they didn’t mean to open that particular can of worms.
So their solution is to say that, yes, Duffy lives in P.E.I. because he said so when the current Parliament began two years ago.
But no, he appears not to live in P.E.I. and therefore may not be eligible for any housing allowances received. His expense accounts have been put to external auditors for investigation.
How can he be a resident and non-resident at the same time? In the world most of us inhabit, he cannot. Only in theoretical physics and the parallel universe that is the Senate is such a thing possible.
- The Star's editorial board rightly notes that Claude Patry should seek a new mandate from voters after abandoning the NDP for the Bloc, while Chantal Hebert sees the departure as "more like a paper cut than a puncture wound". And I'll point back to my take on the last similar case - which proved to be an isolated move by an isolated MP rather than a harbinger of anything to come.

- Finally, Ezra Klein writes about the limits of a president's persuasive powers. But while his conclusion distinguishes between the U.S.' system of divided government and parliamentary structures, I have to wonder whether it applies even more strongly in Canada: where a president may see the need to marshal some form of persuasion in order to get anything passed, far too many majority governments seem to believe they're better off not even trying to justify massive bills which can be rammed through without debate rather than engaging in a discussion which could call attention to their actions.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Musical interlude

One Bad Son - Scarecrows

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- The Star's editorial board highlights why our elected representatives should be countering the effect of precarious employment (rather than exacerbating them as the Cons have done):
Simply put, programs like Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan were created back in the days when employees received wrist watches for 40 years of service. Unemployment was considered a temporary misfortune, and big companies were expected to provide adequate pensions to be topped up by government cheques. Those programs have not adapted to the new, more “precarious” world.
For example, EI benefits have been pared back for many years, to the point where less than half of jobless workers now qualify for benefits (and only 40 per cent of those in Ontario). That leaves many in the unstable job category out of luck, since they likely won’t collect enough weeks of work to qualify.
Unless laid-off workers can quickly bounce into a new job, many may end up on welfare — but not until their savings are exhausted, as required by Ontario social assistance rules. It’s a bureaucratic mess.
These flawed social programs trap workers whose tenuous existence helps private sector companies focus on their bottom line. EI should provide a soft landing, during a job search, instead of pushing workers onto welfare.
Old age benefits are no better. Since unstable jobs rarely provide company pensions, many future retirees will subsist on their limited income from the Canada Pension Plan. That makes the drive to modernize the CPP and significantly boost pensions all the more urgent.
- Meanwhile, David Climenhaga asks a rather important question as to what's happening to Alberta's publicly-owned resources - and the answer shouldn't come as much surprise:
“The transfer of public wealth to private shareholders is blistering, and our own government, rather than fighting like an owner, or even thinking like an owner, is just happy to find investors who want to cash in.” (Those investors, Dr. Taft noted as an aside – well before this became a national scandal – are frequently state-owned companies from such places as China, Abu Dhabi and Korea.)

How blistering? Well, corporate profits were up 317 per cent in the same period health care spending rose 28 per cent, incomes went up 35 per cent and education spending increased 2 per cent!

One question Taft said he couldn’t answer from the data he worked with is where all the money goes once it flows into these bloated corporate profits. But you and I don’t need a book to tell us the answer to that one: Most of it leaves the country for places where it does nothing for Canadians.

No wonder, when you think about it, that corporate special interests and their paid representatives in Canada are so aggressive in defending their “right” to rapidly export even more of our resources via pipeline to wherever – the environment, the rights of Canadians, and due process be damned!
- Tim Harper discusses the end of Kevin Page's term as Parliamentary Budget Officer - along with the importance of having a watchdog to track and challenge often-implausible official numbers.

- Stephen Harper's chief Senate flack has declared she plans to treat the residency requirement under Canada's Constitution as being met solely by a standard form declaration - with no need for the declaration to be true. Watch for criminal justice to get a lot less expensive as smart defense counsel prepare Declarations of Non-Guilt and insist there's no basis to test them through actual evidence.

- Finally, Robert Benzie reports on a rare example of conservatives imposing something resembling austerity on themselves - though it remains to be seen whether the Ontario PCs actually plan to run a more frugal election campaign or are simply using the threat to bring in more money in the short term.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

#skndpldr Roundup

For those of us curious as to why one of the most significant voices in Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign has been fairly quiet lately, Scott Stelmaschuk offered his explanation this week - as well as an endorsement that everybody within the party should be able to support.

Meanwhile, there hasn't been much other news to cover recently. Aside from a few more endorsements and some boilerplate appeals for support, one new policy plank has been added to the mix (Ryan Meili's announcement on co-operative economic development).

But the campaigns' obvious priority has been to lock in votes during the early voting window (ending next Tuesday for voting online and by phone). And with upwards of 4,200 ballots already cast, the result could very well be decided over the next few days.

On misdirection

Shorter Konrad Yakabuski:

If only unions had let themselves be brow-beaten into accepting less wages and security for their members, then surely our corporate overlords would have granted greater wages and security to everybody!

New column day

Here, on how the current controversy over residency requirements only helps to show how Canada's Senate is beyond fixing.

For further reading...
- Again, Andrew Coyne similarly points out how abolition is a more viable option than trying to rewrite rules to preserve the existing Senate.
- Kelly McParland's take on Mike Duffy is probably still the best commentary linking the circumstances of the Cons' Senate scandals to the institution as a whole, while the Charlottetown Guardian rightly notes that the primary issue facing Duffy is ineligibility rather than expense claims.
- And amazingly, Stephen Harper is doubling down yet again in declaring that his talking points override the terms Canada's Constitution of as well as the Senate's own investigation.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Molly Ball writes about the false assumptions underlying far too much political discussion - with one looming as particularly significant for Canadian purposes:
5. Campaign ads really, really, really don't make much difference.

In this part of the paper, Fiorina's exasperation becomes palpable. Political scientists have studied the effect of campaign media for decades and consistently found it to be very small. But that doesn't stop commentators from talking endlessly about the potential effects of ads. "I shall say no more about this, because given the long history of the disjunction, it is doubtful that academics could change journalists' minds about this subject if they had a whole semester," Fiorina huffs. "Who are they going to believe: academic researchers, or their own eyes and ears?"

Fiorina cites voters' relative immunity to political messaging as evidence that the electorate, by and large, "is not stupid." Voters are often ill-informed, it's true, and not particularly interested in politics most of the time. But that doesn't mean they're easily duped or bad at making reasoned judgments in the end. As Fiorina can't resist jabbing: "The collective electorate manifests a degree of knowledge and wisdom that gives those of us who have studied that electorate for decades some cause for optimism. If only I could say as much about the knowledge and wisdom of the political class."
- And Thomas Walkom points out how an ill-founded "centrist" obsession with austerity is driving European voters toward virtually anybody who doesn't demand gratuitous public pain as the price of appeasing imaginary bond vigilantes.

- Lawrence Martin largely laughs off the Harper Cons' latest posturing over Keystone XL.

- Armine Yalnizyan writes that minimum-wage work is becoming more and more prevalent in Canada - meaning that erosion in the minimum wage will affect an increasing number of workers along with the economy as a whole.

- Finally, Toby Sanger offers a much-needed rebuttal to the Fraser Institute's latest attack on the public sector - and finds that the only added expenses in public-sector wages for comparable work is the fact that women face a smaller wage gap than they would in the corporate world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Education of Tim McMillan

Saskatchewan Minister of Energy and Resources Tim McMillan has seen fit to respond to last week's column on Keystone XL and its connection to climate policy. But it's well worth noting that McMillan's argument looks to fall short on a few fronts.

Let's start with the fact that McMillan doesn't even pretend to refute my concerns that his government has done absolutely nothing on climate change over a period of years. (Which hardly serves to address the genuine concern from the Obama administration that the Canadian voices lobbying for Keystone XL have no interest whatsoever in meaningful climate change policy.)

Instead, McMillan focuses largely on repeating what I pointed to as a wild claim about the impact of Keystone XL - only unlike Wall, he helpfully offers the weasel words "up to" in saying that a pipeline might add $300 million per year to the province's coffers.

Which is probably an entirely valid claim, in much the same sense that upon purchasing a lottery ticket one's net worth might increase by up to $20 million.

But for those of us who would prefer to see policy based on reasonable assumptions, McMillan doesn't do anything to back up a number which Wall seems to have pulled out of thin air. And that's problematic since based on my back-of-the-envelope calculations the Sask Party's claim seems to involve both an assumption that upon pipeline construction there will be no gap between the price of Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate for oil sent via Keystone XL, and an assumption that every drop of conventional oil delivered via Keystone XL will come from Saskatchewan rather than adjacent oil-producing states and provinces.

That said, I haven't yet arrived at the best part...
The math is simple: the lower price of oil is costing the province up to $300 million a year. The lost revenue from 2012 alone could fund the construction of 15 new elementary schools. 
Apparently McMillan's preferred unit of exchange for public policy choices is the $20 million elementary school. So let's see how that applies as compared to some of his government's other choices.

To start with, it certainly doesn't reflect an accurate measure of how the Sask Party itself has used provincial revenues. The Ministry of Education's own talking points have the Wall government allocating $500 million in total into school capital projects over the course of five years in office, compared to total provincial expenditures of about $10 billion per year ($50 billion total).

So on average, about 1% of the provincial budget has gone to McMillan's proposed use of new revenue. Which means that if the highest and best use of provincial revenue is the construction of elementary schools, then McMillan must be a singularly useless voice for that cause within a government whose priorities are utterly wrong.

More importantly, though, the "elementary schools given away" standard surely applies equally to areas where Wall and company have chosen to slash revenue coming into the provincial treasury.

Take for instance the $200 million price tag for a 2% cut in Saskatchewan's corporate tax cuts - implemented based on the profound public policy analysis that "big biz likes free $$$!!!" By McMillan's rationale, his government is deliberately giving away 10 elementary schools every year through that single choice alone - while investing on average in no more than 2.5 schools.

And in other areas such as resource royalties, the cost of the Saskatchewan Party's refusal to collect reasonable revenue rates in the billions of dollars per year. Or by McMillan's standards, dozens upon dozens of schools left unbuilt.

Needless to say, I'd suggest that McMillan encourage his own government to focus its own choices on ensuring it has the resources to build schools (and address other public needs), rather than counting on speculative future returns from projects beyond its control. And if the Sask Party chooses to remedy its climate change neglect to facilitate the approval of Keystone XL rather than engaging in a ritualistic chant of "pipeline! pipeline! pipeline!" as its sole answer to all issues of concern, then so much the better.
he math is simple: the lower price of oil is costing the province up to $300 million a year. The lost revenue from 2012 alone could fund the construction of 15 new elementary schools. - See more at:
The math is simple: the lower price of oil is costing the province up to $300 million a year. The lost revenue from 2012 alone could fund the construction of 15 new elementary schools. - See more at:
The math is simple: the lower price of oil is costing the province up to $300 million a year. The lost revenue from 2012 alone could fund the construction of 15 new elementary schools. - See more at:
The math is simple: the lower price of oil is costing the province up to $300 million a year. The lost revenue from 2012 alone could fund the construction of 15 new elementary schools. - See more at:

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- John Moore questions the much-hyped assertions of a permanent Republican Conservative majority by pointing out that Canadian values haven't changed at all even as the Harper Cons have tried to use public money to change the channel. And Justin Ling sees the Cons as a product of elections being seen as periodic job interviews rather than tests of underlying principles.

- Frances Russell critiques the Cons' hierarchy of human rights - with protection of (some people who practice some) religions taking precedence over such trifles as life and liberty.

- Thomas Walkom is right to note that the main formal issue surrounding Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin is their lack of a permanent residence in the province they're supposed to be representing. But the more important question is whether there's any useful purpose to having a patronage-based Senate in the first place - and Tim Harper recognizes that Duffy, Wallin and Patrick Brazeau are just the latest cases in point as to why the answer is an emphatic "no".

- Finally, The Regina Mom points to the sudden decision to close Regina's historic Connaught school as another sad example of an alarming trend toward non-consultation - while offering a petition in response.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Angled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Michael Harris rightly points out that a steady stream of scandals and incompetence from the Cons says plenty about Stephen Harper's own judgment (or lack thereof):
Sooner or later, the country is going to realize that there is something terribly wrong with Stephen Harper’s judgment.

And sooner or later, the Conservative party is going to realize one-man bands are great until the tuba player runs out of breath.

At the moment, judged only by his record in Senate appointments, Harper’s eye for talent appears to be made of glass.

Patrick Brazeau and Mike Duffy have become media migraines for the government. Both have tarnished the Tory brand. They were the PM’s picks. Blow the draft choices, face the consequences.
Like some of his appointments, the Senate itself is further evidence of poor judgment by the prime minister. Instead of the refreshing promise of reform, Harper has turned the Senate into a bank machine for the Conservative Party, using his appointees to raise money at endless fundraisers and to fiddle the system.

Harper’s broken promise is bad enough, especially the part about patronage having no role to play in the parliament of Canada. The reality check? No one has outdone the current PM in sending party hacks, bagmen, failed candidates and media sycophants to the trough.

The difference between this PM and his predecessors is that he didn’t stop at stacking the Senate with pork. He remorselessly used it as just another partisan forum, on one occasion deploying a patronage-based Senate to kill a climate-change bill that had already been passed by elected MPs. That hadn’t happened in seven decades.
- Meanwhile, Kelly McParland considers Mike Duffy to be a case in point as to how the Senate is long past its expiry date:
A senator’s primary residence would matter if the Senate still did the job for which it was originally intended, representing provincial interests in Ottawa. But the fact is it doesn’t: the provinces, led by their premiers, do that for themselves, as they have long done.

The leaves the Senate with its other mandate, acting as  a chamber of “sober second thought.”  Except it doesn’t do that either. There may be a small group of senators who add some value to the legislative process in Ottawa, but the majority are of the Duffy type, patronage appointments put there to agree with the prime minister who appointed them. For years the chamber acted as a Liberal nodding shop; more recently Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stuffed it with compliant Tory appointees, whose main job is to agree to reform themselves if and when Mr. Harper ever gets a Senate reform bill to that stage. How qualified can members be if they can’t even identify where they live?

That being the case, the situation faced by Sen. Duffy inadvertently illustrates why the Senate is no longer needed: because it has too many members like Mr. Duffy, whose consumption of public income and resources serves no purpose. Think of how much better served Canadians would be were Sen. Duffy to be retired, enabling him to spend all his time in Cavendish.
- Peter O'Neil reports that Preston Manning and Ed Broadbent have joined Kennedy Stewart's push to encourage a petition process which will at least ensure MPs consider issues of importance to citizens.

- Finally, Sid Ryan and Alex Himelfarb make the case for Ontario to look beyond the pain fixation of austerians:
Cutting our way to growth failed as a budget strategy in the 1930s and it will not work now. As economist Paul Krugman notes, government deficits are a symptom of a greater economic disease, not the disease itself. It follows then, that if we zealously tackle the symptom and ignore the disease, we risk making the situation much worse.

We need to understand how we got into deficit if we are to develop sensible, prudent policies. The evidence here is clear: loss of revenue and increased spending after the financial meltdown (although spending was not our problem before the recession and it isn’t now) and years of tax cuts that mostly benefited wealthy citizens and corporations to the tune of $15 billion while never delivering on their promise of growth and jobs.

Budgets that eliminate waste and reduce debt in good times are prudent budgets. Budgets that cut programs and services, lower wages, and maintain unaffordable tax cuts, especially when the economy is struggling, are neither prudent nor responsible.

It’s time to change the conversation on austerity, to talk about getting Ontarians back to work in jobs that pay a living wage, to talk about revenues and not just cuts, to talk about building a better future together.

#skndpldr Candidate Rankings - February 26

For obvious reasons, there's at least one change to this week's Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidate rankings. But will there be any more news other than Erin Weir's withdrawal from the race at a time when most of the voting is expected to be taking place?

1. Ryan Meili (1)

Well, Meili for one should enjoy a strengthened position, with Weir (and by all indications his key supporters) added to what already looked to be the front-running campaign just in time to combine the candidates' respective get-out-the-vote efforts. And while I'm not quite as eager as some to declare the race over, it will be a major surprise if Meili doesn't at least end up in a close final ballot.

2. Cam Broten (2)

That said, I'm not sure Broten's positioning in the race has changed all that much following Weir's departure. He'll still figure to be planning for a final ballot against Meili, seeking to gain enough of an advantage among Trent Wotherspoon's supporters (based on the familiar experience theme) to overcome any first-ballot gap. And at worst for Broten, that gap may be somewhat larger now than it appeared before.

3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)

That leaves Wotherspoon in his familiar third-place position. And while I still see a fairly close contest between the three remaining candidates on the first ballot, the down-ballot opportunities for Wotherspoon are starting to dry up.

Until this week, Wotherspoon's best chance of assembling a bandwagon at the convention looked to come from Weir's Regina base: even a subtle shift in his favour between the first and second ballots might have given him the perception of momentum and helped to turn the tide in his favour. But with that possibility no longer available, Wotherspoon's only chance is to convince Saskatoon voters to support him over a more familiar local figure on a final ballot from a standing start - and without any assurance that there will be enough votes in play to overcome a probable geographical disadvantage in the advance voting.

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.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

#skndpldr - Moose Jaw Debate Notes

Let's close out my review at the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership debates with a brief look at the Moose Jaw forum - which featured a fair bit of talk about specific local issues (including candidate and member questions about the closure of the Valley View Centre) in addition to a familiar set of general themes:

Perhaps the most noteworthy theme throughout the debate was that of ensuring that the corporate sector shares in the province's effort to deal with social concerns. In response to a question on climate change policy, Ryan Meili pointed out the need for large-scale businesses to pay their share of the cost of greenhouse gas emissions - potentially both through a reduced rate discount from SaskPower for industrial users, and through a carbon tax.

Erin Weir then asked Meili about the "cognitive dissonance" between his concerns about the impact of uranium mining and his intention to allow mining to continue. There, Meili recognized the need to incorporate the broader effects of the industry into our public policy decisions, but also made clear that some alternative economic plan for northern Saskatchewan would be needed if the province intended to phase out uranium mining.

In turn, Trent Wotherspoon critiqued Cam Broten's water policy for focusing primarily on residential users rather than industrial ones. And Broten both recognized the need for provincial regulators to meaningfully monitor business rather than seeing regulated businesses as its customers to be served, and highlighted the mining sector as an area of particular concern.

In the end, that set of issues didn't give rise to much direct disagreement among the candidates. But it did help to flesh out some possible applications of an agreed set of principles - along with obvious areas of distinction from a government bent on elevating business interests over any other issues.

All of which is to say that for all the differences set out during the course of the campaign, the final debates offered a strong indication that any of the candidates can make a strong case for a focus on social values when aimed in the right direction.

Finally as a particular point of interest for readers, I'll point out one part of the debate which particularly strikes me as worth a look, as the responses to one member question (1:21:12 in the video) offer as strong a direct comparison as we're likely to see in evaluating the respective economic messages of the candidates.

Sunday Morning Links

That and that for your Sunday reading.

- Alex Himelfarb weighs in against gratuitous austerity by pointing out the dishonest cycle of excuses used to push destructive policy:
(T)he consequences of cuts are increasingly visible, first for the most vulnerable: aboriginal communities struggling to meet basic needs, higher tuitions and student debt, refugees who cannot get needed medicine, more unemployed Canadians thrown onto inadequate welfare because they cannot access insurance. Some consequences will play out more slowly: weaker environmental regulations, cuts to education and science, neglect of crumbling infrastructure, eroding public services will all make our economy less competitive, less fair, less sustainable. The deeper the cuts, the more public services erode, the more inequality and poverty grow, the greater the risks of social disruption and the higher the political costs. Then what?

The final refuge is to argue that all the right things have been done and now it’s up to the market. These arguments are already on the business pages of our media: when the governor of the Bank of Canada urged business to put some of the cash they were sitting on back into the economy, the austerians reacted with force. Don’t worry about “dead money,” they said. Don’t worry about the failure of the corporate sector to turn its profits — and tax cuts — into job-creating investments. Sounding eerily like old Communists clinging to the notion of inevitable revolution, their argument was pure ideology — “it’s only a matter of time,” surely market forces, as the laws of economics require, will kick in. If there are inexorable laws of economics that yield jobs and growth from cuts to taxes and government, it seems somebody forgot to tell business.
- Chrystia Freeland notes that the promise of prosperity out of free trade looks to be similarly empty within one of the largest trade relationships in the world, as the primary effect of increased U.S. trade with China has been domestic job losses:
“U.S.-China trade is almost a one-way street. This trade relationship doesn’t clearly give you the benefit that you can sell a lot of stuff to your trade partner,” Dorn said. “If you talk to someone who is somehow involved in the promotion of free trade, they may say that maybe the headquarters of Apple (AAPL.O) benefits. That may be true. But the first-order effect is of job loss.”
What is challenging about both of these trends, and what makes the hollowing out of the middle class a political problem as well as an economic one, is how different they look depending on whether you own a company or work for one.

Shipping middle-class jobs to China, or hollowing them out with machines, is a win for smart managers and their shareholders. We call the result higher productivity. But, looked at through the lens of middle-class jobs, it is a loss. That profound difference is why politics in the rich democracies are so polarized right now. Capitalism and democracy are at cross-purposes, and no one yet has a clear plan for reconciling them.
- Meanwhile, Laurie Monsebraaten discusses the plight of the precariat, as roughly half of workers in the Toronto area lack secure employment. And pogge rightly notes that the trend toward instability is part of a conscious set of policy choices aimed at redistributing wealth in the direction of the few at the top:
Governments over the past thirty years or so have increasingly catered to the corporate agenda while organized labour has been steadily undermined. Politicians have practically hurt themselves in the rush to sign on to so-called trade agreements that curtail their own ability to affect the economy in favour of giving more control to the private sector. They've either looked on benignly or actively smoothed the way for employers who want to rely less on full time employees and turn as many jobs as possible into temporary, contract positions with no benefits.

Wasn't the state of affairs described in this article the point? People who feel their economic position is precarious will settle for lower wages, fewer benefits and more abuse. Their employers can look forward to bigger profits on which, thanks to those same co-operative governments, they'll pay lower taxes.
- Finally, the public editor of a Bell-owned paper has concluded that there's no need for any critical look at Bell's motives or choices so long as it proclaims a story to be purely a matter of good news. I for one see no way this philosophy could possibly go wrong.