Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Alex Himelfarb and Jordan Himelfarb comment on the dangers of failing to talk about taxes:
The tax debate is often muddied by disagreement about whether taxes have actually gone up or down. As the economy grows, so too do tax revenues and spending, which is why many (though not all) prefer to measure tax as a percentage of the economy (GDP). The only good data on this come from StatsCan in a survey discontinued in 2008. These numbers show a decline in the scale of tax and spending over the last several decades, as do international comparisons. And using the federal government’s own projections, the scale of federal tax and spending will, over the next years, fall to lows not seen for seven decades.

Whether we’re taxed too much or too little is a perennial debate that now needs rebalancing. It’s all well and good to say that many Canadians want smaller government but that means nothing unless it’s based on some understanding of how this will affect our ability to pursue our shared goals. We ought to know what we’re giving up before we celebrate the next round of tax cuts.

It’s time we restored the tax debate to its rightful place within a larger conversation, which has all but vanished, about the kind of country we want and are willing to pay for.
- Marc Taliano writes that rather than solving any problems arising out of limited public resources, privatization only exacerbates the problem of public dollars being diverted to corporate purposes. And Paul Krugman notes that Cliven Bundy represents a perfect example of an anti-social businessman portraying himself as an individualist while blatantly stealing public resources.

- Marc Zwelling points out the challenge facing progressive voices in discussing poverty, as the general public is willing to respond to the issue when prompted while having little history of considering it as a top-of-mind concern.

- Lawrence Martin responds to the commentators who have tried to treat the failed Elections Canada investigation into Robocon as a retroactive basis to question whether electoral fraud should have been covered in the media. And Michael Harris sees Robocon as the sign of a democracy in decay based on the near-impossibility of holding fraudsters accountable:
What Yves Cote’s report really means is that not all elements of an offence under the Elections Act as written could be established. A big part of the reason for that is the weak investigative powers of the Commissioner rather than a shortage of skullduggery.

It really comes down to the fact that the Elections Canada Act is like a worn out pair of your grannie’s lace-ups. The commissioner can’t compel evidence, and persons of interest can decline to be interviewed by EC investigators. Cote noted that “In one instance, a person who investigators believed could have provided very relevant information declined to be interviewed.”

Many others in this investigation did the same thing. And apparently there is no such thing as attempted voter suppression. Unless a voter is actually prevented from voting, there is no offence. And that’s not all. If incorrect poll information is given out and a citizen wants to pursue a complaint it is “not sufficient to simply prove the content of the call and the identity of the caller.” It is also necessary to prove the call was made with the intention of preventing an elector from voting. The burden of proof, “is the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Believe it or not, the same burden of proof applies to harassing calls: “To transmit false or mistaken information without the requisite intent, however objectionable it may be, is not, in itself, an offence under the Act,” Cote reports.

Think about that for a moment. Without the element of mens rea or guilty mind, a rogue robocaller is not breaking the law merely by misdirecting voters to the wrong poll. In order for an offence to take place, there are two additional requirements. The voter must prove as a result of the call, he didn’t vote; and investigators have to be satisfied that the robocaller intended his misinformation to stop the person from voting.
You see why the jails will not soon be filled with cheating robocallers. Why else would a robocaller send a person to the wrong poll — to introduce him to a part of town he’s never seen before?
- Finally, Susan Delacourt nicely highlights what a tax return would look like if delivered in the same form as one of the Cons' spin-heavy, fact-free budgets.

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