Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how a burgeoning wealth gap is particularly obvious when it comes to retirement security:
Quaint as it now seems, not long ago this was considered a good basic plan: Work hard all your life and then retire with a comfortable pension.

In recent times, a new plan has replaced it: Work hard all your life and then all bets are off.

The notion of retirement security in exchange for a lifetime of hard work — a central element in the implicit social contract between capital and labour in the postwar years — has been effectively tossed aside, as corporations have become more insatiable in their demands and governments have increasingly abandoned workers.
In what amounts to a radical overhaul, [the Con government] announced last April that it intends to change long-standing legislation governing workplace pensions in ways that would allow employers (private sector and Crown corporations) to walk away from pension commitments they made to employees, even after those employees have paid into the plans throughout their working years.
Workplace pensions were always expected to be a key part of that retirement security. Unlike many European countries, where public pensions were generous enough to serve as the centerpiece of a retiree’s income, the Canadian government kept public pension benefits low and encouraged workers to rely on workplace pensions.

That worked fine for those who were able to negotiate workplace pensions with an employer — generally those who had a union to represent them. In such cases, both the employer and the employees typically contributed to the plan, under terms that specified what benefits would be paid out to employees in their retirement.

Employers now want to be able to fundamentally rewrite the terms of those workplace pension deals so that, if the market plunges and the pension fund declines, the pay-outs will be less — in effect, shifting the risk from the company to the retiree.
It’s striking, however, that a bold embrace of risk is only expected of those in the lower echelons of the corporate world. At the top, executives cling to old-world notions — like securing comfortable retirements.
- And Regina civic workers are taking action to make sure the city keeps its pension promises - rather than either demanding concessions now, or changing the rules so it can unilaterally slash benefits later.

- Brian Iler suggests that the Cons' charity crackdown could have been avoided if Canada adopted a definition of charity work which included promoting public debate on political issues. But while that change might have given current charities more confidence as to the result of the current round of government-directed audits, it wouldn't have done much to avoid the needless expense of going through the audit process in the first place.

- Meanwhile, Kaylie Tiessen is hopeful that Ontario is ready for a serious conversation about the need for more revenue to fund public services.

- Kayle Hatt studies the federal government's cuts to summer student programs. And CBC reports that Calgary's decision to outsource park maintenance work has led to temporary foreign workers taking the place of students who would otherwise be able to use a summer income to fund their education.

- Finally, the Ottawa Citizen identifies one of the surest signs of an ethically bankrupt government - while noting that the Harper Cons and Alberta's PCs are just two of the governing parties who seem to be treating that lack of ethics as a goal to be pursued:
There seems to be an epidemic in Canada of rogue staffers doing unethical things their political bosses would never, ever sanction.

The most famous is Nigel Wright, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who wrote a large cheque to a sitting senator. Then there’s the OPP search-warrant document alleging that David Livingston, the chief of staff for former Premier Dalton McGuinty, hired someone to purge emails during the transition to Kathleen Wynne’s premiership. There is the ongoing mystery about the voter-suppression phone calls in several federal ridings in 2011 “by a person or persons currently unknown to this court,” in the words of Federal Court Judge Richard G. Mosley.

Now there is a leaked, draft auditor’s report about former Alberta Premier Alison Redford, suggesting her staff manipulated airplane bookings so that she could treat the planes as personal limos.
An ethical organization does not build plausible deniability into its hierarchies and relationships; it does not have any reason to. The fact that it seems to be built in to Canadian political culture, in more than one party, in more than one province, is sickening.

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