Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with costumes.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ashifa Kassam writes about the elements of Canada's health care system which call for ambitious improvement rather than imitation:
“I think privatisation is a major threat to public health care in Canada,” said Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Earlier this year, her organisation released a report documenting 136 private clinics across the country and highlighted that 71 of these were selling faster access to services covered by the country’s health care system. What’s more, the report suggested that many of the clinics were charging patients while also billing the public health care system – a practice that runs contrary to Canadian law.
Raza pointed to jurisdictions that most resemble Canada, such as Australia, where the introduction of private providers diverted doctors’ time and attention, resulting in longer wait times in the public system. “The only people who benefitted were people who were able to buy their way to the front of the line,” said Raza.

An alternative solution may lie in the growing support among Canadians to expand the country’s coverage – which currently only covers hospitals and physician care – to areas such as pharmacare and dental, he said.

The merits of doing so were hinted at in a recent ranking of health systems in wealthy countries by the Commonwealth Fund.
As the Vermont senator touts plans for a far more comprehensive and equitable system south of the border, Picard is among the many in Canada who hope it will prompt Canadians to revisit the glaring gaps in their own system.

“I don’t think we’re ambitious enough,” he said. “Canada has limited ourselves to doctors and hospitals, and there’s no reason like the rest of the developed world that our public plan couldn’t cover all kinds of things, from dental care, home care to long term care.”
- Andrew MacLeod reports on the Horgan government's first steps toward reducing poverty in British Columbia. And the Canadian Press notes that a basic income could be a substantial part of the solution.

- Judith Lavoie reports on a new study from the United Nations Environment Programme showing that Canada is responsible for more mining tailings pond spills than any country other than China. And Ashley Renders examines the obscenely low royalty rates which allow mining companies to make a killing in the north while contributing virtually nothing.

- Jonathan Watts discusses the new records in greenhouse gas emission pollution being set every year. And the New York Times' editorial board weighs in on the alarming prospect of an insect armageddon.

- Finally, the Canadian Press exposes the Libs' plans to let the airline industry self-regulate when it comes to pilot training rather than even continuing standard regulatory oversight.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Tom Parkin writes that the Trudeau Libs have proven themselves to be far more interested in protecting Bill Morneau and his wealthy friends than the Canadian public. And Christo Aivalis discusses Jagmeet Singh's opportunity to own the issue of tax fairness:
This is Singh’s opportunity to make a big splash on the tax debate, which hasn’t been so open for discourse since perhaps the late 1960s, when the Carter Report made sweeping recommendations to reform the tax system with a view to limiting the privileges of the wealthy and powerful. Further, Singh won’t have to start with a blank slate here, because one of the more developed portions of his policy suite during the leadership race surrounded tax reform. Indeed, Singh’s proposals would do more than the Trudeau/Morneau plan to address various forms of income. First, Singh would raise income taxes by 2% for income above 350,000, and by 4% for income above 500,000. In addition, Singh will bump the corporate tax rate to 19.5% from 15%, and would implement taxation for corporate perks that effectively increase someone’s income. But in addition to giving the Canada Revenue Agency more tools to root out tax evaders, and promising to implement a commission to review “all existing tax credits, deductions, and the TFSA,” perhaps the most important proposals from Singh deal with wealth taxation, something the Liberal reforms don’t in any way address.

The problem with a tax plan that fixates on income or corporate profits is that it fails to address larger issues around entrenched inequality, and disparities in how different income sources are taxed. As it stands, Canada has no real policy to address massive intergenerational transfers of wealth, and Canada gives a massive tax break to those who earn income through investment as opposed to labour. With a capital gains inclusion rate at only 50%, a person who flips 100,000 dollars of stock profits will pay significantly lower taxes than a person who worked a 9-5 job for the same amount. This system flies in the face of the 1968 Carter Report recommendations, which argued that all income should be taxed equally regardless of source.

But Singh has a couple plans here. First, he pledged to implement a rather bold estate tax plan which would, after excluding the primary residence, tax 40% of all assets in excess of four million dollars. This will ensure that the family home isn’t affected, but does address the reality that insufficient estate taxation is a barrier to equality of opportunity. Put another way, if we want a society where everyone has something approaching an equal shot at success, you have to challenge the ability to entrench wealth across generations. And while Singh would only increase the capital gains inclusion rate to 75%, meaning that there would still be tax benefits for earning income as investment versus labour, this would get us on the path toward a just system.

If Singh and the rest of the caucus can put this plan into the public discourse, it could not only generate interest, but demonstrate the ideological limits of Liberal tax reform. It would also be a unifying effort to reach out to the party’s left, many of whom backed Niki Ashton on similar, though more strident, efforts to improve the tax system. Finally, it is likely a bridge the Liberals wouldn’t cross in 2019, making it the sort of policy they won’t poach to entice progressive voters.
- The OECD points out how the combination of an ageing population and increasing inequality will affect younger generations. Conor Gaffey notes that even the wealthiest few are realizing that their level of privilege is unsustainable. And the Equality Trust offers its recommendations to more fairly distribute wealth and ownership rights.

- Andrew Hosken exposes five major UK businesses which are managing to shift the profits from large P3s to avoid paying tax. And Bill Curry reports on the hundreds of millions of dollars the Libs have earmarked for buying into a Chinese development bank while planning to sell off infrastructure in Canada. 

- Finally, Miya Tokomutsu writes about the importance of renewing the fight to reclaim more personal time for workers.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jonathan Ostry comments on the emerging recognition that inequality represents a barrier to economic development:
I argue that greater attention should be paid to the consequences that economic policies have for income distribution (inequality). The reasons are four-fold.
  • First, excessive levels of inequality are bad not only for social and moral reasons but also for growth and efficiency: higher levels of inequality are associated, on average, with lower and less durable growth. Hence, even from the perspective of the goal of fostering growth, attention to inequality is necessary.
  • Second, high levels of inequality may lead to latent social conflicts that ultimately translate into political backlash against the pursuit of free market polices, including globalization.
  • Third, the fear that income redistribution would have an adverse impact on growth turns out to find little support in the data — implementing policies to reduce excessive inequality tend on average to support growth (by reducing inequality) rather than retard growth.
  • Fourth, many policy choices made by governments have a direct effect on inequality outcomes. Hence, inequality outcomes are not, as is sometimes argued, exclusively due to technological changes (such as robotization or digitalization) and other global trends that are beyond the control of any one government.
- Andrew Jackson writes about the need for a more accessible and comprehensive employment insurance system.

- Haroon Siddique reports on a new study showing that hundreds of thousands of people are driven out of the UK's workforce each year by mental health problems. 

- Patrick Clark discusses how rising rents are putting intolerable stress on U.S. tenants. And Jim Silver rebuts (PDF) a KPMG report intended to lay the groundwork to hope the private sector will deliver affordable housing in Manitoba.

- Finally, Stephen Tweedale responds to a couple of criticisms of proportional electoral systems - particularly ones which are based solely on wilful neglect as to how concerns can be addressed. 

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Leadership 2018 - #skndp17 Debate Liveblog

With the first candidates' debate taking place at the Saskatchewan NDP's provincial convention, I'll take the opportunity to do a bit of liveblogging. Again, you can find my reference page for the leadership campaign here.

- Highly entertaining opening bit with multiple-choice questions. Not sure if the candidates knew it was coming, but both showed plenty of humour and quick thinking in dealing with them.

- Wotherspoon's opening starts with a critique of the Sask Party, but shifts into a fair bit of his own policy. (And yes, I'll be dealing with the candidates' policies in more detail later.)

- Meili opens with an appeal to members and volunteers before pivoting to his own policies.

- First question to Meili on his quick pitch on the economy - he says there are people hurting because of Sask Party decisions, including reliance on austerity and corporate tax cuts which together harm the economy.

- On the same question, Wotherspoon says economic progress is part of the social democratic vision, including benefits for all rather than precarity and austerity.

- On a followup as to how to put unemployed people back to work, Wotherspoon says he'd fix the procurement model to keep money with Saskatchewan employers, and implement renewable energy and retrofitting.

- Meili notes the candidates' agreement on local procurement and green jobs, but points to unemployment in Indegenous communities in particular as a top priority. 

- Next question is on carbon emissions - Meili frames it as a generational issue, and says people are ready for leadership including a made-in-Saskatchewan price on carbon to incentivize decreased use.

- Wotherspoon points to Saskatchewan's previous leadership in wind power under the Calvert government, and notes the need for a provincial plan in response to the federal carbon price.

- In response to a follow-up question as to how to respond to the federal mandate, Wotherspoon discusses the need to talk to people to ensure protection for people and sensitive industries.

- Meili reiterates the need to design Saskatchewan's own plan, while recognizing the need to respond to fearmongering about a carbon price and present the opportunities it could generate.

- We've reached the first candidate question. Meili asks Wotherspoon about his willingness to forego corporate and union donations in light of his statements about getting big money out of politics; Wotherspoon notes that he has introduced a bill in the Legislature and approves of Rachel Notley and John Horgan's plans, but would only make the move as an act of government given the rules now in place.

- Meili follows up that his question is directed toward the internal race and to corporations as well as unions; Wotherspoon says he'll play within the rules that are there, and asks whether Meili can reasonably reverse course in the general election.

- The next question deals with a strategy to win rural seats. Wotherspoon mentions STC among other policy issues which resonate for rural residents.

- Meili says the NDP needs to recognize the value of representing the whole province, and reflect back the issues being raised by rural leaders, including Crown lands and agricultural research.

- The follow-up question addresses electing 20 female MLAs in 2020. Meili points to the work of the SNDW, and discusses amplifying the voices of women within the party while developing stronger policies as well as safe spaces for participation.

- Wotherspoon discusses the caucus' current gender parity, and points out the need to encourage and support more women to run for office.

- Patterson asks about keeping Crown corporations public. Wotherspoon (who just announced his policy on the point of amending the Saskatchewan Act to entrench constitutional protection) points first to the Sask Party's attacks before pivoting to his plan.

- Meili points to the activists already at work in keeping Crowns public, and talks about stronger legislation requiring any changes to go to the citizenry as shareholders before noting the need to allow Crowns to grow inside and outside the province.

- The followup question deals with STC. Meili discusses how people are having to move to cities for want of transportation, businesses are being affected and public safety is at risk, and proposes to build a new STC based on current transit needs.

- Wotherspoon says not to give up the fight to hold onto STC's assets, but broadly agrees as to the need to rebuild anew if that doesn't work.

- Wotherspoon asks Meili about the government's procurement model. Meili says we need to get back to building things ourselves, maintaining public ownership of services and hiring local businesses and workers, then ends by noting that wealth produced in Saskatchewan should stay in the province.

- Wotherspoon generally agrees before presenting his proposal on Crowns. Meili says it's a great idea and in line with the work of SaskCrowns.

- In response to a question about reconciliation, Meili says it's the second crucial priority alongside climate change, noting both the advanatages of a large young population and the risk of failing to give it an equal opportunity. Meili follows up by saying jurisdiction and geography should not be a barrier to equal access to services, and proposes to follow Australia's model of a "closing the gap" address and accountability model.

- Wotherspoon talks about building relationships with Indigenous leaders and communities, as well as fair access to services including closing the education funding gap and properly teaching students about the treaties.

- The final followup goes to Saskatchewan's leadership in social programs. Wotherspoon points to his plans for universal mental health care and universal $15/day child care.

- Meili notes the unfinished components of health care, including mental health, vision and dental care, as well as pharmacare.

- Meili's closing statement focuses on a fundamental belief in equality, community and love, then turns to the need for a change in approach to achieve better results.

- Wotherspoon closes with an alternative analysis that the party is already on the ascent, and frames his campaign in terms of fighting back against the Sask Party.

I'll close with a few of my own thoughts.

Both candidates were highly impressive throughout the debate: Wotherspoon held his own in a detailed policy debate (though he was slightly more prone to veer off topic), while Meili's sense of humour showed through in banter with Patterson. And it helped that the format and moderator created an upbeat mood without undermining the seriousness of the issues.

Meanwhile, the crowd didn't give a strong indication of favouring one candidate or the other. Wotherspoon's camp had more visible signs, but Meili seemed to earn a slightly stronger crowd response during the debate - leaving little basis to conclude either had an advantage among the members in attendance.

Of course, many more people will have a say in the vote - and the candidates will have plenty more opportunities to present their vision before then. And today's debate seems only to have confirmed that there are two extremely strong choices.

[Update: added link.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Dennis Howlett highlights how the Libs are only making our tax system even less fair by overreacting to trumped-up criticism of a plan to close minor loopholes:
As​ ​the​ ​dust​ ​settles​ ​on​ ​the​ Trudeau government’s private​ ​ corporation​ tax​ ​reforms,​ ​Canada​ ​seem​s ​to​ ​be​ falling ​ further​ ​behind​ ​in the quest for​ ​tax fairness.

While​ ​the​ ​government’s​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​proceed​ ​with ​ ​income​-sprinkling​ ​reforms​ ​is​ ​positive,​ ​we are​ ​disappointed ​ ​​​the​ ​capital​ ​gains​ ​reforms​ ​were​ ​dropped​ ​and​ ​find the​ ​ ‘tweaks’​ ​to​ ​the​ ​proposals​ ​for passive​ ​income to be​ ​overly​ ​ generous.​

​If​ ​the​ ​changes​ ​to​ ​the​ ​private​ ​corporation​ ​tax​ ​rules​ ​are​ ​assessed​ ​on their​ ​own,​ ​they​ ​move​ ​Canada​ ​a​ ​slight ​ ​step​ ​forward.​ ​However,​ ​the​ ​appeasement​ ​of​ ​the​ ​vocal business​ ​lobby​ ​with​ ​a​ ​further​ ​cut​ ​in​ ​the​ ​small​ ​ business​ ​tax​ ​rate​ ​to​ ​9 per cent​ ​means​ ​the​ ​government ​ ​likely​ will ​lose​ ​more​ ​revenue​ ​than​ ​it​ ​gains, which​ ​ will​ ​contribute​ ​further​ ​to​ ​growing​ ​inequality.

This​ ​is​ ​not​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​the​ ​government​ ​has​ ​ backed​ ​off​ ​on​ ​tax​ ​fairness​ ​reforms.​ ​The​ ​closing​ ​of the​ ​stock​ ​options​ ​loophole​ ​suffered​ ​the​ ​same​ ​fate​ ​as​ ​the​ ​ private​ ​corporation​ ​tax​ ​reforms.​ ​These are​ ​black​ ​eyes​ ​ for​ ​Canada’s​ ​tax​ ​system.​ ​Even​ ​the​ ​IMF​ ​has​ ​raised​ the concern ​that​ ​capital​ ​income (including​ ​profits,​ ​interest,​ ​ and​ ​capital​ ​gains)​ ​is​ ​distributed​ ​more​ ​unequally​ ​than ​ ​labor​ ​income.

Capital​ ​income​ ​has​ ​been​ ​rising​ ​as​ ​a​ ​share​ ​of​ ​total ​ ​income​ ​over​ ​recent​ ​decades,​ ​with​ ​a​ ​lower​ ​tax rate​ ​than​ ​labour​ ​income.​ ​The​ ​IMF​ ​states​ ​that​ ​adequate​ ​ taxation​ ​of​ ​capital​ ​income​ ​is​ ​needed​ ​to protect​ ​the​ ​overall​ ​progressivity​ ​of​ ​the​ ​income​ ​tax​ ​system​ ​and ​ ​that​ ​more​ ​equal​ ​treatment​ ​of income​ ​from​ ​capital​, ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​different​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​capital​ ​income, ​is​ ​critical if we want to​ ​avoid​ offering ​incentives​ ​for tax​ ​avoidance.​ ​ This​ ​means​ ​getting​ ​rid​ ​of​ ​the​ ​unfair​ ​tax​ ​treatment​ ​ of​ ​capital​ ​gains​ ​and​ ​stock options.

The​ ​next​ ​time​ ​the​ ​government​ ​moves​ ​forward​ ​on​ ​an​ ​ agenda​ ​for​ ​tax​ ​fairness,​ ​it​ ​needs​ ​to​ ​make it​ ​part of​ ​a​ ​larger​ ​package​ ​of​ ​reforms​ ​that​ ​looks​ ​at​ ​all​ ​the​ ​unfair​ ​tax​ ​expenditures.
- Likewise, Tony Keller discusses the terrible policy behind the Libs' attempt to change the subject from closing loopholes. And with Bill Morneau in the middle of the mess, Althia Raj reports that the Libs' defence that the Ethics Commissioner hasn't specifically said he's doing anything wrong when it comes to how policy affects his own wealth depends on her not actually bothering to check.

- Meanwhile, Jennifer Robson notes that plenty of federal policies which are supposed to help lower-income people aren't reaching their intended recipients.

- Linda McQuaig writes that the Sears pension fiasco should be a catalyst for change. And Tim Harper notes that nearly everybody aside from the Libs seems to be onside with protecting pensions.

- Finally, Sheila Block and PressProgress each examine some of Canada's persistent forms of inequality based on race.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Musical interlude

Royksopp - What Else Is There?

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rupert Neate reports on a new study showing that the world's 1,500-odd billionaires between them control over $6 trillion in wealth.

- Stuart Trew sets out Canada's choice between corporate-oriented trade deals such as the CETA, or sustainable and fairly-distributed economic development. And Laurie Monsebraaten writes about the need for political action to rein in inequality among minority groups.

- Kate Aronoff discusses how U.S. Democrats are wasting an essential opportunity to respond to climate change. And Martin Lukacs highlights how the oil industry gets sweetheart deals which result in it pay far less royalties in Canada than nearly anywhere else, while Carl Meyer exposes how the Libs have pushed any discussion of fossil fuel subsidies behind closed doors.

- The Conference Board of Canada examines the massive return on an investment in child care - with each dollar funded leading to six in social and economic benefits. And Iglika Ivanova offers a step-by-step plan toward a universal child care system in B.C., while pointing out how Quebec's system has dramatically improved labour force participation for women with children.

- Finally, Chris Vanderbreekel reports on Jagmeet Singh's plan to provide federal funding to revive the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Mark Karlin interviews George Monbiot about the prospect of politics based on empathy, sharing and belonging.

- Andrew Jackson and Kate McInturff each offer their take on the federal fiscal update - with both lamenting the Libs' lack of ambition.

- Karl Nerenberg highlights how the federal government is ignoring the needs of workers facing precarity and poverty. And Brennan MacDonald reports that the Libs don't plan to change that pattern when it comes to giving workers more security through the pensions they've earned.

- Manuel Muniz notes that the same problem of an economy built around accumulating wealth for a few at the expense of the many is arising around the globe.

- Emma McIntosh reports on Ontario Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe's criticism of a provincial government which has consistently put Indigenous communities at risk. And Jorge Barrera exposes the neglect behind Health Canada's failure to respond to the human rights tribunal orders requiring that the federal government stop discriminating against Indigenous children.

- Finally, Paul Wells weighs in on the incoherence of Quebec's Bill 62. And Chantal Hebert notes that opposition is building based on competence issues as well as the discriminatory nature of the bill.

New column day

Here, on how Brad Wall's belated attempts to muddy the waters can't avoid a clear verdict that he's selling off Saskatchewan's commonwealth for corporate gain.

For further reading...
- Kendall Latimer reported on Wall's announcement that the price of previously-announced corporate tax cuts will be directed toward some other business-oriented use.
- CBC reported on the announced repeal of Bill 40, while Brent Patterson commented on the win for the activists who have been fighting it. And I'll point out again my post on how the bill was deceptive from the beginning.
- Finally, CBC also reported on the latest giveaway of what was a publicly-owned liquor store in Watson. And data on that store's sales in the column is from the government's backgrounder (PDF).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Hugh Mackenzie writes that the biggest problem with the Libs' closing tax loopholes for private corporations was the failure to push for far more tax fairness:
Any tax reform that isn’t just a give away creates winners and losers. If the goal is to make the tax system fairer, the majority of Canadians win—especially if the result in increased capacity to pay for public services. But, almost inevitably, the gains look pretty small and remote to most individual Canadians because they are spread out amongst so many of us.

The losers, on the other hand, are inevitably a concentrated group who know exactly who they are, who know exactly what they have at stake, and have the resources to fight back. That is, the rich and the powerful.
Any serious attempt to shift the course of the system towards fairness will generate ferocious opposition from vested interests. The corporate lobby’s wildly disproportionate response to what amounts to tinkering with the small business tax system at the margins should teach us that the opposition is never calibrated to the ambitiousness of the initiative.

If anything we do is going to generate hysteria from the concentrated few with vested interests, why not do something meaningful and take the debate head on with real energy and with stakes that are actually meaningful to the vast majority of Canadians who stand to benefit from a fairer tax system.

The risk in this debate is that the lesson learned is don’t mess with small business. The lesson should be go big or go home. If tax fairness for the majority is what you want, be prepared to fight for it.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson examines how the passive investment loophole for Canadian corporations is enabling a small number of extremely wealthy people to avoid contributing their fair share. And Nicholas Shaxson points out that it's impossible for a country to achieve inclusive development if its only ambition is to be a tax haven.

- George Monbiot writes about a P3 arrangement which is resulting in the UK city of Sheffield having its trees massacred due to a road maintenance contract. And Jathan Sadowski offers a warning against allowing the corporate sector to take over even more governing functions (as a Google subsidiary is being allowed to do in one Toronto district).

- Joseph Stiglitz weighs in on the U.S.' growing problem of corporate monopolies which limit the choices and standard of living for citizens.

- And finally, Alexander Hart theorizes that a message of making life less complicated and stressful may offer a rallying point for progressives.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Fuzzy cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Yves Engler discusses how Justin Trudeau is now the face of the exploitation of poor countries and workers by the Canadian mining industry. And Penny Collenette writes that governments and business should both bear responsibility for human rights - though it's worth being skeptical of her use of that theme to try to undercut what little corporate accountability currently exists.

- George Monbiot examines some options for a more participatory democracy - with a particular focus on public involvement in policy decisions on a far more regular basis than elections alone. And the Mound of Sound notes that many of Monbiot's criticisms would be met by a more fair and proportional electoral system.

- Meanwhile, Kenneth Andrews takes a look at how protest movements can bring about social change.

- Don Braid points out that Jason Kenney's latest attempt to whitewash history involves laying claim to the legacy of Peter Lougheed after shrieking hysterically about it through most of his political past. And Justin Ling exposes how Andrew Scheer is trying to build his party using Rebel Media's model of fomenting hate while denying any connection between the two.

- Finally, Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood points out how Donald Trump's NAFTA posturing offers a much-needed opportunity to extricate Canada from some aspects of corporate rule. And Michael Geist likewise notes that life after NAFTA means far more freedom to set intellectual property policy in the public interest.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Jim Hightower writes that the risk of technology displacing workers is ultimately just one instance of the wider problem of corporate greed. And the New York Times is examining how the principle of total corporate control is the basis for the Trump administration's handling of regulation.

- Ed Broadbent highlights the options which will open up for Canada in a post-NAFTA policy environment.

- Tom Ayers reports on the Nova Scotia NDP's push to ensure that workers are at least able to make ends meet with a fair minimum wage. And Meagan Fitzpatrick discusses the spread of precarious work in post-secondary education.

- Andrew Coyne weighs in on Bill Morneau's flawed judgment in failing to recognize the connections between his cabinet authority and private wealth while falsely claiming to have avoided conflicts of interest. But Nick Fillmore points out that the real scandal surrounding Morneau is his inescapable ability to use public policy to add to the riches which already place him at a distance from all but the most privileged Canadians.

- Finally, Bruce Anderson suggests that our regulation of election advertising is far behind the times - and calls for all parties to work on catching up.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Richard Hill wonders whether neoliberalism is approaching its end, while noting the dangers of allowing progressive themes to be used to prop up elitist power structures. And Heather Boushey interviews Kimberly Clausing about the opportunity to raise revenue and reduce inequality by properly taxing corporations, while Marshall Steinbaum points out the connection between unfair taxes and increasing inequality of wealth and power:
(T)he point of conservative tax ideology was never to make the economy work better — it was to provide the pretext for a self-serving agenda that lets corporate shareholders (and the executives they deputize — very often, from among their number) milk the economy dry. And that’s exactly what will happen if Congress passes the current proposal to cut the corporate tax rate, “territorialize” the system to permanently exempt overseas profits, “repatriate” past overseas profits tax-free, and set a maximum rate for pass-through income.
Two nonsense economic assumptions will play a role in resolving this political dilemma. First, Republican dogma holds that cutting the corporate tax rate will cause so much economic growth that a boom in federal revenue will make up for the tax cut. Second, Republicans claim that the current corporate tax burden is ultimately borne by workers in the form of lower wages, so cutting it will actually increase wages, substantially benefitting those who rely on their labor to make a living. No serious researcher believes either of these claims, but that isn’t the point: the purpose is to give marginal votes in Congress a set of motivated economic analyses to latch onto, or just to kick up enough dust around technical issues of debt and distribution that those members can take refuge in the controversy, throw up their hands, and vote with the party.

It’s tremendously cynical — but then, so is the entirety of right-wing policymaking over the last forty years. That doesn’t mean it won’t work.
The larger point is that this decades-long assault on progressive taxes has a logic to it: the Right wants to destroy progressive taxation because it works.

It was originally enacted to tame the excesses of wealth and power that dominated the economy in the Gilded Age. The point was not to raise money, nor even, really, to shift the burden of taxation towards those better able to shoulder it (though the latter played a role). Rather, it was to fundamentally alter the distribution of power in society.
Part of the Right’s success was the removal of tax policy to elitist, technocratic grounds, where its capacity to act as a check on the accumulation of private power is entirely ignored. Even now, the broad left largely overlooks tax policy in favor of universal public programs for health and higher education — crucially important economic rights (and the haul brought in by progressive taxation will be instrumental to bringing about their reality); but the tax part of the picture should not be an afterthought. It must be a full and equal partner. We must use it to show the Left’s natural constituency the kind of world it wants to live in — one in which oppressive power is vastly curtailed.
- Sarah Turner reports that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is recognizing the unsustainable decoupling of economic growth and wages. And the Economist examines the continued wage gap between men and women - with the absence of available child care looming as the most important culprit.

- Megan Stanley points out the combination of stagnant wages and soaring rents which is squeezing workers out of housing in the U.S. And Amy Smart notes that B.C.'s NDP government is closing a loophole which has been used to evict tenants and drive up rents.

- Ashifa Kassam is the latest to highlight how the lack of prescription drug coverage is the glaring omission in Canada's universal health care system. And Lesley Russell discusses Australia's experience with two-tiered care as an example which nobody should want to follow - as the public system is being starved to force people to overpay for private care.

- Finally, George Monbiot argues that the precipitous drop in insect populations may be the most dangerous environmental development of all.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Jeremy Nuttall interviews Nelson Wiseman about the Libs' attempts to spin their way out of a trumped-up tax controversy - and how they're making matters worse in the process. And Murray Dobbin points out that there's a long way to go in making sure the wealthy pay their fair share: 
The dimpled face of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer in TV ads repeating the outright falsehoods contributed to a win-win-lose-lose outcome: The rich won by not having to play the game, small biz got a tax cut they didn’t deserve, the notion of tax fairness took a hit, as did any real increase in government revenue. The loss in revenue from decreasing the small business tax to 9.5 per cent will likely cancel out any increased revenue from what remains of the tax changes.

As the dust settles, we are left to puzzle over why Morneau and Trudeau chose this particular set of tax loopholes to close when there are so many others that would have been politically popular, would have forced the wealthy to defend their indefensible privileges, and would have brought in far more revenue.

One of the most outrageous giveaways which exclusively benefits the very wealthy is stock options. We lose a billion a year to this scam, which allows corporations to pay their executives with options to buy their company’s shares at a set, low, price. This loophole — the beneficiaries pay tax on just half the gains — also leads to CEOs driving up share prices in the short term to increase the value of their options, while discounting the long-term growth of the company.

The most costly loophole enjoyed by the wealthy is the capital gains exemption. The rationale for this break is laughable as it suggests that investing in the stock market is actually investing in new productive activity. In fact, it is nothing more than a tax break for gambling, which is exactly what anyone who invests in the stock market is doing.

There are other features of the tax system that basically reward people for already being rich — the benefits of RRSPs and Tax Free Savings Accounts accrue disproportionately to the wealthiest 10 per cent. The vast majority of Canadians — for whom these programs were supposedly established — come nowhere near the maximum contribution allowed. Capping the benefits could save billions.
The wealthy in this country can easily afford at least two new tax brackets targeting extremely high income. The myth so firmly rooted in the public consciousness and promoted by the media — that wealthy people create economic growth — needs to be challenged. It is useful to remember that in the late ’50s and early ’60s the highest marginal tax rate was over 80 per cent, and economic growth was nearly double that experienced over the past 25 years. 
Trudeau in the election campaign talked a lot about the scourge of inequality. The IMF report stated that, “between 1985 and 1995, redistribution through the tax system had offset 60 per cent of the increase in inequality caused by market forces.” Since that time, inequality in Canada has skyrocketed at the same time that the tax system failed completely to respond.
- But while Dobbin is unduly credulous about the prospect of the Libs actually living up to their promises, Luke Savage points out how their politics of spectacle are designed to distract from the type of elite-driven choices we'd expect from small-c and large-C conservatives. And the Globe and Mail has come around to the reality that Justin Trudeau is nothing but Stephen Harper with a sunnier brand, while Martin Patriquin reminds us that top-down control and contempt for the public are the historical norm for the Libs.

- Derrick O'Keefe writes that there's no room or time for neutrality in response to Quebec's Bill 62 which targets Muslim women for discriminatory treatment and isolation from basic social services. And Allison Hanes discusses the toxic mix of racism and sexism behind the bill, while Karl Nerenberg comments on its place in the broader politics of bigotry.

- Finally, Linda Nazareth highlights how Canada's social insurance system is grossly inadequate to deal with a new generation of corporate exploitation.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Musical interlude

Big Sugar - Little Bit A All Right

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Edward Harrison comments on the business-backed push to rebrand corporate control and crony capitalism as freedom. And Ryan Cooper points out that the concept of deregulation ultimately serves only to concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy few:
Government regulations can be good or bad. But for the most part, there is no such thing as no regulation at all. If government does not make those choices, then other businesses — Wall Street, most especially — will do it for them.

As an initial matter, it's important to remember that government "interference" in markets goes far beyond the usual regulatory agencies. Indeed, government creates markets, through property law, corporate law, securities law, labor law, and so on. These institutions generally get less attention from free-market types (who like to pretend that markets are some pre-political, freestanding entity), but the fact is that markets as we know them could not possibly exist without a strong state.

But when it comes to more traditional regulation, business decisions are for starters often constrained by market choices — and these almost always cut against the interest of workers.
Wall Street firms, like almost all corporations, are hierarchical, authoritarian, command-and-control organizations. (Indeed, as economist Brad DeLong wrote back in 1997, they are rather similar to the old Soviet economy in terms of structure.) These are the companies that are, by and large, writing the rules for how American business is conducted today. Everything from how much workers are paid, to how much companies will spend on innovative research, to what sort of products will be offered and precisely how they will be built — these are now under the strong influence of Wall Street, which demands quick and easy profits above every other consideration. The results are often just as bad as the most sclerotic government regulator — except this time, you can't call up your congressman and complain.

It's long since time the American people put their corporations back under democratic control.
- And Corey Robin discusses how hierarchical organizations make it difficult for anybody to jeopardize their individual positions by pointing out systemic abuses.

- Damian Carrington reports on the Lancet Commission's study showing that air pollution is responsible for 9 million deaths every year - and that its effects may only get worse.

- Meanwhile, Chris Arsenault reports on Nestle's continued extraction of water from two Ontario towns after its permits have expired.

- Finally, Tricia Wood makes the case for free public transit on the basis that mobility should be treated as a social good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Peter Whoriskey examines how inequality is becoming increasingly pronounced among U.S. seniors. And Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson discuss how inequality contributes to entrenching social divisions:
The toll which inequality exacts from the vast majority of society is one of the most important limitations on the quality of life – particularly in developed countries.  It damages the quality of social relations essential to life satisfaction and happiness. Numerous studies have shown that community life is stronger in more equal societies.  People are more likely to be involved in local groups and voluntary organisations.  They are more likely to feel they can trust each other, and a recent study has shown that they are also more willing to help each other – to help the elderly or disabled.  But as inequality increases, trust, reciprocity and involvement in community life all atrophy.  In their place – as numerous studies have shown – comes a rise in violence, usually measured by homicide rates.  In short, inequality makes societies less affiliative and more antisocial. 

If you look at some of the most unequal societies such as South Africa or Mexico, it is clear from the way that houses are barricaded, with bars on windows and doors and fences and razor wire round gardens, that people are frightened of each other.  That is dramatically confirmed by a quite different indication of exactly the same process: studies have shown that in more unequal societies a higher proportion of a society’s labour force is employed in what is classified as ‘guard labour’ – that is security staff, police, prisons officers etc.. Essentially, these are the occupations people use to protect themselves from each other.  
Important to understanding the effects of inequality is the way it affects mental health.  An international study has shown that more unequal societies have higher levels of status anxiety – not just among the poor, but at all income levels, including the richest decile.  Living in societies where some people seem extremely important and others are regarded as almost worthless does indeed make us all more worried about how we are seen and judged.  There are two very different ways people can respond to these worries.  They may respond by feeling overcome by a lack of confidence, self-doubt and low self-esteem, so that social gatherings feel too stressful and are seen as ordeals to be avoided and people retreat into depression.  Alternatively, and yet usually still a response to the same insecurities, people may go in for a process of self-enhancement or self-advertisement, trying to big themselves up in other’s eyes.  Instead of being modest about their achievements and abilities, they flaunt them, finding ways of bringing references into conversation of almost anything which helps them present themselves as capable and successful. 

But the real tragedy of this is not simply the costs of so much additional security or the human costs in terms of increasing violence.  It is, as research makes very clear, that social involvement and the quality of social relations, friendship and involvement in community life, are powerful determinants of both health and happiness.  Inequality strikes at the foundations of the quality of life.  Status insecurity and competition makes social life more stressful: we worry increasingly about self-presentation and how we are judged. Instead of the relationships of friendship and reciprocity which add so much to health and happiness, inequality means we prop ourselves up with narcissistic purchases or withdraw from social life.  Though this suits business and sales, it is not a sound basis for learning to live within the planetary boundaries.  
Dr. Dawg, the Star's editorial board and Sadiya Ansari each criticize the Quebec Libs' bigoted attack on women who wear niqabs. And Emmett Macfarlane highlights why Bill 62's deliberate discrimination isn't likely to survive a challenge in court.

- Danyaal Raza offers some lessons for the U.S. from his experience working in Canada's health care system. And Gillian Steward writes that Donald Trump's actions to strip health insurance from Americans shows how important it is that Canada didn't settle for anything less than universality.

- Meanwhile, Ian Welsh argues that Barack Obama missed an important opportunity to reshape the U.S.' economy through both stimulus legislation and executive action.

- Finally, Susan Scutti reports on new research showing that exposure to air pollution in the womb has life-long consequences for a person's health. And Bob Weber reports on new research showing that methane releases from Alberta's oil industry may be far worse than previously assumed.

New column day

Here, on the latest confirmation from the Parliamentary Budget Office that a national pharmacare plan would both improve our health and save public money - and the Libs' and Cons' insistence on standing in the way.

For further reading...
- Brent Patterson weighs in on the Libs' refusal to work toward a national pharmacare plan, while Steve Morgan summarized the case for pharmacare.
- Patterson also discussed a Council of Canadians poll showing 91% public support for the concept, while Angus Reid has reached the same number.
- Canadian Doctors for Medicare pointed out some of the groups in support of national pharmacare. And the National Prescription Drug Utilization Information System has documented the higher costs arising out of private plans.
- The Canadian Labour Congress has developed a petition in support of pharmacare, while the Council of Canadians has set up a letter campaign.
- Finally, the Parliamentary debates on Don Davies' motion to negotiate a national pharmacare plan are here. And I discussed pharmacare here as one of the areas where a federal government could implement a key national program with the general agreement of the provinces (though I'll note that the Council of the Federation's website now seems to have been deleted).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Drew Brown discusses how the Libs' claim to represent - or even understand - the interests of Canada's middle class is disappearing. And Steven Chase and Robert Fife expose Bill Morneau's broken promise to set up a blind trust for his assets while he makes decisions which will affect their value, while the Canadian Press reports that the consulting firm bearing Morneau's name (and in which he still holds a stake) will profit from the unwinding of Sears' pension plan.

- Paul Finch, Jared Melvin and Harpinder Sandhu suggest that land value taxes and closed loopholes could alleviate British Columbia's affordability crisis.

- Jen Gerson views Naheed Nenshi's reelection in Calgary as a much-needed rebuke to attempts by professional sports franchises to blackmail municipalities.

- Kathryn Blaze Baum discusses some of the considerations behind a possible tax on sugary drinks - though the UK's model of merely allowing their manufacturers to profit in different ways hardly seems to be the best possible outcome.

- Finally, Kate McInturff studies the best and worst places to be a woman in Canada. And Anne Kingston offers some ideas to close the persistent gender gap.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Curved cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Economist examines the latest research showing the amount of money stashed in tax havens is even higher than previously estimated. And the Guardian calls for action on the IMF's conclusion that we'll all end up better off if the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes:
The IMF’s analysis does something to redress the balance, making two important points.

First, it says that tax systems should have become more progressive in recent years in order to help offset growing inequality but rather have been becoming less progressive. Second, it finds no evidence for the argument that attempts to make the rich pay more tax would lead to lower growth. There is nothing especially surprising about either of the conclusions: in fact, the real surprise is that it has taken so long for the penny to drop. Growth rates have not picked up as taxes have been cut for the top 1%. On the contrary, they are much weaker than they were in the immediate postwar decades when the rich could expect to pay at least half their incomes – and often substantially more than half – to the taxman. If trickle-down theory worked, there would be a strong correlation between countries with low marginal tax rates for the rich and growth. There is no such correlation and, as the IMF rightly concludes, “there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution”.
With a nod to the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, the fiscal monitor also says countries should consider wealth taxes for the rich, to be levied on land and property. The IMF’s findings on tax provide ample and welcome political cover for Mr Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, as they seek to convince voters that Labour’s tax plans are not just equitable but also economically workable. By contrast, the study challenges Donald Trump to rethink tax plans that would give an average tax cut of more than $200,000 a year for someone earning more than $900,000. The response from the US administration was predictable: mind your own business. The IMF is not naive. It knows it is one thing to make the case for higher taxes on the rich but another thing altogether to get governments to implement them, because better-off individuals have more political clout. The IMF has demolished the argument that what is good for the super-rich is good for the rest of us, but don’t expect the top 1% to give up without a fight.
- Bernie Sanders highlights the contrast between the greater equality Americans want, and the government by and for the few they're instead stuck with. And Rachel West and Harry Stein find that the Republicans are managing to overrun their own farcical talking points about the uses of government revenue - as they could in fact buy and maintain a pony for every small American child with the money they instead plan to funnel to the wealthy.

- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin writes that a distorted tax system is contributing to the erosion of Canada's middle class. Andrew Coyne discusses how the Libs' already-pathetic excuse for closing some loopholes has turned into another giveaway to corporations. And Chantal Hebert comments on the comedy of errors surrounding the Libs' tax policy.

- Kamal Ahmed points out that younger workers in the UK are increasingly having to borrow just to cover basic expenses. And Barbara Ellen writes about the patent unfairness resulting from people living in poverty having to pay more for the necessities of life.

- Finally, the Mound of Sound blasts the Libs for insisting on new pipelines rather than taking any meaningful steps toward a green transition (or even an honest accounting of the costs of fossil fuels). And Nike Block comments on Canada's longstanding and shameful history of prioritizing exploitative mining over people around the globe.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Karl Russell and Peter Goodman note that lower unemployment rates in the U.S aren't translating into higher wages. Alena Semuels points out the barriers preventing people from moving in order to pursue a higher income. And Kevin Brice-Lall interviews Jonathan Rosenblum about the need for activism to push beyond the initial fight for a $15 minimum wage:
What can you tell us about the business backlash in Seattle — how did they fight the movement for a $15 minimum wage? Given the Ontario Liberal Party’s promise of a $15 minimum, what advice do you have for activists currently fighting against business lobby?
It’s critical for us to recognize what produces concessions in the first place. In my experience bargaining union contracts and negotiating with politicians, I’ve found that it’s easy to overestimate the importance of what happens at the bargaining table. When I’ve led union negotiations I’ve emphasized to bargaining team members that what we win in the end depends 90 percent on what we do outside of bargaining, and only 10 percent on what takes place inside the room.

There are three related principles that constitute the bedrock of effective movement work in politics. First, a clear recognition that anything and everything we win in the political arena isn’t the product of political enlightenment by the establishment; it’s a concession to our power.

Second, a recognition that power — the ability to shape and influence things — is what we get when we band together and take action, whether in the streets, workplace, in halls of parliament, or through political campaigns. Our power is a function of our demonstrated ability to harm, punish, or embarrass our adversaries, to disrupt their agenda. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts to building collective worker power. And third, an understanding that the balance of power is not static, and we have to keep organizing or we’ll lose whatever gains we’ve achieved.
- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt discusses how the decline of retail sales (at least through many familiar businesses such as Sears) figures to affect political dynamics in Canada.

- Joe Gunn highlights how Canadians are still waiting for a federal government to start fulfilling the promise of reducing poverty.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on Ontario's new guidelines for mental health claims which (like those of too many other provinces) establish an unfair double standard. And Benoit Denizet-Lewis points out the alarming increase in anxiety among teens.  

- Finally, Alex MacPherson reports on a legal opinion from Manitoba showing (to nobody's surprise) that Brad Wall's posturing against federal climate change policy has no basis in reality.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On relentless positivity

Following up on my candidate profiles for the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign, I'll point out one obvious change in dynamics since 2013 - starting with this observation from the previous campaign (emphasis added):
As long as there were four leadership candidates in the race, there were several ways to try to draw dividing lines among them. And the message that's suddenly crystallized in the media [as to a right-left split] wouldn't have registered as the most obvious classification scheme...
One could view the most important differences in the campaigns [as] geographical, with Meili/Broten and Wotherspoon/Weir largely representing Saskatoon and Regina members respectively while competing for other votes around the province. Or one could contrast the above-the-fray messages and statesmanship from Meili/Wotherspoon against the more conflict-oriented approaches of Broten/Weir.
That difference was and remains one rooted in both personality and strategy. While their forms of positive politics manifest themselves differently (Meili's to a greater extent in storytelling and political vision, Wotherspoon's more in crowd-friendly gregariousness), both candidates in the current campaign were on the upbeat side of the previous one.

And it will be worth watching whether (and if so how) that dynamic changes this time around.

In the absence of others on stage to test another candidate's vulnerabilities, neither Meili nor Wotherspoon will be able to count on other voices to do that work for them. And it will be worth watching whether both end up amplifying some more contrasting and critical messages of their own as a result.

At the same time, however, both candidates have also been strong proponents of party unity and solidarity in addition to presenting themselves as positive leaders. And a high-stakes two-way contest for the leadership will likely lead to some within the two camps seeing some opportunity in sharp attacks which both candidates figure to want to limit.

Paradoxically, the best way for both candidates to ensure that supporters don't go overboard may be to find the right level of respectful criticism in discussing and questioning each other - while emphasizing that a generally positive message is crucial to the NDP's future as a party. And we'll see who best works out that balance once Meili and Wotherspoon have to go head to head.

Leadership 2017 Links

One final roundup post from the NDP's federal leadership campaign - with a focus on Jagmeet Singh's first steps as the party's new leader.

- The Ribbon offers a roundtable discussion of Singh's victory. And Ryan Tumulty and Enzo DiMatteo each interview Singh about his campaign and his next steps.

- Brittany Andrew-Amofah discusses what Singh's victory means both for the NDP as a party, and for people of colour who might support it. Dr. Dawg tears into Terry Milewski's interview with Singh as an example of the media's double standard for minority leaders and guests, while Jade Saab is rightly frustrated about having to point out that there's more to Singh than his turban. And Jagdeesh Mann rightly notes that Singh isn't about to be pigeonholed into an overly simplistic view of the Sikh community. 

- Robin Seats discusses how Singh will need to build the NDP. Karl Nerenberg sees working-class voters and Quebec supporters as the keys to Singh's tenure.

- Finally, Noah Richler offers a valuable reminder of the role Thomas Mulcair played as leader - as well as how it should inform the party's continued work.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ian Welsh neatly summarizes the rules needed to ensure that capitalism doesn't drown out social good:
Capitalism, as it works, destroys itself in a number of ways. For capitalism to work, it must be prevented from doing so:
  1. it must not be allowed to form unregulated monopolies and oligopolies;
  2. it must not be allowed to run bubbles; it must not be allowed to engage in mass fraud;
  3. the money gained from it must not be allowed to turn into power which controls government;
  4. and money must not, generally speaking be allowed to buy anything that matters: from health care to a good education.
Capitalism, as the standard saying runs, is a good servant, and a terrible master. Only fools let capitalists actually control anything in their society that truly matters.
- Jessica Elgot reports on Jeremy Corbyn's much-needed acknowledgment that the structural unfairness in the UK's economy demands fundamental change. And Paul Krugman highlights the many lies behind the Republicans' attempt to warp the U.S. economy even further in favour of the wealthy.

- Bruce Campbell points out the lessons we should have learned from the Lac-Megantic explosion - and contrasts them against a resulting investigation which is scapegoating a few workers while ignoring the systemic causes of a preventable disaster.

- Paul Wells examines the challenges involved in responding to Canada's opioid crisis.

- Finally, Taiaiake Alfred discusses the need to move past a colonial mindset in order to pursue reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. And Murray Mandryk writes about the Sixties Scoop and other recent and ongoing examples of systemic racism in Saskatchewan.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Leadership 2018 Candidate Profile: Trent Wotherspoon

As with Ryan Meili, I'll start my look at Trent Wotherspoon's new run for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership by pointing back to his previous candidate profile and campaign review. And despite all that's changed in the meantime, this campaign starts with an even stronger sense of deja vu for Wotherspoon's candidacy than for Meili's.

Wotherspoon's 2013 run began with the largest and showiest launch of any of the candidates. But any hope that a shock and awe approach would give him an aura of inevitability soon gave way to the realities of the campaign - and he wound up finishing a relatively distant third in the vote count, despite doing better in other metrics such as endorsements, fund-raising and personal favourability.

Since then, Wotherspoon's most obvious opportunity to build his profile has been his tenure as the NDP's interim leader - which certainly worked wonders in allowing members to see him as the face of the party and ensuring that they'd be exposed to his retail political skills. His time in that role saw the NDP gain strength (thanks in no small part to the Saskatchewan Party's abomination of a 2017 budget), and seems to have cemented his place as the leading candidate of the party establishment.

But then, Wotherspoon likely had that title at the start of the 2013 race as well before Cam Broten managed to wrest it away. And some of the same issues which hurt Wotherspoon's cause then look likely to resurface again in the new campaign.

Wotherspoon's policy offerings are again on the light side so far in the current race. And while there's time to fix that in part by releasing more platform planks, the hesitation to engage on all but the most friendly terrain also reflects the relative difficulty he had in responding to challenges in the previous leadership race.

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon's place as the insider candidate itself has come at a cost. A party which has been burned twice in a row voting for an establishment choice may be prepared to look for something new - particularly as less-conventional strategies have succeeded in other jurisdictions. And Wotherspoon's reversal of his one-time assurance that he wouldn't seek the permanent leadership may create a trust gap which will be difficult to navigate.

In sum, Wotherspoon has a ways to go in establishing that he can build on his personal appeal and base of support to earn the leadership. And while he's likely a slight favourite at this stage, it's entirely foreseeable that the campaign may again erode whatever advantage Wotherspoon now holds.

Leadership 2018 Candidate Profile: Ryan Meili

As I've noted before, Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign will involve some very familiar candidates. And so my starting point in analyzing the race will be to review the previous leadership campaign run by both Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon - with a particular focus on anything that's changed since 2013.

With that in mind, here are Meili's candidate profile and campaign review from the 2013 race - which mostly hold up for now. And in particular, Meili's policy focus only seems to be getting stronger with time, as he's started this campaign with both a strong set of core principles and a plan to fund them.

The main differences for Meili since the last leadership campaign of course involve his development of political organizations: first in founding Upstream, then in getting elected as an MLA. And those should offer some comfort to voters who may have previously perceived Meili as lacking political experience. (That said, anybody treating a track record in elected office as the main factor in selecting a candidate will figure to be more interested in Wotherspoon's longer tenure in the Legislature - not to mention his time as the NDP's interim leader).

But the central reality surrounding Meili's campaign is this factoid from the previous two leadership campaigns:
Notwithstanding an entirely different type of leadership campaign and plenty of new participants within his own camp, Meili's final vote total of 4,120 was a jump of exactly 18 votes from his second-ballot total in 2009.
Meili thus has a well-established level of support he can likely match again. But where can he gain ground in order to change the final outcome?

There's some possibility Meili could win simply by holding his past vote count if the absence of Cam Broten as a competing candidate results in less organization and votes against him. But it doesn't seem likely that the membership rolls will wind up substantially smaller at a point when the public desire for an alternative government is much stronger than it was during the last campaign in particular.

If Meili is going to add to his vote totals, he'll need to find support beyond what he's been able to achieve already. Among current members, that will likely involve a combination of establishing that he's been able to improve in areas which have previously been perceived as weaknesses, and making the case that there's a need for more change internally than Wotherspoon will offer. And beyond partisan lines, it figures to involve reaching out to people who have been disillusioned in the past - with Meili's pledge to practice what he preaches about campaign finance serving as an important starting point.

Of course, while Meili will be looking to win over supporters from beyond past party lines, he'll also have to deal with the effect of forces outside the party on the leadership campaign. Much of Saskatchewan's media still seems determined to dismiss Meili, even while grudgingly recognizing that he's the only candidate in either leadership race doing much to advance any policy discussion. And the Saskatchewan Party began putting a target on Meili's back even while Wotherspoon was still the interim leader.

All of which means that Meili's past leadership campaign success probably isn't enough to make him a clear favourite to win at the start of the new campaign. And he'll likely need to aim substantially higher than he's been able to reach before in order to finally win the opportunity to lead Saskatchewan's NDP.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Wells writes about Justin Trudeau's natural affinity for the rich and privileged, while the Star remains unduly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fulfilling promises of Indigenous reconciliation and tax fairness. And Chantal Hebert discusses Bill Morneau's role at the centre of the Libs' broken progressive promises, while Elizabeth Thompson exposes Morneau's shell-corporation-owned French villa which apparently slipped his mind on previous ethics disclosures.

- Larry Cohen offers some policy suggestions to aim higher to protect workers in the U.S. - including sectoral bargaining and wage structures.

- Geoff Leo reports on the Wall government's deliberate actions to avoid both rights of access to information and fair hiring practices in the public sector. And Murray Mandryk connects that secrecy to the Saskatchewan Party's contempt for public servants.

- Carolyn Jarvis discusses the latest in-depth collaborative investigation across journalism schools and media, this time documenting the health costs of poorly-regulated and never-reported chemical spills in the Sarnia area.

- Finally, Lana Payne highlights the importance of empowering girls - and the reality that there are still far too many barriers to equal opportunity based on gender.