Saturday, July 17, 2010

Regina G20 Protest Liveblog

I'm trying out a new format to blog today's rally, using a CoverItLive event to facilitate frequent posting:

Needless to say, readers are encouraged to chat if they can't make the rally (update: which takes place at 11 at the Scarth Street pedestrian mall) - and be sure to let me know if there are any other feeds I should include.

Pop quiz

With the Cons' stubborn insistence on gutting Canada's census now being answered with the entirely accurate point that the census (whether in short or long form) makes for part of the basic responsibilities of any citizen, let's play a quick game of Name That Speaker:
"When you become a citizen, you're not just getting a travel document into Hotel Canada. You are inheriting a set of responsibilities, of obligations as a citizen."

Same Old Story (Alf Apps Remix)

Lib president Alf Apps is taking heat from at least a few angles for his idea of "perspective and context", primarily for his attack on the media. But there's another theme underlying Apps' memo that's even more important for Canadians looking for genuine change from the Harper government, rather than more of the same in a red uniform.

Apps' message is based on the idea that the lone tasks for an opposition party are to hang around within striking distance of the government, and then assume power by default when the governing party becomes unpopular. Never mind discussing or promoting any particular values which he thinks Libs might want to support: in fact, he draws no distinction whatsoever between changes of government from Lib to Con and those from Con to Lib in describing what he thinks the Libs should be aiming for.

Needless to say, when the Libs' national president sees no substantive difference between his party and the Cons, I don't see much reason to argue with that assessment. But that concession tends to thoroughly undermine the ability of the Ignatieff Libs to make a case for meaningful change, since they've effectively admitted that their plan is simply to continue the same old political cycle in hopes that they'll be able to use it to their advantage.

And that mindset has plenty of consequences for what Canadians can expect from any future Lib government as well. After all, if Ignatieff's inner circle sees Stephen Harper as a model to be emulated rather than a problem to be fixed, then it figures to be downright eager to govern with a similar disregard for both previous commitments and the interests of the public.

Fortunately, Apps' admission that Ignatieff is entirely focused on putting a new coat of paint on the same old politics should go a long way toward convincing activists in their midst that their priorities won't be taken any more seriously by the Lib central command in the future than they've been in the past. And that in turn should make it easier for Canadians to put their support behind a party which not only has a vision for Canada, but also recognizes that change means more than the opposite side of the same Con/Lib coin.

All the cool kids are doing it

Shorter Star Phoenix editorial board:

If Canada's international friends have all agreed to jump off a cliff spend massive amounts of money on fighter jets that don't meet their needs, what right do we have to question the crowd?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Musical interlude

Chris Hampshire & Bissen - The Vault

Friday Afternoon Links

- Over the last little while, there's been virtually no media coverage of the emerging stories of police abuse during the G20 summit (and associated protests set to happen tomorrow). So let's give credit to Douglas Bell for breaking the silence - and make sure that this weekend's rallies result in the inquiry the issue deserves.

- Is anybody surprised that the Fraser Institute is celebrating Fact Freedom Day?

- Jeffrey Simpson highlights the real problem with the Cons' $16 billion fighter jet purchase:
Liberals criticize sole-sourcing of the fighter. But this criticism misses the point: Canada doesn’t need this fighter at all, and would be better off spending some of this $16-billion on other defence needs.

We need defence capabilities to defend this country’s sovereignty. We need it to aid the civil power. And we need it to pursue Canada’s interests and values, in conjunction with allies, in troubled parts of the world. The F-35 might be nice to have in the best of all worlds, with unlimited budgets, but it doesn’t fit with Canada’s basic defence needs.

Defence of the realm mostly requires a robust naval capacity, which Canada lacks, and air-patrol capabilities, especially for the Arctic and coastlines, not fighter jets. Do we seriously believe the Russians or someone else are going to launch some kind of air attack against Canada such that we need fighters? If you think so, then go ahead and buy the planes. Otherwise, save the money.
- Finally, Leftdog reminds us of the background to the Sask Party's declaration that it can't fund both highways and health care:
Is this the same Premier Brad Wall who dropped the court case which would have forced Stephen Harper to adhere to Canada's Equalization formula? You know, the formula that calculated Saskatchewan was entitled to over $800 Million as part of our two way commitment to Confederation. Brad Wall's idiotic Right Wing ideology got the best of his potential for logic and told him that ... 'naw we don't need any equalization dollars! We have faith in the unfettered free market!' What a load of crap.
When Brad Wall tells you that he has no money for floods, etc - ask him why he abandoned $800 Million Equalization Dollars from Ottawa!

Deep thought

As a lawyer, I think if a challenge was brought to bear to Warren Kinsella's research on the privacy implications of the census, it would be found to be problematic.

Government by misinformation

Tony Clement offers yet another example of how yesterday's snark may turn into tomorrow's Con talking point. But let's take Clement at his word for the moment and see what it suggests about the Cons' "populism":
Industry Minister Tony Clement said on Thursday that Canadians worried about the meddlesome arm of the state aren’t likely to bring their concerns to the Ottawa-based Office of the Privacy Commissioner. They are likely to tell their MPs.

“If you’re concerned about government intrusion, you’re not likely to complain to another organ of government,” Mr. Clement said in an interview. “They would see it as compounding the issue if they complained.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner is an arms-length body that is outside the control of the federal government. But Mr. Clement said this distinction is lost on many. “No offence to the Privacy Commissioner, but most people wouldn’t understand that [this] person is an independent actor.”
So as far as Clement is concerned, the Cons' attack on the census is aimed at the interests of people who:
- are paranoid about the federal privacy commissioner, who is not only specifically mandated with protecting personal privacy but required by law to keep her investigations confidential; yet,
- see no problem whatsoever communicating their concerns to Con MPs, despite the fact that it's been well documented that the Cons store and use that type of information for their party's political purposes.

Let's leave aside for the moment that the CIMS would seem to make it easy for the Cons to actually mention the number of people who have expressed concerns in the past, rather than talking about them only theoretically. By Clement's own account, the only people concerned with the long form census are paranoid and ill-informed in a multitude of ways. But rather than trying to correct either of the glaring misconceptions that could possibly explain the people now relied on as the basis for the Cons' decision, Clement is arguing that we should permanently cripple Canada's knowledge about itself in order to respond to their false beliefs.

Of course, I don't expect this particular line of spin to hold up any longer than the last few. But the question is what the Cons will ultimately do in response to the public outcry over the census - and the fact that even their supposedly strongest excuses don't make the least bit of sense should serve as a signal that it's time to stop trying to defend the indefensible.

The first symptoms

Ideally, Jim Flaherty's musings about health care would be dismissed as a matter of the Harper Cons grandstanding on a provincial issue only to be ignored by the provinces themselves - so that the rest of us could safely do the same. But Flaherty has linked his talk about wanting to limit provincial spending to the negotiations on a federal/provincial funding formula. And with Flaherty having used public money on the federal level to push regressive policies on issues ranging from tax harmonization to infrastructure privatization, there's plenty of reason for concern about what will happen on the health front.

So let's take a closer look at what Flaherty does and doesn't want to see in provincial management of health care as part of his conditions for federal funding:
Jim Flaherty told the Telegraph-Journal's editorial board on Thursday that provincial spending on health care is growing at a rate that outstrips economic growth, a situation that is unsustainable over time.

"The provinces are going to have to look at their budgets and figure out ways of providing health-care services without rampant growth," Flaherty said.
Flaherty said when he was provincial minister of finance in Ontario in the 1990s, health-care funding was growing at a rate of about seven per cent per year, while the economy was only expanding at about one and a half per cent annually.

"You know what that means," he said, "That health-care spending, most of which is non-discretionary, ends up squeezing out funding for colleges, universities, public schools, social services - those being the other big areas of provincial government spending."
Now, the most obvious point of concern in Flaherty's statement is the emphasis on changing provinces' "ways of providing health-care services". Which should be entirely familiar as the first verse leading to the tired refrain of "privatize!".

But there's another part of Flaherty's framing that may be even more dangerous. After all, Flaherty's focus is entirely on provincial spending on health care and its perpetually-exaggerated impact on government budgets. But Flaherty doesn't seem the least bit concerned with overall health care spending - offering the most direct hint yet that he'll be pushing provincial governments to abandon parts of the field entirely, with a greater reliance on private funding to make up for the constraints Flaherty wants to place on the provinces.

All of which is to say that the less influence Flaherty has on the shape of future health care funding, the better. But since the provinces may have no choice but to deal with his officials at least for the time being, it's also worth recognizing the problematic elements that Flaherty wants to build into the system, and making it clear that Canadians don't want to see the federal government pushing an anti-social health care regime on the country.

The reviews are in

Dan Gardner is pleased with the opportunity to write about statistical methodology in response to the Cons' attack on the census. But the more important part of his column is his take on why there's still a need to do so:
To turn statistical methodology into a political controversy, a government has to really screw up. But to make statisticians shriek and flap their arms like wounded albatrosses, to cause policy wonks to turn purple with rage, to compel retired civil servants to dispense with a lifetime of discretion and denounce the government's gobsmacking jackassery to reporters ... Well, that's something special.
As news reports had amply demonstrated, there is no evidence of widespread popular concern about coercion, privacy, and the census -- sensibly enough, as StatsCan is absolutely obsessive about protecting privacy. Further, the expanded reach of the voluntary survey will do nothing to correct the data for bias -- as statisticians had been explaining over and over to anyone who would listen.

By repeating (his) empty claims without the slightest acknowledgement of what the critics had been saying, (Tony Clement) was sticking his fingers in his ears while loudly humming Rule Britannia. It was a gesture of contempt. "I can't hear you!" Clement mocked. "I can't hear you!"

The same day, in The Globe and Mail, Bill Robson, president of the C.D. Howe Institute, gently agreed that changing the census is a mistake but he worried that "the reaction from many opponents risks cementing the government's resolve." Bill's a gentleman who would never approve of potty mouth but that sounds an awful lot like Nancy Ruth warning women's groups to "shut the f--- up" because they're dealing with a pack of vindictive knuckleheads.
Update: And let's note a similar point from Stephen Gordon:
The problem of a biased sampling methodology cannot be fixed by sending out more voluntary questionnaires: all you get is a bigger, biased sample. What's particularly annoying is that Minister Clement is well aware of this point, because I explained it to him personally.

This decision was made without consulting anyone who understands statistics. After two weeks of criticism by everyone who does, the government's strategy is not to explain why the material we teach in statistics courses is wrong. Instead, it chooses to pretend that the material we teach in statistics courses doesn't exist.
Update: let's add Andrew Potter in as well:
Clement’s statistical illiteracy is so profound it gives one vertigo. The notion that simply making the sample bigger can’t fix a skewed sample is something undergraduates learn in first-year classes, yet is somehow beyond the mental grasp of a senior minister of a G8 country. And the comedic benefit of watching Clement fail first-year economics is undermined by the cold realization that he fundamentally does not understand the intellectual foundations of the files that he controls. When he is cornered by his intellectual betters, moreover, Clement’s instinct is to reach for the debating-hall comforts of cheap populism.
There are libertarians and there are libertarians. When it comes to Tony Clement and James Moore, theirs is not the principled and defensible small-government ideology of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It’s more like the sweaty-palmed fanboy libertarianism forged by too many late nights in high school spent switching between the anti-feminist Nietszcheanism of Ayn Rand and the corporatist space fantasies of sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein.

And this bit of lame ideological freelancing by a couple of rogue (and Twitter-happy) ministers has disturbing resonances with a comment Harper himself made last year. When it comes down to it, he told the Globe and Mail, “I don’t believe any taxes are good taxes,” which is just a short way of saying he believes that literally everything the state does is bad.

Stephen Harper has spent a great deal of time fending off the accusation from the left that he harbours some hidden social-conservative agenda, whose diabolical contours will only be revealed once he achieves his much-feared majority.

But what we should really be concerned with is not that he wants to hand the controls of the ship of state over to a cabal of evangelical end-times wingnuts. Rather, the real worry is that when it comes down to it, he’d sooner see the whole thing scuttled.
(Edit: fixed label.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Data is dangerous

Because accurate information can lead to findings like Erin's:
Corporations are not investing here. Fixed investment by private non-financial corporations peaked in the third quarter of 2008 and has fallen since then. By the first quarter of this year, investment was one-third below the pre-crisis peak.

Corporate Canada is hoarding cash. The Canadian-dollar deposits of private non-financial corporations shrank during the first two quarters of the financial crisis, but then grew during the next four quarters, reaching an all-time record high in the first quarter of this year.
Four months ago, I suggested that low capacity utilization explains sluggish investment. If corporations already have a lot of idle capacity, why invest in adding more capacity? A week ago, Paul Krugman presented the same interpretation for the US.

Corporate tax cuts will be especially ineffective at promoting investment given the overhang of excess capacity. As I argued, it would be better for the government to retain the money and invest it directly.
Now wouldn't we all be happier if we didn't know better, and had to take the Cons' word that our chocolate rations investment levels have been doing nothing but improving thanks to their glorious leader?

A losing battle

So what's more sad about Tony Clement's latest excuse for gutting Canada's census:
Clement told reporters in Montreal today that many Canadians have complained the long-form census violates their privacy.

He says his office has received dozens of letters in the past 48 hours supporting his decision.
Is it the fact that he's referring to letters written after the fact as if they somehow offered any explanation for the decision being made in the first place?

Or is it the fact that he can only point to "dozens" of letters - making for less individuals bothering to support his side as there are major Canadian groups publicly taking the other side (to say nothing of the thousands of individuals who have done the same)?

Summer reruns

As a sure sign of the kind of vision and creativity we can expect from his summer tour, Michael Ignatieff's inspiring appeal for anybody who's working for something better within the NDP (or the Greens) is...hold your nose and vote Liberal.

Because it's worked so well the last half-dozen times the Libs have built their message around it!

Thunder Creek - Ryan McDonald Seeking NDP Nomination

Based on past results, the Thunder Creek riding would seem to be near the bottom of the list of possible targets for the Saskatchewan NDP. But it may be that one of the main reasons for that history has been the party's level of focus on the riding - and if so, then Ryan McDonald looks to be off to a good start in seeking the NDP's nomination to challenge Sask Party MLA Lyle Stewart.

McDonald has entered the race with one of the better websites I've seen for any nomination candidate (with the photos of landmarks within the riding serving as a particularly nice touch), along with regularly-updated presences on Facebook and Twitter. And if his organization in other areas is up to the level of his strong start online, then there may well be enough time between now and November 2011 to turn a seemingly safe Sask Party seat into a tough contest for a government member who's had his share of embarrassments.

On tax fraud havens

Shorter Con government:

If you can keep a secret offshore account hidden from us for more than ten years, it's only fair that you should get to keep the spoils.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The obvious explanation

Sure, the fact that a grand total of two people complained to the Privacy Commissioner about the last federal census might seem like conclusive evidence that the Cons' supposed concerns about privacy are absolute nonsense. But shouldn't we allow for the possibility that countless tinfoil-hatters scared to death of Statistics Canada are equally paranoid about the Privacy Commissioner, and have thus only communicated their worries telepathically to Tony Clement?


In case there was any doubt why the NDP was right to say "no thanks" to the Afghan document review farce, the Cons can't even announce an agreement with the Libs and Bloc about the panel of reviewing judges without (a) hogging the spotlight for themselves, and (b) using the opportunity to take potshots at the opposition parties by pretending to be the lone party concerned with "national security" and the welfare of Canadian troops.

So needless to say, I eagerly await the Libs' response that they see no reason to doubt that the Cons are acting in good faith.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Wednesday Morning Links

- The Cons have apparently unveiled version 2.0 of their dirty tricks manual, featuring such cooperative and productive steps as having the chair utterly ignore any rules that have ever existed in order to prevent elected officials from voting. Stay tuned for the next step, as I'm sure all Con chairs are training to shriek "LALALALALAICANTHEARYOU!!!" for the entire length of a meeting.

- Jeffrey Simpson is absolutely right in saying that the CRTC couldn't approve Corn Cob Kory's application for a massive subsidy of Fox News North without looking ridiculous in the process. But I'm not sure how one can comment on the topic without noting the risk that the final decision will be made at the political level, where any concerns about trampling on common sense and existing rules could easily be outweighed by the desire to fund the most biased right-wing media mouthpiece yet.

- Sure, it might seem ridiculous for Sask Party MLA Dan D'Autremont to declare that his constituents have to choose between highways and health care. But let's be fair to D'Autremont: when a government is consumed with taking constant orders from the corporate sector, there's an obvious reason why there's nothing left for mere citizens.

- Getting quoted in a major newspaper: good. Getting quoted in a major newspaper alongside Paul Wells: excellent. Getting quoted in a major newspaper alongside Kelly McParland: well, two out of three ain't bad.

The reviews are in

The Star Phoenix editorial board follows up on yesterday's report on Elections Saskatchewan with an editorial slamming the Sask Party's continued attacks on the independence of one of the province's most important non-partisan institutions:
(A)bsent a rational explanation as to why the government is attempting in midstream to unilaterally change the hiring process for a position that since 1998 has been considered an independent officer of the legislature, unhealthy speculation grows that the Saskatchewan Party merely is biding time until after the 2011 election to hire someone sympathetic to its world view.

If that involves lending even tacit support to a bit of gerrymandering -- redrawing riding boundaries after the next election to create more blended rural/urban seats that provide an advantage to the Saskatchewan Party, the damage done to undermine public confidence in the independence of the office will be immeasurable.

Even though the Opposition likely is being obstructionist in refusing to consider any other candidate except Mr. Wilkie, the NDP is quite right that a principle is at stake. Hiring an independent officer of the legislature -- especially the one whose job it is to ensure that MLAs are elected playing by the rules -- cannot be dictated by a caucus vote and a partisan vote shouldn't override the recommendation of a bipartisan selection committee.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All too true

Linda McQuaig contrasts the justified demand for improvements that followed past corporate fiascos against the growing sense that both financial and environmental disasters over the past couple of years will ultimately result in no meaningful changes:
Despite an environmental crisis of unknown and unknowable proportions, the ideology that allowed it to happen has proved resistant to change — just as it did in the face of the Wall Street meltdown, another devastating consequence of unbridled capitalism.

Among other things, the BP gusher (and the Wall Street crash) show that the corporate sector has become so powerful in recent decades that even catastrophic consequences — accompanied by public outrage — are no longer sufficient to block its profits-before-all agenda.

The 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island didn’t kill anybody, but it shocked the public, and pushed the nuclear industry onto the defensive. For 25 years, the industry laid low, and governments didn’t dare approve new nuclear plants.

There’s no such humility on the part of Big Oil today; even as the worst-ever maritime environmental disaster unfolded, BP CEO Tony Hayward went yachting. Corporate lobbies now have such clout, with politicians and the media so submissive, that a calamity like the BP oil gusher happens — and nothing really changes.

Not to be emulated

I agree with Brian Topp's view that we'd achieve a better political system by increasing the public funding available for political parties. But I'm surprised that Topp's chosen example is a country which seems to be moving toward some unfortunate outcomes that I fully expect to see copied in Canada before long:
Since Jan. 1, 2009, more than 40 new parties have been chartered in France. Why? Because French electoral law limits individual and corporate donations to €7,500 per party. To evade this and maximize their private fundraising, the Conservatives have been chartering new parties for each of their leading ministers and candidates. So, for example, the new "association de soutien a l'action de Benoist Apparu" has launched (the "association to support the work of Benoist Apparu" -- the minister for housing).
So why might there be a risk of similar abuses in Canada? Here's the Canada Elections Act provision governing individual contributions:
405. (1) No individual shall make contributions that exceed
(a) $1,000 in total in any calendar year to a particular registered party;
(a.1) $1,000 in total in any calendar year to the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a particular registered party;
(b) $1,000 in total to a candidate for a particular election who is not the candidate of a registered party; and
(c) $1,000 in total to the leadership contestants in a particular leadership contest.
The amount of the limit is adjusted for inflation, but what's important is that the law only limits the amount of donations to a particular registered party. And likewise, campaign spending maximums apply to a "registered party" under section 423.

So in principle, if a party were seeking to double the effective contributions that could be made by big-money donors, it could simply set up a shadow party to receive the extra donations. And while there would be somewhat more work involved in trying to double the campaign spending limit (since the shadow party would have to run paper candidates in order to be able to spend extra money), it doesn't seem out of the question that a party with enough money in the bank might eventually do so. (In fact, third-party advertisers have already started to game the Canadian system.)

Which means that while France may serve as a positive example of public funding, it also seems to be headed toward obvious abuses of its party financing system which could be easily replicated in Canada. And the lesson from France's experience should include working to shut down the latter as well as praising the former.


James Wood reminds us that Elections Saskatchewan remains in a state of flux due to the Sask Party's stubborn insistence that anonymous caucus members should be able to veto the Chief Electoral Officer approved of by every party in the province without giving any reason for doing so. But perhaps the most interesting news involves the likely result for the 2011 election:
(W)ith the relative closeness of the next election, (Justice Minister Don) Morgan said it is difficult to gauge whether someone brought in from outside Elections Saskatchewan as chief electoral officer would be able to oversee a provincial election, even if that person was hired immediately.

"I don't know that. That would depend on the person. If it was somebody who was familiar with Saskatchewan, they might be. But if it was someone who came from outside they may well not be," he said.
Of course, there's no indication that anybody within Elections Saskatchewan has ever been under consideration for the CEO position other than...David Wilkie, the candidate vetoed by the Sask Party. But if it's already too late to bring in somebody from outside the province to oversee the run-up to the 2011 election, then presumably that job will fall to...David Wilkie, in his role as acting Chief Electoral Officer.

So for all the other criticisms that have been leveled at the Sask Party's obstinacy, let's add one more. The Wall government's stand against all-party agreement and cooperative appointment looks to be entirely useless, as it has no apparent chance of changing the identity of the individual in charge of the 2011 election.

Instead, the only impact the Sask Party's stand can have is to make sure that the temporary nature of Wilkie's appointment prevents Elections Saskatchewan from carrying out any long-term planning. And that deserves a new round of questions as to why Wall and company consider themselves entitled to stand in the way of a permanent appointment.

Tuesday Morning 'Rider Blogging

I've held off on last year's pattern of Saskatchewan Roughriders blogging due to the impression that there's already a downright painful amount of coverage - at least, if one counts the Leader-Post holding multiple live chats every week, and seemingly posting multiple teasers and chat references every time one of its reporters speaks to a player. But apparently there's some reader interest in my continuing to add to the province's football word count. So let's look at where the 'Riders stand after their first two highly successful games of the 2010 season.

On offence, I've seen two key differences between the 2010 version of the 'Riders and the one which was far less consistent last year. I mentioned back then that the 'Riders' strategy to deal with opposing pass rushes seemed to be to find one outlet for Darian Durant to use against a particular scheme - but that the next step for Durant had to be to learn to use multiple options in the same game. And this season he's done just that, leaving opponents guessing as to whether he'll step up or retreat, take off or find a receiver while evading the rush.

Thanks to that variety, Durant looks to be controlling the game far more than last season, when even many of the 'Riders' successful plays were based on counterpunching rather than dictating the game to a helpless defence. Now, the main area for improvement looks to be for Durant to start pushing the limits in finding receivers under pressure with confidence rather than throwing the ball away - and once that happens, the 'Riders' passing offence looks to be the undisputed top air attack in the CFL.

Meanwhile, the other major offensive change has been the resurgence of Wes Cates at running back. Cates will never have the speed to outrun most defenders, but in 2009 he slowed up to the point where even gaping holes turned into 7- or 8- yard gains as defenders were able to close in from the side. So far in 2010, he's back to having just enough quickness to leg out big gains on the ground - and as long as he can keep up that level of running ability, he'll be a perfect fit for a scheme which forces defenders to focus on stopping the pass.

On defence, the 'Riders seem to have caught a bad rap from a first game where it should have been expected that the Alouettes would come out firing on all cylinders. In particular, an Anthony Calvillo-led offence seldom lets pass rushers look effective - and that led to more questions than the defensive line deserved.

Fortunately, the B.C. game (and particularly Brent Hawkins' performance) looks to have put all doubt to rest as to whether or not the 'Riders will get to the quarterback. But the larger question for any Gary Etcheverry defence will be whether his creative schemes to create pressure will open up the field for opposing rushers. There, the 'Riders' stellar performance has gone largely unnoticed: in games against two running backs who topped 1,000 yards last season, the 'Riders haven't yet allowed more than 54 yards rushing to anybody. And if that trend keeps up, offences will have little choice but to gamble on long passes in an effort to keep pace with Saskatchewan's attack - playing into the hands of a defence that's always ready to turn a mistake into a turnover.

So is there any bad news so far? Well, it has to be of some concern that the 'Riders are using an import roster spot on a punter whose average is by far the lowest in the CFL. And the return teams' middling performance looks all the worse when one of Saskatchewan's cuts has been the top returner in the CFL. But those look to be relatively minor issues when weighed against the effectiveness of the 'Riders' offence.

That leaves the most obvious danger from the beginning of the offseason: while the team is built to dominate as long as a healthy Durant is at the controls, I haven't yet seen much reason for confidence in the backup quarterbacks if he gets hurt. But while it still strikes me as odd that the 'Riders haven't done more to mitigate against that risk, it has to be for the best if an evaluation of the team involves comparing what could conceivably go wrong with what's obviously going right.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On self-inflicted wounds

Senate Opposition Whip James Cowan, quoted in the Hill Times posted yesterday morning:
Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan, who represents Nova Scotia, told The Hill Times last week that...there will be a whipped vote at report stage and third reading to try to send the bill back to the House of Commons amended.

"This is a serious venture. As I said, we're making a statement that this is the wrong way to do a budget bill," Sen. Cowan said. "We think that what we've done here is the right thing to do. We're going to encourage all of our members to be there. We do the best we can. I'm not sure what's going to happen. But we do intend to put the whip on, and we'll get as many as we can."

There are 105 seats in the Senate, including 52 Conservatives, 49 Liberals, four independents...If all other Liberals and Independents show up to vote, the combined opposition is still able to keep the bill amended.
The results of the vote yesterday:
Seven missing Liberal senators allowed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 880-page omnibus budget bill, which critics argue includes everything and the kitchen sink, to pass late Monday night.

The Conservative government defeated changes the Liberals and three of the four independents wanted by a vote of 48 to 44.

Seven Liberal senators failed to show up to vote giving Harper's Conservatives the slight majority.
Now, nobody should be particularly surprised that the Libs managed to come up short on yet another budget vote. But Cowan's choice of public message looks to be especially bizarre given the ultimate outcome: was there really any point in declaring that the Libs would do their utmost to oppose the bill when the only result was to ensure he'd be seen as having failed once again by the end of the day?

On positive attributes

Following up on this post, let's take a more systematic look at the Angus Reid leadership numbers and what they say about the relative perceptions of each federal leader. The chart below includes the total and averages for the "positive" and "negative" options in Angus Reid's attribute pairings:

Leader Positive (Total) Positive (Average) Negative (Total) Negative (Average)
Jack Layton 205 22.8 131 14.6
Stephen Harper 137 15.2 266 29.6
Gilles Duceppe 97 10.8 187 20.8
Michael Ignatieff 89 9.9 244 27.1

Note that I've used the numbers from Angus Reid's detailed results chart, which may not entirely match the numbers reported for the poll: in particular, Stephen Harper's "intelligent" score is listed as 14 in the chart, rather than 34 in the article reporting the results.* And I'll note that I've calculated the "average" simply by dividing by the number of attributes of each type; one could add another layer of detail by accounting for respondents with no opinion (which would increase Duceppe's relative average numbers) and accounting for respondents who listed less than the maximum number of options.

But whatever one does with those details, the end results are the same. Three of the four leaders in the House of Commons are identified primarily with negative attributes, with those outnumbering positive associates by a margin between 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. Meanwhile, Jack Layton stands out as carrying positive overall perceptions by a substantial margin - which should offer reason for commentators to take another look before declaring that none of the federal leaders inspire confidence among Canadians.

Of course, it's true that the gap between Layton and Harper looks to be far larger in among the attributes than it is among the overall approval ratings. But while I'd certainly prefer to see the leader and party numbers move further in the same direction, the difference would seem to offer a massive opportunity for the NDP on the more important indicators. After all, the gap would only make sense based on either a massive enthusiasm gap among the leaders' supporters, or a far more positive reception for Layton among the "not sures" in the poll - and either way, those underlying perceptions would offer a strong opportunity to turn Layton's positive personal traits today into more substantial support when it counts.

*Update: Angus Reid's chart has since been corrected to reflect that the correct scores for Stephen Harper are Intelligent 34/Foolish 14. I've fixed the chart above accordingly.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Afternoon Links

- Vaughn Palmer notes that while the HST may have been the issue that's permanently torpedoed Gordan Campbell, it's far from the only issue where the B.C. Libs are effectively thumbing their noses at the province:
(T)he rest of the costs laid out in Friday's 20-page report (on the Olympics") were not regarded as part of staging the Games, and thus were "outside the envelope."

The $48-million Olympic Secretariat, for instance. Who would think that was an Olympic cost? Not the B.C. Liberals. Outside the envelope.

Or the five giant rings in Coal Harbour, placed there at a cost of -- I'm not making this up -- half a million dollars per ring. Hansen left them outside the envelope as well. Ditto for such exercises as the Games-Time Celebrations ($14 million), the Look of the Games ($1 million), the Torch Relay Community Grant Program ($4 million), the Torch Relay Expansion ($4 million), Games Town and Games Kids and the Road to 2010 ($2 million), the B.C./ Canada pavilions at the you-knowwhats in Turin and Beijing ($17 million), the never-an-Olympic pavilion at the Vancouver Art Gallery ($6 million), the B.C. International Media Centre for an event to be named later ($3 million), the One-Year Countdown Celebration ($1 million) and the Robson Square Celebration Site ($15 million.)

All those, Hansen stuffed into a separate $160-million envelope as costs of "marketing, hosting, celebration and community engagement activities."

Marketing what? Hosting what? Celebrating what? Not the Olympics apparently.
Only the must gullible government supporters believed (previous statements that the Olympics would only cost $600 million). People recognized at the time that Campbell and Hansen were fudging the budget. Observers will likely dismiss the latest update as a less-than-complete cost accounting as well.
Today, when the Games are widely regarded as a success (and I say that having opposed them), the day for quibbling over the cost of staging them is long past.

So I was thinking as I listened to the Hansen press conference Friday: If this is how the Liberals handle a triumph, no wonder they are having so much trouble managing a genuine fiasco like the harmonized sales tax.
- It's for the best that SaskPower's refrigerator recycling program has received loads of public interest. But the fact that the program has run out of funding is particularly galling in light of the goal involved: is it really the best environmental message to tell people to hold onto their old, inefficient appliances in hopes that the program will resurface in years to come?

- The latest Angus Reid leadership polling is interesting enough in its well-reported findings that Jack Layton is the only federal leader identified in positive terms. But it's even more noteworthy that Layton also has virtually no negative associations attached to him: of the nine negative terms included in the survey, Layton is at the head of the pack (i.e. carrying a lowest association) for seven of them, and finishes in actual or effective ties for second behind Harper on the other two. All of which is to say that if the Cons' idea of scaremongering is to suggest that Layton might someday hold power, then I'll strongly encourage them to keep on doing what they're doing.

- Finally, Douglas Bell rightly slams Macleans for its embarrassing G20 editorial:
That last line is as sweet a piece of editorial counter-programming as you’ll read this week or any other. That said it’s remarkable, at least to my eyes, that the national weekly news magazine (it is still a news magazine, right?), on this issue at least, resembles Pravda circa 1954. The editorial that accompanies the cover line reads as though it were written by some central committee in charge of the Politburo justifying the Lithuanian deportations of that era.
“The police should be commended for their vow to pursue any and all protesters associated with the vandalism. Merely detaining and releasing violent hoodlums is not a sufficient response to the threat they pose to civil society. The protection of free speech and assembly can only exist when there is proper respect for the rule of law. Legitimate protest acknowledges the existence of state authority while providing a different point of view. The same is true with civil disobedience. What we saw over the weekend, however, had nothing constructive to offer society. It was simply opportunistic chaos. It is thus imperative that we find and punish everyone responsible for this embarrassing period of disorder.”
Notice the nifty conflation of “vandals” and “embarrassing period of disorder”? And that bit about “legitimate protest acknowledging state authority?” Oy. Orwell would have a field day.

On fair taxation

Adam Radwanski's column on the Ontario NDP's stance on the HST is right on target in identifying Andrea Horwath's critique as the honest and principled message opposing tax harmonization:
The message of Andrea Horwath's party against the new harmonized sales tax, which took effect on Canada Day, has not been quite as simplistic as that of Tim Hudak's Conservatives. But it's often been more convincing.

For one thing, the NDP isn't conflicted by federal cousins who partnered with Dalton McGuinty's Liberals to implement the new tax. Instead, it’s tied to the only party in Ottawa that firmly opposed the policy.

For another, the NDP's position actually makes sense. The Tories have claimed the HST is a “tax grab,” which it’s really not. The NDP more accurately argues, at least sometimes, that it's a shifting of the tax burden from businesses to individuals. And that's something that, alone among the parties, it can very strongly and credibly oppose.

Despite very limited resources, the third-place party has also often outflanked the Official Opposition on tactics. It was the NDP that caught the Liberals flatfooted this spring, with its release of a study based on Statistics Canada numbers that showed the average family’s costs going up by hundreds of dollars annually.
But while it's a plus for Radwanski to have noticed the NDP's message, it's worth wondering why he seems so surprised that a message identifying a tax issue would form an important part of the NDP's strategy - particularly when it fits so nicely with the party's focus on the cost of living as a key component of public well-being.

And there are plenty of examples to support the theory that the NDP can help itself by at least mentioning concern about taxes as part of its core message of fighting for the general public. After all, the most recent provincial NDP election win featured a platform plank to reduce taxes on home energy. Gary Doer's platform that took his government to power in 1999 featured some discussion of lower property taxes. And of course, Roy Romanow's victory in 1991 included a battle over Grant Devine's tax harmonization - meaning that there's a two-decade history of the NDP using the HST as a winning issue.

Of course, it's true enough that the NDP won't want to fuel a full-on anti-tax revolt. But it's been a regular and successful strategy for the NDP to campaign on citizen-friendly tax policies as a contrast to cuts and shifts which primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy. And the imposition of the HST has made this an ideal time for both Andrea Horwath and Carole James to carry on that legacy.

On entrenched advantages

Alice explains how the long-form census is used in Canadian politics, rightly pointing out that it's the Harper Cons who have seemingly benefited most from the reliable data they're now seeking to eliminate.

But for all the Cons' past use of census-based demographic data, I have to wonder whether it might not be an entirely rational (if cynical) political calculation to avoid updating the mandatory long-form data in 2011. Could it be that the Cons - having done more with the 2006 data than their competitors - are entirely happy to preserve that advantage by ensuring that each party has to keep building on that foundation as best it can, rather than making available a new set of baseline demographic information that will allow the parties to start on an even footing?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Well said

The Star's editorial on the need to put other priorities ahead of constant corporate tax cuts deserves a read in full. But the part about the type of public policy which actually matters to business is particularly worth highlighting:
(I)t is useful to look at what business experts really say about competitiveness. The same KPMG report states that corporate taxes are a minor element in deciding locations for investment. Issues such at transportation, facilities (buildings), utilities and labour rates are the key cost factors that are considered. But overwhelmingly in business reports, the availability of a well educated, skilled workforce and the quality of life for executives and their families loom large in investment decisions. There is no good reason to make business taxes lower when we are already the lowest. All it does is provide room for more executive bonuses — like the $8 billion in bonuses given to the elite of the Canadian banks in 2009.

In a bizarre twist of fate, some of the money saved by American companies operating in Canada simply gets transferred to the U.S. Treasury. Their rules require that foreign operations pay taxes at no less than the U.S. rate, or make up the difference to Uncle Sam. Studies by economist Erin Weir show that money not collected by Ottawa is instead taxed by Washington for the benefit of Americans. Instead of helping to solve the massive infrastructure backlog in communities across the country, Flaherty is giving away billions to his U.S. counterpart.

You will forgive us then, when working people object to politicians telling us that we have to sacrifice our wages or pensions for some “greater good.” The rules keep changing, but always to the benefit of global corporations instead of working families. We have watched unemployment insurance being gutted, good jobs shipped offshore, and bad trade deals undermine our standard of living. More and more, young people are finding work only through temp agencies or short-term contracts. There is something wrong with this picture — the priorities need to change.

Deep thought

I know when I think of possible neutral and non-partisan advisers on political and constitutional issues, Rainer Knopff is one of the first names that comes to mind.

Update: Chrystal goes through the full list of Harper's GG advisors, and the picture doesn't look to be a pretty one. That said, I'm not sure there's necessarily a contradiction between Dimitri Soudas' spin today and the instructions actually given to the advisors. Instead, the problem is that the phrase "without partisanship" surely looks rather different to Harper appointees and ideological conservatives than to the public at large - and the Cons' track record doesn't exactly suggest that they have any interest in correcting for the difference.

On first principles

As I've noted earlier, Alex Himelfarb has launched an interesting discussion of how to define progressivism in Canada - and I still plan to take a closer look at that issue in future posts, albeit with what I'd describe as more of an expression of what progressivism ought to be rather than how it's actually perceived. But before getting into that conversation in detail, I'll offer an aside that puts some of the Harper Cons' actions in government in a more philosophical context.

One of the observations in relatively recent political philosophy that strikes me as particularly important to any discussion of the role of the state is the concept that any theory of government even worth discussing has to proceed from the pursuit of equality in some form.

Of course, there's plenty of room for debate as to how to weigh the sometimes-conflicting goals of equality of opportunity or equality of condition, and what historical considerations or community interests ought to be taken into account. But a philosophy that actively denies equal consideration to any group of people is seen as a tribalist relic which has no place in informed political discussion. (See generally Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy, which is one of my regular reads as a reminder of some of the foundational principles of political theory.)

So what does that have to do with the current state of the Canadian government? There's been ample discussion here and elsewhere about the Cons' treatment of Ronald Smith, Omar Khadr and Abousfian Abdelrazik, along with their complete lack of interest in considering the human rights of Afghan detainees. And at least a few commentators have paired that with outrage at the Cons' constant excuse that nobody cares about such undesirables, and therefore everybody should just shut up and let the government continue to neglect or abuse them.

But I'm not sure there's been much analysis of the philosophy behind that repeated statement. And with the G20 security fiasco serving as a prime example of how such a worldview can very quickly come to apply to absolutely anybody, now seems like the time to drive the point home.

In effect, the Harper Cons have declared that the only measure of their treatment of people under the scope of their authority is whether it costs them politically. Never mind any conception of equality, whether founded in liberty, justice, opportunity or otherwise. As far as the Cons are concerned, the only question that matters is whether a particular action might help to tighten Stephen Harper's grip on power - and any opposition based on mere principles of justice can be dismissed as irrelevant.

As we've seen, such an outlook inevitably means that some people - and indeed those whose rights most obviously need to be defended - will be declared to be less than equal for the government's purposes. And that represents a concerted effort not only to set back any conversation about human rights by at least 70 years, but also to deny the very possibility of government operating on principles other than the consolidation of power.

Which probably suits the Cons' purposes just fine: what better opening to excuse converting our public assets to the use of private actors for political gain, then create a culture of cynicism around any future attempt to rebuild? And it's even debatable whether making the point will be seen as doing the Cons any harm - at least, unless it becomes such widespread public knowledge as to affect Harper in the polls.

But for those of us who actually have some positive ideas as to what government can do to contribute to a more fair society, it's worth putting into context just how much damage the Cons are doing to the basic underpinnings of our political system with their efforts to declare particular individuals to be unworthy of any consideration. And when we recognize exactly how harmful Harper's governing philosophy really is, that should serve as incentive not just to work to replace Harper in power, but also to challenge at every opportunity his effort to focus political debate as far away as possible from the question of what principles we expect out of Canada's government.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Destroying the evidence

Haroon Siddiqui is the latest to excoriate the Harper Cons for gutting Canada's census. But he rightly notes that this is just one more in a series of steps carried out by the Cons to prevent Canadians from having accurate information about what's being done to their country:
The decision is widely seen as part of a pattern — Harper’s penchant for secrecy, obfuscation and controlling information. He’s also said to dislike StatsCan, especially its analytical work, which is what’s being squeezed out. Several other surveys have been cut or compromised:

* The annual Workplace and Employee Survey. It was the only source of information from employers about health-, pay- and pension-related benefits to full-time and part-time employees. It was cut back at the same time as growing concerns about the sustainability of retirement incomes.
* The annual Survey of Household Spending. It charted the spending patterns of Canadian households (savings rates and debt levels of rich, poor and middle class families). “This is precisely the information needed to monitor how households are faring in the wake of the Great Recession,” says Yalnizyan.
* The Survey of Financial Security. It measured the net worth of Canadians across all income and age groups and regions.
* The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants. It measured how well, or badly, newcomers are doing.
* Participation and Activity Limitation Survey. It surveyed the number of people coping with physical and mental disabilities.

“These have all been political decisions,” says Yalnizyan. Instead of evidence-based decision-making, the Tories think “decision-based evidence-making is preferable.”