Saturday, August 14, 2010

Batoche - Janice Bernier Seeking NDP Nomination

There's another strong female candidate to add to the Saskatchewan NDP's potential slate for 2011, as Janice Bernier has publicly confirmed her intention to see the party's nomination in Batoche. By all accounts, Bernier ran an extremely strong campaign as the federal NDP's candidate in Regina Qu'Appelle in 2008 - and while there won't be any geographic overlap between the two ridings, Bernier's experience should be a major help in challenging faceless Sask Party MLA Delbert Kirsch in a riding which was home to a close race as recently as 2003.

Saturday Morning Links

A few links for a rainy Saturday...

- The National Statistics Council has learned the hard way what should be obvious to anybody who's paid attention for the past four years: any attempt at evenhandedness in even the most obvious condemnation of the Harper Cons will be spun as unconditional support. So just to be on the safe side, it's best to be scathing at all times.

- Take for example Antonia Zerbisias, who goes into detail about the contents of the long-form census along with the comparable means of collecting information in the countries being wrong-headedly pointed to by the Cons as not having a census at all:
(C)arrying anything more than a driver’s license in Canada is never necessary, and even if you do have to turn yours over to a police officer who stops you, it reveals nothing more than the fact that you need glasses to drive and that you have unpaid parking tickets.

Which is why Canadians can go about their business confident that nobody’s minding it.

Not so in many other countries, including Nordic European nations where census taking has been abandoned for the collection of personal information through “administrative data.” In Finland, everybody gets an ID code and electronic chip card. Not only does its national Population Registry require citizens to inform the government of every change of address, the card must be used in bank transactions and the payment of wages.

In Sweden, it’s the tax authorities who maintain population data which include marital and family relationships as well as other personal data.

That’s far more invasive of citizen privacy than Canada’s mandatory long-form census which, until 2006, was sent to one in five households.

But the minority Conservative government intends to do away with it, claiming that its 53 questions are too “intrusive” because, among them, are queries on how many bedrooms your dwelling has and who pays the hydro bill.

That despite how no census form can be linked to any citizen — unlike how, in Finland and Sweden, a person’s identity code reveals everything.
- Meanwhile, datalibre's compilation of voices for and against the Cons' decision to gut the census is worth a look. But the 295-9 margin of "organizations" opposing the change versus those for it actually manages to underestimate the gap: after all, if Con MP Earl Dreeshen has managed to get listed on the "pro" side, then aren't there a number of opposition MPs who should be similarly included?

- Finally, a couple of columns on public opinion about Afghanistan are worth pointing out: a surprisingly reasonable piece from David Bercuson to the effect that countries shouldn't be kept at war by their elites when the general public isn't onside, and the one I'd have expected Bercuson to write from Laurent Le Pierres whining that citizens at large haven't fallen for the right's attempt to pitch an indefinite war footing.

Vandals and accomplices

James Travers unloads on both the Cons' destructive actions in government, and the Libs' willingness to let the damage happen:
This country has a problem. It has a ruling party that twists the truth and an Official Opposition that can’t, or won’t, straighten it out.

This summer’s oddly hot topic is one example. Gutting the census is nothing less than another Conservative act of public vandalism. Wagging an angry finger is nothing more than another empty Liberal gesture.
Harper’s determination and Ignatieff’s vacillation are connected by opportunities seized by Conservatives and missed by Liberals. Without significant resistance or the debate democracy demands, the Prime Minister has consistently advanced policies that are at best controversial and at worst corrosive.

Too often Harper manages to tip-toe dubious schemes past a dozing electorate. While the nation slept, Conservatives grossly abused the budget process with an omnibus bill bulging with unrelated plans to sell the public stake in the atomic energy sector and, even more remarkably, to relax environmental regulations just when the world is reeling from the BP oil spill.
Ignatieff knows that Liberals have taken too long to discard the tattered cloak of Canada’s natural governing party. Liberals are proving equally slow in grasping that an opposition afraid to oppose is an empty vessel voters will fill with blame when the ruling party goes too far.

Conservatives go too far when they trample widely shared Canadian values by twisting truth to fit narrow ideology. Liberals will go nowhere until they are willing to risk something straightening it out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Musical interlude

William Orbit - Purdy (Chicane Remix)

For future reference

Jane Taber has officially redefined the term "hot" to mean..."willing to talk to Jane Taber". Canadian politicos, plan your media availability accordingly.

Burning question

Sure, it might seem like blowing public money on promotional hot sauce and yoga pants is a bad idea when taken out of context. But won't we all feel silly when the Wall government unveils its edgy "Feel the Burn and Think Saskatchewan" tourist campaign?

Friday Morning Links

A random assortment of information for the end of your work week...

- It's understandable that Bill Tieleman and other figures in the Fight HST movement are upset over the fact that a Lib appointee at Elections BC has chosen to stall the petition process. But it's worth keeping in mind that the legislation provided for by the petition is unlikely to pass the B.C. legislature in any event - and in the long run, the justified perception that the petition process has been set up to fail may prove to be the best possible outcome in building support for a quick and decisive recall campaign.

- Alice once again sets the record straight on fund-raising mechanisms for Canada's political parties, pointing out in particular that the oft-repeated theory that eliminating per-vote funding would harm the Bloc has no basis in reality. But I'd offer a reminder that there's one more factor worth taking into account, as thanks to the tax credit system much of the fund-raising allocated to "candidate", "riding" and "party" is also effectively publicly funded. (Update: Of course, there are those who won't let the facts spoil a poorly-thought-out rant.)

- Rick Salutin offers up an interesting theory as to how the census, like prorogation before it, may have served primarily as an excuse for voters to shift against a Harper government that's still out of touch with the public:
The long-form census shift was probably introduced as a bit of red meat for the Reform base. Yet the country seems to have seized on it. This is reflected by the downward Tory drift in the polls. It’s as if the population chose to focus on this issue, rather than the crime and fear agenda. They didn’t take the bait and they used the census ruckus as a way of changing the subject.

Jeffrey Simpson argued forcefully on this page that the census blew up in Mr. Harper’s face because our “civil society” – respectable organizations of solid citizens – rose up as one to demand their rightful stats. Yet the Harperites surely factored that in (or out) when they chose to neuter the long form. They likely thought such “elite” reactions would cut for them at Tim Hortons. But what if the unease out there in ordinary voterland is greater than it seemed when it comes to crime and the rest of their agenda. People might not want to go head to head with Tory heavies who come at you armed with costly surveys and public-relations advice. But they might be prone to shifting the ground to an unexpected issue, like the census, and artfully dodging an unfruitful debate about which they feel ambivalent. U.S. voters dive into issues like crime on cue from their politicians. Canadians are a slier and cannier electorate. Maybe they didn’t take the bait, and switched the topic.

We’ve seen that before, with the eruption of the prorogation issue and the arts issue in Quebec. Both served as pretexts to withdraw support from the Conservatives without embracing other parties.
- Finally, Don Martin's piece on Jack Layton takes a bit of a detour into analyzing the Cons. But it's right on point in noting that Layton's return to the public eye following a fairly quiet summer looks to significantly change a political landscape, particularly based on what Layton has been accomplishing in the meantime:
Jack is back.

That's good news for Canada's top political leftie, not so much for rivals Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff. It's been a tale of two leaders for most of this summer -- Prime Minister Harper for being in relative seclusion on a deserved holiday; Liberal Leader Ignatieff for being on the road discovering a real Canadian summer of beer and barbecues instead of his oft-ridiculed travel abroad to enjoy fine wine and French cuisine.

Layton has surfaced in the news periodically, but mostly toiled out of sight to line up star candidates for an election he expects to fight next spring.
While Michael Ignatieff's road-tested image enhancement and Jack Layton's return to active duty were bad news, Stephen Harper's biggest headaches were all self-induced.

That's why Layton was still grinning when an assistant dragged him away from a perfect-weather patio for a French language classroom. "Stephen Harper has become our best opening to attack," he laughs.

"He's pig-headed. My mother is absolutely right about him."

Led astray, with potentially disastrous consequences

At last notice, Deficit Jim Flaherty was still declaring that the Cons' desire to cut off any stimulus would take precedence over actual economic conditions - presumably because unlike a war, apparently anything that might unintentionally result in some social benefit has to be brought to the quickest possible end:
Mr. Flaherty also declined to speculate about possible extensions for projects delayed by extenuating circumstances such as Saskatchewan’s flooding...

“We want to end the stimulus. We need an exit strategy: It [March 31, 2011] isn’t an arbitrary date. This was, from the beginning, two years."
So let's see what kind of leftist rabble-rousers have joined the movement disagreeing that the Cons' arbitrary end date and desire to start chopping should come first:
A top Bay Street economist has waded into one of Ottawa’s hottest political debates, arguing in a report out Thursday that governments here and in the U.S. should “press on with more stimulus to ensure the recovery sticks.”

Douglas Porter, the deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in his report that “extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures” and that for leaders like Prime Minister Stephen Harper or U.S. President Barack Obama, “the wrong diagnoses at this point could lead economic policymakers astray with potentially disastrous consequences.”
Porter concludes “there is a very strong case” for the U.S. to engage in another round of stimulus spending.

“The long-term fiscal cost from a lengthy period of sub-par growth would be much more damaging than a small down payment now — a stitch in time saves nine,” Porter wrote.

And while Porter doesn't call on Canada, at this point, to do the same, he thinks Harper and Flaherty should have something ready to go, just in case.

“Fiscal stimulus has been quite effective here,” Porter wrote. “Policymakers should keep their options open for the 2011 budget season, and not lock in a hard stop on stimulus just yet.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Moose Jaw North - Gary Vieser Seeking NDP Nomination

Or at least, that seems to be the safe conclusion for the Moose Jaw-area electrician and business manager - even though Vieser's Facebook page still lists his "running for" as "Stay Tuned!" at the moment. (Update: Not surprisingly, Vieser's intention to run in Moose Jaw North has since been confirmed.)

Needless to say, Moose Jaw North will be one of the top targets for the Saskatchewan NDP in the 2011 election after it fell to the Sask Party by only 33 votes in 2007. And Vieser's strong launch today (including some well-timed pre-announcement publicity) bodes well for his chances as he seeks both the NDP's nomination and the seat in the general election to follow.

(Edit: fixed typos.)

Well said

Paul Wells seems to agree with the theory that we should take the Cons' court stenographer at face value in saying that the goal of trashing the long-form census is nothing less than a full-on attack on the idea of effective government:
(C)learly Stephen Harper thinks it matters, because he has burned two useful ministers, Tony Clement and Stock Day, rather badly in advancing this little project. And I take Taylor’s July 22 post to be an example of the disarming frankness that makes him an easy guy to like. The whole post is worth a look. In his trademark prose style, Taylor describes Harper “integrating seemingly transactional initiatives into something transformative.” You see, the country is suspiciously full of “net tax receiving organizations.” Harper, Taylor writes, “has tried the ideological argument against these groups for years. But ideology is by its nature debatable; removing the framework of debate is his shortcut to victory.”

Removing the framework of debate? “If one day we have no idea how many divorced Hindu public transit users there are in East Vancouver, government policy will not be concocted to address them specifically.” This would be, Taylor adds, “a huge blow to the welfare state.”

This seems to me entirely more credible as a motivator than Clement’s and Day’s late-breaking concern for jackbooted census thugs hauling Jewish or many-bedroomed citizens off to the stockade for failing to divulge their pertinent information.
I think most readers will see how Harper’s longstanding fascination with “back channels” as a means for advancing the agenda of actors who constitute “a political minority in Canada” and for whom “electoral politics is not an advantageous arena” plays, not only in the census battle, but in much of what he has done as Prime Minister.

So, like the Stephen Taylor of three weeks ago, I believe the census fight is absolutely at the centre of what Harper is trying to accomplish as prime minister.

One last thought. Taylor is (was?) sure the ultimate goal of all this manoeuvering is to “dismantle the welfare state.” It’s entirely possible to suppose that, at least over the medium term, which could last decades and indeed maybe forever, the real result would simply be the realignment of massive state action to serve the electoral interests of the Conservative Party. If one day we have no idea how many rock-ribbed family-values farmers and small tradesmen of Icelandic, Ukrainian, Scottish and Irish descent there are between Kenora and Kelowna, it will be easy enough for Tony Clement and Stockwell Day to claim there are 147 million of them and every one needs a tool-belt tax credit and a little something extra to help raise the kids.

Your daily census reading

There can't be much room for doubt that the Cons' census debacle is still worth discussing when the minister (nominally) responsible just made a new announcement yesterday. But in case there was any doubt that there's plenty left to say, let's check in with...the Globe and Mail editorial board:
Mr. Clement's promise yesterday to end the threat of jail time for those who don't fill out government surveys – an empty threat, in that it has apparently never been carried out – would address any concerns about heavy-handedness in the mandatory long-form census.

Mr. Clement doesn't seem to understand how he undermines his own arguments for a voluntary survey. Earlier this week, newly released government documents confirmed he had misrepresented Statistics Canada's views on the scrapping of the mandatory long-form census.

The mandatory long-form census gives Canadians good-quality information about their country. Mr. Clement is giving bad information to support his plan for bad-quality data. And Wednesday, on language, he admitted, by his actions, that he was wrong. Now he should admit he was wrong about the rest of the mandatory long-form survey.
And Frances Russell Murdoch:
Stephen Harper's Conservatives know that changing the 2011 long form census from compulsory to voluntary makes it useless for public and private Canadian decision-makers. In fact, that's exactly why they're doing it.

An economist, the prime minister understands the value of statistics. He appreciates that authoritative statistics on the relative social and economic well-being of individual Canadians empower the disempowered to demand government programs (higher taxes) to reduce poverty and disparity and promote upward mobility.

He also appreciates the need to dumb them down to facilitate stripping government back to its core functions: a strong military to defend the nation abroad, more police, prisons and tougher justice to defend the citizen at home and an unfettered free market to create wealth and employment through ever-lower taxes, especially on business and the well-to-do. Addressing social and economic inequality should be left to individual initiative and private charity.

That's why he's decided simply to stop gathering the numbers that provide an accurate socio-economic profile of Canadian society and, in the process, allow Clement to spread so much prevarication and misinformation that Canada's chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, was forced to resign.
If you are determined to halt, if not roll back, Canada's advances in social and economic equality, turning the long form census into an unreliable statistical mishmash takes you a giant step towards your goal.
David Akin can't help himself even while trying to focus on some of the Cons' other mindless choices:
(T)his week, we got more evidence the federal government can be one dumb son-of-a-gun.

And, no, I’m not talking about the census.

That was really dumb, too, and the tiny tweaks offered up Wednesday by Industry Minister Tony Clement don’t make the government look any smarter.

In fact, you could say the government’s gone from dumb to dumber on that file. Removing some of the legal sanctions you might face for failing to fill out the mandatory short-form census that everyone gets now likely means more will not fill that form out.

So now the data from both the long-form and the short-form census — which will cost us millions more to collect — will both be less reliable.
And finally there's Haroon Siddiqui - who rightly notes that Cons' interference with the census likely puts Canada on the wrong side of a United Nations convention, though if anything I'd expect the Cons to turn that into a "black helicopters" defence:
This may be a matter of ideological faith for (Stephen Harper). It may be as ideological or bone-headed or a signature issue as the plan to waste $9 billion building jails when the crime rate is going down.

Or he is stubborn. Or authoritarian, a bully who brooks no dissent. Or he believes that backing away, even in the face of a trans-Canada revolt, is a sign of weakness or would be seen as such (though thinking so may be the surest sign of a frightened and insecure man).

Regardless, he may have put Canada in violation of a United Nations convention. We are a signatory to the UN Statistical Commission’s 1994 Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

The first principle describes official statistics as “an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society.” Such data should be “made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens’ entitlement to public information.”

Harper has violated the letter and certainly the spirit of the second, third, fourth and fifth principles:

• Official statistics-gathering agencies should be run independently “according to strictly professional considerations . . . for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data.”

• They should apply “scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics.”

• They should be free “to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics.”
Harper imposed a political decision on StatsCan and also muzzled its freedom to speak out. About 200 pages of internal memos released Tuesday revealed how the Prime Minister abused the Privy Council Office to dictate what agency officials could say on the issue.

Compassionate conservatism at work

Senator Hugh Segal offers a rare glimpse into the Harper Cons' view of poverty - which is to say that as far as he's concerned, it was rough on Marie Antoinette to have to contemplate sharing her cake:
The costs of poverty, which are borne by taxpayers who are not poor, but who face increased tax burdens from health-care bills, penal institutions, and justice and education systems made more expensive by the knock-on real costs of poverty and its pathologies, continue to burden and render less productive the wealth-creating part of our economy.
So the Canadians actually stuck in poverty themselves? Apparently they aren't suffering any "costs of poverty" at all: their actually living the "pathologies" of poverty doesn't count since they wouldn't be doing anything useful anyway. Which seems to suggest that if someone proposed the Ralph Klein strategy of simply sending the poor out of the country never to be heard from again, Segal would see that as a plus.

But the danger that the existence of poverty in Canada might present a nuisance to "the wealth-creating part of our economy"? Now that's reason to leap into action.

Of course, Segal's actual suggestion (of a guaranteed annual income) is substantially more constructive than the reasoning behind it. But the fact that his main concern is the burden on the wealthy rather than the people directly suffering from poverty should tell us all we need to know about how little he and his party value the interests of the millions of Canadians in poverty on their watch.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On concessions

Tony Clement's language question walkback looks to reflect my earlier theory that the Cons would figure to give in to anybody who asserts a plausible rights claim in order to preserve their gutting of the census when it comes to matters of mere good governance. But it's worth noting that the move still involves a couple of highly significant concessions which can only strengthen the hand of the civil society backlash that's come together over the past month.

One of those has already been pointed out by Greg: by moving the additional language questions from the voluntary survey to the census, the Cons are effectively admitting that the survey doesn't provide sufficient data quality to allow for the enforcement of language (or any other) rights.

The other point worth noting is that Clement's announcement also shatters the Cons' attempt to pretend that it's too late to make changes. Indeed, the move only serves to highlight that both the deadline presented by the Cons and their determination to stick to their initial decision were subject to change - and that should only encourage those of us who care about having an accurate picture of our country to keep pushing the issue.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

- It's naturally a plus to see that the federal NDP has done more to stand up for Saskatchewan municipalities hit by this summer's extreme weather than the Sask Party and federal Cons combined. But in fairness, it only took a single unequivocal press release to meet that standard.

- Meanwhile, the Cons are proudly taking a stand against stable government. Which is the kind of bizarre message that may well result in the Cons' anti-coalition spin collapsing even with the Libs largely playing into Harper's hands.

- Two more items for the Con wrongness file: their offshore drilling review boards are grossly slanted toward the oil industry, and their fear-mongering on air travel doesn't reflect any real public concern.

- And finally, the Leader-Post's editorial on the harm to patient care and staff effectiveness when nurses work excessive hours is particularly on point in noting the Wall government's failed promises:
- Why hasn't the hiring of 600 additional nurses in recent years eased staffing shortages, as the Saskatchewan Party government said it would?

- Is the 35-per-cent pay hike given the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) two years ago -- in a contract that guarantees double pay for overtime -- now proving too rich for the province to afford?

Whatever the answers to those questions, the current situation is unhealthy and unacceptable.

On business relations

Will McMartin highlights the self-delusion of Jim Shepard and other corporatists who are determined to shriek about the supposed dangers of NDP "socialism" even when the provincial economy - the corporate sector included - has performed better with the NDP in power. But I can't entirely agree with his conclusion as to what that means for the NDP itself as it looks to assemble a winning coalition.

Here's McMartin's brilliant takedown of Shepard's spin about the effect of NDP government:
Asked what he lost sleep over, Shepard replied: "As long as I'm running, I can sleep soundly. But my major concern isn't just the lumber business -- it's the global economy. I'm just hopeful we are going to have sensible leadership of all economies out there.

"It worries me about leadership in the U.S. right now and the direction it is going. You know, we lived through socialism in B.C. for 10 years. I know what it looks like and it is not pretty."
Among the myriad questions raised by Shepard's observations is this one: what, exactly, did "socialism" in B.C. look like in the 1990s? Let's do a quick review of the empirical evidence.
Under B.C.'s New Democratic Party government in the 1990s, corporate profits, the province's population and GDP all soared heavenward, while the size of the public sector and government expenditures grew ever-smaller. Can't those socialists get anything right?
For B.C.'s captains of industry, then, the province's economic and fiscal record in the 1990s simply is irrelevant. A 251.6 per cent increase in corporate profits over the decade? Meaningless, so long as a New Democratic Party government reigned in Victoria.

Job creation up by 21.8 per cent under the NDP in the 1990s? Capital investment up 34.8 per cent? Product exports more than doubling, up by 107.7 per cent?

None of it mattered. British Columbia had a government that espoused "socialism" and "it was not pretty." End of story.
But while it's fair enough to flag the complete disconnect between Shepard's spin and reality as evidence that the NDP shouldn't waste its time trying to cater to him, I'd argue McMartin goes a bit too far in suggesting the NDP treat all branches of B.C.'s corporate community similarly:
It seems unbelievable, but it's true. The New Democrats this year are actively courting B.C.'s corporate sector and chambers of commerce, promising in the future to deliver balanced budgets, and -- incredibly -- seeking input from business representatives on policy development.

One might have thought that NDP strategists would target, say, new Canadians and young British Columbians leading up to the next general election -- on top of the 784,000 people added to the provincial population in the 1990s, we've grown by about another 450,000 in the last decade -- but apparently that's not the case.

Instead, it's the business community the New Democrats seek to woo. Perhaps their efforts will be rewarded with success; but that seems highly doubtful. Indeed, while recent polls suggest that Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberals are mortally wounded, it's far from certain that the NDP can or will win the 2013 general election. They'll have to overcome the business community's hatred of "socialism" to do so.

Here's the thing: Jim Shepard's views are not unusual among B.C. business leaders; they're the norm. Never -- ever -- should New Democrats underestimate the business community's enmity for their party and the "left." Yet, somehow, today's NDP seems to believe, as Rafe says, that it can tiptoe to victory.
Now, off the top I'd think there's no reason for a political party to go out of its way to ignore the policy suggestions of any group, even if there's no realistic prospect of them fitting into the party's platform. But that general point aside, let's consider how the NDP can and should handle the business sector in particular.

McMartin is right to note that the NDP is going a step further than merely recognizing that businesses are ultimately stakeholders on the B.C. political scene, and is actively engaging with them. But is it unrealistic to think that some of them might come around to support the NDP?

Particularly in light of the imposition of an HST which had dramatically different effects on varying industries, I'd think the answer has to be a resounding "no". And indeed there's a direct precedent for the HST serving to enlarge the NDP's tent, as part of the Saskatchewan NDP's romp in 1991 was based on the fact that restaurants and other small businesses joined forces on that exact issue. Which means that not only is there a general advantage to adding at least some business groups to the NDP's tent, there's also a specific opportunity to do so.

So why not deal solely with those specific actors rather than umbrella groups such as chambers of commerce who have generally lined up on the Libs' side? Even there, I'd think there's reason for the NDP to look to at least work with those who are willing to come to the table both to get their ideas and to defuse potential opposition.

After all, less-ideological businesspeople will almost certainly come into contact with the like of Shepard - and figure to evaluate the plausibility of shrieking fits like Shepard's based on their own personal experiences. So better to offer some positive interaction to undermine the most extreme rhetoric while taking the opportunity to set the record straight about the NDP's actual performance in office, rather than allowing Shepard's false impressions to stand unrefuted.

None of which is to say that the NDP shouldn't be looking to other groups as well, and particularly making a concerted effort to increase political participation among the marginalized citizens which the Libs are happy to drive away. But while there's a need to counterbalance the disproportionate influence wielded by the business sector, the NDP can best do that by making it clear that it sees corporate interests as only one of the forces whose needs should be taken into account - not mirroring the closed-minded attitude of Shepard and his ilk.

And no, we're not done here

Among the latest indications that nobody cares about data collection and any controversy will blow over without the Cons having to offer anything even remotely approaching a reasonable explanation for gutting the census, here's Roy Romanow:
Policy shapers and government decision makers have underscored that the absence of reliable data will make it harder to set priorities and allocate government spending and develop, monitor and evaluate policy changes. The United Way of Toronto has said that it will lose its most reliable tool for understanding neighbourhoods, weakening its ability to target root causes. Marketers and business are wondering how they will tailor their products and services to specific communities. More than a few Canadians have noted the irony of a country reducing its information flow in the midst of an information age.

Let’s consider the gap in our knowledge that might have existed if the last long-form census in 2006 had been voluntary. How would we have known with unimpeachable certainty that the top 20 per cent of Canadian families earned 10 times more that the bottom 20 per cent? That for every dollar earned by a native-born Canadian, a recent immigrant male earned just 63 cents and female 56 cents? That 20 per cent fewer farmers worked at home on a family farm, or that the numbers of commuters rose by more than 9 per cent?

Census data are more than just a compendium of numbers. They enable us to view the changing face of our country and those who live in it. They allow us to prepare for the future by understanding the past and present.
Information must be the bedrock on which we build public policy in areas that matter to Canadians. Trying to get a snapshot of our country with inaccurate and unreliable data is like using a camera without enough pixels. The blurrier the picture gets, the harder it becomes to recognize the face of our nation.
Mind you, Romanow's examples of the type of information we'd lose in the absence of an accurate census are probably exactly what the Cons are eager to suppress.

But that doesn't mean that anybody who isn't under Harper's thumb has any particular sympathy for the argument. And Mel Cappe, Pierre Fortin, Michael Mendelson and John Richards aren't under Harper's thumb:
If there is one overriding shared value among Canadians, it is a desire for good government. This does not mean we are indifferent to the Americans’ concern for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It does mean we are prepared to incur certain obligations to enable good government. Among them is a willingness to accept mandatory participation in a census able to generate reliable information about Canadian social conditions. Information provided is confidential, and this confidentiality has never been violated.
This is an occasion for MPs to stand up and be counted. We call for the three opposition leaders to agree on the text of a resolution in defence of census integrity and preservation of the mandatory long form, and to state publicly their intent to move it upon reopening of the House of Commons. In the spirit of democracy and non-partisanship, the vote should be open, unconstrained by party whips. Parliamentary endorsement of the integrity of the census would be a powerful affirmation of a core Canadian value.
Then there's Alec Bruce:
(T)he controversy over Ottawa's decision to eliminate the mandatory requirement that a fraction of Canadians fill out the long census form next year is not, as the Harperites would have us believe, an inconsequential salvo launched by malcontents. It cuts to the very heart of democratic meaning and responsibility in a tolerant, pluralistic and informed society.

More than 200 organizations -- representing teachers, economists, businesses, activists, progressives, moderates, conservatives, and liberals - have implored the federal government to reverse its tack. Without this periodic statistical evaluation, they argue, fiscal, monetary, social, industrial, education, and health policies will suffer.

But just as recently as yesterday, Mr. Harper and Industry Minister Tony Clement - pointing to the support they've received from a grand total of three rabidly reactionary think tanks - clung to their entirely discreditable claim that Canadians don't want their government to insist they do anything under penalty of law.

This specious argument conveniently fails to acknowledge that no resident of this country has ever served time for failing to answer any portion of the census. It also makes light work of the actual, numerous and eminently enforceable obligations of citizenship, which are already installed.
And David Campbell, acknowledging he was wrong to have given the Cons the benefit of the doubt when they were elected:
I was one of those people back in 2006 who chuckled when we were told that Stephen Harper was "scary" and had a hidden agenda to transform Canada into a totalitarian, right-wing state. My view was that if he was elected prime minister, national politics would tilt more conservative - but the election cycle every few years ensures that no political party can take the government too far to the edges of the ideological spectrum.
In the end, I think the Conservatives have corrupted the census process - maybe for good. Even if they reverse the decision, there may just be enough Canadians who either decide to not fill it out or who fill it out with inaccurate information because of all the scaremongering.

There is just about zero chance any personal information from filling out the long form will ever be leaked.

I feel like we are in an especially strange episode of The Twilight Zone. Scary is back.
All of which is in addition to the document dump which has already confirmed that Tony Clement and the rest of the Cons have lied through their teeth. And since the Cons have helpfully released those documents only in part, we can look forward to plenty more revelations to come (since nobody's going to buy "national security" as an excuse for keeping the redacted parts secret from the Industry Committee).

Deep thought

It has to be a bad sign when one's lies are so glaring they can be accurately captured and explained in a single tweet.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On optional citizenship

I suppose it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the Bloc's attempt at a compromise on the census effectively involves separatism on an individual scale, seeking to facilitate an opt-out of the long form census in exchange for forfeiting federal services and rights that go with Canadian citizenship.

But let's note that such a scheme would itself raise something far closer to a real privacy issue than what the Cons have pretended to rely on a few excuses ago. After all, in order to put such a plan into effect, Statistics Canada would have to compile a list of those who refused to fill out the long form and share it with all federal departments who might potentially provide services - making for a drastic change from its usual fierce protection of information that makes the Cons' objections wrong-headed in the first place.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

An assortment of topics for your mid-week perusal...

- Linda McQuaig eviscerates the Cons for wasting billions of public dollars on planes that even they can't pretend to justify as more than a vanity project:
What makes this purchase bizarre is how little use the jets will be, unless we’re waging all-out war.

“It’s hard to see any useful military role for the F-35,” wrote Leonard Johnson, a retired major-general in the Canadian air force and former commandant of the National Defence College in Kingston. “The age of major inter-state war between developed nations has vanished, so why prepare for one?”
Perhaps we should consult someone more resolutely committed to war — like Defence Minister Peter MacKay. Yet even MacKay struggles to explain the utility of the jets.

Asked at a news conference last month for “specific examples of the uses of these aircraft,” MacKay mostly focused on what a great recruiting device they make.

“[I]t helps a great deal, I can assure you, in recruiting, to have new gear, new equipment, that is state of the art,” MacKay said. “That is a very important part of our regeneration of personnel and pilots in particular. So having that platform capacity is something that is of great importance to the continued growth of the Canadian Forces and the development of our pilots.”

So we’re spending $16 billion — about $470 for every Canadian — so we can have planes that are really attractive to pilots? Wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper just to offer every prospective pilot a Porsche?
- Meanwhile, MacKay is also raising the possibility of strongarming the Libs into yet another Afghanistan extension. Which nobody could have predicted.

- We can only hope Jeffrey Simpson is right in his analysis of what the Cons' long-form census debacle will ultimately mean:
The census debate, so provocative and so needless but for the exigencies of ideology, roused civic society as few decisions have done in recent decades. The census will lodge itself in a corner of the electorate’s collective memory as a talisman for what the Harperites might do if given a freer rein and, as such, has ruined what little chance they had of achieving a majority.

Canadian democracy, in this long-term sense, has triumphed by rejecting ideology over reason. Some day, the long-form census will return.
- The Globe and Mail's editorial board suggests that if the economic risks posed by the recession are done with, then leftover stimulus money should be redirected toward "smarter spending" on water, transit and other useful projects. But the likelihood of the Cons accepting that type of common-sense suggestion would seem far greater if they hadn't been the ones to instead set up a photo-op-friendly scheme in the first place.

- Finally, Edmonton-Leduc NDP candidate Artem Medvedev is putting together a new online ad campaign, and wants your input. (For the record, I'm a big fan of the "let's work together" theme, but think the wording could stand to be simplified.)

La coalition, c'est moi

Memo to Michael Ignatieff: the Libs' perpetual refrain of "a vote for the party you actually agree with is a vote for the enemy!!!" isn't just stale, it's covered in visible mould. So you might want to reconsider trying to cram it down the throats of voters yet again.

Well said

I wouldn't say that progressive Canadians can afford to entirely ignore the Cons' attacks and buyoffs which have done so much to damage the political scene. But Ralph Benmergui is right in noting where our ultimate focus should be:
Our country is being transformed without any need for grand declarations of vision or purpose. Just a Timbit of policy here and a piece of Friday-afternoon legislation there. Progressives must school themselves in the art of war. They must take back the story of Canada and write the next chapter as we move forward into the 21st century.

It’s time to create the stories that inspire Canadians to remember that we are not in it alone; that it takes courage to stand for peace in the face of those who would rather wage war; and that the prime minister serves the House, not his cash-cow base.

Let's change the channel from security theatre and patronizing leadership to the real scandals of epidemics such as childhood asthma and out-of-control diabetes. Let's replace gossip with evidence-based truths such as the fact that we live in country where a quarter of a million seniors live in poverty. We can reclaim the truth – that we are a generous people who believe that by sharing some of the financial rewards we reap with our neighbours, we become a greater nation.

On live issues

It's undoubtedly for the best that Munir Sheikh has offered a suggestion to save the long-form census. But the most crucial point is one that I've made before:
I urge the government to rethink its position on the census. We still have time to reverse the decision. One option – and the government would need to consult Statistics Canada on this – would be to send the long-form questions for printing as scheduled. If the decision is reversed in the weeks following debate and analysis, one could simply put the short form and the long form in one envelope for the 20-per-cent sample with a letter from the chief statistician highlighting the mandatory nature of both, at the time the census process begins. If the voluntary survey decision stands after a careful rethink, a letter from the chief statistician could simply confirm the voluntary nature of the long form, sent separately from the short forms as currently planned.
Of course, the Cons have done everything in their power to present the decision as final and irreversible. And it probably isn't by accident that Stephen Harper's first emission of his party's talking points coincided with both the artificial deadline for material to "go to the printers", and an all-out proxy assault on continued coverage of the census.

But the reality is that there's no reason for either the groups who rely on long-form census data or the media to let up just because the Cons think they're entitled to decree an end to any consequences for their choices. And the sooner the Cons learn that they can't simply declare the issue closed, the more likely they'll be to reverse course.

Update: I'm sure the Cons will ignore Frank Graves' take. But he's absolutely right that they really only have two choices, and barging ahead with the elimination of the long form census without paying a political price isn't one of them:
Mr. Graves added that the government now has a choice: continue to be “battered” by its unpopular decision on the census or “flip flop on the basis of poor polls.”

Monday, August 09, 2010

Cause and effect

Shorter Con spokesflack on Kevin Page's report that 12.5% of the amount budgeted and promised for stimulus projects will go unspent due to the Cons' eagerness to see lower levels of government lose it:

He'd know better if he had updated information - which we don't intend to provide as long as we can avoid it.

What Dr. Dawg said

Truly, it isn't my intention to turn this blog into an extended series of What Dr. Dawg Said posts. But how can one not link to this?:
A number of Conservative sleeper agents have been discovered in the House of Commons. Known collectively as the "Liberal Caucus," and led by Russian-American ex-pat Michael Ignatieff, most have now been returned to their party and are currently being debriefed in the Langevin Block. Ignatieff, however, is presently a fugitive, fleeing by bicycle.

"We suspected it all along," said Paul Dewar, foreign affairs critic for the NDP. "It seemed almost strategic the way they'd fold at the slightest opportunity, never press an advantage, support the government in key votes dozens of times."
Some outraged constituents across the country have demanded resignations and by-elections. "We were tricked," said David Emerson, 64, a Vancouver businessman. But Harper's Chief of Staff, Guy Giorno, strongly defended his party's actions. "It's not like they were ever meant to be a real alternative," he said, "but people voted for them anyway. Nobody forced them to." Welcoming the agents in from the cold, he said, "Never mind 'crossing the floor.' We seek unity, not division."

What remains a mystery is how the agents were finally exposed. Some have speculated that the time was ripe. "After the long-form census, the Afghan detainee cover-up, the G-20 and the unreported criminals stuff," said former broadcaster and now Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, "we realized we could pretty much get away with anything. I figure the government deliberately blew its own cover. No need for it anymore."

Too many to count

We seem to have reached the point where there are enough active complaints against the Harper Cons that the media isn't even pretending to keep track anymore.

So let's note that one of the activist movements is having some success so far: Save Our Prison Farms managed to successfully blockade the removal of cattle from the Frontenac prison yesterday with a turnout they estimate at 500 people, and have the blockade going again today. You can follow their activity on Twitter as the protest continues.

Welcome to the enemies list

It shouldn't be much surprise that the Cons' house organ is out to trash Sheila Fraser before she can shine a spotlight on the Harper government's stimulus fiasco.

But I'd think it's worth wondering exactly what prompted the line of attack. Is it simply a pre-emptive measure to try to limit even the potential for a damaging report? Or does Harper know exactly what Fraser plans to say, and need to destroy her before she takes him down first simply by doing her job?

Update: Or maybe the goal is simply to cast doubt on independent analysis to undercut Kevin Page's report today.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What Dr. Dawg said

Dr. Dawg makes the case for booting the Harper Cons out of office ASAP, and with extreme prejudice:
If it weren't for the harm done to our country, including the legitimation of unrestrained police violence in Toronto and the loss of our corporate memory, we might allow ourselves to be mildly amused by a government that resembles, policy-wise, a mash-up of the Keystone Kops and the Inquisition. But our foreign policy has become an embarrassment, and our domestic policy is in tatters. Ministers routinely interfere with arms-length agencies, or attempt to exile Canadian citizens,(claiming "royal prerogative" with entirely straight faces), while the King padlocks Parliament--or just tells it to go fly. The man who laughs has simply not yet heard the terrible news.

It's nothing less than our civic duty to run this horrific gang of subliterate hoodlums out of office, by any means necessary and as soon as possible, to get the hands moving clockwise again. We're in serious trouble, folks, and it's time for the craven politicians of the Opposition to gird their loins.
Go read.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

On the surface, it's hard to imagine a loss more acceptable than Friday night's defeat in Montreal. On the road against the top team in the CFL, with a quarterback who'd been unable to practice most of the week, the 'Riders managed to keep the game close even with most of the breaks going against them - and came up just one big play short of emerging with a win. But while there's plenty to praise in the team's performance, a couple of odd choices do deserve some discussion this week.

Let's start with what looked to me to be the high point of the game. After a fairly rough first half marked by a number of quick-strike passes, the defence played what may have been the best shutdown half I've ever seen from the 'Riders. And it wasn't just in the fact that the vaunted Montreal offence suffered five two-and-outs in six drives, but in the fact that it took a total defensive effort to produce that remarkable result.

Rather than relying on a lot of dropped passes or other factors beyond the defence's control, the 'Riders spent the entire second half blanketing receivers so Anthony Calvillo couldn't find his preferred receivers downfield, collapsing the pocket before Calvillo could look to additional options or take the ball for himself, and wrapping up anybody who managed to take a handoff or a short pass. And that performance against the league's best-established offence is why the 'Riders were able to stay in the game despite everything else that went wrong.

Unfortunately, the offence couldn't quite finish the job at the end. But it's worth noting how close they came: a couple of extra yards on Darien Durant's pass to Prechae Rodriguez on the second-last play of the game, and we'd be celebrating another unlikely comeback against the Als. That said, though, there's again some question as to the 'Riders' play selection.

In particular, one would have expected the 'Riders to look for extra ways to make the running game work in light of Durant's health problems throughout the week. But instead, they went to a pass-heavy offence the likes of which we haven't seen since the early '90s, having Wes Cates carry the ball only five times despite his being moderately successful when he got the chance. And that tendency was just as marked when the game was close as when the 'Riders were in comeback mode.

As for the choice of passes, the 'Riders did fairly well in the first three quarters with the type of quick-passing game I'd discussed last week, moving the ball fairly effectively even if it didn't lead to a lot of points. If there was a signficant area of concern in the passing game early on, it was in the fact that the 'Riders' protection of Durant was abominable at times - leading to his having to shed tackles or take big hits on far more plays than a team should expect from a quarterback even at the best of times.

Late in the game, though, the 'Riders went back to looking deep on what seemed like the majority of its plays. And it's not hard to see the link between that choice and the fact that Durant ended up with as many incompletions as Montreal had passing attempts (to go with his two damaging interceptions).

So while the 'Riders' gaudy passing numbers reflected some obvious success letting Durant put up a gutty performance, they may have been as much a reflection of some curious offensive choices as they were evidence that the team was actually firing on all cylinders. Which means that for next week, the goal needs to be to make sure that the running game gets in gear, rather than forcing the team to count entirely on Durant's arm.

As for the special teams, the game was another litany of blown coverages, bad penalties and weak returns. But the most significant moment which seems to have slipped under the radar was the one chance to get a big play in the 'Riders' favour: that being the overturning of a Tim Maypray fumble over a weak no-yards penalty, leading to the Als' lone field goal of the second half instead of the 'Riders starting with their best field position of the game. And while Saskatchewan nonetheless managed to make it most of the way back in the rest of the game, it may have had a far easier time if it had been able to convert that opportunity.

For next week, the 'Riders are back home against a reeling Lions team. And hopefully this time, Saskatchewan won't need 445 passing yards and a near-perfect defensive half to make up for its difficulties in other phases of the game.

Fend for yourselves

The Star rightly criticizes a prime example of how "business-friendly" policy tends to result in a deliberate attempt to limit workers' rights, as the McGuinty Libs are planning to require workers to approach their employers with labour standards violations before reporting anything to the provincial Ministry of Labour:
Fifteen months ago, the McGuinty government beefed up provincial employment standards, guaranteeing temp workers the right to holiday, severance and termination pay. The government also pledged to spend $10 million hiring new enforcement officers to protect precarious workers.

Now the temporary workers feel as if their victory is being snatched away, as the government proposes to “modernize” the Employment Standards Act. Under new rules, workers would be required to confront their boss about unpaid wages, overtime or other breaches of the law before filing a claim with the labor ministry.
“This is like asking someone who's had their purse stolen to go and confront the thief before they're allowed to make a complaint with the police,” said Sonia Singh, an organizer at the Workers' Action Centre, which speaks for wage earners without union protection or economic clout.
If Fonseca genuinely believes an employer who responds readily to a call from an employment standards officer would treat a complaint from low-ranking employee with equal dispatch, he needs to visit a few of the sites where newcomers, low-income women and other vulnerable Ontarians work.

Fonseca is right that the 185-page bill has a provision allowing certain claimants to go straight to an employment standards officer; but very few temp workers know that. Even with if they did, they couldn't be sure they would qualify.

British Columbia passed similar legislation eight years ago. Thousands of exploited workers simply stopped filing claims.
Of course, it's probably true enough that employers will be perfectly happy with a system where workers aren't able to effectively assert their legal rights.

But it takes a severely warped worldview to value the interest of employers in escaping the law over the ability of workers to have it enforced. And the Ontario example offers an important reminder that the Libs are no less likely than the Cons to encourage that flawed tradeoff.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading...

- Tabatha Southey delivers a thoroughly entertaining smackdown of Stockwell Day's antics over the past week:
I mention all of this as context for my reaction to Stockwell Day’s press conference this week in which he explained that the government must spend $13-billion on prisons, despite statistics showing that crime is down in Canada, because of an “alarming” increase in “unreported crime.”

I'm having trouble sharing and understanding his particular personal vision. I'm not sure that prisons are a good “if you build it, they will come” investment.

In fact, I thought the Treasury Board President looked pretty crazy and scared. I felt like I was watching a man light himself on fire.
The strength of the Conservatives for so long was their ability to get inside the heads of ordinary Canadians. Lately, it’s as if they’re bored with that, so instead they are getting inside the heads of the most bashful of property-crime victims and some Cold War re-enactment enthusiasts.
- It's great to see John Rafferty's work on pensions getting some positive media attention. And while I'm less optimistic than Rafferty seems to be about the prospect of getting much done in a Con-controlled Parliament, it's definitely worth working getting C-501 passed to make sure that workers aren't left out in the cold when an employer goes under.

- I've mentioned before that it strikes me as entirely too narrow a focus to view the Cons' gutting of the census as merely a communications issue. But Bruce Anderson is still worth a read from that angle:
(T)he long-form-census debate is almost case-study worthy, as communications goes. Before the announcement, there was no effort to rally interest in the problem that the government felt needed to be addressed. The blow-back was predictable, but from the get go, it seemed that the government kept bringing rhetorical pen-knives to a gun fight.

After the blow-back became a source of political anxiety for the Conservatives, two or three different lines of argument were inflated and trial ballooned, none of which have soared. Net-net, the Harper Conservatives added a public-opinion risk with no reward anywhere in sight. If they wanted a debate about which party best respects your privacy, there is little evidence or prospect of this happening now. The more likely question vexing centrist voters is whether the Harper government prefers ideology over information as a way to make decisions with their money and about their services.
- Which is why the Cons may want to take another look at the Chronicle Herald's suggestion:
In the past month, while Mr. Harper has been largely unseen and unheard, the government has been anything but focused on the economy. It has stirred up a national backlash over replacing the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary one that will cost more and yield less reliable data on which to plan government services and make economic policy. It has expended energy talking "tough on crime" and arguing the need for more prisons even in the face of falling crime rates.

Although the PM has left his ministers to conduct an inept defence of both these diversions, the policies clearly come from his office and wouldn’t be getting their misplaced prominence if he didn’t want it that way.
Mr. Harper should accept the compromise he’s been offered on the census and get his attention back where he says it belongs: on economic management.
- Finally, while I've mentioned the Saskatchwan NDP's candidate nominations as they've happened, it's worth noting that the Sask Party has also been carrying out plenty of nominations. And their acclamation of Paul Merriman in Saskatoon Sutherland looks to reflect two of the party's major weaknesses: not only does the free ride for a familiar name play into concerns about connections mattering more than substance, but the fact that this is the second Sask Party-held riding where Wall and company couldn't even find a second interested candidate plays into the perception that they're little more than a Potemkin party.