Saturday, October 02, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Links

Some content to help fill your weekend...

- The Chronicle Herald tears into the Cons' continued refusal to listen to reason or anything else when it comes to the long form census:
The government has been advised by its statisticians, by provinces and municipalities and by hundreds of organizations that depend on accurate census data that a voluntary census will not produce reliable, usable results. Former Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh felt it necessary to resign in order to inform us that the government’s plan would degrade the data (and to correct Industry Minister Tony Clement’s misrepresentation that Mr. Sheikh supported the plan).

A government document filed as evidence in a lawsuit that is aimed at stopping the change also acknowledges that switching to a voluntary survey will mean some data "will not be usable for a range of objectives for which the census information would be needed."

To ignore all this and to proceed with killing the detailed census is grossly irresponsible. Real people will suffer when there is poorer information about where services are needed.
But the government had the same response for this expression of Parliament’s will as it had for science, fact and commonsense. It doesn’t care and it isn’t budging.
(O)n it goes in a parade of unbelievably silly, trivial and discredited arguments.

The Conservatives are debating and governing with their fingers in their ears. It makes no sense and it’s not a pretty sight.
- Stephen Maher notes that whatever one's view of ministerial responsibility, the reality is that the Cons' culture of information suppression starts at the top. And that may make for the most important rebuttal to any spin as to whether to blame individual ministers or their subordinates: the Cons have a concerted effort to keep facts away from Canadians in every department under their control, and the real problem is Stephen Harper.

- Meanwhile, Kady O'Malley has posted the definitive Sebastien Togneri document dump.

- Dan Gardner writes a scathing indictment of the lack of action to protect sex workers, and notes that if the judiciary has had to step in it's only because Lib and Con governments alike have chosen to do nothing:
Let me repeat: a judge concluded that the law is helping to butcher women. Sure, it’s fun to argue about the role of the judiciary. Important, even. But isn’t the judge’s conclusion about what the law is doing to women just a little more worrying than the possibility that a judge’s interpretation of her role is excessively expansive?

Place the two issues on a scale and weigh them. On one side: an overstepping judge. On the other: thousands of bruised and bleeding women. And several hundred corpses.

Which matters more?

Now, I want to emphasize that reasonable people can look at the evidence and come to a different conclusion that Justice Himel. But what no reasonable person can do is shrug. The mere possibility that the law is contributing to brutality inflicted on vulnerable women is horrifying. A reasonable person who hears this will want to know more. A reasonable person will demand further investigation. A reasonable person will insist on getting to the bottom of this, now.
- Finally, I'll have plenty to say later on. But for commentary on the Cons' decree that anybody having anything to do with a major Canadian Islamic organization is to be shunned, the posts by Dr. Dawg, Balbulican, pogge, Dave, Greg and Cliff are well worth a look.

(Edit: fixed label.)

On double standards

Both of Saskatchewan's main dailies are once again carrying the Sask Party's water in pushing privatized health care. But the Star Phoenix is particularly obvious in its preference to pour money into the private sector even if there's no reason to expect better care or efficiency as a result:
While NDP health critic Judy Junor, whose former government signed off on this contract that clearly imperils the public good, thinks that the road to wait list salvation is found by pumping yet more money into a public health system that already swallows almost half the provincial budget, there is little evidence to support her stance.
To have a private care provider that either erodes quality or is more expensive isn't in the interest of society any more than it is to have a public provider that continues to take up ever more of the public purse. The fundamental shortfalls must be addressed first.
So what's wrong with those passages? Let's look at what the Star Phoenix is ultimately prepared to accept, and what it wants its readers to rule out.

As usual, the editorial is quick to condemn a public system that "already swallows almost half the provincial budget" and "continues to take up ever more of the public purse". So as far as Saskatchewan's corporate media is concerned, any further investment in our public system is to be avoided.

But when it comes to privatization, there's another standard entirely. Never mind whether any additional expense eats up just as much budget room as the public alternative; apparently the only concern in the private sector is whether it "erodes quality or is more expensive" than public investment.

In sum, as far as the Star Phoenix is concerned, any investment in the public sector at current cost levels is fiscally irresponsible and to be avoided. But pouring public resources into the private sector at the same cost and efficiency level that's considered intolerable when it goes to the public system - well, that's just peachy, as long as it isn't demonstrably worse.

Needless to say, that message strongly echoes the Sask Party's constant emphasis on privatization even when there's no reason to think there's anything to be gained. And both lines of spin are apparently based on the false claim (normally left unstated) that payments to private providers somehow don't count when it comes to managing health care costs.

But the focus on privatization over cost control and quality of care isn't any more reasonable coming from a media outlet than from a government determined to slash public services. And the Star Phoenix' double standard should lead readers to question whether it can be taken seriously in any of its discussion of Saskatchewan health-care issues.

(Edit: fixed typos.)

On conditional reprieves

It's a definite plus to see both the advice Peter Russell gave to Michaelle Jean during the Con-fabricated 2008 constitutional crisis, and the fact that Jean was able to secure at least a couple of concessions from Stephen Harper - including a commitment to reconvene Parliament quickly rather than ruling by fiat while shuttering the House of Commons indefinitely:
(Peter) Russell said Harper made at least two important commitments: that Parliament would return soon, and that his government would then produce a budget that could pass.
Russell, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto, said the prime minister's promises had a large influence on Jean, and he cautioned Canadians against seeing her decision to grant Harper's request for prorogation as a rubber stamp.

"I think they were extremely important in her weighing all the factors on both sides of the question," Russell said.

"For instance, if Mr. Harper had made no pledge to meet Parliament early, if he said well, he thought his financial position, which had been so badly received in the House, was terrific and he wasn't going to make any changes, I think she would have probably had to make the decision the other way."
Russell's revelation suggests the meeting that day was a negotiation in which the Governor General wielded considerable power.

"She made it clear these reserve powers of the Governor General may sometimes be used in ways that are contrary to the advice of an incumbent prime minister," Russell said.

"Because if the contrary was the case, any PM could, at any time, for any reason, not only dissolve Parliament, but prorogue it for any length of time for any reason. We wouldn't have parliamentary government. We would have prime ministerial government."
But I have to wonder whether Russell's revelation sheds some light on the events of the following winter as well. Might Harper's late-2009 request for prorogation by phone then have served not only to create a precedent in favour of the prime ministerial government which Harper is so eager to impose, but also as a form of personal payback for Jean's earlier message that she wouldn't give total deference to the PM's anti-democratic whims?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Musical interlude

Moody Blues - Blue World

Well said

Brian Topp laments the reverse Robin Hood principle that's been applied by Libs and Cons alike to ensure that less-wealthy Canadians pay more and get less for the benefit of those who already have money to burn:
The previous Liberal and current Conservative governments have pretended to cut taxes. In fact, in good part they have simply transferred taxes from those most able to pay them (profitable companies and wealthy individuals) to those least able to do so (the unemployed). This is reverse-Robin Hood economics, taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

In the process the Liberals and Conservatives have moved a significant portion of the tax burden (in net terms, almost $60-billion in recent years) from relatively progressive income and consumption taxes, to a grossly regressive poll tax.
Canada's federal government today is largely irrelevant to the daily lives of Canadians. That is why federal politics are increasingly driven by symbolic issues that have little to do with the underlying work of Parliament or its government. The consequences can be measured in growing income disparity; eroding economic competitiveness; rising foreign ownership and economic hollowing-out; rising poverty and household debt; and a subtle, pervasive unraveling of the strands of solidarity, mutual aid and common endeavour that bind us together as a society. This is the legacy Mr. Martin and Mr. Harper will leave their successors – no more clearly underlined that in the disgraceful mess they have made of income security in Canada.

Friday Morning Links

Some light reading to end your work week...

- Andrew Potter highlights the obvious response to the Cons' determination to eliminate reasoned discussion by focusing on gut-level politics instead:
(T)he ultimately more effective instrument is the control of language itself. The Tories have spent the past year rolling out a few slogans, most of them aimed at framing the terms of debate for the next election. And so we’ve heard the Prime Minister repeatedly tell us that “losers don’t get to form governments,” that the Liberals will form a coalition with “socialists and separatists,” and, now, that anyone who supports the long-gun registry is a member of an urban elite. It’s a straight-up appeal to the gut, aimed at short-circuiting more sophisticated thinking.

As the Tories’ resilience at the polls suggests, gut-level politics is incredibly effective, which is why George Lakoff suggested that the only real option for the Democrats would be to engage to Republicans on their own terms—take back the White House by taking back the dictionary. It is increasingly clear that you can’t win in modern politics by having evidence or good ideas on your side, and so it might be time for the opposition in Canada to take their cue from the Democrats down south, start fighting the Tories on their own turf. For example, Stéphane Dion would have had an easier time selling his Green Shift plan if the phrase “tax bads, not goods” had even once passed his lips. More radically, the opposition might want to try reframing the anti-gun registry crowd as the “death lobby.”
- I've spent plenty of time discussing the "coalition" angle on the Cons' scare tactics. Now, Chris Selley takes on the "separatist" side and finds it equally unreasonable:
It’s often said that until Quebecers decide they want to participate in the governance of Canada — i.e., by voting Liberal, Conservative or NDP — we’ll just have to live with the appalling consequences of officially separatist MPs infesting the House of Commons. I have no time for the argument. The Quebecers who don’t want to participate in federal governance don’t vote in federal elections. If we were willing to swallow our dusty, antiquated hardcore federalist pride, we could make the system work better — which is to say, as it’s supposed to work — right now.

Never mind the fact the Bloc’s MPs often seem more honestly concerned for Canadian democracy than the other parties‚ (even if they’re only concerned insofar as it benefits Quebec). The Canadian Alliance was perfectly willing to negotiate with the Bloc in 2000 if the Liberals hadn’t won their third consecutive majority. In 2006 the House of Commons voted 266 to 16 to declare that les Québécois “form a nation within a united Canada.” On Wednesday night, the House went further — voting unanimously to censure Maclean’s magazine for having “denigrate[d] the Quebec nation” (my emphasis). The federalist high road was demolished years ago. The October Crisis was four decades ago. As Mme. Jean’s tenure as governor-general proves yet again, the federalist/separatist divide is not nearly as wide or as bitter as politicians like us to think. There’s no point continuing the charade.
- Eric Reguly comments on the wider implications of BHP Billiton's bid for PCS:
So should the Canadian government prevent BHP from scooping Potash Corp. into its voracious maw? Ignoring the fact that potash is a strategic, irreplaceable resource that prevents mass starvation, why should Canada allow companies that are actually or effectively takeover-proof to buy homegrown corporate hotties?
Most subsidiaries, regardless or their size, have no say in the company’s important financial, legal, human resources and financing decisions. That, in turn, means that the spinoff benefits, such as the use of local lenders, legal teams and the like, are nil to negative. Tax, or lack thereof, is another big consideration. Typically, foreign buyers load up their new foreign subsidiaries with debt, all the better to minimize the local tax hit. Is that what BHP has in mind for Potash Corp.? If Investment Canada isn’t asking that question, there’s something wrong. If it isn’t legally allowed to ask that question, there’s something even more wrong.

BHP may be a fine owner of Potash Corp. Then again, it may not. If Investment Canada won’t block the takeover of a company that doesn’t need taking over, it has to ensure “net benefit” means as much. BHP can afford to deliver what the agency demands. It’s just that its demands for the last quarter century have been laughable. As a result, Canada is turning into a branch plant, A Mari usque ad Mare.
- Finally, it's well worth highlighting the Harper Cons' hiring of more and more executive staff even as they tell everybody else in the country to cut back. But can somebody ask Brian Lilley to either explain the building management implications of hiring increased numbers of "guys in the corner offices", or use language that actually describes the executive's function rather than burying the facts under a pile of inaccurate descriptions?

Regina Northeast - Dwayne Yasinowski Nominated for NDP

CJME has already covered the basics of last night's Regina Northeast nomination meeting which saw Dwayne Yasinowski win a nail-biter over Bill Wells on the second ballot. And I'll be glad to see Dwayne carrying the NDP's banner.

But it's worth noting that the nomination race was as lively and intense as it was close. Each of the candidates was able to create plenty of energy in a packed hall (including 200 Regina Northeast members plus 78 guests), as David Froh's lower numbers were balanced out by the youth and enthusiasm of his supporters. And with Froh endorsing Yasinowski while Wells made a concerted effort to keep the nomination campaign positive, there's every reason to think that all sides can come together now that the riding's members have had a chance to choose their nominee.

Of course, the flip side is that the NDP will need a strong grassroots effort to counter the money the Sask Party is throwing behind its hand-picked candidate. But if last night is any indication, there should be enough member interest to get the job done.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Burning question

So in this brave new world of ministerial responsibility, is it Sebastien Tognieri or Christian Paradis that gets charged with lying to Parliament?

Update: We can confirm that ministerial responsibility involves letting the underling take the fall. But that raises another point: will the Cons try to decree that an ex-staffer can ignore a summons from Parliament even over a subject for which he's lost his job?

Yessiree, that sounds plausible

Shorter PMO spin on today's sort-of-news that Stephen Harper was prepared to call in the Queen or anybody else he thought could keep him in power when faced with imminent defeat in the House of Commons:

We masters of seven-dimensional ultrachess don't need no stinkin' plan B.

Thursday Morning Links

A few links and comments to start your day...

- Boris picks up on the discussion of Lawrence Martin's new book by nicely summarizing what motivates the Harper Cons:
(H)atred is the motivation behind everything Harper and his band of orcs do. From visits to the Governor General, to mass prisons and beat-downs in the streets of Toronto, the one 'ideology' we see is a pathological hatred of anything and everyone standing against what they do or think.

This isn't politics. They aren't interested in parliament. There's no tradition of intellectual or philosophical thought underwriting their platform. Their numbers betray their rhetoric about small government for a lie. They shut down critical institutions of state that produce information independent of political control. They break protocol and convention at will. All they want to do is smash and destroy anything and anyone not fitting their worldview.
- Meanwhile, James Travers criticizes the fear and loathing the Cons are so eager to spread among the public:
Only an audience contentedly frozen in the Cold War could still fret that the Russians are coming. Tamils put themselves more at risk than us by crossing the Pacific in a rusting hulk. Canadian jails — the ones Conservatives plan to overflow with hardened litterers, crazed dope smokers and Stockwell Day’s masterminds of unreported crime — have yet to incarcerate their first long-form census scofflaw.

Banging the drum so loudly about so little is a sure sign other mischief is afoot. That contrived bit of Ruskie theatre was really about positioning the Prime Minister as Canada’s fearless protector of Arctic interests and justifying spending a breathtaking $16 billion on stealth fighters. Getting tough with Tamils is part of the trend shifting immigration from a social and economic dilemma into a law-and-order peril. Blowing smoke about jailing citizens for census disobedience is cover for the determined Conservative effort to control information.
- And while the Cons blow nonexistent threats and gripes out of proportion, we can fully expect to hear nothing about problems that probably do deserve public outcry - such as the discovery of billions of dollars which look to have been illegally hidden so that wealthy Canadians (i.e. those with a minimum of half of million spare dollars to shelter) could avoid paying the taxes they owe.

- Finally, Rick Salutin's dismissal from the Globe and Mail has given rise to plenty of protest so far. But I do wonder whether the focus is being put on the wrong element of the Globe and Mail's decision: isn't the greater problem the fact that virtually no genuinely progressive voices are being added to the media landscape (even as the reactionary right can add full networks to the mix), rather than what may be some expected churn among the longer-serving left-wing commentators?

A temporary reprieve

There's certainly some good news to be found in an arbitrator's ruling that private surgery clinics are permissible as a temporary measure at most due to their not being cost-effective as a permanent systemic change. But it's also worth pointing out the dangers of relying on a collective bargaining agreement as the means of preserving Saskatchewan's public health care system.

After all, it's entirely foreseeable that the same government which imposed the mandate to use private operators in the first place might meddle in future negotiations to ensure that it doesn't run into such snags in the future. And if that results in the removal of the relevant CBA provisions (either by bargaining or by legislation) before the 2013 deadline expires, then yesterday's decision may serve as little more than a speed bump on the Wall government's road to for-profit health care.

So while it's worth celebrating some arbitral confirmation that building capacity in the public sector is the only move that makes sense for long-term cost efficiency, the most important task in defending the province's health-care system is still to replace a government bent on its privatization.

On missed opportunities

John Ibbitson's article is headlined by a "revelation" that seems to me to be less than newsworthy: that Stephen Harper would do anything, including demanding that the Queen overrule the Governor General, in an effort to cling to power.

But what strikes me as a more interesting revelation is the report that for at least some time in 2008, Harper was actually set to leave peacefully:
During the political crisis of December 2008, as Mr. Harper realized that he had made exactly that kind of mistake by announcing an end to government financing of political parties, which united the opposition against him, he sank into something approaching despair, according to Mr. Martin.

“He was resigned to defeat, prepared to give up the government,” Mr. Martin writes. “Staffers had never seen him like this, pale and shaken. He told them, in so many words, that it was over, that the government would fall.”
Now, the followup point that it was the presence of Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe at a signing ceremony that put Harper back in the mood to fight for power at all costs looks to be tacked on rather conveniently given the Cons' current rhetoric. But to the extent one takes it at face value, it's worth noting that as with the later videotape fiasco, the biggest problem seems to have been an insufficient amount of cooperation among the other parties rather than an excess of it. If Stephane Dion had listened to Gilles Duceppe's suggestion that Duceppe not participate in a photo-op when he was never intended to be part of the coalition in any event, then Harper may well have gone down willingly.

Instead, we remain stuck with a PM all the more convinced that no strategy is too destructive or dishonest if it keeps him in power. And it's anybody's guess as to whether he'll ever be willing to voluntarily cede power again, no matter how clear it is that he lacks any democratic legitimacy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Attack of the Paleo-Libs - War Resister Edition

I've pointed out before that there are plenty of Lib MPs kept in office by party nomination rules which strangle any grassroots organization toward better representation, but positively begging to be dumped in favour of a more progressive alternative - with Alan Tonks featuring prominently in that group.

Now, having actually voted against his partymate's bill to offer amnesty to war resisters, Tonks may have just earned himself the top spot on the list. But given the number of abstentions which caused Gerard Kennedy's cause to fail, it's obvious that there are more than a few Libs still in need of replacement.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

- Impolitical is right to note the absurdity of the "conventional wisdom" that a Con-dominated Senate should feel entitled to block whatever it wants regardless of what's passed by Canada's elected representatives. But even leaving aside the fact that a Lib flip-flop has made the issue moot when it comes to EI, should anybody be surprised that the Cons are using the unelected Senate to impose their will on the country given their track record of doing just that?

- Meanwhile, the Cons are also doing their best to eliminate any good the Senate could otherwise do as a source of policy ideas, offering nothing but complete rejection for a plan to deal with poverty.

- Dog Blog has already posted on the subject, but I'll also encourage readers interested in getting involved in Regina's municipal boards, commissions and committees to take a look at the openings and apply to participate.

- Finally, while Murray Mandryk jumps to a few too many conclusions based on a single federal poll, he's duly cynical about the Harper Cons' handling of the gun registry - echoing the question of why a party which has fomented public outrage for years over its flaws will soon be arguing to keep it in place without improvements.

Wednesday Morning Links - Coalition Edition

- Angus Reid releases its latest poll results featuring Canadians' view of the country's federal leaders. And predictably, the terms most associated with Stephen Harper are..."Secretive (38%), arrogant (36%), dishonest (36%), out of touch (33%), uncaring (31%)" - making for a seemingly ideal contrast with an open, caring, attentive coalition if anybody notices the opportunity.

- Meanwhile, Jeffrey Simpson eviscerates the Cons' latest set of talking points, including those relating to coalitions. But in doing so, he also highlights why the opposition parties should take another angle: does anybody think it'll accomplish more to spend the entire lead-up to the next election trying to explain why...
the Bloc was never part of the ill-fated “coalition” between the Liberals and the NDP almost two years ago. The Bloc said it would support the other two parties, but not enter an agreement with them.
...rather than to pitch a simple, understandable message of "cooperation = good"?

- And finally, Postmedia looks at the potential role of the Governor General after the next federal election. But I'd take issue with one point raised by Errol Mendes:
Moreover, if Harper continues to publicly deliver those warnings after an election, said Mendes, Johnston will have to deal with the issue "with great finesse and diplomacy."

"At a certain stage, he may have to debunk the standard rhetoric of the Harper government that all coalitions are evil."
Simply put, there doesn't seem to be any reason why the GG would take on the job of debunking the Harper government's spin if other actors haven't already done so. Which is why it's so important that commentators set the record straight now, as the Cons are all too obviously willing to lie to the public in an effort to cling to power.

On overpayments

The Citizen's report on the U.S.' rethinking its F-35 purchase focuses mostly on the prospect that Canada will be left out in the cold when it comes to industrial benefits. But it's also worth pointing out the per-unit costs which are leading the U.S. to rethink the whole idea - as our neighbours to the south are blanching at numbers which the Harper Cons were entirely happy to sign onto:
(T)he cost of each stealth fighter has jumped from $50 million (U.S.) to at least $92 million, with some U.S. estimates putting that price-tag as high as $135 million. That has sparked a push in the U.S. to cut costs.
Asked what impact the initiatives will have on F-35 contracts now being carried out by Canadian firms, as well as potential future contracts, Adams said "it's too soon to provide a detailed assessment of the implications and potential impacts on our programs and business."

He said, however, that Lockheed Martin is on "the path to achieving an average unit cost of about $60 million" in U.S. dollars for the F-35.
By way of comparison, the Cons' agreement to purchase 65 planes for $9 billion dollars results in a final cost of...$138 million per plane. Which means that thanks to Stephen Harper's desire to throw free money at big military, we're stuck with a bill higher than the U.S.' estimated worst-case scenario as our base price.

Needless to say, with the main purchaser involved already looking to change direction and any supposed bidding opportunities apparently evaporating, there's absolutely no reason why Canada should be the lone country eager to push ahead at a price no other country is irresponsible enough to accept. And the more desperately the Cons try to pretend that we have no choice but to pour billions down the drain in a fighter jet deal, the more clear it should be that the Cons have no clue what they're doing with our public money.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

It's helpful enough that Tigger and Wonder fit into standard-size cupboards for easy storage.

But it's even better that they can interlock to save space.

Pop quiz

For John Ivison:

Name a single instance where the Cons' reaction to a firm, direct denial of one of their talking points was a pleasant "Oh, you weren't planning to do that? So sorry for making the unjustified allegation. We won't speak of it again."

On imbalanced conclusions

Shorter Tony Clement:

Surely we can all agree to stop the public's unjustified fears about the census by giving in to baseless fear-mongering.

On paper transactions

I'll grant Alan Reynolds this much in his Great Inequality Debate with Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks: he's absolutely right to recognize that the issue goes far beyond labour income. But I'm not sure he recognizes the implications of his argument for ignoring the higher nominal income gaps that have developed over the past few decades:
(M)ost growth of top 1% incomes since the 1986 tax reform has been the result of shifting income from corporate tax forms to individual tax forms (by using Subchapter S corporations, partnerships and LLCs) when individual tax rates fell in 1987 and 2003. There were also unusually large increases in reported capital gains and dividends after those tax rates were cut in 1997 and 2003.
CBO estimates are extremely sensitive to what Piketty and Saez (in an article with ­Anthony Atkinson of Oxford University) refer to as “the ­response of reported income to changes in tax law.” When tax rates on capital gains were reduced in 1997 and 2003, taxable capital gains reported by the top 1% soared for four years. When the dividend tax was cut to 15% in 2003, ­dividends reported by the top 1% ­quintupled in four years.
Now, the former point seems to me to offer a compelling refutation of the claim that lowered tax rates do anything to increase productivity or generate any other positive economic outcome. Instead, according to Reynolds' own analysis, the link between lower income tax rates and higher income is the result of wealthy individuals shuffling the same activities from "corporate tax forms" to "individual tax forms".

That would seem to offer reason to establish a baseline relationship between the two so that there's no particular value in shifting back and forth to game the tax laws in place at any given time. But I have my doubts that Reynolds would want to see that kind of system put in place, since his tax-cutting ilk seem to prefer attacking only one form of taxes at a time rather than acknowledging the long-term implications of a race to the bottom in both corporate and personal taxes.

What about the issue of compliance, though? It's easy enough to point out that if the wealthy have been abusing the tax system in a way that allows them to leave taxes unpaid, the answer out of both budgetary common sense and principles of fairness is to step up enforcement, not to lower tax rates in hopes that they'll be more willing to pay what they owe voluntarily.

But again, it's also worth asking whether there's any indication that high tax rates actually affect the economy as Reynolds and company accept and preach as an article of faith. And if Reynolds is right in suggesting that the only real difference caused by higher tax rates is in reporting and transaction structure rather than economic activity, then it's hard to buy any argument that there isn't room to raise taxes on the wealthy if needed to balance the U.S.' federal budget.

On withdrawal

Needless to say, Ryan Meili's withdrawal from the Saskatoon Sutherland nomination race makes for a disappointment for many within the Saskatchewan NDP - not to mention a shock coming less than a week away from the riding's nomination meeting. But let's take a closer look at what his departure figures to mean both for Meili and the party.

From Meili's perspective, the nomination race looks to have gone wrong in nearly every way that last year's leadership race went right. Instead of starting out as a virtual unknown who was able to make a positive impression without facing a lot of opponents' potshots, Meili began the nomination race as the front-runner - and the obvious target for the other candidates (with going especially negative for a nomination campaign).

What's more, instead of being able to count on broad appeal to boost his candidacy, Meili ran into the realities of local politics where a highly focused effort on a single cultural community by a well-connected candidate can swamp the membership numbers in the balance of a riding. And indeed, the race may raise some reason for wider discussion as to whether the NDP should work on eliminating any perceived barriers to membership in order to facilitate broader decision-making at the riding level.

But while Anwar's impressive membership sales raised questions about whether Meili would be likely to win, they hardly figures to explain his dropping out of the race without even testing whether Anwar's supporters would turn out.

Instead, I have to wonder whether the biggest issue for Meili was his own response to the challenges - including the recent jawing between his camp and Cam Broten (wherever it may have originated). During a sometimes-acrimonious leadership race, Meili did a remarkable job of staying above the fray. But he apparently wasn't quite so successful in the nomination race, and that might explain why he wouldn't want to keep going from a personal standpoint even if there was still a substantial chance of winning the nomination.

If there's any good news, it's an important caveat in Meili's announcement - that he "(intends) to continue to work for a better world, but not by seeking public office". And while many of us hoped to see what he could do as an MLA, there's plenty of reason for optimism that a leader who managed to inspire many an NDP member can still have a substantial impact in venues other than the Legislature.

So what does Meili's departure mean for the party as a whole? By all accounts, Anwar had already managed to achieve front-runner status in the nomination race - so barring a weak turnout among his newly-recruited supporters, it might not affect the immediate chances of taking Saskatoon Sutherland.

Instead, the more obvious potential impact is the prospect that some of Meili's enthusiastic leadership supporters might become similarly disillusioned by the electoral process. And the party would be well served to make sure that both Meili and his grassroots movement are seen to have a voice as it develops its slate of candidates and policies for 2011.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Well said

It's not often that I'll see fit to quote Ross Douthat - and there's plenty not to like about his preferred outcome when it comes to the options available to governments in handling their budgets. But his column today is right on target with his critique of Republican money mismanagement - and the point applies equally well at home if one substitutes "Conservative" for "Republican":
Officially, the Republican Party stands for low taxes and limited government. But save during the gridlocked 1990s, Republican majorities and Republican presidents have tended to pass tax cuts while putting off spending cuts till a tomorrow that never comes.

Conservatives have justified this failure with two incompatible theories. One is the “starve the beast” conceit, which holds that cutting taxes will force government spending downward. The other is the happy idea that tax cuts actually increase government revenue, making deficit anxieties irrelevant.

The real world hasn’t been kind to either notion.

On confidence matters

I posted earlier about the Harper Cons' cynical manipulation of supporters when it comes to the gun registry. But let's meet about the only point anybody could possibly make in the Cons' defence before it gets made.

It's bad enough that the Cons are claiming to be doing everything in their power to dismantle the long gun registry after never bringing the issue up for a single vote as a government bill. But was there actually a chance for them to pass such a bill if they'd tried?

There, the answer is a clear yes.

After all, it was alongside the Cons' 2007 Speech from the Throne that they introduced their confidence gambit to pressure the Libs, declaring that the defeat of any of their throne speech priorities would result in an election. Which is how the Cons strongarmed the Libs into supporting them on matters ranging from and Afghanistan extension to multiple crime bills.

And that Speech from the Throne included the long gun registry as one of the Cons' potential confidence issues in no uncertain terms:
In addition to tougher laws, our government will provide targeted support to communities and victims. It will help families and local communities in steering vulnerable youth away from a life of drugs and crime, and the Anti-Drug Strategy will help to treat those suffering from drug addiction. It will again ask Parliament to repeal the wasteful long-gun registry.
So how did the Libs respond? Michael Ignatieff said that he didn't see any poison pills in the speech - serving to highlight that the Libs' newfound devotion to the registry doesn't actually reflect anything but recent political calculation. And Stephane Dion introduced an amendment which dealt with several other matters, but didn't even mention the gun registry.

In effect, the Libs didn't just let a throne speech pass which included eliminating the gun registry as a confidence measure. Instead, they also took issue with a number of the Cons' priorities without even hinting that they'd object to having the registry dismantled.

And the Cons chose to do nothing, rather than taking the opportunity to hold a vote to repeal the gun registry.

Again, all of this is aside from the merits of the long gun registry. But with the Cons telling rural voters that the registry is the only issue that matters and that they have some interest in getting rid of it, it's well worth pointing out that the registry only exists today because Stephen Harper chose to leave it in place.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Zero action

To follow up on one of themes of last week's Blogger Battle Royale which is echoed in the Hill Times, let's take a closer look at how the Cons handled the long gun registry before their wedge politics on Bill C-391.

Since taking office, the Cons have introduced three government bills which would have had the effect of repealing the long gun registry. And as the governing party, they've had full control as to when the bills would be debated and voted on.

Bill C-21 was introduced in June 2006. It then sat in limbo until a year later when it was debated at second reading, three days before the end of the spring session of Parliament in 2007. The Cons then prorogued Parliament before the fall sitting, killing the bill.

The same legislation was reintroduced as Bill C-24 in November 2007 - at a time when the Libs were actively rolling over at every opportunity. This time, the Cons didn't even bother bringing the bill forward for debate before they chose to pull the plug and call an election in 2008.

Finally, the Cons introduced Bill S-5 into the Senate as an apparent April Fool's joke on their constituents in 2009. And once again, it was never even debated before Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament again.

So in all their time in office, after introducing three bills to pretend to be taking action, the Cons have never so much as bothered to bring a government bill on the gun registry up for a vote.

With that in mind, readers can judge for themselves whether Harper and company actually want the registry gone, or simply want to grandstand about it while preserving it as a fund-raising tool. But I'd think the evidence points strongly toward the latter.

New Brunswick Goes to the Polls

We've finally reached election day in New Brunswick, with plenty of potential for some highly interesting results as little seems to have been decided so far. Most of the projections have the NDP at 1 or 2 seats, with the main question being whether the party is able to build on its momentum from this year's campaign or whether a past trend of losing support late in the campaign continues. But nbpolitico has a full list of ridings which are particularly worth watching from the NDP's perspective:
The NDP is in play in somewhere between 2 and 4 ridings (Tracadie-Sheila, Nepisiguit, Bathurst and Tantramar) according to my analysis. They may also be in play in Saint John Harbour, Saint John East and Fredericton-Silverwood, though my analysis says no.
Note that nbpolitico has also modeled a series of "surge scenarios", leading to a fascinating set of possible outcomes.

Of course, there's still a day's worth of GOTV efforts to determine who will win out in the end. And we'll look forward to finding out whether voters are frustrated enough with a campaign of wilful self-delusion from the Graham Libs and Alward Cons to give the NDP an unprecedented presence in New Brunswick's legislature.

(Edit: updated link.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reason to howl

So what's the more damning part of the latest news on the Cons' use of public money to promote themselves?

Is it the instant classic line that "Bunting is allowed, plaques are an allowable expense"?

Or is it the scope of promotional material compared to the RinC fund as a whole?

To put that in perspective, let's do a bit of back-of-the-envelope math. Based on approved signage of up to $9,000 per project for over 2,000 projects in total, the Cons green-lighted no less than $18 million for signs and plaques alone. Which amounts to over 3.5% of the money allocated for the RinC program.

And that's not even counting the bunting.

A plan to fail

Jim Flaherty's latest excuse for not extending the deadline for stimulus projects - even those delayed for reasons entirely out of anybody's control - is that he's more worried about balancing the federal budget than continuing with any stimulus. So let's ask the question: what impact would extending funding actually have on the federal government's fiscal picture?

After all, one would hope that enough money to complete the agreed stimulus projects in full would have been budgeted in any event. So whether the money is spent before or after March 2011 will have precisely zero effect on any long-term budgeting issues.

That is, unless the Cons have been budgeting for some of their allocated money to go unused - in effect banking on the failure of part of their stimulus efforts. But if that's the case, shouldn't we know exactly how much of the money they've promised is in fact intended to be pulled back?

Update: I'm apparently not the only one suggesting that it shouldn't matter if money is held over. But the fact that provinces had been proposing a way to meet Flaherty's concern even before he made it public only makes his determination to cut off funding all the more galling.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

The Saskatchewan Roughriders' victory over Hamilton yesterday may serve as the perfect summary of the team's season. While the 'Riders showed plenty of vulnerability on both sides of the ball, they managed to make enough big plays to pull out the game in the end. And the result was another notch in the win column - if not a clear statement that the 'Riders can keep piling them up in the future.

The story offensively was of course the number of jaw-dropping receptions that made for key plays on the 'Riders' touchdown drives. Presumably thanks in part to the wind in Hamilton, Darien Durant's deep throws weren't quite as precise as they'd been the previous week - but thanks to the stellar play of Weston Dressler, Rob Bagg and Andy Fantuz, they nonetheless connected more often than not. And the Ticats' fear of the bomb managed to open up enough room underneath for the 'Riders to do fairly well in the ball-control department as well (even if Wes Cates seems to have slowed back down after showing a bit more burst early in the season).

So the 'Riders' offense generally looked long as one doesn't take turnovers into account. But Durant did serve up a couple of stinkers: an interception by Dylan Barker on a pass that looked doomed from the beginning, and a fumble on Saskatchewan's last offensive play of the game that gave Hamilton new life when the 'Riders had a chance to put the game away. And the timing of the latter giveaway looks like a particularly strong indication that Durant is still working on deciding when it's worth taking risks.

Meanwhile, the defence had a fairly easy answer to the same question about risk-taking - as it spent the entire game trading off big plays for the chance at turnovers, with remarkably strong results.

In theory, Kevin Glenn should be one of the last CFL quarterbacks to get suckered by deceptive coverage schemes - but he threw one interception and one near-miss on plays where defensive backs went unaccounted for on deep throws. And Deandra Cobb's valiant efforts to churn out extra yardage were turned into a negative by the 'Riders' propensity for forcing fumbles.

Again, that has to be balanced against the Ticats' success in moving the ball, with the 'Riders' focus on turnovers resulting in sloppy tackling through much of the game. And Glenn's already-impressive numbers could have been even better if not for a couple of embarrassing dropped passes. But once again, the tradeoff looks to have worked in the 'Riders' favour. And if the 'Riders' defence is creative enough to find ways to force turnovers even without generating its usual amount of pressure due to a banged-up defensive line, opposing offences may have little choice but to reduce their own production by playing it safe.

Finally, the special teams look to have been at worst a wash for Saskatchewan, making the game a relative success in that department. Ryan Grice-Mullen may not have the best hands of any returner around (as he showed with a fumble which he was able to recover), but his combination of raw speed and willingness to attack the coverage team resulted in a better return game than we've seen through most of the season. And while the 'Riders' kicking team had some rough moments, it was at least roughly able to match the production of its Hamilton counterpart.

So the end result is that while there's ample room for improvement on most fronts other than the receiving corps, the 'Riders once again did just enough to pull out a win against a contending team. And with the 'Riders enjoying both a winning streak and a strong position in the standings, the big question is once again whether they can sustain and build on their current level of play (rather than what can be done to fix major defects).

What you don't know won't hurt you. As far as you know.

Sure, the revelation that the federal government is illegally withholding test results showing consistently false advertising by food manufacturers might seem like evidence that our public sector needs to be a bit more focused on the public interest rather than on papering over corporate misdeeds:
(W)hen the Organization for Economic Co-operation and DeveThlopment has just reported that better food labelling is a crucial component in fighting Canada's obesity epidemic, the government's actions are particularly damaging. Earlier this month, my Postmedia colleague Sarah Schmidt revealed that testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found that 122 out of 208 breads and baked goods had contents that didn't match label claims that they were low-fat or contained certain grains.

Among 161 snack foods, 79 were found to have ingredients that didn't match labelling about low sodium or certain contents.

Other claims found not to stand up included "100 per cent pure," "genuine" and "real."

The CFIA also found that one in five packages of "lean" and "extra-lean" ground beef tested did not meet their labels' claims.

Schmidt's report prompted another Postmedia colleague, Paula Simons, to ask the CFIA for the names of the foods and their makers. She was (wrongly) told federal privacy legislation prevented the agency from naming the products and manufacturers.
But in true free-market style, can't we all agree that anybody who really cares whether the food they buy at the grocery store actually fits the description on the label should have to pay for the testing themselves?