Saturday, October 30, 2010

No surprises

While John Ivison's post on third-quarter fund-raising has received plenty of attention, I'm at a loss as to what part is supposed to be considered surprising.

After all, based on the parties' annual fund-raising data, all of the numbers look to be entirely in keeping with typical fund-raising trends. The NDP tends to bring in about $4 million in non-election years, and raised just over $1 million the third quarter; the Cons tend to bring in about $18 million under similar circumstances, and are just below that pace with $4 million raised.

Indeed, the only real change over the past few years has been found in the Libs' occasional fluctuations. But their early-2009 spike has long since leveled off - and this quarter's numbers are roughly in keeping with their typical pace too if that aberration is left aside.

So if anybody is changing their political plans based on the Q3 fund-raising numbers, it's only because they haven't bothered to notice what the parties' normal fund-raising numbers have been over the last five years. And I'd certainly hope that nobody involved in making decisions for Canada's political parties is that far out of touch.

Well said

The CCPA's commentary on the power of taxes is well worth a read as a whole. But let's particularly highlight the amount of good that Canadians get out of the public programs which are under a constant assault from the right:
Middle-income families in Canada often feel under financial pressure, but the bargain they get from public services is often overlooked: they consume an average of $41,000 worth of public services. Most people would have to take on a second, well-paying full-time job to carry those costs if they had to pay for services out of their own pocket.

But it’s not just middle-income families who are getting a deal. The average Canadian enjoys $16,952 worth of public benefits annually — what someone employed at minimum wage would earn in an entire year.

Almost invisibly, tax-funded services make most Canadians richer in ways that are never reflected in our bank accounts.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted weekend reading...

- The NDP's foreign investment plan looks to make for a noteworthy statement of the need to better consider the public's interest in trade decisions - and it only helps that it's in an area of particular expertise for Jack Layton:
The NDP Leader – who did his doctoral thesis on foreign investment – argued the Investment Canada review process is too secretive and has failed to ensure incoming direct investment is, in fact, in the interest of Canadian workers.

His motion would make explicit in the Act that the government would approve only foreign investment that brings new capital, creates jobs, transfers new technology into the country and contributes to sustainable development and improves the (lives) of Canadians.
Of course, it'll take support from other parties to actually get the changes made in law. But the principles set out by Layton look to be rather difficult to dispute - making the issue one which has serious potential to focus public attention on the gap between what's seen as good for foreign investors and what's actually best for Canada.

- While the Cons still seem to see themselves as having some hope of turning political party funding into an electoral winner, they're surely undermining their own case in whining about a "responsibility" to use tens of millions of dollars to flood Canadian mailboxes and airwaves with propaganda at public expense.

- No straight-talkin', Tea Party-like campaign would be complete without at least some dose of blatant deception. But I'm still surprised the truth about Rob Ford's campaign has come out this quickly - as any honeymoon he might otherwise have enjoyed as mayor surely has to be limited by the revelations about his campaign.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan is on a roll in his continued criticism of the Cons' attempts to brand themselves as competent economic managers in the face of all available evidence:
Who needs research, evidence, empirical analysis? All are seen as bothersome distractions Stephen Harper's Ottawa. That’s why the scientists who work for government agencies on critical issues of water and air quality, or toy safety, or food safety, or travel safety, are consistently ignored in favour of “research” done by private-sector interests on their own sector.

That’s why the government so blithely spends billions on dubious fighter planes, prisons, summits and the like (and I naively thought Conservatives loathed wasteful governments), goes ahead with billions in corporate tax cuts, and promises to balance the budget. One more Harper re-election, and there goes services and benefits.

Can a government that has forfeited all claims to credibility actually sell itself as the best economic managers for Canada? Can Canadians really be so forgetful, so credulous, so gullible? Is Rob Ford just the beginning?

On needless barriers

Murray Mandryk is right on target in his assessment of the policy merits of the Sask Party's plan for voter ID restrictions. But I fear he's exactly wrong in his take on the Wall government's purpose in floating the proposal:
Admittedly, voter photo identification will be "new" if it happens, but it probably won't happen because it's a dopey idea. That Wall is already saying it might not apply to seniors or anyone else who doesn't have a driver's licence photo ID calls into question why it's needed in the first place. After all, no one seems to be able to find a single case of voter fraud in a Saskatchewan election that makes photo ID necessary.

More likely, it's part of a mildly alarming trend in the Wall government of throwing out a policy that's really about appealing to the party's base, like last year's throne speech call to clamp down on free needles for intravenous drug users. Similarly, this year's photo ID accomplishes little more than soliciting quiet cheers from those who like the notion of making it a little tougher for certain social-economic groups -- including those on reserves and in northern Metis and First Nations communities that sometimes vote in blocks -- to vote.
Now, it's true enough that restricting access to the polls is a fairly standard part of right-wing policy dogma, for the reason noted by Tom Levenson as a counter to the inherently shrinking pool of voters willing to cast ballots based on prejudice:
(T)he one thing the GOP has decided to do as demographics tilt ever more heavily against it is exactly what you’d expect from the Confederate Party. When in doubt, don’t try to expand the tent; instead, restrict the franchise.
But it's important to note the direction of the causation. Voting restrictions aren't thrown out as a policy bone which caters to a right-wing base without having an effect in substance. And indeed the parties pushing such schemes are normally at pains to deny that their intention is to produce the obvious effect of turning away legitimate voters.

But voting restrictions are obviously of political benefit to a party whose electoral prospects are improved by the suppression of minority and marginalized voters. And that, not some great commitment to limiting turnout in principle, is the reason why the right works so hard to turn away real voters based on nonexistent threats of fraud.

So there's little reason to think Wall's choice to talk about a more restrictive voter ID requirement is based on any theory that the policy will be popular, whether with his base or anybody else. Instead, the calculus figures to be that it's worth pushing the restrictions even in the absence of any rational need for change where their incidental effects once implemented happen to favour the Sask Party's political interests. And on that theory, the Sask Party is far more likely to push ahead with trying to bend the rules in its favour no matter how much resistance it faces, rather than listening to even the most reasonable criticisms of the move.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Musical interlude

Daft Punk w/ Stardust - Music Sounds Better With You

On comparative costs

Following up on this morning's theme, there's been plenty of news about the Cons' waste of millions of dollars for political purposes through their MP expenses. But the MP and cabinet amounts look particularly appalling compared to the return on investment in funding for parties:
A Chronicle Herald analysis of the expenses shows that 47 of the top 50 spenders on "ten percenters" in 2009-10 were Conservative MPs.
The biggest spender on ten percenters last year was Conservative Alberta MP Brian Jean, who spent $116,423.43. Overall, MPs from all parties spent $10,182,707.71 on the mailouts.
Now, I'll plan to look at the numbers in more detail later on. But for now, suffice it to note that if we work downward from Jean's number and assume the Cons' 47 worst offenders averaged a little over $100,000 apiece in ten-percenter costs, then their expenses came in at roughly $5 million per year. And apparently the Cons have absolutely no shame about having spent that much.

Not coincidentally, $5 million is also approximately the amount of the NDP's annual subsidy as a party. So let's ask which looks like a better use of exactly the same amount of public money.

Is it a better investment to fund the entirety of the staffing, communications, research, policy development, organizational support and community engagement conducted by a national political party?

Or is the same amount better spent on nothing more than the mailing costs of junk mail from a third of the Cons' caucus?

On resource imbalances

There's some sad news coming out of New Brunswick, as Roger Duguay has resigned as leader of that province's NDP even after an election that saw the party post its second-best share of the vote ever. And the NDP will surely appreciate Duguay's contribution as leader - even if it has to be disappointed to see him leave after accomplishing nearly everything imaginable short of winning a seat.

But without knowing exactly why Duguay chose to step down, it's also worth noting how New Brunswick's political financing system may have influenced his decision - and considering how the same effect might play out elsewhere in Canadian politics.

New Brunswick actually does have some public financing for political parties, with the following amounts paid out based on the previous election's results:
The Grits won 47.3 per cent of votes in the 2006 election and receive $312,180 from the province each year, based on the allocation formula.

The Tories won 47.6 per cent of votes in the last election and receive $314,160 a year, slightly more than the Liberals.

The NDP won 5.1 per cent of votes and receives $33,660 a year.

The Green Party did not win enough votes to receive a proportion of the annual allowance payments, which total $660,000 for the province, plus audit fees.
Presumably the NDP's funding would have roughly doubled like its share of the popular vote. But that still seems to have left some question as to whether it can afford to pay its leader a salary, particularly when one considers how the annual funding compares to the amount of money flowing into parties' hands through other means:
The Liberal dinner held Saturday in Moncton raked in about $400,000 after expenses, about double the $200,000 that was raised by the Conservatives on Friday night in Fredericton.

The cash will be added to the parties' war chests and spent during the 30 days of election campaigning on expenses such as advertising, office space, travel, wages, meetings and rallies, up to the $925,000 limit set by Elections New Brunswick.
As of last June, the New Brunswick Liberal Association had $1.845 million in the bank and no debt.

The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick had $288,915 in cash but also a debt of $409,000, mostly related to the purchase of a building in Fredericton, which houses the party's headquarters.

Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party had $19,531 and the Green Party had $253.
So all indications are that for the Cons and Libs, a single dinner can bring in as much money as a year's worth of annual allowance. And indeed the Graham Libs - despite being unpopular enough to lose the election - were nonetheless able to have enough retained cash on hand to run two elections if they needed to. And that's in addition to the salaries, pensions, research funding, and other resources available to the two parties represented in the Legislature.

On the other hand, the NDP's funding over four years amounted eighth of the amount needed to run a full election campaign, assuming no expenses in the meantime. And even after approaching its highest share of the vote ever, the NDP still looks to have limited resources for next time out barring some significant change in the meantime.

And it's worth asking whether such a change might well be needed.

So far, led by the Cons' attack on per-vote financing, most discussion of public funding for the political process nationally has attacked exactly the amounts that serve to reflect actual voter preferences, while leaving untouched the larger payouts allocated based on the vagaries of single-seat results.

But New Brunswick seems to offer an ideal example of how the gap between funding based on winning seats and funding based on winning votes can serve to severely limit the choices available to voters. And if we can't expect to change the voting system in the near future, the next best thing may be to highlight the comparison between direct party funding and the funding that goes to political offices through other means, and demand a system that better supports the operations of parties with enough public support to justify it.

Same old story

Susan Riley tries to find any meaningful policy distinctions between the Cons and the Libs - and finds that there's nothing to speak of:
(T)he two parties disagree, notionally, on corporate taxes. But there remains a similarity that trumps all other distinctions: neither can be trusted to follow through. The bank lobby might convince triumphant Liberals to change course (remember that Brison used to be a Tory). The Conservatives might decide they can't really afford those cuts, after all. Switcheroos are hardly unprecedented.
On Afghanistan, Harper appears adamant about withdrawing all troops by 2011, but no one believes him. Ignatieff and Bob Rae appear reluctant to cut and run, especially if NATO wants us to stay. Either way, it sounds like a mission extension.

As for cleavages on the environment, it is a contest between Harper and Ignatieff over who loves the oilsands more. On human rights, both men deplore China's freedom-hating regime and both are willing to smooth over differences in the interests of trade. Neither can stand to be in the same room as anti-Semitic nut-bar Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and both look the other way when Israel's government betrays its own values.
Given the daily shouting, hissing and harrumphing, there must be profound disagreements between our two major parties. Uncovering them probably just requires more sophisticated instruments.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pop quiz

Scott Stinson has trouble with this whole "analogy" idea. So let's spot the non-natural phenomenon in his attempt to downplay the effects of the tar sands on the environment:
A photograph has been making the rounds on the Internet of a bison being chased by a grizzly bear along a road in Yellowstone National Park.

It’s a remarkable shot because the bison in question appears to have escaped the clutches of the bear mid-mauling. Chunks of its fur are missing, and it is literally running for its life, with a rather angry-looking Yogi in determined pursuit.

A park official told a Montana television station this week that the photo is real. Not that anyone at Yellowstone is searching for the bear, or its presumed victim. It’s just one of those brutal things that happen in nature.

You know what else happens in nature? Birds migrate. And so, this week, Alberta energy giant Syncrude again finds itself as the scourge of the oil sands because some of those birds took a detour and landed on one of its toxic wastewater ponds.

Now where have we seen this before...

Let's see. A controversial decision to fund only the right-wing side of a contentious issue with no notice beforehand or documentation afterward (at least until after a vote that will render moot any new information), coupled with promises of transparency that never come...

Can this be anything but the Cons' campus strategy at work?

Try again

Chrystal unfortunately misses a rather important point in Gordon Campbell's attempt to buy his way back into favour with B.C.'s anti-tax crowd:
Carole James has this to say:
I believe in a competitive tax environment but this is a ridiculous way to set tax policy... Fiscal irresponsibility and a government trying to buy back public support is the only thing I saw with this tax cut... It's unclear where the money will come from.
Might it not be from the HST that you and your party have been campaigning so fiercely against?
Needless to say, the answer is: no, it mightn't.

After all, the extra money being paid by consumers is balanced out by $1.9 billion in tax breaks for corporations in what's intended to be a revenue neutral shift in government income. And that's without even mentioning the shiny baubles offered alongside the HST to try to make it more palatable to B.C.'s voters in the first place.

Mind you, it's not hard to see why Campbell did what he did. After all, the move to keep slashing taxes even further should at least help him to break the anti-HST movement into its constituent parts and bring part of the Vander Zalm wing back into the Libs' fold - perhaps staving off the prospect of another right-wing party annihilating the Libs in 2013 or sooner.

But for the NDP and others whose concern all along has been Campbell's combination of fiscal mismanagement and desire to benefit the corporate sector at the expense of working-class British Columbians, the move only makes matters worse. And that should offer all the more reason to ensure that the Libs don't stay in power any longer than can be avoided.

Thursday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your amusement.

- Dr. Robert Evans nicely demolishes the argument for privatized health care based on pretending that services paid for or delivered by the private sector somehow don't count as expenses:
There's a central fallacy in the privatize medicare crusade. "Unsustainable" public health spending will magically become sustainable simply by shifting costs from the taxpayer to the patient and from the wealthy to the sick.

"Bluntly, this is a lie," says Canada's pre-eminent health economist, Dr. Robert Evans.
The 92 per cent of Canadians who know they're better off financially with medicare can take solace in Evans' evisceration of the privatizers' "myths:"

Myth One: Canada's aging population will make health care unaffordable. Private health-care services, not an aging population, are driving health-care spending, says Evans. "The key cost-drivers in health-care services are the private, for-profit parts -- pharmaceuticals, dental, diagnostic tests and other non-insured services. Population aging increases health-care costs at only 0.8 per cent annually."

Myth Two: Health-care costs are eating up all the provincial budgets and crowding out other services. Medicare spending takes up about the same share of provincial revenues as it did 20 years ago, says Evans. "However, between 1997 and 2004, cuts in personal and corporate taxes removed about $170.8 billion from government revenues." An additional $35 billion annually has been lost to tax cuts every year since. "As a result, other non-health-care programs were cut, making it appear that the share of the budget for health care was increasing."

Myth Three: Public health-care spending is skyrocketing out of control. Not only is Canada's public health-care spending not skyrocketing, it is stable and below the OECD average, says Evans. It's spending on private care that is driving cost increases. Between 1975 and 2009, medicare spending -- on doctors and hospitals -- has remained steady at between four and five per cent of Canada's GDP. When private spending on services not covered by medicare is included, the cost escalation shoots up to 12 per cent per year. "Clearly a public, single-payer system is the way to control costs," Evans says.

Myth Four: Privatization of health services will control health costs. "Privatization is a way to avoid cost containment and provides greater income opportunities for providers of care and private insurers outside public control," says Evans.
- Jim Stanford expands on his analysis of the Canada-EU trade negotiations by pointing out the utter implausibility of the assumptions involved in the Cons' justification for it:
There is no historical basis to conclude that free trade agreements are good for either Canadian exports, or for Canadian trade balances. In the real world, free trade agreements (not surprisingly) tend to make existing trade imbalances even worse: this is true throughout economics, where deregulation generally tends to exacerbate the imbalances and unevenness of market outcomes. Despite this observed failure, pursuing free trade agreements seems to be the default, one-note policy response from Ottawa to Canada’s worsening global trade performance - which is currently delivering us the biggest current account deficits in our history.
- In the department of no surprises, corporate social responsibility has joined peace as extreme ideas which won't be tolerated by the Harper government.

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson is absolutely right to note the willingness of roughly 30% of Canada's population to accept even the most blatantly obvious nonsense out of the Harper Cons - with polling on the census and Canada's bid for a Security Council seat serving as the latest examples. But it's worth noting the flip side to that number: the 30% must have awfully limited capacity to influence the rest of Canada's electorate if the Cons' general party numbers are stuck just barely above the number of people who will accept their word without question.

On crackdowns

It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Wall government's plan for the next year includes making voting more difficult for groups less disposed to support them in the 2011 election, particularly considering that support for restrictive voter ID rules was part of their litmus test for a chief electoral officer.

But as the Sask Party cuts down on access to the polls, it's worth pointing out that a similar effort went seriously awry when their federal cousins failed to consider its effect on rural voters - hinting that the policy isn't without some potential costs to a right-wing party. And even if the Wall government avoids the same mistake, the perception of a governing party unilaterally rewriting election rules this close to the start of the campaign may well backfire.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Order received

Just when you thought we'd made some progress on trying to actually end conflicts, Vic Toews has felt the need to clarify that promoting peace is considered an unacceptable extremist viewpoint. Perpetual war forever!

Compare and contrast

What a difference five years in opposition can make. Here's Ujjal Dosanjh today:
“You know we stand four square behind the Canada Health Act and we believe if it can be improved and broadened, it should be improved and broadened,” he says, noting that should only happen within the public system. “Health care is not a commercial commodity.”
So how committed was Ujjal Dosanjh to making sure that the public health care system was strengthened back when he was actually in charge of health care on the federal level?
It is not clear how the government would decide when the integrity of the single payer system was threatened, but it would presumably be a matter of political judgment.

Nor is it clear how an informed judgement could be made without full accounting by provinces of how they use federal money.

"I don't think there's enough substance there to ensure any action,"said Mike McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition.

"If he (Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh) was serious, he would make provincial reporting mandatory, and that requires introducing regulations under the Canada Health Act."

Dosanjh said in Vancouver that he will carry out the commitments despite Layton's rejection. He said there is no need for detailed accounting regulations.

The Canada Health Act already stipulates that provinces must provide medically necessary services to all citizens on the same terms and conditions.

"That's a matter of trust and you simply let the provinces have the money and...for the last one year I can tell you they've been generally very good."

But the federal government's willingness to crack down or effectiveness at policing this provision has appeared spotty.

Case in point

As a followup point on the NDP's home heating plan, the discussion seems to have now turned in part to the Libs' version as noted by Kevin Milligan. And in comparing the two, I'd think it's worth noting that the home heating relief offered by the Libs - sending cheques of $125 or $250 only to households receiving the GST rebate - looks to be problematic from both an economic and a political standpoint.

On the economic front, the scheme offers an ideal example of arbitrary endpoints and benefit amounts resulting in perverse incentives. After all, a household A which earns $100 more on the year than household B might actually end up worse off if the two fall on opposite sides of the cutoff point.

But perhaps more importantly, there's no rational political explanation either for that warped set of incentives, or for the outline of the plan generally. If the problem for the season in question was abnormally high heating costs, how would that not be experienced equally on both sides of the income cutoff? And how would the imminent problem with heating costs justify paying the same amount to a single person living in an apartment in Vancouver making in a warm year as a single mother of three living in a house in Timmins in a cold year (to use the example given by RayK)?

As best I can tell, there's absolutely no principled answer to those questions; it's simply a matter of setting arbitrary cutoff points and benefit amounts on the assumption that some have to be put in place under the "give money to poor people" model. But it's far from clear that anybody was particularly well served by the plan - and worth wondering how things might have been different if the Libs hadn't been so eager to buy the argument that a government's role should be limited to that type of model.

On giveaways

And this is why we're learning not to trust the Cons when it comes to jobs (even if the Libs may be no better):
A free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union would deal another blow to Canada’s already battered manufacturing sector, wiping out thousands of jobs in food processing, apparel making and the auto industry, according to an analysis of a potential agreement that will be released Wednesday.

Canada, which has run an annual trade deficit of $19-billion with the EU, on average, for the past 10 years, would lose 28,000 jobs – most of them in manufacturing – if tariffs were eliminated, says a study done by Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
The loss of 28,000 jobs is the best-case scenario in Mr. Stanford’s study. The worst-case scenario is the elimination of tariffs, plus the Canadian dollar maintaining the 18-per-cent appreciation in value against the euro it has averaged this year compared with where the currencies were trading when negotiations on a deal were announced in March, 2009.

Under those assumptions, a Canada-EU free trade agreement vaporizes more than 152,000 jobs.

Today in worthless freeloaders who don't deserve our help

African AIDS victims.

But have no fear: the Cons know who it is that really needs some government assistance. And they're doing their utmost to make sure that a bill to benefit actual people - and halfway around the world no less! - faces the toughest path possible through Parliament.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats at rest.

High praise indeed

The spin is in on Sheila Fraser's first report on stimulus spending. So now that we're all agreed that she had absolutely nothing but compliments for Canada's New Government that's Getting Things Done, let's see what Fraser actually had to say:
Program officials relied on the information provided in project applications as confirmation that projects were construction ready. We found that, despite the information provided in the application, many of these infrastructure projects did not proceed on the start date stated in the application. There were a number of reasons for the delays, including that projects were not, in fact, construction ready, or that departmental approval was provided after the start date proposed by the applicant.
Infrastructure Canada informed us that 93 percent of the project proposals it reviewed for the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund were excluded from environmental assessment. The Department relied on information provided by other levels of government and organizations in their application forms and performed minimal additional verification to determine whether a project could be excluded from an environmental assessment or not. The Infrastructure Stimulus Fund application form collected information on federal environmentally sensitive land for projects; however, information on provincial, regional, and local environmentally sensitive areas was only collected for buildings and not other types of projects. Infrastructure Canada relied on the provincial, regional, and municipal governments in order that projects submitted for funding consideration adhered to the relevant laws and management plans for the various provincial, regional, and local environmentally sensitive areas. As a result, the design of the application form was critical to gathering correct and complete information about a project and its surroundings, including environmentally sensitive areas.

During our testing of a sample of 52 approved projects, we found that all projects were excluded from environmental assessment under the new Regulations, but 35 of these 52 projects lacked sufficient information to make the determination about whether an exclusion was warranted. These gaps were due to weaknesses in the design of the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund application form.
In their reports to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, we found that, for the infrastructure programs we audited, departments used different units of measure and methodologies to estimate the number of jobs created or maintained from the stimulus funding they delivered. For example, some departments described the type of professions employed through Economic Action Plan programs, such as construction trades and manufacturing. Others reported on the number of jobs created and maintained for construction and renovation projects but provided no indication on how the estimates were calculated. In one department, the number of hours worked were calculated and reported. Taken together, estimates of Economic Action Plan-related jobs created or maintained provided by departments to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat were not consistent among programs.
We found that the Department of Finance Canada relied on model-based macroeconomic analysis to measure and report on the Economic Action Plan’s impact on jobs and the Canadian economy, because project-level job information was unreliable and did not provide a complete picture of jobs created or maintained. Due to the significance of the Economic Action Plan, it is important that departmental performance reports include specific analysis of their individual programs and how these programs contributed to the Economic Action Plan objectives.
That's right: your Harper Cons, belatedly approving projects without dealing with environmental issues, then making up job numbers for lack of any accurate information. What more could one ask for in a government?

On relative expenses

Stephen Gordon is once again criticizing the NDP's home heating proposal. But let's set the record straight on one part of the analysis which is highly misleading, and note that the philosophical issues aren't as clear-cut as he wants to make them out to be.

To start with, let's deal with this claim:
It could be argued that the gains for low-income households are proportionately greater, because the inequality in income is greater than the inequality in benefits. But using proportional gains as a criterion strikes me as setting the bar too low: even George W. Bush's tax cuts manage to make it over this hurdle.
But there's an important distinction in how to handle "proportional gains" - and it makes for a crucial distinction in who's helped most by the NDP's home heating plan.

Gordon links to an article framing Bush tax cuts based on the proportion of total taxes paid, with absolutely no reference to their effect on household income. (In effect, the standard is more "proportional losses" in taxes paid than proportional gains in anything.)

But when one looks at the effect on after-tax household income - which would seem to be the point if one's intention is to deal with actual effects on household activities rather than merely resentment over the amount of taxes paid - the effect is rather different:
Without a doubt, and despite White House rhetoric to the contrary, the direct effect of the tax cuts is to widen after-tax income inequality. If the tax cuts are extended into 2011, after-tax incomes will increase by more than 9 percent for households in the top 1 percent of the income distribution in that year, by between 2 percent and 3 percent for households in the middle 60 percent, and by only 0.1 percent for households in the bottom 20 percent.
So let's apply the same analysis to the NDP's plan. Using the midpoint numbers for each income level on the NDP's chart noted by Gordon and presuming that 5% tax will be removed from home heating costs, the numbers are as follows:

A household with income of $15,000 sees its heating bill reduced from $1,678 to $1,598.10. It saves $79.90 in cash, or 0.53% of its annual income.

A household with income of $45,000 sees its heating bill reduced from $2,041 to $1,943.81. It saves $97.19 in cash, or 0.22% of its annual income.

And a household with income of $75,000 sees its heating bill reduced from $2,400 to $2,283.71. It saves $116.29 in cash, or 0.16% of its annual income.

Again, the above isn't to say that the NDP's plan couldn't be improved. But to suggest that it bears any meaningful resemblance to the Bush tax cuts in its relative effect on households is far off base.

Meanwhile, Gordon also draws a distinction between income issues and pricing issues, once again saying "give money to poor people" without defining the term or recognizing the political difficulties with that course of action. But that brings us back to the point about essential goods that Gordon has given up on addressing when it comes to other goods not subject to the GST, but seems bent on applying at every opportunity in response to the NDP's plan.

Like food, housing and other essential expenses, home heating costs are an expense borne to a relatively similar extent by households across the country - and as is obvious from the chart above, representing a far higher proportion of expenses for poorer households. And it's different from higher-end goods where one might in fact see consumption taxes as playing a positive social role.

But what about the possible social costs of bringing down the price of heat? Gordon rightly notes the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, which may indeed be impacted by heating costs to the extent people actually use more heat rather than using the savings elsewhere. But as usual, he leaves out the fact that the NDP's plan deals with that expressly by including a home retrofit program intended to improve efficiency in the longer term.

Which means that the main effect of the NDP's plan taken as a whole is simply to make one essential good less expensive in comparison to all other goods. And that process on a larger scale looks to me to be the idea at the core of an affordability agenda which makes it easier for Canadians at all income levels to pay for the basics they need to live in Canada.

Tuesday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Brian Topp highlights one of the main lessons coming out of David Miller's time as mayor of Toronto:
The current debate about Toronto’s government and future demonstrates a hard political fact. If citizens cannot see what their government is doing, then, politically, to some extent, it is as if those achievements didn’t happen. It is extremely difficult for any government at any level to communicate what it doing to citizens. Speeches by the chief executive don’t do the job.

Lesson for the future: the next time there is a progressive administration in Toronto, it needs to find a way to clean the dirty boys out of the back door while still operating a muscular and unabashedly political strategic/communications team.
- I'm all for creative efforts to engage citizens online. But keeping in mind the enthusiasm for Rick Mercer's Doris Day petition just a decade ago, what are the odds that the Online Party of Canada won't vote itself out of existence if it's in any danger of getting anywhere?

- Needless to say, it's not at all surprising that knowledge about Sean Bruyea's now-vindicated privacy concerns went all the way to the top. But don't worry: while the PMO is perpetually involved in message control, it does seem to be willing to accept limitations on its power when it comes time to actually doing anything useful:
On Sept. 26, 2006, Shaw wrote Bruyea to inform him that neither the PMO or veterans affairs minister’s office could get involved in the handling of his personal file in order to deal with his benefit entitlements. She referred Bruyea to a department official. The e-mail did not address Bruyea’s concerns about the mishandling of his private information.
- Finally, today's Angus Reid poll would be a lot more meaningful if it hadn't unduly limited its scope to respondents' opinions of the Cons and Libs. But there's still an interesting gap between questions of high-level economic policy - where the Cons have a lead - and the one dealing with jobs which is currently a wash between the two parties included in the poll. And the more Canadians start to distinguish between job issues that affect them directly and more abstract issues like debt and inflation, the more trouble the Cons figure to have in trying to run a campaign on the economy.

On cooperation

While Murray Dobbin is absolutely on point in calling for the Libs to recognize the need to cooperate with the NDP and other parties in order to get anything done, he's rather off base in leveling the same charge at the NDP.

Indeed, the biggest issue with the NDP's repeated efforts to promote collaboration which will better reflect the will of Canadian voters has been the fact that they haven't been widely enough reported to bring about much public discussion. And I'd think that one of the few progressive voices with a national reach would work on moving that conversation forward - not pretend that nobody's trying to start it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Deep thought

If there's anything our cash-strapped governments need in their quest to deliver health care services, it's to pay more for prescription drugs while getting nothing in return.

Burning questions

Who, other than Cons reviewing the report for their own damage control purposes, would have access to Sheila Fraser's report on stimulus spending before its release?

And why in the world would Don Martin give them free rein to spin the report in advance?

For a price

While I disagree with Barrie McKenna's fervent anti-government beliefs, he's absolutely right in recognizing what Brad Wall's potash posturing is actually all about:
What Mr. Wall is really doing is attempting to extract the maximum price from a foreign purchaser he doesn’t particularly trust. Call it extortion, if you like.

Current tax rules would allow BHP to write off the capital cost of developing its Saskatchewan mine project – Jansen Lake – as well as the borrowing costs of the takeover. That represents a potential drain of up to $3-billion from its coffers, according to Saskatchewan.

The two sides aren’t that far apart. BHP says it’s willing to forsake the writeoffs and keep the province revenue neutral to get the takeover approved. It’s also offered to pump nearly $400-million into infrastructure projects in the province.

Mr. Wall, however, wants some of the future tax revenue as cash up front, something BHP is so far unwilling to do.

But don’t be distracted. This isn’t about blocking a foreign takeover. It’s about allowing one – at a price.

Fool me 2,794 times...

The Hill Times follows up on the Libs' capitulation on calling political staffers to testify in front of committees. And their spin looks to be getting more and more embarrassing by the day:
Liberal committee member Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.) said his party wanted to see the issue dealt with by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee. "I don't think that there's any question that Parliamentary privileges have been to a great extent breached and the government is involving itself in a cover-up by denying witnesses and documents coming forward. But be that as it may, we're willing to ask them to have a second look at it," he said. "We're hoping they would—given the controversy over the Afghan documents, given the controversy over the witnesses coming for Access to Information—we're hoping that they will see better of their ways here."
Of course, it's easy enough to ask what in their five-year history of compulsive secrecy and refusal to admit error would give the slightest hint that the Cons are interested in acting better even if they have any recollection as to what divides right from wrong. But what's even more striking is that Easter himself rightly frames the Cons as breaching privilege and covering up the truth - yet somehow keeps peddling the line that it's reasonable to expect them to be overcome with humility and honour.

Needless to say, we've seen what happens in substance when the Libs pretend it's reasonable to hope for the Harper Cons to act in good faith. But it's worth noting that the political effects are no less damaging than the substantive ones, as the Libs still haven't figured out that it only helps the Cons to send the message that they should be seen as reasonable in the face of all evidence, rather than highlighting the idea that they can't be trusted to exercise arbitrary power which runs contrary to Canada's democratic system.

Unfortunately, though, the Libs seem bent on continuing to enable the Cons' abuses. Which means that there's a desperate need to clear out two federal parties rather than just one in order to start getting our system of public accountability into working order.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Foundation building

We'll find out how much new content it ends up adding to Canada's political conversation. But it's well worth welcoming the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights to the scene - and I'll definitely look forward to seeing what it can do to try to highlight the labour issues that are all too often ignored or covered solely from an anti-union perspective.

On outreach

Leaving aside whether the NDP's home heating plan is ideal from a policy perspective, there doesn't seem to be much doubt that it has the potential to make for a strong political position. And the party's latest ad figures to be another key step in getting voters to warm up to the party.

Brian Lilley paints that effect primarily in terms of reaching Con voters. And there's certainly a point to be made there - particularly when the Cons themselves have now spent months talking about being focused on economic issues while explaining why they plan to do nothing to improve matters any.

But it's worth noting that the same factors which figure to play well against the Cons are equally significant in differentiating the NDP from the Libs. Not only does the push on home heating call attention to the Libs' support for the HST, but its focus on immediate action which can reduce the costs actually being borne by Canadians should present a strong contrast against the Libs' mostly speculative platform.

Of course, the campaign does figure to be based primarily on reaching other parties' soft voters rather than motivating the NDP's strongest supporters. But the NDP has done plenty of work in that department which has largely gone unnoticed in the media - and it certainly makes sense to make sure the party is prepared on both fronts both to improve its standing in this fall's by-elections, and to be prepared for a general election which may not be far away.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

With the rest of the regular season already figuring to have little if any effect on the 'Riders' playoff positioning, it would be nice to simply look at whatever positives came out of yesterday's game which might serve the team well later on. And there was in fact one story worth noting on that front, as even before his two late touchdowns Cary Koch proved to be a reliable possession receiver who's well equipped to at least fill Rob Bagg's shoes in the lineup (even if Weston Dressler's role might be asking a bit much).

But aside from Koch's breakout game, yesterday's loss was a disaster on nearly every possible front - not just because it highlighted some of the 'Riders' longstanding weaknesses, but because it also included some new ones that never would have been expected based on the matchup.

On the offensive side of the ball, Darian Durant's typically middling completion percentage might look like the biggest problem on paper. But it had a far different cause than usual.

While Durant characteristically fired a few passes off target, the biggest culprit was a receiving corps which coughed up the ball at regular intervals, either by dropping passes at the outset or serving up fumbles on a silver platter. And the result was that even while Durant had a strong game in the ball-control department (not only avoiding any fumbles or interceptions himself, but not serving up any shoulda-beens either), the 'Riders ended up with an embarrassing combination of turnovers and drop-induced two-and-outs.

Now, some of that problem should be fairly easily solved: a few extra ball-control drills and a less-frustrated Andy Fantuz should make a world of difference in future games. And if the 'Riders can combine the passing game we've come to expect with the production they got from Wes Cates yesterday and a far more aggressive running game from Durant, then the offence shouldn't be far from where it needs to be.

Unfortunately, it's in the defence that there's an almost total lack of positives to take from yesterday's game. On paper, one could hardly have asked for a better matchup for the 'Riders: a young quarterback informed at the last minute that he'd be making his first CFL start going up against a pressure-based, turnover-happy defence. But even knowing that they could effectively stack the line of scrimmage to take away runs and short passes against a team that didn't have any apparent confidence in its ability to throw deep, the 'Riders not only allowed both Jared Zabransky and Daniel Porter to have strong statistical games, but also failed to force a single turnover.

Now, part of that might be attributed to chance - as there's certainly an element of luck involved in relying on turnovers as a defensive strategy. That said, part of it also seemed to involve some opportunities missed: the 'Riders weren't often able to tip even low, short passes which should have been ripe for the picking, and consistently lacked a second wave of defenders in position to deal with Eskimo backs and receivers after they beat the first tackle.

For now, I'm not sure there's much the 'Riders can do but chalk it up to missing personnel and luck, and work on making a few more big plays once the games start to count again. But it surely can't be a good sign that the D couldn't take advantage of a game which seemed ideally suited to its philosophy.

Meanwhile, the special teams were fairly consistent with the recent pattern since Ryan Grice-Mullen joined the team: a number of fairly respectable returns, coupled with a few absolutely disastrous plays that put the team in a hole it couldn't escape. This time it was Grice-Mullen fumbling the game's opening kickoff and the coverage team allowing Jason Armstead a touchdown on his first punt return that stood out in the negative department - but it's hard not to see the problem as systemic at this point, as every time the 'Riders paper over one glaring flaw in their special teams another one seems to emerge.

We'll find out soon whether the 'Riders will ever manage to get their act together in 2010, or whether the best of this season is squarely behind them. But an all-unit collapse against a likely playoff opponent surely can't bode well for later on - and it remains to be seen if the 'Riders have any answers left.

By the numbers

Number of consecutive columns by Lorne Gunter bleating solely about how right-wingers should be paid to spout even bigoted comments which reflect poorly on an employer: 2.
Number of columns in which Lorne Gunter accuses left-wingers of hypocrisy in only valuing speech for their side: 1.
Number of times Lorne Gunter has bothered to mention the lone recent example of an individual actually (and repeatedly) being arrested in North America for the crime of expressing his opinion: Take a wild guess.

(Edit: fixed wording.)