Saturday, March 12, 2011

On hostile climates

I've noted on many occasions - and still think it's one of many serious flaws in the party's supposed "steady hand" brand - that the federal Cons hold the dubious distinction of throwing massive sums of money at the two most wasteful climate change programs on the planet. And it shouldn't be any surprise that the same government which was so eager to put forward programs that don't work has once again decided to demolish the ones that do (no matter how effective they are in both environmental protection and job creation):
Federal clean-energy programs on the chopping block have slashed megatonnes of pollution and created thousands of jobs, according to an internal government report.

Although the Harper government has delayed releasing the findings that it received more than a week ago, Postmedia News has learned they reveal some climate programs were among the most cost-effective at reducing pollution and stimulating the economy.

The internal review by the Natural Resources Department concluded that the programs were expected to deliver about 20 million tonnes in ongoing reductions of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere by 2012 while sparking $25 billion in new investments from other stakeholders outside of the federal government, according to a summary obtained by Postmedia News.
NDP natural resources critic Nathan Cullen said the government is jeopardizing Canadian jobs by protecting oil and gas interests and creating a hostile environment for renewable energy development.

"This government has knowingly aided the death of the green energy industry in Canada and I have those people in my office all the time saying: 'We're leaving. We can't take this environment anymore. We have a hostile government,'" Cullen said in an interview.

"They're not even asking for what Europe and the Americans are offering. They just want something that would be a little more (in line with) the other energy sources and this government seems to have it out for them (in the green energy industry)."

Well said

Ian Welsh discusses the difference between an economic system based on long-term development and one based on short-term extraction. And it shouldn't come as much surprise which we currently have in place:
Here’s the rule, whenever greed becomes a primary motivator, and an acceptable primary motivator in a society, the society burns itself down. It extracts money by destroying actual long term value. This has been going on in the West, with its most extreme forms in the US, for over 30 years.

But as a society, what you get is money while destroying actual value. The society as a whole is poorer than it would have been otherwise.

An actual capitalist society (which we do not live in) makes cashing out very difficult. You don’t want people creating money by destroying value, and you don’t want viable ongoing concerns arbitrarily destroyed or weakened. Whenever a company is bought out by borrowing the money, then making that company take on a loan to pay back the original loan and then another loan to pay the buyers even more money, money has been extracted while value has been destroyed (layoffs and other cost cutting inevitably follow).

As a society, allowing this sort of behaviour is death. You must make sure that people do better by adding value than by destroying it. Forceful short term extraction of money destroys value. The only profits that most people should see are long term profits. Want to get rich? Great. Either create something genuinely new under the sun (and no, Facebook is not something genuinely new, it is merely the winner in a market someone was going to win) or stick it out for a good twenty to forty years, taking your legitimate profit each year.

When you make it possible for people to get rich by destroying jobs that actually create value, by destroying companies which are actually viable, you are destroying your own society’s prosperity.

Full circle

That's right: Tom Lukiwski has the gall to rerun "the civil service made us do it" in response to breaches of privilege including one based on his party's fabricating and lying about advice from the civil service.

Somewhere, a hastily altered memo stating that the Cons' contempt of Parliament is ^NOT a problem awaits its turn in the spotlight.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted material for your weekend reading.

- Yes, Tabatha Southey's latest is on the hilarious side. But sadly, it's worth noting that even giving the Cons credit for being willing to tell the truth only in response to the correct question (which requires specific knowledge of the answer) is too generous: is there really any evidence that their response even to the right question is anything but to repeat their pre-fabricated talking points?

- The Mound of Sound posts on state capture by corporate interests:
Corporatism is now insinuating itself between legislators and the voting public whenever and wherever that suits its interests. None of this could happen without a willingly and thoroughly corrupt political class which is pretty much an apt description for America's "bought and paid for" Congress. As we transition into a full-fledged petro-state we too will have to be constantly aware of the susceptibility of our own political classes to Corporatist corruption. But being aware is not enough. This has to be fought back because it won't go away on its own.
- Meanwhile, there doesn't seem to me much doubt which needs and values are being utterly ignored as the Cons look to cater to the corporate sector:
With so many recommendations and so much time and thought put into developing them, how can the Harper government justify tossing it aside with barely a glance?

They’ve had practice, for one. In 2009, a Senate subcommittee released an anti-poverty plan, which, if anything, covered too much ground with 74 recommendations. The government took no action on that report despite its chilling conclusion that, far from lifting people out of poverty, many of our existing programs are so badly designed that they hold people down.
No one is disputing that Ottawa already puts substantial funding into programs that help the poor but the fact remains that more than 3 million Canadians are still living in poverty.

That makes it astonishing that the Conservative government is so ready to dismiss any thoughtful advice on what it can and should do to help those suffering Canadians achieve more productive, happier lives.
- And at the end of an otherwise gloomy column, Gerald Caplan suggests that now may just be the time for the NDP to run a successful campaign by highlighting the issues that the Cons have been working so hard to ignore:
There’s a powerful, exciting and unanswerable campaign to run against Mr. Harpergovernment, especially by the NDP. The target is broad as a battleship, the issues irresistible – a government that can neither be trusted nor afforded. The examples are legion; there are almost too many to keep track of. But me, I’d begin with inequality and the multiple ways it’s increasing, thanks to corporate tax cuts, tax havens, tax loopholes, tax evasions, tax subsidiaries and government subsidies to corporations. There’s a very explicit class war being waged out there, with the government as enthusiastic enabler of the filthy rich getting even filthier at the direct expense of the rest of us. This is the perfect NDP issue since the Chrétien-Martin governments were active collaborators in this unrelenting war against the middle and lower classes.

What a campaign Mr. Layton could run on these issues. He could easily produce a new case every day throughout the entire campaign that would shock and outrage most Canadians. Jaded New Democrats would be revitalized. The many progressives disgusted with the present political system would be re-inspired.

This is why the NDP was founded. This is what the NPD exists for.

An election? Bring it on!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Musical interlude

Kaskade & Seamus Haji feat. Haley - So Far Away

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- PCS is trying to project the royalties it would pay at far higher prices and production levels to avoid the talk of a royalty review. (I wonder when the province may have gotten in trouble buying into potash producers' spin rather than thinking for itself...) But Erin offers the right response:
(I)f PotashCorp sells twice as much potash at nearly double the price, it will pay substantial royalties and taxes. I hope so.

I am by no means pessimistic about the potash industry’s future. But given that PotashCorp has kept prices high by limiting supply, projections based on doubling both prices and supply should be taken with a grain of salt (or some other salt-like mineral.)
- Murray Dobbin raises the question of what we've come to accept as normal under the Harper Cons:
Harper wants us all depressed, disengaged and running, screaming, from politics. He is counting on the denigration of the political culture to secure a majority in the next (ugh) election. Harper -- whether by design or just the serendipitous result of his malignant narcissism -- has made politics so profoundly offensive and almost unbearable, that perhaps the only people who really want to get involved are the pre-pubescent junk yard dogs he has hired throughout his government to bully and insult and attack anything that moves. I wonder, sometimes, if they aren't ordered to inject themselves with speed every morning -- like the U.S.-sponsored Contras in Nicaragua used to do (it made them even more nuts than they already were -- and willing to do anything).

Have people adjusted to this new normal in Canadian national politics to the extent that they don't even recognize the newest outrage? Do they -- and I realize that most Canadians still do reject this government and its mean little dictator -- simply ratchet down their expectations of what kind of behaviour is to be expected of politicians? Is there a limit to bad political news beyond which people experience a numbing effect -- like soldiers and other experience during war time? I know friends of mine who were political junkies now avoid the news and political conversations.

One of the successes of the political right over the past 25 years has been its lowering of people's expectations of what is possible -- that is, what is possible from government. Campaigns focused on the deficit in the early 1990s, huge cuts to social spending by Paul Martin as finance minister, the relentless propaganda that we can't afford anything any more (despite the fact that we are twice as wealthy per capital today as when Medicare was established) and the general demonization of government and government employees, has had a terrible impact on people's trust in government. And of course when you cut funding to services they do inevitably deteriorate and further convince people that government just can't do it any more.

It's only a matter of time that those lowered expectations begin to erode participation in elections -- the process that creates government. If you believe that government won't deliver the goods no matter who you vote for it could get harder and harder to convince yourself that it's worth voting. Then add in Harper's importation of the hateful political tactics of the U.S. Republican Party and you have what may be, for many people, the last straw.
- From the "so what else is new?" department: the Sask Party's choice to prioritize privatization over effectiveness in the health sector is falling well short of the promised results. At least, for those who actually thought the point was to reduce wait times rather than to find a way to create profit motives in more of the health care system.

- Finally, it's easy enough to see the potential appeal of a "Layton Liberal" strategy on the part of the federal NDP. But I'll be curious to see whether that results in any functional difference from the 2008 strategy, as it doesn't sound like focusing on Layton in contrast to a Lib leader who doesn't connect well with Canadians will make for much of a change from last time out.

On efficient investments

George Monbiot's set of suggestions for the positive goals of the UK anti-austerity protest has come under some fire. But it does point out a rather noteworthy bit of analysis from Richard Murphy on the real costs and benefits of employing public sector workers:
Put it another way: 92% of the cost of cutting a £25,000 a year job when we have less than full employment is paid by the state.

In that case it is abundantly clear that paying to keep people in work pays – especially and even particularly if what they do has long term benefit that saves cost into the future. That cost saving – for instance from green efficiencies - has only to be £2,000 for it to be entirely worthwhile creating a job out of government spending to keep this person in work.

And that is before any account is taken of the social costs of being in employment, which are substantial in terms of reduced crime, improved educational outcome, better health, and more besides.
Now, Murphy's analysis is based on a single example, and I'd be highly interested if there's a way to look at the numbers in more detail. But at the very least, Murphy offers a useful starting point to counter the usual biased set of options where tax cuts are seen as having infinite collateral benefits which justify ignoring obvious up-front revenue losses, while public-sector spending is seen as nothing but a cost. And if it's indeed true that nearly the entire cost of employing a public worker is effectively returned to the public even before the worker's contribution on the job is taken into account, then the case for cutting jobs looks to fall apart completely.

Your money, their PR

Alice makes a noteworthy observation about the Cons' latest publicly-funded ad blitz:
The $4 million reportedly set aside for an intense 10-day ad blitz to promote the March 22 federal budget represents about two to three weeks worth of election campaign advertising for the three main parties, according to their 2008 election campaign returns.
The expected buy comes in the wake of a very heavy government ad buy to promote Canada's "Economic Action Plan" and a number of other government initiatives in child health, product safety, and immigration; along with a series of pre-election ad volleys by all four english-language political parties in recent weeks and days.

At this rate, Canadians will be wanting an election just to see the volume of advertising reduced!
But the real problem is that the cost of ad spending involved in the Cons utterly saturating Canada's airwaves shouldn't be news at all given that it's pretty much par for the course under the Harper regime.

As Alice notes, the budget blitz of $400,000 per day makes for more spending than we'd normally see from the Cons during the course of an election campaign (roughly $300,000 per day). But compared to the Cons' usual government advertising expenses outside an election period over the past couple of years, the number doesn't particularly stand out.

In fact, in 2009 (the last year for which full numbers are available), the Cons spent $130 million on advertising - an average of over $350,000 per day for the entire year. And there's little reason to think they've reined in their propensity for self-promotion (on your dime of course) in the meantime.

So all indications are that a campaign wouldn't just mean a reduction in Con-friendly advertising compared to this month's budget blitz. In fact, for the last two-plus years the Cons have spent public money on advertising at a level consistent with campaign saturation - meaning that the main difference in a campaign figures to be that for once, the Cons' message will be matched ad for ad by the other parties.

[Edit: fixed link.]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Susan Delacourt is far too kind to the Cons in suggesting they've made some reasonable case based on "value" during their time in office. So let's serve up a reminder of, say, the CRA cuts that have led to $7 billion in back taxes going uncollected. Or a stimulus program that deliberately prioritized PR over value for money. Or their proud stewardship of the least efficient climate change programs on the planet.

Need I go on?

- Which isn't to say that their ethical failings don't also make for a compelling reason to want to be rid of the Harper Cons.

- Alice points out what looks to be a first in Canadian political advertising, as the NDP has managed to use QR codes on billboards to direct interested passersby to their new Quebec ads. Which makes for a particularly interesting development given that both the billboards and the ads themselves are decidedly simplistic - but it's well worth keeping an eye out for the NDP's level of success in reaching new demographics through higher-tech advertising techniques.

- Finally, David Forbes is the latest to make the case for rentn controls in Saskatchewan. (A nice read for the start of Seven Days for Rent Control.) And in the opposite corner, David Seymour makes the profound counterpoint that rent controls which don't apply to all rent...don't apply to all rent. This is not a close bout.

On broad support

It remains to be seen whether they'll be able to move votes in an election campaign. But there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that the NDP holds the strongest position when it comes to public perceptions of its signature policies:
The latest Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey suggests Canadians are siding with the Liberals and the NDP on the issue of corporate tax cuts and help for the elderly.

The show of support for the NDP's demand that the next budget include an increase in the guaranteed income supplement for seniors was the most striking, with 87 per cent of those polled backing the idea.
Meanwhile, the New Democrats say their price tag for supporting the March 22 budget and avoiding an election includes help for retired seniors and removing the GST levy from home heating, which not surprisingly gets 79 per cent backing in the poll.
Of course, most of the political debate over the past couple of years has focused on the issues being pressed by the Cons and Libs - which explains in part why they don't have any such high numbers among their proposals. But it's not as if the NDP's proposals haven't come under some scrutiny as well, particularly from the Cons trying to pretend that we can't afford to spend a dime on anything new other than prisons, planes and PR. And the fact that the NDP can nonetheless count on 4 out of 5 Canadians backing its main platform planks has to make for a major advantage if we're indeed headed to the polls.

On roadblocks

The good news: the NDP's bill to facilitate the flow of AIDS drugs to poor countries has passed the House of Commons, signalling the approval of Canada's actual elected representatives. (Which looks to reflect some strong outside pressure over the past week, as the Libs in particular did everything they could to dismiss the bill before eventually voting for it.)

The bad news: the Senate's unelected nonrepresentatives will now get the chance to kill the bill.

So to those who would benefit from a supply of affordable drugs where they're needed most, take heart: Canada would be willing to help if Stephen Harper's cronies weren't standing in the way.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Travaillons ensemble

These may be the least flashy ads we'll see on the Canadian political scene for some time to come.

But they position the NDP nicely within a Quebec scene where the Bloc is looking to make support for a coalition into a campaign's key issue - highlighting both issues where the NDP can claim a more principled stance than their competitors, and the value of cooperation in general. And that can only add to the growing likelihood that the NDP will shatter its previous Quebec bests next time the country goes to the polls.

Groundhog Day

So much for the speculation about signs the Libs might be ready to try to defend a position against the Cons; apparently, Michael Ignatieff is still afraid of his own shadow. Six more months of Harper government, here we come.

Wednesday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Armine Yalnizyan presents the economic case to avoid further corporate tax cuts, featuring in particular a clear indication of how past cuts have failed to have the intended effect:
Little impact on investments: Federal corporate tax rates have fallen from 28 per cent in 2000 to 18 per cent in 2010. Business investment (in non-residential structures and equipment) as a share of GDP was 12.4 per cent in 2000. It was also 12.4 per cent in 2009, and on track for the same in 2010.

There are many things that drive business investment practices and while taxes are a consideration, they are not the primary factor in investment decisions. The historical evidence shows a commitment to this strategy is a costly faith-based proposition.
- Silly pogge. Don't we know by now that information only has value if it's priced out of the view of the rabble?

- I'll strongly disagree with Dubya's take on the range of possible outcomes if the NDP enters into a coalition following a future election. But it's particularly worth noting the reason why the NDP has the potential to avoid the problems faced by junior partners elsewhere who have bargained away their policy beliefs in exchange for nominal roles in government, as all evidence to date suggests that the NDP's priorities run in the exact opposite (and in my view correct) direction.

- Finally, Dan Gardner points out that we've been at exactly the same stage in an oil-dependency cycle before - and that it shouldn't be particularly difficult to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Subject to change

Jeffrey Simpson nicely summarizes the target demographic for the Cons' substance-free attack ads:
An even more important group is what we might pejoratively call the ill-informed and uninterested. These are voters who don’t follow politics, don’t track issues, are aware only in the vaguest way of what governments do (except levy taxes) and make up their minds (if they vote at all) largely on the basis of image and impressions of party leaders. These are often “swing” voters in that they don’t have anchors in partisanship or issues. They’re heavily influenced by what they see on TV, since they get almost all of their political information from that medium.

When, for example, the Conservatives were holding focus groups before their first attack ads against Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, they found that voters were only vaguely aware he’d spent a lot of time outside Canada. When respondents discovered how long he’d lived abroad, they became decidedly more negative. Hence, the attack ads’ focus on the length of time Mr. Ignatieff was out of Canada.
But the flip side looks to be just as important as the status quo: the less people who are "ill-informed and uninterested", the less incentive parties will see to attack minor personality traits rather than spending more time dealing with real issues. And while Simpson is unfortunately right that the current tactical arsenal doesn't figure to change in the near future, it's well worth working on engaging the broader public in other ways so that attack-ad trivia doesn't look like such an effective means of shifting votes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Frenzied cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading:

- Susan Delacourt asks some necessary questions about what we should expect out of our federal government:
* Is this the Government of Canada or "the Harper government"?
* Who's issuing cheques? The Government of Canada or the Conservative party?
* Do we have a minister of immigration or a minister of (very ethnic) new Conservative recruits?
* Who's bankrolling the Conservatives' public-relations campaign against their enemies? Is it the Conservative party or you, the taxpayers?
* Do we decide our international-aid priorities based on expert advice or partisan concerns?
* And when did the Prime Minister's Office become responsible for campaign-personnel announcements?
- And Lawrence Martin has some ideas about how we should be answering such concerns:
During the Chrétien government years, I reported extensively on malfeasance by the Liberals. To do the math on the Harper government is to conclude that, while it has no sponsorship scandal on its books, it’s already surpassed its predecessor on a range of other abuse-of-power indices.

The government’s arc of duplicity is remarkable to behold. And there are more revelations to come. It may not happen in the next election, but there will be a tipping point and the PM and his ministers will pay the price.
- Meanwhile, whoever is benefitting from Con largesse, we can be fairly certain it isn't the Canadians who need the help the most.

- And finally, from the "making things worse by measuring them" department, Daniel Leblanc reports on the treatment of access to information requests that are seen as not worth bothering with since they're already late:
While many people believe the system basically operates on a first-come-first-serve principle, the reality is far different.

What is happening, in fact, is that departments try to get as many requests as possible out the door within the legally mandated timeframe. That way, when the Office of the Information Commissioner releases its annual report, departments can claim they adequately processed a number of requests, and, hopefully, get a good grade and avoid embarrassment.

That process, however, leaves some files sitting in the system, because they have already been deemed to be failures and no amount of work can restore their status. “Once a file is late, it’s late. There is nothing that can change that,” the civil servant said. “A day late, a month late, a year late, it’s all the same. It’s late.”

In that context, ATI workers focus their efforts on “trying to save the files that they can.” The other files, meanwhile, are left in limbo for years.
And of course it shouldn't escape mention that particularly sensitive files - i.e. the ones more likely to be seen as requiring political oversight which delays the release of anything - would figure to be all the more likely to end up in the "don't bother" pile.

On showing up

The gap between Canada's federal parties in terms of basic issues like attendance and proposed legislation has been pointed out plenty of times before. But the Globe and Mail's latest analysis shows that one trend in particular only looks to be getting stronger with time:
The Liberals, perhaps still uncomfortable in the role of opposition, have the worst voting attendance record – accounting for 43 of the 50 MPs who missed the most votes in the past two years. They also had a high number of dissenters.

The Conservatives, determined to hang on to power, exerted the firmest grip over their members, not only making sure few members miss votes but also keeping most backbenchers silent and not tolerating much voting against the grain.

The NDP and the Bloc Québécois both scored high in attendance. The NDP also had the most free-minded backbench, with more than two-thirds of its caucus dissenting at least once from the majority party line.
So what's particularly striking about the Libs' attendance record? Keep in mind that the party currently holds only 25% of the seats in the House of Commons - yet based on the Globe's analysis, it boasts 86% of the worst attendance records among MPs.

That means that well over half of the Libs' caucus stands out compared to other MPs for sheer failure to participate in votes in the House. And even better, it means that despite the gap in overall seats between the parties, the NDP and Libs are effectively even in the number of MPs among the top 258 in attendance - with the Libs leading by only a count of 34-33.

And all this while the Libs' previous excuses for poor attendance records (particularly the '06 leadership race) are obviously no longer operative.

Mind you, it's true enough (as Aaron Wherry notes) that better attendance alone likely won't fix all of the problems currently ailing Canada's parliamentary system. But it surely can't help matters if MPs themselves send the message that they can't be bothered to show up. And the Libs are by far the worst offenders when it comes to devaluing the work of Parliament on that front.

[Edit: Corrected math in party standings.]

Baby steps

There's still a long way to go from speculation to action - and the Libs are notorious for finding a way to chicken out. But having regularly criticized the Libs for failing to make a case that any of the Cons' abuses should result in any consequences, I'll at least note that it's for the best that they're considering making a case to bring down the Harper government rather than ending every criticism of the Cons with nothing more than "so, um, yeah!"

On foreseeable abuses

It's undoubtedly for the best that Jason Kenney is facing heavy scrutiny for misusing both Parliamentary and ministerial resources in trying to strongarm immigrant communities into supporting the Cons. But it's worth keeping in mind that the Cons' manipulations are nothing new or surprising.

In fact, it was under Diane Finley that the Cons first set up a system which allows the minister to set priority lists by fiat. And I noted at that time that such centralized and politicized power would be easily abused:
Remember that as part of the Cons' ethnic targeting strategy, they've already written off "one-fifth of all ethnic groups" as unlikely to vote for the Cons under any circumstances. By assigning to the minister the ability to set up "categories" by fiat, the Cons would be able to conveniently exclude applications from those communities who wouldn't figure to help their electoral cause.

And the potential for abuse only gets worse when considering how the other 80% of ethnic communities would be treated. Particularly if the Cons do plan on paying more attention to economic immigrants than other types, there figures to be a limited number of spots available in other categories - making a position at the top of any category list essential for any community which wants to be able to bring new members across the border in the future. Which would enable the Cons to force different communities to compete as to who does the most to help out their partisan cause, and give top priority to whoever answers the call.
And matters have only gotten worse since Kenney was installed in the position, as he's quite transparently fought to create barriers to citizenship in groups which aren't likely to support the Cons, while sending the message that support for his party is a prerequisite to funding for community groups.

All of which is to say that any effort to dig into the conflict between Kenney's responsibilities as Immigration Minister and his hyperpartisan actions looks highly likely to bear fruit - particularly if the groups who have been set up to compete for the Cons' affections are willing to speak out about what he's been up to. And hopefully the sheer volume of possible stories will help Kenney's abuses to register more with the general public than stories focused on one-time issues.

Update: Impolitical has more.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Monday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- I wouldn't go as far as he does in suggesting a need for austerity. But Barrie McKenna nicely highlights the waste involved in the Cons' self-promotion blitz:
You can’t turn on a TV these days without seeing one of the government’s messages.

The problem is that the Action Plan money is all but gone, making the term “action plan” a bit of a misnomer.

The government’s plan is more than two years old and the once-yawning federal surplus is now a deficit. Ottawa is borrowing money on your tab to explain where the cash went.

Surely, it’s just a coincidence that the ad campaign matches the Conservative government’s political message in the lead-up to the next federal budget, and a possible spring election.

Put aside for a moment the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is running his next campaign with your money.

The message is also disturbingly disingenuous. The reality presented in the ads obscures the financial condition of the federal government and the major fiscal challenges that lie ahead.
- Meanwhile, David Olive writes about the reasons to doubt that a major part of the deficit will produce any positive results:
The non-financial sector of Corporate Canada already is sitting on $489 billion in idle cash, awaiting certainty that it’s not in danger of a double-dip downturn. In the U.S., that figure is more than $2 trillion (U.S.) What business needs is a recovery in consumer and export markets, not an additional taxpayer-financed windfall at the expense of other social priorities.

The Tories’ own finance ministry economists aren’t alone in regarding corporate tax cuts as the weakest of stimulus tools. Most economists prefer infrastructure spending as a powerful short-term job creator. Which incidentally provides the schools, hospitals, roads and water systems that businesses rely on, too.
Even without the tax-cut regime the Tories launched in 2007, Canada’s 25 largest publicly traded companies alone created 112,564 new jobs between 2005 and 2010. (The last two of those were Great Recession years.)

Yet many of those new jobs, notably in the case of the Big Five banks, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and Bombardier, have been created outside Canada as our firms increasingly expand beyond our borders. And many companies restored to pre-recession profitability have spent heavily on efficient machinery that reduces payrolls. Or they’ve been lavishing their restored profits on dividends, share buybacks and executive bonuses.

There are better ways to stimulate the economy.
- In reporting on the Cons' smears against critics of their fighter-jet disaster in the making, David Pugliese serves up a quote nicely suited to stories about most of the Harper government's personal attacks:
In the e-mail Hawn says Defence Department officials working on the JSF project have integrity and experience while suggesting those who question the aircraft program are ill-informed.

“We also have a guy named Mike Slack, who has been exclusively involved with JSF for close to 10 years, and who knows the BS that former ADM (Mat) Alan Williams is spreading,” Hawn writes.
Neither Hawn, Slack, nor the Defence Department could provide details about the “BS” that Williams was allegedly spreading.
- Finally, it may be of limited use as long as the Cons feel free to thumb their nose at access to information law in any event. But a review of the use of cabinet confidences would figure to go a long way in eliminating the rationale for centralizing power over both substantive decisions and information in the PMO for the sake of avoiding any public accountability.

On channels worth watching

Obviously the Greens seem to have felt they needed to include some NDP content in their meta attack on attack ads.

But the NDP content they've chosen to criticize is drawn from this ad. And it's well worth asking whether the Greens hope to paint themselves as an alternative by making the remarkable case that Canada's political system would somehow be better served spending less time dealing with, say, child poverty and the damage caused by the oil sands (both of which are visible in the screen shots attacked by the Greens).

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Alex Himelfarb nicely highlights the need for citizens to get involved in driving political activity rather than counting on parties to handle it for them:
Preston Manning recently wrote an insightful piece on the limits of political parties and the importance of an independent civil society. Political parties, Manning says, too easily become machines designed only for winning, more skilled at identifying and avoiding risk than at developing public policy. Parties increasingly treat us not as citizens but as consumers. It’s easier. Rather than engaging us in honest but risky debates, they market themselves, pandering to our preferences, feeding our prejudices, and smearing their opponents. Manning argues that grassroots social movements are key to getting unstuck. They are, he says, an essential element of our “democratic infrastructure” and have been at the heart of most important social and political change here and throughout the world. He has a point. Big change involves risk and difficult trade offs, exactly what governments prefer to avoid and political parties typically duck.

Put simply, we only get Parliament that matters if citizens force the issue. Absent an engaged and independent civil society, we get the politics of banality and brutality, pretending that we can balance the books without real sacrifice, that climate change will right itself, that crime policies that have never worked anywhere will make us safer, and that there’s just not much we can do about growing inequality so why talk about it. And here lies the Catch-22: Citizens become further disenchanted; elections and parties lose their hold. And we stay stuck, unable even to begin to address the big issues.
Surely, sooner or later, we will say “enough”. Surely, sooner or later, we will stop waiting for inspiration from a new political saviour. Sooner or later, we will say we cannot simply stand and watch. We are talking more these days about democracy. We seem increasingly to understand that however fortunate we may be, we cannot afford to be complacent. And, most important, some Canadians, often young Canadians, are getting involved, increasingly taking responsibility, not waiting for our political leaders or political parties, both locally and globally, independent of government, to do what they can to make things better.

But if we are to make our democracy stronger, we need new forms of association, new ways to engage citizens in defining the Canada they want and the options for getting there and for making our democracy work.
Which isn't to say that parties don't have important choices to make as well in determining how much (or how little) to engage with the public and with grassroots participants. But those decisions are far more likely to come down on the right side if citizens are already working to make sure they get heard.

- Meanwhile, it's also worth noting what parties can do to encourage - or discourage - citizens from. And on that point, I agree generally with Stephen's take on the B.C. NDP's social media policy debate.

Simply put, a party that puts more of its energy into filtering out interested members based on mere image issues than defending their right to participate is one which is unnecessarily limiting the number of people who can possibly see themselves getting involved. And the current argument over Nicholas Simons' refusal to turn over personal passwords looks like a classic example of risk-averse party figures erring on the side of the former consideration.

- Michael Lewis points out the windfall that banks have received from corporate tax cuts (with little if any indication that it figures to result in any associated economic growth):
Banks paid as little as $2 billion in total tax in 2008 when their profits were hit by the financial crisis and as much as $8.7 billion in 2010 when their earnings recovered sharply, according to Statistics Canada. Banks including TD and RBC, Canada’s most profitable corporation, reported record earnings this week, with TD paying out its first dividend to shareholders in more than two years.

Banks will gain half a billion dollars alone from cuts in Ontario’s corporate income tax and elimination of the provincial corporate capital tax, said Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, also based in Ottawa.
Economists estimate the finance industry as a whole will save $1.5 billion annually once planned reductions in the federal corporate income tax rate from 18 per cent last year, to 16.5 per cent in 2011 and 15 per cent in 2012 are in place.

That $1.5 billion, coincidentally, is exactly what the federal government estimates it would have cost to temporarily expand benefits for Canada’s unemployed, an extension that is being eliminated this month under the Harper government’s plan to phase out its stimulus package.

“Instead, (Ottawa) will now spend $1.5 billion per year to enhance after-tax profits in the financial industry,” said Jim Stanford, an author and economist at the Canadian Auto Workers union.

- Charlie Smith notes that a more diverse group of candidates could help the B.C. NDP in seats beyond those occupied by the new recruits.

- Finally, Heather Mallick highlights yet another reason to be wary of the Harper Cons' attempts to redefine Canada's political landscape:
George Orwell, wintry conscience of the English language, said that the great enemy of clear language was insincerity. “When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims,” one turns one’s claws on language. Harper has always been a spiteful man, a yeller at work who was forced to tone it down in public.

But he cannot help himself. The terrorizing of officials and the rewriting of language are revealing the malevolence that lies beneath Harper’s hair. It is ungood, to use Orwell’s Newspeak. It is crimethink.

On bright ideas

One of the key proposals worth highlighting from the Saskatchewan NDP's policy review is a Bright Futures Fund which will ensure that one-time resource revenues are reserved for the longer-term benefit of the province - making for an ideal contrast against the short-sightedness of the Sask Party. But don't take my word for it when even Bruce Johnstone is on board:
Another NDP bright idea worth looking at is the Bright Futures Fund, which was contained in a draft policy paper released this week that will form the party's 2011 election campaign platform.

The Bright Futures Fund would be modelled after Norway's sovereign wealth fund, which has been investing a portion of the country's North Sea oil and gas production for the last 15 years.

The fund now has $518 billion in investments, or one per cent of global stocks, and allows the Norwegian government to spend about four per cent of its value every year on services for its citizens.

Alberta's 35-year-old Heritage Fund is another example of a 'legacy fund' that collects about 30 per cent of the province's non-renewable resource revenues and has generated about $32 billion in investment income since 1976.

The Bright Futures Fund will "maximize the benefits of our non-renewable resource revenues for current and future generations of Saskatchewan citizens," the NDP says.

The key word is here "future" generations. As stewards of the province's resource riches, we have no right to spend non-renewable resource revenues as if they were ongoing sources of revenue. By definition, they're not. They're sales of assets that should remain on the province's balance sheet, not shovelled into the maw of government spending.

Therefore, we should save a portion, say one-third, of those resource revenues in some sort of fund to be invested solely to generate income for future generations.
It's not only good public policy; it's the right thing to do.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

(Your Colour Here) Libs

John Ibbitson's latest is worth highlighting mostly for a distinction which I'd think deserves more attention:
There are a great many voters who are socially liberal but fiscally conservative. In the past, they have supported the Liberal Party, in part because it won elections and in part because these voters distrusted the strain of social intolerance they detected within the Progressive Conservative/Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative parties.

We could call these people Manley Liberals, in honour of John Manley, the former Chrétien cabinet minister who is currently the head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Many Manley Liberals will have noted that the Liberal Party no longer wins elections, and that it reversing many of its own former policies.

As it becomes increasingly clear that Mr. Harper is keeping whatever socially conservative tendencies he might have in check, the temptation for Manley Liberals to switch to the Conservatives grows.
So what's important about Ibbitson's description? I'd argue that he takes a step toward ending the usual "red Lib/blue Lib" dichotomy - even as he misses the significance of the distinction by painting them as properties of blue Libs generally.

On the one hand, there's certainly reason to separate out blue Libs as normally described, being those who hold an ideological position favouring economic conservatism and (in some cases) social liberalism. And there's not much doubt that such a wing would naturally be attracted to the Cons if the Libs become weaker - which is where the Cons' efforts to split up the Libs' coalition make sense.

But there's also a third group which I'd describe as the (Your Colour Here) Libs, being the substantial element of the party which is mostly attracted to the prospect of playing a significant role in winning power regardless of what policies get implemented as a result. (The current litmus test for this group: anybody who's arguing as fervently against corporate tax cuts now as they argued for them back when the Libs were the ones proposing them.)

Now, some within the third branch may wish to take the easiest path to power via the Cons. And indeed at least a few have already done so.

But those who have stuck with the Libs thus far figure to be more attracted to a party which offers the chance to stake out a position within a developing governing coalition, rather than one with a top-down structure which reserves plum positions for those who have demonstrated past loyalty. So there's reason for hope that if the Lib coalition splits, enough of its component parts might well gravitate toward a progressive alternative to give the NDP (or other left competitor) a strong chance at winning power in short order.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- Pay no attention to mere pesky Nobel laureates with their baseless concern about Canada's consumer debt levels and housing prices. As long as Stephen Harper is sitting at a desk feigning concern, what could possibly go wrong with Canada's economy?

- Meanwhile, the Star tears into Harper over his party's contempt for Canada's election laws:
The Conservatives only invite more scorn by persisting with their threadbare claim that they are the victims of an “administrative dispute” and differences over “interpretations” of the law. As Liberal Dominic LeBlanc slyly noted in Parliament, “Mr. Speaker, there will be a lot of people in federal prisons tonight who will think they had an ‘administrative disagreement’ with the federal government.”

A party that campaigned to restore ethical governance cannot be comfortable being likened to criminals in denial, with election speculation in the air. Harper would do better to cut his losses, bow to Elections Canada’s better judgment, and accept responsibility for a sad chapter in the party’s history. This just gets worse.
- In case anybody was operating under the illusion that the Cons' Senate interference with the will of elected MPs was a one-time problem, no such luck:
Supporters are now optimistic the bill will pass when it comes to a vote Wednesday. The New Democrats and Bloc Québécois are solidly in favour, as are most Liberals and even a handful of Conservatives.

That doesn’t mean it will become law, however. MP Glen Pearson, the Liberal critic for international co-operation, says Conservatives have told him it will be killed in the government-controlled Senate. It could also die if there’s an early election.
But that should serve as reason to turf the Cons as soon as possible - since the longer they have to stack the Senate, the more time it will take for any alternative government to be able to actually pass legislation.

- Finally, great news out of my home riding of Wascana, as U of R professor Marc Spooner has put his name forward as the NDP's candidate for the next federal election. There's plenty of work to be done in both winning over votes which currently default to Ralph Goodale and working to boost turnout in parts of the riding which see woeful participation at all levels of government, but Spooner's profile and focus on housing issues should make him an ideal candidate for the effort.

Deep thought

"Yeah, but at least we didn't take kickbacks!!!" was a nice Con talking point while it lasted. I look forward to the transition to "Yeah, but we're no worse than the Libs were!".

Reason to reevaluate

Yesterday, I figured it should be obvious why it would be reckless for the Sask Party to figure that it can coast on policies that haven't been given any thought since 2003. But in case there's any doubt whether anything has happened in the meantime that would cause any remotely competent government to reconsider its economic model...
So the Irish government bailed out the banksters, cut public spending, and their economy is in the (#@*^&).
Unemployment is up to 13.8 percent (it was as low as 4.2 percent as recently as 2005); public spending has been savagely and repeatedly cut since 2008; the deficit has risen to 14.3 percent; and current predictions suggest that 100,000 people will emigrate in the next several years, from a population of 4.3 million. The bill from the struggling banks may, in the end, total upward of $135 billion 100 billion euros, in an economy with a G.D.P. of $220 billion 160 billion euros.
Truly, the Wall government doesn't plan to settle for any mediocre failure when it can instead continue down a road which leads to an all-out catastrophe. But the rest of us don't seem to have much reason to want to go along with a plan to turn Saskatchewan into the next Ireland - and if Wall isn't willing to learn anything from the mistakes of his ideological cousins elsewhere, then our only chance is to make sure he's not in a position to set the province's direction.