Saturday, April 09, 2011

On clear contrasts

Susan Delacourt is right to point out that all parties are running against Ottawa as it stands to at least some extent.

But it's worth noting as well the fundamental difference between the NDP running on the idea that Ottawa is broken - implying that it can and should be fixed to play a positive role in citizens' lives - and the Cons presenting the position that what's needed is a wrecking ball rather than a renovation. And while the U.S. no longer seems like it'll be providing an example of what the world looks like with no functional government, there's still reason for Canadians to ask for themselves whether their frustrations will be best resolved by renewal or by demolition.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- While the Star-Phoenix editorial board is still looking for corporate tax cuts at the first available opportunity, it's at least recognized the striking contrast in treatment between corporations being handed massive amounts of money now, and the targeted and/or delayed-reaction benefits being offered to anybody else by the Harper Cons:
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been telling Canadians, his party's promise to cut their tax by allowing income splitting and with a fitness tax credit will only be delivered when the budget is balanced, possibly in 2014-15. Couldn't the same principle apply to the corporate tax cuts, especially when the current rates demonstrably haven't proven onerous?

And if the government thinks targeted tax cuts, such as the fitness credit, work for ordinary Canadians, could not the same incentive work for corporate behaviour when it comes to investing more in plant and equipment, job creation, and innovation instead of providing a general tax reduction?

Yes, it's all very complicated, but sometimes it has to be asked, whose interests are being served.
- Meanwhile, Erin brings a Star Trek theme to his latest evisceration of corporatist talking points. And Canada Uncut takes on the tax evasion techniques of Canadian banks.

- What thwap said:
(F)or genuine progressives, honesty is the best policy. (NOT, mind you, the Liberal Party hacks on "Progressive Bloggers" who are willing to return harper to power if it means they can steal enough votes from incumbent NDPr's and strong NDP challenges to harper. That sort of scum studies up on progressive issues only so that they can get jobs explaining why their party's latest betrayals of them are necessary and good.) By "honesty is the best policy" I mean that we must honestly and fearlessly express our views. We should not be afraid of "alienating" clueless people. How is the country supposed to turn away from right-wing economic nonsense, support for NATO or Israeli imperialism, worship the rich/bury the poor social policies, or police-state values, if there's nobody out there trashing such garbage?

And people are never going to move towards democratic socialism unless we sing its praises loud and proud. If you believe in something, and the majority doesn't, you have to ask why that is so. Given the serial failures of right-wing hegemony, I'd say that we're more than justified in our belief that we are right and the majority is wrong.

Last word, ... honesty ALSO means acknowledging when your opponents are right. This doesn't mean that you have to take the time to read everything from shit-heads like Ezra Levant or Jonah Goldberg. Some people have already discredited themselves with their consistent errors and stupidities. I just mean that if you come across an opposing view that effectively challenges you worldview, engage with it honestly, ... don't run from it.
- And finally, NDP MP Peter Julian is the latest to point out why Stephen Harper doesn't want Canadians to vote or otherwise participate in politics:
(H)ow do we get Canada’s prosperity and equality back? All of us, as activists and concerned citizens, must re-engage in the political system. We must stop the take-over of our public policy and public decisions in the interests of the few at the expense of the many. That means exposing the lie that all politicians and all political parties are the same. They’re not. No political party is perfect. But the Canada’s New Democrats are made up of strong activists for social justice, economic equality, and sound environmental stewardship.

As a proud New Democrat, I ask you to surprise Stephen Harper by doing what he doesn’t want you to do: vote. Canada will be the better for it.

The cone of incivility

Yes, I'd hope that many more candidates from all parties will ultimately sign on to the Civil Election principles - and more importantly, run campaigns to match. But it's also well worth differentiating between candidates who don't sign due to lack of awareness or personal choice, and those who are outright prevented from doing so.

Which raises the question: might the Cons' cone of silence extend even to a non-binding commitment to basic civility where it conflicts with their central campaign strategies?

Saturday Morning Riding Links

A few local campaign notes for your weekend reading...

- Yes, the story receiving the most attention in Quebec today is the polling showing Thomas Mulcair with a twenty-point lead over Martin Cauchon in Outremont. And it's certainly striking to see that a riding considered a Lib stronghold for so long has reached the point where a prominent former cabinet minister is struggling to stay even slightly competitive.

- But the more noteworthy news from the standpoint of changing seat projections may be the latest from Hull-Aylmer. There, the combination of a endorsement from the Public Service Alliance of Canada and a series of missteps by the Bloc's candidate both look like significant boosts for the NDP's Nycole Turmel in one of the party's top Quebec targets - positioning Turmel at least as the clear alternative to Marcel Proulx, if not outright turning the race into a photo-finish in the making.

- In case somebody took the Cons seriously in claiming that no party would allow participants in a public event to present anything other than the party line, Jack Layton has clearly proven otherwise in his Kamloops town hall. And it's particularly worth noting Layton's willingness to answer challenges honestly rather than trying to paper over them or change the subject.

- And for those looking for their own opportunity to meet a leader who isn't afraid of questions, Layton's tour will take him to Saskatoon this morning and La Ronge this afternoon.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Musical interlude

Dirty Vegas - Electric Love

Friday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- While all parties are at least claiming to be willing to keep boosting health care funding after 2014, the impending round of health-care negotiations with the provinces still offers a rare chance to shape and improve the system in the long run. And Jack Layton is rightly questioning what will happen if the Harper Cons are left in charge of that discussion:
Media in London say Mr. Holder’s campaign wrote to the London Healthcare Coalition, which is sponsoring the April 20 debate, to say they were "puzzled" as to why federal candidates would be asked to debate health care. "I'd think this is more an issue for Deb Matthews and the provincial candidates," the campaign reply said. "We're not attracted to see Ed debate on health care.”

When told about the refusal, Mr. Layton said it demonstrates the true face of the Conservative perspective on health care.

“They don’t believe it’s a federal issue. They want to leave it to the provinces, knowing that the provinces don’t have the resources that are necessary and privatization will become the only option,” he said.

That’s why Canadians cannot trust Mr. Harper to lead the national negotiations on the renewal of the health-care financing agreements that are set to expire in 2014, Mr. Layton said.

“If Stephen Harper ends up with a mandate, then attitudes like we’re getting from Mr. Holder’s staff person are what we’re going to see behind the scenes,” he said. “If Mr. Harper is in charge of the future of health care in our country, then Canadians should be very, very worried.”
- The broader picture behind the constant efforts to slash corporate taxes in Canada naturally features the similar campaign against public services and reasonable taxes around the world. And Michael Babad cites Jeffrey Sachs on how the push has been just as destructive elsewhere as here:
Jeffrey Sachs is the director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. (He’s also committed to fighting poverty and hunger, but he’s still a real live professor.) Here’s what he told the BBC only yesterday:

“Of course, all of our countries are caught in what you could call a kind of tax arms race or what could be called a race to the bottom in fact, which is that each country is trying to get the tax rate lower than the neighbours or the competitors. The result is that everybody is cutting corporate tax rates around the board.

“It is only causing fiscal crisis everywhere and it's a kind of negative sum game, meaning that when both sides do it, neither gains the advantage relative to the other. In fact both lose by adding to the fiscal pressures and the need to then cut the education spending or the social expenditures that are crucial for making sure that the poor half of our societies can also participate and be productive members of our economies in the future.”

He pointed as an example to Ireland, the one-time Celtic Tiger that’s now a pussycat on life support and was once the envy of Europe because of its low-tax regime.

“So you sure can make a little bubble in the short term, but it's not really building the long-term platform for prosperity. Second, I wouldn't say it to Ireland alone, I would say to the European Union, the United States, Japan, other high income countries, indeed in the G20 as a whole. Let's stop this horrendous process where we are being gamed by global companies that are playing off our governments, one against the other and ending up by depriving ourselves of the productive base of our societies which after all are our skilled and educated work forces.”
- Fortunately, there's a new voice working to counter the corporate spin, as Canadians for Tax Fairness is looking to lead the charge for a more equitable tax system.

- Don Mitchell comments on the hope to replace at least a few ineffective Saskatchewan Con MPs with NDP challengers:
It's not as if Harper's herd of 13 MPs has done much for Saskatchewan. They remained totally silent during the province's campaign to resist the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan takeover by an Australian/American giant. They've taken the lead in attacking the Canadian Wheat Board and eroding its power and resources. Curiously, Saskatchewan farmers who continue to elect progressives to the Wheat Board have also been a major factor in electing sworn enemies of the board as their Members of Parliament.

Some factors which contribute to the Conservative dominance will still be in play in this election. But there is a growing basis of hope for a shift during this campaign.
- Finally, Dr. Dawg points out how the Public Service Commission is trampling on the right of public servants to participate in the federal election campaign.

On targets

The NDP has released its latest ad, focusing on the Cons' broken Senate promises:

Of course, it's always a plus to see the NDP putting some work into challenging the Senate. But I do wonder about the subject matter chosen.

After all, there are two obvious lines of attack on how the Cons have handled the Senate. And it seems slightly off the NDP's ideal message to focus on personal scandal (the Canada Elections Act charges against Irving Gerstein) rather than anti-democratic abuses (in the form of Harper's unelected nonrepresentatives defeating multiple NDP bills passed by the House of Commons).

On lose-lose choices

I suppose nobody can claim there's no difference between the Cons and Libs when it comes to climate change. After all, the Cons are countering the Libs' emission reduction plan with no meaningful targets by offering up...emission reduction targets with no meaningful plan.

(That is, other than to claim that their much-promised but never-delivered regulatory scheme "is working" - despite the hitch that it doesn't actually exist.)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Andrew Coyne's proposal for a Truth in Politics Act offers an interesting way of trying to hold politicians to their promises. But surely our current federal political scene offers the most obvious lesson as to why it would likely be ineffective.

After all, the Harper Cons have responded to every allegation of wrongdoing - however well-founded - by attacking the messenger and claiming that any attempt to hold them to account is politically motivated. And is there much doubt that anybody looking to enforce a campaign promise would immediately face exactly the same type of abuse, dragging the entire system into the same hyperpartisan political ground where the Cons so love to operate?

- Roy Romanow contrasts the pursuit of limitless resource exploitation with the choice to encourage sustainable well-being:
On Thursday, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing releases a report tracking trends in Canada’s environmental performance from 1994 to 2009. My hope is that it will empower Canadians to say, “For God’s sake, put the brakes on and turn the wheel” because we can no longer accept — in this country or any other — the degradation stemming from our seemingly endless and unsustainable appetite for fossil fuels, water, metals and energy. The notion of limitless growth is no longer a viable economic paradigm.
Fortunately, we Canadians are not caught up in some form of predetermined drift, rushing headlong toward an inescapable future. We have the collective capacity to shape our future, to decide which values we will embrace, which visions we will pursue and which policy decisions we will enact.

But preserving our natural resources and improving our environment for future generations will require more far-sighted policies and enforcement by government, better stewardship by industry and lifestyle changes by individuals.
- Kevin Milligan's analysis of the cost of the Cons' plan to hand yet more money to those who need it least is well worth a read. But Milligan's analysis does fall into the trap of focusing needlessly on the over/under line rather than the distribution of benefits on the income scale - and just as an increase in the number of people below the income-tax cutoff does absolutely nothing for those already there, so too does the line at which a household could put all of its assets into a TFSA a look rather insignificant to Canadians without plenty of capital assets to move into a plan in the first place.

[Update: I should have known Armine Yalnizyan would already be on the case.]

- I'll temper Dan Gardner's latest by noting that at least some repetition for effect and clarity isn't necessarily a bad thing: indeed, the principle of "say what you're going to say, say it, then say what you've said" is well-established in plenty of arenas beyond the political one without any implication that the audience is being held in contempt. But he's right to note the absurd lengths to which the concept has been applied, particularly on the faux populist right.

- Finally, James Laxer nicely summarizes the limited group of voters who the Cons want to see at the polls - and why we can't afford to let them succeed in driving others away:
Here’s the profile of those they’d like to see at the polls: white men over fifty, especially those who don’t spend much time in city centres; Christian fundamentalists; those in “ethnic” communities who have been vetted by Jason Kenney (a leaked memo exposed the Conservative plan to harvest votes from those they depict as “ethnics”); gun owners; youngish neo-cons who want to grow up to be like David Frum (not a large demographic); and, of course the rich, as well as those who think they will be rich. Women are generally unreliable; and the young are a downright menace. If you’re under twenty-five, Harper almost certainly wants you to pass on voting. Look what happened to the nineteen year old woman who was muscled out of a Harper rally because Conservative spooks found a picture of her on Facebook side by side with Michael Ignatieff.
Lower voter turnout is not just a lucky break for the Conservatives. Right-wing political parties have been assiduously working to lower voter turnout in Canada, the U.S. and Europe for several decades. While running for office, the leaders of these parties denigrate government, those who work for governments and the benefits to society that flow from government programs. They promote the idea that politicians are cynics who are “all the same”, “in it for themselves” and “not to be trusted.” (The rich, who DO vote, know that whatever the ethical merits of those who hold leadership positions of right-wing parties, they can always be counted on to back business against labour and to spend billions bailing out the banks when that is required.)

Negative advertising, it has long been known, has the effect of driving down voter turnout in the electorate at large.

No, Stephen Harper does not want YOU to vote. His plan is to tranquilize the majority of Canadians into a state of torpor while he takes complete control of the instruments of the Canadian state.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

On recipients

I don't agree with most of Tom Kent's piece on per-vote funding, as it seems to me that opposition parties making a case against a narrow-minded, anti-democratic government should see plenty of opportunity in defending a funding mechanism that promotes a broad set of democratic options. But Kent's suggestion for a competing set of reforms to party financing does look to be worth some further discussion:
The partial reform Mr. Harper proposes will still leave the parties with plenty of money, in the wrong place. That’s their headquarters, where it helps to concentrate dictatorial power in the hands of party leaders. Reform legislation should put it where it belongs, in the constituency associations of a party’s members.

Those are the heart of a party as a democratic organization. They are where its members discuss the shared attitudes to public policy that bring them together. After direct subsidies end, members’ contributions will be the main source of political finance. But the money doesn’t come from their pockets alone. Contributions are fostered by the lavish tax incentives through which the federal treasury will continue to provide some $20-million a year to the parties. It should go, with the money that comes from the members’ own pockets, where it belongs – to constituency associations. They can then decide how much to hand on to party headquarters. Legislation of that requirement would do much to restore democratic vitality to our dysfunctional politics.
Now, there's plenty about Kent's proposal that needs further clarification or discussion. It's not clear whether Kent is talking solely about the tax credit for party fund-raising, or actually looking to impose a requirement that funds be raised solely through riding associations. Moreover, there's no particular reason why per-vote funding itself couldn't be directed to ridings instead of or in addition to Kent's proposal. And any plan to direct money toward the constituency level would need to be paired with a prohibition on party-based restrictions on such funding.

But it's certainly worth considering whether our system should be designed to facilitate the type of local and dispersed decision-making that would come from putting money into EDAs' hands. And if the opposition parties are looking for additional ways to differentiate themselves from Harper hyper-centralized party structure, then the idea of decentralized funding and control of political parties would look like a promising one.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading...

- David MacDonald's CCPA report on the complete lack of any return on a decade of corporate tax cuts is worth a read in full. But his blog post offers the ideal summary:
I took Canada’s biggest public companies, those on the S&P/TSX Composite and tracked them over the past decade to see how their taxes and profits changed. At the same time, I also tracked how many employees they had and therefore the number of jobs they created. These are the companies that benefit the most from corporate tax cuts because they declare the largest profits.

There were 198 companies that had data from 2000 through 2009. What readers should find shocking is just how dramatic the transformation in corporate taxation has been in the past decade. The effective tax rate that these successful companies have paid has been cut in half. Imagine if as an individual your personal income taxes had been cut in half over the past decade, well that’s what happened in corporate Canada.

With such a dramatic change, it should be no surprise that compared to 2000, profits are up 50% while taxes paid are down 20%. The tab for corporate tax cuts for just these 200 companies is $12 billion a year in lost provincial and federal revenues. To give readers a sense of scale, that much money could buy us a national $10/day childcare program and wipe out poverty among seniors with money left over.

The bargain that Canada made with its most profitable corporations was that if we give them dramatic tax cuts they’ll use that money to create jobs. We’ve cut the cheque, worth $12 billion a year in 2009, so did we get the jobs?

The Canadian economy as a whole has increased the number of jobs by 6% since 2005. However, the 200 companies that are receiving the $12 billion a year tax break have only increased their job numbers by 5%, in effect they are pulling down the average.

Instead of creating jobs with those billions, they have merely increased their profits or are sitting on the cash. Canadians should expect vastly more for $12 billion a year.
- The hope for the current election is that Edmonton-Strathcona will be joined by one or more other Edmonton ridings in turfing the out-of-touch Cons. But that quibble as to the state of other Alberta races aside, Josh Wingrove provides an entertaining read on Linda Duncan's work to win her seat once again.

- Meanwhile, Joel-Denis Bellavance notes that the NDP's ascent in Quebec continues, including a strong second-place showing at 24% in the latest Angus Reid poll.

- Finally, while I don't agree with all of Mike Moffatt's proposals, they certainly look to offer a far wider range of policy ideas than we're seeing from a lot of parties in the current election campaign. And indeed, I'd be curious to see a leaders' debate focusing in on some of the ideas raised - particularly the merits of a GAI, and the harm done by the Cons' boutique tax credits.

On target demographics

In keeping with their tradition of targeted benefits for those who need it least, the Harper Cons are offering still more free money someday - but only for those wealthy enough to have more than $5,000 they don't know what to do with at the end of each year.

I'd suggest a tax credit on caviar is next in line. But I don't want to give them any ideas.

There's one born every minute

Sure, on the surface it might look insane that the Wall government - having already gifted more in tax incentives to a single tenant than the new Regina Tower 3 will cost to build - is now planning to shackle the province with a 20-year lease for five stories worth of space in the tower. But let's not jump to overly hasty conclusions.

After all, one would think that a tenant set to take over a quarter of a new building could expect to enjoy terms roughly as friendly as the building's anchor tenant. So as soon as we figure out what sucker will be on the hook to pay the province half a million dollars for every job moved into the building, we should be just fine.

New column day

Here, on how the oil industry is refusing to play by the rules needed to manage greenhouse gas emissions - and why we shouldn't take seriously the claim that it can't afford to.

For further reading, here's Andrew Leach's post on how a carbon price would (barely) affect development of the oil sands:
(E)ach ton of carbon emitted in the course of oil sands production is tied to about $900 worth of sales (at $90/bbl), and $400-500 worth of profit. If you think that an investment with that kind of value proposition is going to dry up in the face of a $30-$50 (or even much higher) per ton carbon (price), think again.
Costs of any aggressive carbon pricing to an oil sands operation will be significant (even $5/bbl on a 600,000 bpd operation like Suncor would be over $1 billion per year) but the value proposition is significant as well. I am a firm believer in carbon pricing, and that’s because I don’t think the world or our country can afford to keep doing things which generate little value while emitting carbon. But, if you believe in carbon pricing, you also have to accept that it is not a market failure when the activities you do not like keep going in the face of a carbon charge.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A chance for contrast

There are plenty of questions from numerous sides about how to handle Canada's federal leaders' debates. But let's give the media consortium credit for recognizing the opportunity presented by the debates which isn't available for the balance of the campaign:
There won't be any opening remarks this time. Each 117-minute debate will start with a pre-recorded question from the public. The leaders won't know in advance what questions they'll be asked.

Two of the leaders will face off for six minutes, then the other two leaders will be able to join in for a 13-minute discussion.

The whole cycle will be repeated five times before closing remarks, which will be limited to 45 seconds for each leader for a total of three minutes.

"We didn't even want the closing statements but the parties pushed for it," said Bulgutch. "Giving up three minutes of time seems like a reasonable compromise to me."
So rather than spending a lot of time having the leaders merely repeat their chosen messages (which of course they're able to do at nearly every other point throughout the campaign), the consortium is looking to encourage as much interaction as possible. Which should rightly make it awkward for anybody using the debates to repeat talking points or trying to avoid a tough issue - while hopefully rewarding genuine challenges and contrasts among the leaders involved.

Responsive to nobody

Yes, it's well worth pointing out the absurd non-answers coming from the Cons' spinners as to their deliberate exclusion of interested citizens from their events. But it's worth highlighting that the issue goes far beyond journalists alone.

Instead, Dimitri Soudas' pathetic series of wilfully ignorant non-responses fits squarely within the Cons' general strategy of evading all inconvenient reality - whether in the form of journalists' questions, rally attendees of less than full loyalty, or any other source. And the more the focus is rightfully placed on the Cons rather than a particular victim, the better the chances of forcing a change - either in their tactics, or in the government responsible for answering to Canadians.

Wednesday Morning Links

Assorted material for your mid-week reading.

- The Globe and Mail is the latest source to analyze whether corporate tax cuts have produced the promised returns over the past decade. And the result should come as no surprise:
(A)n analysis of Statistics Canada figures by The Globe and Mail reveals that the rate of investment in machinery and equipment has declined in lockstep with falling corporate tax rates over the past decade. At the same time, the analysis shows, businesses have added $83-billion to their cash reserves since the onset of the recession in 2008.
In 2000, the combined federal-provincial tax rate was just over 42 per cent, ranking Canada near the top among industrialized nations. The combined rate has since fallen to 28 per cent, placing the country in the middle of the pack, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s goal is to reduce it to 25 per cent by fiscal 2013.

Businesses were widely expected to use the extra money from successive rounds of tax cuts to build factories and offices and buy new machinery and equipment. At one time, they did just that. From 1960 until the early 1990s, corporations invested almost every penny of their after-tax cash flow back into the business.

But the tax cuts appear to have reversed decades of tradition. Investment in equipment and machinery has fallen to 5.5 per cent in 2010 as a share of Canada’s total economic output from 6.8 per cent in 2005 and 7.7 per cent in 2000, The Globe analysis shows.
- Which explains why Marc Lee's call for some Robin Hood tax policy figures to be just as beneficial on the economic front as the social one:
Unemployment is still just under 8%, which is good compared to the double-digit unemployment of the early 1990s, but not great compared to the expansions of the late 1990s and 2000s. Too much of the employment gains that have come are in part-time jobs, so added to the 1.5 million unemployed are another half-million or so who are under-employed.

That is not good for businesses in Canada. Nor is the fact that one-third of the gains in income over the past decade have gone to the top 1% of households. The super-rich use this income as a means of keeping score, but it is not spent in the real economy. Canada’s wealthiest could have $100,000 fall out of the trunk of their Porches and not even notice. Yet, further down the income ladder, we see record levels of household debt that are contraining spending.

Again, not good for business. A good business climate is one in which demand is strong, where people have good incomes are spending them on good(s) and services...

(A) little Robin Hood in our economic planning would do a lot of good, and as the economy rises so the deficit would fall. Adding in some new tax brackets for very high incomes, as the AFB has recommended, would be even better. Remember that corporate income tax cuts are tax cuts for the richest Canadians. Our economic policies should be judged by whether they increase inequality or not. We know that lower levels of inequality are better not just in stronger demand, but also in terms of broader health and social outcomes. A simple test: does this policy further enrich the already wealthy? If so, it must be rejected.
- Meanwhile, the Cons' caricature of a threat to the economy is no more accurate than their spin as to what's supposed to improve it:
Contrary to federal election campaign rhetoric, neither a minority nor coalition government would necessarily be a detriment to the Canadian economy, economists and political science experts say.

In fact, many argue that deficit reduction will have more lasting impact on the economy that than corporate tax cuts and other short-term spending decisions.
“No matter who is in power we feel there is a consensus in Canada among the major political parties that deficit reduction is desirable. For us the bottom line is that reduction and elimination of the deficit over the next several years will be the goal of no matter which government is there.”

Federal debt ballooned to nearly 70 per cent of GDP. But that fell to 29 per cent by the end of 2008. It currently stands at about 34 per cent.

Any new budget introduced after the election is likely to show a similar path toward eliminating the budget deficit by 2016, which would be positive for the country’s credit rating, according to Moody’s.
- For those wondering whose side is worth listening to in Fox News North's latest attempt to pick a fight with a more reputable news source, Andrew Potter provides the quote of the day:
It’s amazing what sort of character assassination you can get away through chickenshit use of question marks (in Levant’s case). Or in Lilley’s case, through the deliberate withholding of facts. As Peter Loewen himself told Lilley when Lilley interviewed him for his March 31 story, Loewen did the same sort of work for Harper in 2004 that he later did for Ignatieff. Loewen was also a staffer for a Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leadership candidate in 2005. And he once donated money to Pierre Poilievre’s nomination campaign.

This information was available to Brian Lilley, his editor, and to Ezra Levant. It is thoroughly despicable that it was not included in the stories that were published. What is going on here? In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt suggests that Loewen just got caught up in a broader anti-CBC campaign by Sun Media, as it prepares to launch its new television station.

If so, that’s disgraceful enough. But I actually think something more basic is at work here: Intellectual prostitutes like Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant are so used to selling their brains on the cheap in journalism’s back alleys, they find it literally incredible that everyone else’s intellect is not similarly for sale.
- And finally, Dan Gardner reminds us how we got into a federal election campaign, and why the Cons' contempt of Parliament matters.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging


On bubbles

Alice noted earlier this year that an election in a minority Parliament figures to result only from a party misreading the likelihood of the campaign working to its advantage. And while there's no turning back from a trip to the polls, it seems well worth watching out to figure out who it is that's disconnected from what's actually happening.

On that front, it would stand to reason that a party working on insulating its leader from even the slightest perception of disagreement might figure to be the most vulnerable to losing touch completely. And this may offer a rather important hint as to who it is that's completely lost touch with reality.

On consistent messages

While I've cited Warren Kinsella's take on a party's hopes for an election campaign as an example of the gap between the interests of parties and those of citizens, let's note that there's some reason to question how well it reflects a party's goals as well. That is, unless one assumes that the messages which avoid being trampled also make for a consistent narrative which can actually create momentum during the course of the campaign, rather than consisting of disconnected pitches which fail to build on previous efforts.

And on that front, there's particular reason for hope that all elements of a strong coalition challenge to the Harper Cons are coming together about as well as can be expected given the Libs' determination to target the NDP.

While the Libs have been working on trying to poach NDP voters, their most enduring message has involved the contrast between Stephen Harper as a secretive, controlling leader, and Michael Ignatieff as one more willing to engage with a broader audience. Which makes his refusal to consider a coalition all the less logical, but at least lays some principled groundwork for working with other parties if the opportunity arises.

Meanwhile, despite the commentariat's failure to connect the dots, the NDP has managed to earn a regular stream of coverage depicting it as making strong efforts to keep expanding its reach. And the image of the NDP as the plucky underdog fighting for its principles even in the face of naysayers fits nicely with the well-advertised message that Jack Layton "won't stop until the job's done" - serving both as a new form of inoculation against the Libs' usual attempt to narrow the range of options, and a response to the Cons' whispering campaign about his health.

Mind you, the one unfortunate message that has favoured the Cons is the suggestion that their series of scandals and missteps hasn't registered in the polls. But while it might be theoretically possible for the Cons to cling to their polling numbers even in the face of unfavourable coverage, the chances of a positive outcome surely look to be improving based on the messages that are coalescing around each party.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the Cons' main focus during the election campaign has been on strictly restricting access to the people they're looking to have elected to office. And the latest addition to the list deemed unfit for interaction with their Con betters advocate for homeless veterans.

- But that doesn't mean anybody has taken a break from working to suppress the facts about Afghanistan, both through continued fights against the Military Police Complaints Commission, and through the detainee document suppression tribunal. (And there, the Libs are apparently just now starting to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the Harper Cons might not be acting in good faith - only a year after the NDP recognized the same.)

- Rick Mercer deservedly slams Mike Duffy for serving as the Cons' point man in attacking Jack Layton's health:
Jack Layton didn’t reveal personal information about his health because the gallery wanted to know, he did it because, earlier that day, Conservatives had fanned out across the country and were practising the dark arts. The whisper campaign about Jack’s health they had been carrying on in the shadows was stepped up a notch.

Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy, who can perhaps kindly be described as the most amoral partisan hack to ever draw a breath, went on radio in Nova Scotia, a province of potential growth for the NDP, and in a hushed tone usually reserved for a palliative care unit told the radio audience that he personally saw Jack on the Hill and “up close it doesn’t look good, Jack doesn’t look good… he is a valiant man for carrying on.”

It takes a certain kind of man to gleefully trade on a man’s battle with cancer, and Mike Duffy is that man. It is why Stephen Harper appointed him to the chamber of sober second thought.
- Finally, Alice tweets that the NDP is on the verge of reaching the threshold of 40% female candidates, becoming the first Canadian party to do so in a general election. Of course there's plenty more left to both to balance the numbers within the party and to work on the number of women elected - but it's without a doubt a plus to be headed in the right direction.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The politics of exclusion

Sure, there's plenty to criticize about the Cons' sick removal of students from their London rally. But perhaps nothing tells the story of how the Cons view Canadians better than this tidbit about one of the people expelled:
A former police officer in his native Lebanon, he said he was embarrassed to be treated that way. “They hit me in my dignity.”

Ironically, Hamadi had a sign on his lawn for Jim Chahbar, the federal Conservative candidate for London-Fanshawe.

Now he has removed that sign, leaving only a sign for NDP candidate Irene Mathyssen, and he vows the rest of his family will vote for her, too.
Which looks to nicely illustrate a couple of points worth keeping in mind about the Cons.

First, the Cons' campaign is apparently as incompetent as it is thuggish. After all, having set up an advance list for the purpose of screening Harper's audience it apparently couldn't be bothered to compare that to a current list of sign locations which would show who was already demonstrating support for the Cons' candidates (at least until Hamadi's abrupt expulsion).

Which leads nicely to the second point, being the Cons' apparent idea of acceptable political involvement. So long as Hamadi was merely serving as a conduit for the Cons' advertising, all was apparently hunky-dory - but his merely taking an interest in judging the Cons' campaign for himself, even after having shown his support to the party, apparently made for a threat to the Cons' perceived self-interest that led to their shutting him out.

Monday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- Let's start with a couple of slightly older pieces which I didn't post originally. First, the CCPA's This or That graphic nicely contrasts the costs of Con priorities compared to what the same amount of money could accomplish if directed toward social spending.

- And second, Dennis Gruending's list of organizations defunded by the Cons speaks volumes about the Canada they've been working to destroy.

- Following up on yesterday's post, Saskboy and Dr. Dawg have more on Stephen Harper's willingness to add a repeatedly-convicted fraudster to his inner circle.

- What thwap said, especially this paragraph on the long-term damage done by the Harper Cons:
What's really depressing though is that a lot of the damage has already been done. Our national political culture has been infected with harper's contempt for our fragile and limited democracy. The view that Parliament is a "kangaroo court" where everything is all stupid, self-interested partisanship all the time, is more ingrained in our minds than ever. The view that all politicians are all crooks, the view that our political process is a joke, and will always be a joke, and that this joke is told by a completely inferior grade of people, and is therefore of no account, is more firmly entrenched than ever. Furthermore, the extremes of executive arrogance, secrecy, and abuse of power that harper has tested pushed the envelope for subsequent governments. Will it be the case that just like Obama has in many ways gone beyond the abuses of the bush II regime, that later Canadian governments will use harper's extremism as the new normal and further denigrate our system's democratic restraints on the powers of the executive branch?
- And finally, deBeauxOs catches Lib candidate Scott Bradley in a lie that likely makes him a prime candidate for Stephen Harper's inner circle in terms of both honesty and ethics.


Yesterday, I noted that the Libs' supposed cap and trade plan is utterly lacking in credibility since it doesn't include any targets to actually define a cap. But since the loudest response to the Libs' lack of any targets for the next 39 years has somehow been a series of high-pitched shrieks that the Libs' plan to do nothing is going too far, let's note how bizarre that response sounds coming from the Cons and their oil-patch allies.

After all, the Cons have been promising a cap-and-trade system from the day they took office, even if it's been coupled with a perpetual "wait 'til next year" message to delay any real action. In 2008, the Cons explicitly hyped "Developing a Cap and Trade System to Cut Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions" in their platform as their alternative to a carbon tax. Once Barack Obama was elected in the U.S., they started pushing a continent-wide cap-and-trade system. And they've continued to praise the idea when it's been raised at the provincial level.

So the Cons' overwrought response to the mere mention of a cap-and-trade system looks to make for a radical shift in position, from at least pretending to care about dealing with greenhouse gas emissions to portraying any action whatsoever as being out of the question. And while the Libs aren't doing much to offer an alternative, voters concerned about the environment should note that they do have choices who haven't yet decided to abandon the issue.

On poor health

Adam Radwanski points out another glaring weakness in the Libs' platform, as they've largely ignored the single issue that concerns Canadians most. But the problems with the Libs' lack of interest in health care go much further than a choice of messages early in their campaign.

Here's Radwanski's comparison between how the NDP and Libs on the issue:
The Liberal platform, released on Sunday, makes a passing nod in health care’s general direction....

(W)ith the exception of support for caregivers – which, worthwhile though it may be, is rather marginal to the country’s overall health-care challenges – none of this appears to be among Mr. Ignatieff’s top priorities. Instead, he’s mostly playing to voters’ pocketbook angst, through the “family pack” at the heart of his platform.

That set of policies, and the way it’s being communicated, conveys urgency and some degree of creativity. Mr. Ignatieff’s health-care policy displays few signs of either.
In Mr. Ignatieff’s absence on the file, Jack Layton is stepping into the void – running television ads devoted entirely to health care, and speaking extensively about it. “The prime minister you elect May 2 will be negotiating with the provinces and territories,” the NDP Leader said Sunday. “With something as important as your family’s health at stake … who do you trust to lead those discussions?”

It’s a question that Mr. Ignatieff, who has a moderately better chance of being prime minister after May 2, would do well to ask – provided, of course, that he’s capable of giving voters much reason to believe he’s the answer.
The problem for the Libs, though, is that they apparently can't do anything of the sort - at least, if one takes their other policy promises seriously.

Of course, part of the problem is that the Libs' platform is only costed for two years. Which means that for the looming 2014 health care negotiations, they aren't able to do much other than speculate about what interest they might have in funding health care once the issue is opened up.

Even assuming that a balanced budget is in sight by 2014, though, the Libs have already made clear what they consider to be the top priority once there's some black ink on the federal balance sheet.

Needless to say, the Libs' package of election baubles wouldn't look quite so family-friendly if it's coupled with a plan to cut corporate taxes in a few years instead of addressing health care. Which likely goes a long way toward explaining both the limited time frame chosen for the Libs' platform projections, and the fact that they're keeping any talk about health care as vague as possible.

But that choice also positions the Libs squarely offside on the issue most important to the general public. And with the NDP doing its utmost to both promote and link itself to what's already the top issue for Canadian voters, that could prove to be a decisive mistake for Ignatieff and company.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Same old story, non-cooperation edition

The Cons' budget was rightly shot down after arriving alongside this cynical sales pitch:
When Jim Flaherty stands up in the House of Commons, he is expected to unveil a financial plan that has taken a number of expensive ideas from the wish lists of other federal leaders, particularly the NDP’s Jack Layton.
Mr. Harper enjoys his job too much to risk losing it. The NDP leader will have to decide whether he has won enough little victories to justify propping up the Conservatives.
Fortunately, the NDP was smart enough not to buy the spin. And the Cons' play-acting at having any interest in listening to anybody outside their own party was exposed as entirely empty when the NDP's efforts to improve the budget were met with a flat refusal.

So Canadians are getting the chance to decide whether or not they want more Harper-style politics, where a smug, self-righteous government pretends that other parties should be satisfied with a pale imitation of their policy priorities.

Now, we'll have to hope that voters are similarly intelligent in dealing with the Libs' equally callous attempt to paint mentions of a couple of lifted platform planks as a substitute for meaningful cooperation:
The whole document is framed as an appeal to those who might be tempted to support other parties too -- take a look at the Green-friendly and NDP-friendly policies within it. Last year, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that his answer to all the coalition talk would be the reply: "Liberals *are* the coalition." This platform is his attempt to cast the party in that light, and should probably be measured that way.
But the takeaway isn't so much that the Libs are offering a meaningful form of cooperation, as that they're trying to put a slightly less adversarial face on the same lack of willingness to actually work with other parties. And so anybody looking for a real change - rather than another Harper government dressed in red - will need to look elsewhere.

On key qualifications

It's now obvious that repeated convictions for fraud - spread out over a period of decades - weren't considered an obstacle to Bruce Carson becoming one of Stephen Harper's most trusted political operatives. But can we say for sure that his track record of brazen deception wasn't seen as an outright plus?

Off target

There's some reason to be skeptical of the claim that the environment isn't being put forward as an election issue. (And indeed, it's striking how the NDP's policy announcements on health care and the environment were met in short order with media spin about how neither issue is being discussed.)

But it's well worth noting that both the Cons and Libs do look entirely eager to take any meaningful action on climate change off the table. And in fact, the Libs have managed to regress from both their 2008 platform and their 1993 Red Book by refusing to list a short- to mid-term greenhouse gas emission reduction target in their platform.

So when it comes to the largest environmental issue facing our country and our planet, the Libs' story isn't so much "same old empty promises" (as it is on many other issues) as "can't even be bothered to pretend".

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Brian Topp rightly points out the inconsistency in how NDP poll results are reported:
(M)aybe this is a poll varying inside its margin or error, more or less. Like the other polls we've seen so far – some of which are being breathlessly analyzed despite much recent discussion about the credibility of doing so.

But you can't have it both ways, fellow poll analysts. If a two-point drop in one national poll is national news, then so is a three-point increase.
- I'm in full agreement with what Dick Gauthier thinks Canadians should be hoping for out of their election campaign. But isn't his suggested history lesson for the Cons pretty much identical to Stephen Harper's list of social policy he's worked to undermine while in office?
Stephen Harper keeps harping about the coalition boogeyman hiding in the closet just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting Canadians if his party is not given a majority in Parliament.

Any clear-thinking conservative needs only to google Canadian coalition governments to obtain a quick history lesson.
Although he never had a majority in the House of Commons, (Pearson) managed to bring in many of Canada's major social programs, including the much-revered universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan and Canada Student Loans, and established a new national flag. This was due in part to support for his minority government from the New Democratic Party, led by that great Canadian, Tommy Douglas.

His legislation included instituting the 40-hour work week, two weeks' vacation time and a new minimum wage.

Coalition governments work well when individuals are willing to co-operate in bringing forth good legislation that enhances the well being of all Canadians.
- It's been a huge plus to see some serious pushback against the Cons' attacks on public per-vote financing. And it isn't just the opposition parties making the case for political activity as a social good worth funding, as Fair Vote Canada has chimed in as well:
Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens’ movement for fair voting reform, has endorsed ballot-triggered public funding programs and called for the elimination of corporate and union campaign contributions in federal, provincial and municipal elections, in addition to its core demand for the use of proportional voting systems at all levels of government and civil society.

“Public financing of election campaigns creates a level playing field,” added FVC Executive Director Wayne Smith. “The per-vote subsidy introduces an element of proportionality to our winner-take-all system. Let the voters decide. Let every voice be heard.”
- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan points out that while pinching pennies when it comes to Canada's most vulnerable seniors, the Cons have already given away enough to wealthier retirees to end senior poverty in Canada:
The Alternative Federal Budget estimates that an increase of 15 per cent in the Guaranteed Income Supplement -- targeting another $100 a month to those seniors with very low incomes -- would be enough to lift most Canadians aged 65 and older above the poverty line. That would cost $1.164-billion.

Sound like a lot? Since 2007, public policy initiatives that impact seniors total considerably more than $1.2-billion a year. The government of Stephen Harper could have handily eliminated poverty among the elderly if that had been an objective. It was not.
In 2007, the Harper government introduced income splitting of pensions. Estimated by the Library of Parliament to cost $687-million that year, the annual tax expenditures report from the Department of Finance shows it actually cost the public treasury $920-million in 2010.

About a third (32 per cent) of that pot of money went to households with incomes over $90,000. In 2007, fewer than 10 per cent of all seniors’ households made more than $90,000. About three quarters (74 per cent) went to households making more than $60,000. In 2007, less than a quarter of all seniors’ households had incomes above $60,000.

Roughly 40 per cent of seniors live in households with incomes below $30,000. However, they only get 5.8 per cent of the benefits from the new tax treatment of pension splitting. The poorest households -- usually those who live alone, mostly elderly women -- get nothing from this $920-million initiative.

If we took that money and targeted it to Canada’s 634,000 poorest seniors, they would each get $1,450 more a year. Enough to make a huge difference in their daily lives. Enough to get rid of poverty.

Instead, the government chose to put more money into the pockets of the most well-off seniors.

It’s hard to imagine more ineffective public policy. Without doubt, we could do better. Sadly, we did even worse.
Fewer than five million Canadians – not quite one in five eligible Canadians – have opened a Tax Free Savings Account. By the end of 2010, these accounts held about $19 billion-in assets. Reports indicate that it primarily benefits the elderly and the affluent, with highest take-up among those over 65.

The program has reduced federal revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars each year compared to just two years ago, despite economic recovery.

In a nation as affluent as ours, seniors’ poverty doesn’t have to exist at all. Based on what seniors already get out of public policy, we can afford to help. We don’t have to spend more. We just have to spend it differently.