Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- For those looking to paint foreign investment as a panacea for economic development, Paul Krugman offers up (via Kash Mansori) what should be a chilling correlation between capital imbalances and economic disaster in Europe. But of course, we know the actual response will merely be a declaration that the countries now suffering for buying into the corporatist mantra really just needed to go even further in that direction.

- The NDP is rightly focusing attention on the latest developments in Tony Clement's G8 scandal, as Clement looks to have influenced one of the mayors in the thick of the patronage into hiring a Clement acquaintance on request.

- Meanwhile, the Cons' claims not to have paid a ransom to kidnappers to free two diplomats in West Africa looks to have been entirely false. But have no fear: as far as Canadians are concerned, nothing happened which the Cons are prepared to discuss:
A spokesman for Mr. Harper’s office said on Friday that the government does not comment on leaked documents.
- Finally, Bruce Johnstone questions why the Cons are in such a hurry to demolish the Canadian Wheat Board:
Another huge issue is the fate of producer car loading sites - railroad sidings where farmers can load their own grain into railcars, bypassing the grain companies. From 700 sites 10 years ago, there are only 300 today, but they handle 12,000 railcars a year - four times as many as a decade ago. For farmers, those producer cars mean savings of about $1,200 per railcar.

Without the CWB handling producer car logistics for farmers, who will? The grain companies? The railways? Not on your life.

There are a host of issues that hinge on the single desk: the fate of the Port of Churchill and the Canadian International Grains Institute, to name two. One farm group said "the elimination of the single desk may well be the biggest change to agriculture on the Prairies in over 100 years."

So why is the federal government rushing into such a momentous change with its ideological blinkers on?

On poll positions

There have already been a few polls released surrounding the NDP leadership race, and there figure to be many more to come in the next few months. So I'll take a moment to explain why I haven't spent any time discussing the ones released so far - and how I'll be determining which ones are worth a mention as we approach the March convention.

At this stage of the race, I'd consider it effectively futile to poll about voting preferences in a field of candidates that hasn't yet been set. Instead, about all I'd see any poll accomplishing is to determine which candidates are actually known to the general public (which will be the primary factor in preference polls at this stage), and how the candidates rate in terms of favourability such as to be able to build positive impressions as they become better known.

If a poll shows something noteworthy in terms of familiarity or favourability, I'll consider it to be worth a mention at this point. But so far, none of the polling has produced anything of the sort.

It's only once the field of candidates is set and the race has received enough media attention to build a level of familiarity with all of the candidates that I'd shift gears somewhat and start looking at voter preferences. But even there, it's well worth keeping in mind that the leadership vote won't be conducted under a first-past-the-post system: the fact that a candidate leads among first-choice voters won't do much good if there's reason to think that another candidate is better positioned to assemble a majority of membership votes on a later ballot, and so we'll need to look at the complete picture (including general favourability as well as similarities in issues and messages between candidates) to determine who actually holds the advantage.

All of which is to say that for now, there doesn't figure to be much polling worth taking too seriously. Instead, what matters most at this point is the organization each candidate can assemble to win over members when it counts.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Susan Delacourt points out some analysis from Greg Lyle which looks to confirm my general take on the real balance of popular opinion between the Cons and the opposition:
It's important to understand that the Tories have been winning by fighting on issues that most people *don't* support. If you think for a second, most of us, and certainly most of the people that are on the margins of whether they're going to vote or not think the way democracy works is that government does what most people want, most of the time.

But on most of the issues that mattered in this campaign, the Tories got a very strong mandate to do what the minority want.
Given a choice, most people would raise corporate taxes rather than trust trickle-down to work. However, if you look at how vote support works, if you think the way to go is to cut corporate taxes, you're a Tory, 84 per cent Tory. But if you are on the side of the spectrum, a few people are Tory and the others are split (among the other parties) halfway to Sunday.

And so long as you have this situation, which to me is reminiscent of the free-trade election... one party got all the people who supported free trade, the other parties split the opponents and free trade was policy.
And the same thing happens if the government introduces new policies to deal with crime. Should it focus more on getting tougher on crime or should it focus more on dealing with the causes of crime? 57 per cent of Canadians say 'focus on the causes of crime.' Only 38 per cent say 'get tough on crime' -- almost identical to what the Tory vote was. Seventy-three per cent of the people who say get tough on crime voted Tory, only 16 per cent who said deal with the causes of crime.

And I did this on five different issues... and it's the same story, again and again. The topical issues in the debate, Tories were in the minority point of view, but they got all the votes of people who shared that point of view. So I'll just leave you to think about how the world's going to evolve in the next four years, if the Tories are going to do what they were elected to do, which is stuff that most people don't agree with.
- Ethan Baron expands on the absurdity of the Cons' crime bill which would set up a more severe minimum sentence for marijuana growers than child rapists. And Stephen Maher not only slams the dumb-on-crime mandatory minimums, but questions whether there's any point to criminalizing marijuana at all.

- Paul Koring breaks the story that Canadian officials fought to prevent Abousfian Abdelrazik from returning home as far back as 2004 when there was no reason whatsoever to do so - and that the effect could have been to allow him to be rendered to Guantanamo. And pogge rightly asks why such bombshells aren't receiving much attention.

- Finally, Andrew Leach highlights the fact that most of the beneficiaries of the utterly dishonest "ethical oil" campaign have operations in - and profit from - exactly the same despotic regimes which are being slammed by the campaign.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Musical interlude

Sixma & Klauss Goulart Feat. Outono Em Marte - Want To Fly (M6 Remix)

Parliament In Review: September 22, 2011

Thursday was another fairly short day of debate in the House of Commons due to the visit by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. But that doesn't mean there was any lack of perfectly telling content as MPs continued to debate the Cons' omnibus crime bill.

The Big Issue...

...was once again the Cons' crime bill. And one of the main opposition critiques discussed at several points yesterday looks to be one with some legs, particularly since it nicely parries the Cons' excuse for slashing the federal government.

Here's the concise form from Don Davies (which was followed by the extended version from Paul Dewar):
I hear the Minister of Finance repeatedly attack the Liberals about downloading costs to the provinces in the nineties. That is exactly what the current bills will do as well. They will download costs to the provinces because many of the people who go to jail will be in provincial institutions.
Of course, the fact that the costs of the Cons' crime bills will be borne largely by the provinces isn't exactly news. But it's still a point well worth emphasizing - particularly when it figures to mean lining up all but the most sycophantic of provinces on the right side of the issue.

Meanwhile, Vic Toews offered a couple of memorable if painful interventions - not only taking responsibility for the return of the "unreported crime" canard, but making the stunning statement that we should be concerned rather than proud about having more a humane prison system than the U.S.' mess (where Toews delights in inmates serving "real time").

And yet, somehow Toews managed to avoid contributing the most jaw-dropping statement from a Con MP. That honour goes to Joyce Bateman - who contributed this gem in response to Kirsty Duncan's mention of a study by the Canadian Paediatric Society criticizing (that's *criticizing*) the bill:
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question on her comments.

I understand from her comments that the Canadian Paediatric Society has approved our bill, the bill that is front of the House as we speak. I am very concerned that she is worried about that, because these are the front-line doctors. These are the people who see children hurt. These are the people who see the ravages of abuse. They see the ravages of sexual abuse on young children.

I am thrilled that the Canadian Paediatric Society is supportive of this bill, because their members are the first line and are able to see that.

Could my hon. colleague please explain why she is concerned with their support?
Now, it seems fairly obvious that Bateman must have mis-heard Duncan's statement. But surely anybody with a modicum of sense would have at least considered whether it made any sense for Duncan to contort her speech into a criticism of the Canadian Paediatric Society before choosing to ask a question focused on the point. And once again, all indications are that anything of the sort has long since been drummed out of the Cons.

In Brief

Peter Julian slammed the Cons for failing to enforce the terms of approval for foreign takeover deals, using Stelco as a prime example. Peggy Nash pointed out that the waste of two million unemployed Canadians is making our economic picture worse for everybody. And Christine Moore chose the occasion of David Cameron's visit to ask why the Cons won't follow his lead in taking commercial flights rather than using personal jets and helicopters.

By way of comparison

Tim Naumetz points out what strikes me as a surprising trend of potential NDP leadership candidates expressing concern about the cost of participating in the race:
“Money is a big deal,” Nova Scotia NDP MP Robert Chisholm (Dartmouth-Cole Harbor, N.S.) told The Hill Times on Thursday. “I don’t think any of us, anybody that’s considering running, wants to put themselves in a situation where they come out of it with a huge debt. It’s a very serious concern, so that’s probably the biggest thing at the moment.”
Mr. Chisholm signalled Thursday he is close to assuring himself he will have enough financial support to spend what one MP described as a minimum of between $200,000 and $300,000 to have a chance of winning or finishing well.

“I’m moving in that direction, doing things that are getting get me closer,” Mr. Chisholm said.

Mr. Julian was the first to indicate financial backing, limited under the Canada Elections Act to maximum individual contributions of $1,200, was the central concern of prospective candidates. Elections Canada only since the May 2 election increased the political contribution limit from its previous level of $1,100, according to an automatic inflation adjustment formula within the Elections Act.

“No one wants to be another Ken Dryden,” Mr. Julian told The Hill Times during the NDP caucus meeting in Quebec City last week.
Of course, there's no risk of the NDP leadership race developing into the type of big-money arms race that the Libs' contest became in 2006. After all, the spending cap is set at roughly the same amount of money spent by even the Libs' mid-tier candidates. Which means that Chisholm is probably right to think that a candidate can stay in the race without spending much more than $200,000.

With that in mind, guess which leadership contestant who couldn't crack 5% of the delegate support was nonetheless able to raise $212,247.16 for his own campaign? Yes, that's right.

That means that the NDP's ground rules are already set up to keep any of the party's contenders from falling into the same trap as Lib candidates who had to plan for million-dollar campaigns to have any hope of contending. And by the same token, the cost of a campaign shouldn't serve as a barrier to any of the MPs whose names are being bandied about.

Friday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Friday reading.

- Susan Riley points out that nothing positive figures to come from the Cons' plans to slash Canada's public service:
No good will come of proposed public service cuts, if experience is any guide. Not a leaner, more nimble public service, certainly, and not a more affordable one. Any savings, history suggests, will be illusory, counter-productive or transient.
It is "theoretically possible" to redesign a bureaucracy to reward enterprise, improve efficiency and prune outdated programs and unproductive individuals, says Carleton University business professor Linda Duxbury. And she believes the federal shop, which has grown relentlessly in the Harper years, is due for a downsizing.

"But the practical reality is that it rarely happens," she says. That's because politicians don't start by asking what they want the public service to do - and what skills will be needed - but focus obsessively on saving money.

And the easiest way to save money is to reduce staffing. Whenever the economy falters, politicians resort to easy caricature - the public servant as indulged, pencil-pushing slacker - and out come the pink slips and running shoes.
Next week, Clement, nine other ministers and senior mandarins - along with a private consultant making $90,000 a day - will receive plans from 70 departments and agencies outlining potential five-per-cent cuts, and 10-per-cent cuts, in ongoing spending. And, while Treasury Board isn't promising retirement, or buyout, incentives to workers, apparently senior executives will get bonuses (bounty is such an ugly word) based on the savings they find.

It adds up to a disaster-in-themaking: impulsive cuts motivated by optics and ideology, with notional savings devoured by new priorities - more prisons, more foreign military interventions and those expensive fighter jets.
- But then, Dan Gardner once again notes that evidence of any expected positive outcome has been deemed utterly unnecessary as the Cons continue to push their dumb-on-crime agenda:
The Conservatives had long claimed that mandatory minimums worked. They campaigned on it. But they didn't actually have any evidence that this was true, so when I called the minister's office, the minister's office demanded the civil service whip up some evidence. Pronto.

What the civil service came up with was the best case they could make for the minister's claim. Lipstick on a pig, in other words.

Now, one might think the minister and his staff would have been taken aback by this experience. This was a key claim about a critical issue. And they had been forced to confront the fact that they had no evidence. Maybe that would make them worry a little. Experience some doubt. Even - let us speak in whispers - reconsider.

I don't know if they worried or doubted. But they did reconsider: From then on, the Conservatives stopped even pretending to have evidence to support their claims.
Research is a drag. Assessing evidence is boring. Marshalling arguments takes work. And the Conservatives have made it absolutely clear that they have no intention of engaging in a meaningful, evidence-based discussion about crime policy.

Maybe that will change some day. I hope so. This is important stuff. I'd love to have the sort of substantive, back-and-forth debate that helps the public decide what is and isn't true.

But until then, I'll simply make an assertion - this government is cynical, contemptuous, and intellectually bankrupt - and leave it that.
- Apparently the NDP is doing more than just calling out Sebastien Togneri for trying to stifle criticism: it's also introducing terminology unfamiliar to Canada's media as to how parties try to shut down public discussion. So for the benefit of Jennifer Ditchburn and others who may be going off of audio rather than written references: the term is SLAPP.

- Finally, there seems to be an entertaining finger-pointing war going on between the Cons and the defence department over - with lower-level officials joining Walt Natynczyk in getting called out for overuse of publicly-owned jets, while Peter MacKay tries to answer for using a search and rescue helicopter to get back from vacation and a Challenger jet to get to a lobster festival. But let's note that there seems to be a common theme of expensive government transportation being used on both sides of the institutional divide between the Cons and the department - which may call into question whether there's a genuine need for planes which apparently weren't being used otherwise.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Parliament In Review: September 21, 2011

Despite a typically short sitting day on Wednesday, we nonetheless saw an important preview of how one of the most contentious issues on the Canadian political scene will be dealt with over the next few years.

The Big Issue

The main point of discussion was the Cons' new omnibus crime bill, with various opposition speakers trying to introduce some rational analysis to the discussion in a number of ways. Those included Don Davies, who went out of his way to start his speech with a set of principles that all parties could agree on; Elizabeth May, who tried to convince the Cons to allow the various parts of the bill to actually be studied separately rather than being rammed through in a single, take-it-or-leave-it package; and Sean Casey, who went a step further in saying there were parts of the bill he'd support if they were dealt with separately.

Of course, those entreaties were met with the usual wall of Con accusations that any concern about cost or effectiveness meant the speaker was on the side of thugs against victims. Which is why the most important opposition intervention was likely Joe Comartin's inaugural response, nicely framing the battle of persuasion that figures to play out of the next few years. And the points raised on that front included Peter Stoffer's appeal to recognize the harm a lock-'em-all-up approach may have on mentally ill offenders, and Jasbir Sandhu's prime example as to how the Cons' posturing has nothing to do with a principled approach to which offences deserve more severe penalties.

Message Tracks

Two NDP MPs celebrated the International Day of Peace with actual approval of the concept. But since peace isn't such a great fit for the Cons' foreign policy message, Shelley Glover elected to celebrate the occasion by changing the subject.

In Brief

Charlie Angus kept up the heat on the Cons' G8 patronage and subsequent cover-up. And Randall Garrison reintroduced a private member's bill to provide for gender identity rights.

Thursday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- David Olive reassures us that we're not in a depression, but points out plenty of other reasons for concern with Canada's economy:
Jim Flaherty, the federal finance minister, tried to slap down Peggy Nash, the NDP finance critic, in the Commons earlier this week by accusing her of “badmouthing” the economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had just downgraded its forecasts of Canadian GDP growth — from 2.8 per cent this year to only 2.1; and to a mere 1.9 per cent next year from an earlier forecast of 2.6 per cent.

If Nash is badmouthing the economy, then so are the IMF and David Rosenberg. Spitting on the messengers doesn’t change the fact that for the almost 1.4 million Canadians who are unemployed, we are indeed in a depression. And that about one million children in this country are living in poverty.

Our jobless rate, at 7.3 per cent, remains higher than the 6.0 per cent of October 2008, when the Great Recession began. And Canadian household debt is at near-record levels, as the income of middle- and working-class Canadians has continued its 30-year stagnation.
- Speaking of which, Lawrence Martin wonders why the standard of living for most Canadians has indeed been stagnating for decades. And it's not hard to see what other factors seem to feed into the lack of progress:
The question Canadians should be asking is not how we stack up against others, but given our resource riches and other advantages, how we measure up to our own past standards.

In an essay in a newly published academic text, University of Dalhousie economist Lars Osberg provides an answer. We stack up dismally. From 1950 into the 1980s, hourly wages grew at a good rate as did living standards. From then on growth has been “pitifully small,” he says.

“For roughly thirty years, the average real hourly wage has hardly changed in Canada and the national unemployment rate has simultaneously been high by Canadian standards. This stagnation of real hourly wages is historically unprecedented.”
The conventional wisdom is that the economic record was dismal under the Trudeau government. In the 1970s, western economies suffered through oil price shocks and stagflation and Canada sufffered as a result, posting a huge deficit by the time Trudeau left office in 1984. But by comparison to later years the record wasn’t so bad. Living standards grew nicely through Trudeau’s governance and the percentage of Canadians living in poverty dropped from 23 percent in 1968 to 13 percent in 1984.

In the post-Trudeau period, education levels increased, Osberg notes, and baby boomers entered into their most productive years. But growth numbers flat-lined anyway.
A rate of seven percent, considerably worse than in the old Canada, seems fine (to the Harper Cons). In the new Canada of stagnant living standards it’s the new normal.
- Jesse Brown is one of many celebrating the omission of lawful access from the Cons' omnibus crime bill. But Michael Geist warns against declaring victory too soon.

- Finally, the Star-Phoenix editorial board takes notice that Saskatchewan's urban voters are poorly served under the province's current electoral boundaries. And it's worth noting that they seem to have been prompted by Brian Topp, who's also pointed out the follies of the Keystone XL pipeline.

A propos of nothing

While much of the NDP's federal election result has been painted as the result of Jack Layton's popularity, it's worth noting exactly how the party results compared to some of the different measures used to track leadership preferences. In the weeks before the election, Layton repeatedly held a huge advantage over his rivals in approval and momentum. However, those personal attributes which did so much to boost the NDP's standing didn't translate entirely into "best prime minister" polling results: in fact, Layton's numbers on that point actually trailed his party's overall support.

Which is to say that if you think you're hearing an echo, you may be right.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan points out how inequality is bad for everybody - including those at the top who are fighting to exacerbate it:
Say the word "inequality," and many people automatically assume you're talking about the poor. But a mounting body of research shows that, left unchecked, a growing income gap affects the rich, the poor and everyone in between.

Economic growth used to be touted as the surest ticket to broad-based prosperity. But during the strongest period of economic growth in the past 30 years, between 1997 and 2007, a third of all income gains went to the richest 1% of Canadian tax filers.

Think that's normal? In the 1960s, the most recent comparable period of sustained growth, the richest 1% took only 8% of the gains from growth.

Not since 1920, when Ottawa began to collect income data, have Canada's elites pocketed a larger share of the income gains from economic growth. Top marginal tax rates for millionaires also are at rates last seen in 1920.
No matter your political leanings, most people understand that endless concentration of income, wealth and power is bad for the economy. After all, businesses rely on rising purchasing power of the many, not the few, to deliver growth and profits.
It's the promise of their own upward mobility that has many Canadians willing to brush aside the handsome gains enjoyed by the rich in the past 20 years. But rising inequality, in good times and bad, makes it increasingly feel like the game is rigged, destabilizing foundational values and expectations.
A system that lets a small group gain more while the majority is forced to settle for less, despite ever-greater effort, is a prescription for trouble. No one knows the tipping point, but lock enough people out of the promise of gains and at some point, instead of stability and growth, you get social unrest.
History has shown us, time and again: When too much is controlled by too few, something has to give. Continuously rising inequality is unsustainable.

Everyone has a stake in fixing this. And the fix has no political colour. It is about the future of Canada and where we're heading as an economy, a society, a democracy. That's why even conservatives are worrying about Canada's rising income gap.
- Susan Delacourt digs into the use of the phrase "if it matters, measure it" - and notes that it fits neatly with the Cons' efforts to stop measuring anything to do with social or environmental issues in an attempt to pretend they don't matter.

- Meanwhile, Aaron Wherry notes that Jim Flaherty and the Cons seem to have finally developed some tolerance for listening to expert opinions - as long as it involves excuses to slash the public sector.

- James Wood reports on the number of aboriginal candidates in this fall's Saskatchewan provincial election - with the NDP's total (11 candidates out of 54 nominated so far) looking particular noteworthy in exceeding the aboriginal proportion of the province's population.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk points out the Wall government's stunning achievement in managing to run deficits in two out of the last three years even with nearly every possible economic factor working in its favour.

New column day

Here, on the lack of any connection between the Saskatchewan Party's choice of industries and projects and the state of Saskatchewan's economy.

For further reading...
- I've dealt with most of the content in the column in previous posts, including the P3 secretariat flop here, and the gap between promise and reality in the nuclear industry in this post.
- The reorganization of Enterprise Saskatchewan was announced here - and received far less criticism than it deserved as a concession that the Sask Party's overarching economic plan was poorly thought out from day one.
- Finally, the list of target projects under the so-called Project Touchdown is reproduced by Joe Kuchta here.

For the record, here's how I score the list of 14 projects intended to serve as a "visible culmination" of the Saskatchewan Party's economic plan: full points for development at the Global Transportation Hub, a major hotel development in Regina (even if it's not clearly the same one discussed under the project), completing the expansion of Bioexx (though it's not clear what role if any the province had to play in a move that was already underway); half points for head office decisions when the only one that seems to have been completed was Mosaic's, as well as for some research investment at the Saskatoon Life Sciences Centre (though no more than seemed typical over the past decade-plus); and either a lack of available evidence or direct evidence of failure on each of the other points.

Among the lowlights are the relocation of New Foods Classics to St. Catharines (when it was targeted to consolidate operations in Saskatoon); a focus on a single housing development which hasn't updated any news of its own since 2008; failed pitches to two energy companies which haven't budged from their current locations in Calgary; and an attempt to push Cameco toward laser enrichment which looks to have gone nowhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Parliament In Review: September 20, 2011

Once again, most of yesterday's session in the House of Commons was spent on what's becoming dubbed the refugee punishment bill. And while there was no sign of any willingness on the part of the Cons to listen to the opposition's concerns, there's plenty of reason for optimism about the types of messages being developed in challenging the Cons' evidence-free fearmongering.

The Big Issue

Among the interesting developments on the Cons' anti-refugee bill...
- Mike Sullivan highlighted the immigrant heritage of the vast majority of Canadians, himself included. And Jonathan Genest-Jourdain went into even more detail about what the Cons' present-day philosophy would have meant to the development of Canada as it stands.
- Meanwhile, Romeo Saganash and Genest-Jourdain noted that Canada's First Nations heritage is one of openness to other cultures.
- On the Con side, Kevin Sorenson argued that the bill doesn't really mistreat refugees, since it ensures that anybody locked up won't be able to prove that they actually deserve refugee status. And in response to Marc Garneau's question, Mike Wallace helpfully reassured anybody wrongfully detained under the bill that they would receive no compensation whatosever.
- And finally, Peter Julian commented on the danger of giving discretionary power to a minister in a government that's so thoroughly focused on political games rather than good governance, then rightly ridiculed the Cons' argument that refugees fleeing war and strife in their home countries would choose to keep suffering based on the passage of the bill - and all before noting the class implications of the Cons kowtowing to investor-class immigrants while locking up refugees arbitrarily.

Duly Noted

Rick Dykstra helpfully warned anybody who disagrees with government policy to work through back channels, since Stephen Harper doesn't take kindly to looking bad in public.

In Brief

Peggy Nash challenged Jim Flaherty to do something about inequality, with predictably evasive results. In the course of refusing to answer Megan Leslie's questions about ozone monitoring, Peter Kent demonstrated that "600,000 new jobs" is the new "ummm". Gerry Ritz' idea of a gotcha is to point to a Pat Martin statement that the government is able to pass legislation. Tony Clement added expensive outsourcing to the list of topics for which he doesn't dare to answer. And Nycole Turmel started the process of comparing Stephen Harper unfavourably to Barack Obama when it comes to acknowledging the need for an economic boost.

The cutoff point

Having asked the question on the weekend, I'll provide my back-of-the-envelope answer as to how many votes I'd expect a candidate to need based on what we know now about the NDP leadership race (which of course figures to take a few more turns before it's done).

Let's start with what I'd consider to be reasonably conservative assumptions about where the party's membership numbers should be by the end of the race.

The most obvious variable facing candidates is the question of how many members there will be from Quebec by voting day. As a starting point, let's figure that in the course of the leadership race, a well-motivated set of candidates should at least be able to push Quebec to the same per-capita membership as the next-lowest region in the country (Atlantic Canada, with roughly 4,000 members for 2.3 million people). Prorated to Quebec's population level, that would set the party's membership in Quebec at just over 13,000.

Across the rest of the country, let's then assume a 10% bump in membership based on both the NDP's improved popular support and the attention of the leadership campaign itself - with the exception of B.C., where the current membership numbers are already based on an active leadership campaign.

The approximate provincial/regional levels would then be as follows (guesstimated to within 500):
B.C./North 30,000
Alberta 10,000
Saskatchewan 10,000
Manitoba 11,500
Ontario 24,000
Quebec 13,000
Atlantic Canada 4,500

That would result in a national membership total of 103,000. But we shouldn't stop there, since we can't assume that all members will wind up voting. After all, in the B.C. leadership election, about 19,000 of those 30,000 current members cast ballots; and to my recollection two-thirds seems to be about the right number based on other leadership contests as well.

Which means that at the low end, we might expect about 70,000 voters to cast ballots by the time all is said and done. And in turn, a candidate who can reasonably hope to identify 35,000 possible supporters for the final ballot should have at least some chance of winning - while one without some plausible path to that total is likely doomed from the outset.

Of course, the above membership estimates could well be off in either direction (though I'd consider it far more likely that they'll be on the low side). And candidates will need to adjust their membership targets accordingly. But at the very least, the 35,000 target should make for a reasonable cutoff point for candidates deciding whether or not to take the plunge.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Munir Sheikh writes (PDF) about good data and intelligent government. I'll add the subtitle, "and other perceived threats to the Harper Conservatives".

- Aside from the occasional expose on working conditions, there's been remarkably little challenge to the top-heavy development plan for the oil sands from the workers involved. Which means that it's great news to see workers challenging the Keystone XL pipeline over the potential jobs being shipped out of Canada.

- Meanwhile, at least one researcher is sounding the alarm over the Cons' cuts to Environment Canada as well.

- Finally, Tim Naumetz profiles Paul Dewar as an NDP leadership candidate, while Mia Rabson's article on Niki Ashton features some familiar names.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Flattened cats.

Parliament In Review: September 19, 2011

With the start of the fall session of Parliament I'll plan to resume taking a daily look at what happens in the House of Commons - with a particular focus on the stories that don't necessarily make the headlines written about question period.

What You Don't Know...

The first day of the fall session saw a pile of questions on the Order Paper answered by the Cons. But it's hard to imagine the response to any question at any point in the session matching the jaw-dropping reply to #1 for sheer unresponsiveness to what should have been a relatively simple question:
Mr. Bruce Hyer:

With regard to corporate taxation, what is the total amount of deferred corporate taxes for the tax years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010?

Hon. Gail Shea (Minister of National Revenue, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the above-noted question, what follows is the response from the Canada Revenue Agency, (CRA).

The CRA is unable to provide a response in the manner requested.

Deferred corporate taxes, reported on corporation’s’ financial statements, are captured in CRA’s CORTAX database. The database is used to capture information from T2 corporate income tax returns and to administer corporate income tax.

However, corporations are able to file amended returns and financial statements to request a reassessment, and this may include a revision to their financial statement data, including deferred income taxes. This type of taxpayer-requested adjustment can initiate changes on multiple tax years. Therefore, there is no definite point at which data can be considered final for any given tax year.

A data analysis of the amounts presently captured in the CRA’s database determined that a representative amount of deferred corporate taxes by tax year cannot be provided.
Needless to say, now may be the time for a few follow-up questions: namely, how on earth can the CRA lack the ability to determine such basic information as how much tax is being deferred at any given time? And what impact does that apparent lack of a clue as to what might be owing have on its ability to actually collect what's owed?

Meanwhile, in reply #46, Leona Agglukaq also helpfully noted that the federal government considers maternal mortality rates to be a "provincial/territorial" matter and thus doesn't bother to collect them. Which surely has nothing to do with her follow-up comment:
Maternal mortality rates among aboriginal populations at the national level are not available due to the lack of ethnic identifiers in provincial-territorial vital statistics databases.
Choose Your Euphemism

Megan Leslie has already pointed out the absurdity of Peter Kent's labeling of job cuts at Environment Canada as meaning only that employees are "separated from the department". But I'm not sure the Cons didn't manage to top that level of disingenuousness by the end of the day: just look at the response to question #20, where Gerry Ritz helpfully pointed out that "483 indeterminate employees...were lost to attrition" by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Similarly, #87 mentions indeterminate employees coming and going from CIDA, and #90 from Natural Resources.

What remains to be determined about the employees...well, remains to be determined.

Meanwhile, those noting a distinct pattern of cuts among federal departments and wondering if it applies across the board should have no fear: at least one federal government employer hired more employees than it eliminated. That of course would be the Privy Council Office, mentioned in answer #77 as having hired 57 more employees than it lost in 2010-2011.

No Refuge

The main legislation debated was the Cons' bill to allow the Minister of Immigration to order that refugees be detained for a year on arrival in Canada. And not surprisingly, the subject gave rise to a few noteworthy moments:
- Dan Davies highlighted how the bill is based on the Cons' fear-mongering rather than any legitimate concern, pointed out the obvious effect that being detained for a year would have on child refugees, and called Rick Dykstra on the gap between the supposed desire to deal with human smugglers and a bill which actually targets refugees;
- Kevin Lamoureux, Jasbir Sandhu and Paulina Ayala all discussed the economic costs of locking refugees up and throwing away the key;
- Francis Scarpaleggia moved to stop the bill in its tracks; and
- Ray Boughen got thoroughly schooled by Randall Garrison after using a somewhat more inflammatory rationale for the bill than the Cons normally admit.

In Brief

Jean Crowder raised the issue of child poverty, with the Cons offering about as much interest as usual in addressing the problem. And Peter Stoffer reintroduced a private member's bill to provide a tax benefit for volunteerism.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Alex Himelfarb offers a warning about Canada's current inequality trap:
In a society with just a few winners and many losers, a case can be made that everybody truly loses. When he argued for higher taxes on the rich, Buffett also said that the rich people he knows are generous and giving and want what’s best for the country and their kids. They too then pay a price when they live in gated communities, when they live in fear, when the distance between us turns us into caricatures or turns us against each other.

And of course we are all losers when too much inequality hurts our economic competitiveness. We know that extreme inequality throttles demand for goods and services, constrains the supply of skills and talent, and drives up household debt. Working families increasingly struggle from paycheck to paycheck and turn to borrowing and credit to maintain their quality of life. The super rich don’t pour their abundant and increasing levels of cash into the mainstream economy but rather drive up costs in niche luxury markets and invest in increasingly speculative ventures often far from home. And the human costs of inequality – poor physical and mental health and a host of pathologies – are expensive. They inevitably divert capital that could be better used for investment in our betterment and savings to strengthen our resiliency. And pretty much everybody loses.

And as inequality grows, unchecked, we become a meaner place.
When governments say, as they often do, that they will focus on the economy, they will surely fail if that does not include a focus on inequality.

We have to be as demanding of our politicians to justify tax cuts and tax breaks as we are for spending. We need to ask of all government proposals – how will they help reduce growing inequality – or will they make things worse?
- Meanwhile, Ellen Russell points out how the "blame-the-debtors" theory in dealing with the global economic downturn only figures to make matters worse for everybody involved:
Neoliberal elites have been demanding reduced tax loads, which drains the public coffers of money. At the same time, governments had a hard time cutting expenses. A comparatively strong European working class limits the government’s ability to manage the budget squeeze by trashing social programs. Plus government spending helps lubricate other political difficulties: government contracts often reward business friends while buying support as they provide good jobs to potentially disaffected middle class workers.

Countries are caught in a budget squeeze between a militant working class, the necessity of appeasing the middle class, and a radicalized owning class bent on reducing state revenues. It’s not surprising that they manage the budget squeeze by borrowing.

Even in good times it is hard to handle the reduction of tax revenues while expenditures are politically tough to cut. But since the last financial crisis, it has not been the best of economic times for many.

In bad economic times, tax revenues are further reduced while the cost of social programs like unemployment insurance goes up and pressure mounts for the government to create jobs. Governments should increase their expenditures to soften economic downturns.
- Of course the Cons are planning to burn millions of dollars hiring private-sector consultants to try to slash the federal budget. Which, as has been amply documented, figures to lead to this future report...

- Finally, it likewise shouldn't be much surprise that the Cons are once again looking for any available excuse to attack labour rights. But the good news is that they won't be able to keep doing so without a fight.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Once again, the NDP's popular support is holding up in the face of plenty of predictions to the contrary. But I'm sure we'll hear all about how the leadership race will do what the scrutiny of an election campaign, the transition to Official Opposition status and the death of Jack Layton didn't.

- It's sure a good thing our federal government is so well-attuned to the needs of business...
The almost unbroken flow of disappointing economic news has prompted economists at one major Canadian banking investment firm — Scotia Capital — to warn that Canada could be the first of the big industrial countries to slide back into recession.

And some other Bay Street economists, while dismissing fears the Canadian economy has — or is about to — slip back into recession, still question the wisdom of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s preaching and pushing a public austerity agenda here and abroad.

“The market’s big concern now is not the outsized budget deficits in the U.S., or Japan, or even much of Europe,” BMO Capital Markets senior economist Douglas Porter noted. “Its big concern is not inflation. Its concern is lacklustre or worse economic growth.”
- Of course the story is being spun around Thomas Mulcair's complaints rather than his proposed solution. But is there actually any argument against a party-wide push to boost the NDP's membership numbers during the course of the leadership race - other than to suggest that it shouldn't be limited to Quebec?

- Finally, Alice sets out the arguments for against the theory that the Cons benefitted from a rush of Lib voters in Ontario late in the May federal election campaign.

Deep thought

If there's any more important qualification for a Harper Con cabinet member than being described as "incredibly stupid" with a "colossal lack of judgment", it's a willingess to mislead the public.

A vote for the NDP is...a vote for the NDP

Apparently Ontario's political pundits feel the need to get one more campaign's worth of use out of their stale old Lib vs. Con spin. So let's clear things up as to what the ascent of Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP actually means.

No, the NDP at 29% and rising doesn't "benefit" the PCs. Not only does the NDP offer another option for voters who want to see change but don't necessarily want the PCs' variety, but its current polling level also virtually ensures that the PCs can't win a majority. And it's awfully hard to see who would provide votes supporting a Hudak government in the provincial Parliament if they fall short on their own - meaning that the NDP actually looms as a substantial roadblock in the way of the PCs' hopes of taking power.

Of course, I'll grant there are some vote splits where the Cons might be able to eke out slightly better seat numbers from a given vote share than they might otherwise. But those offer a far less secure path to victory than the prospect of merely having to attack the McGuinty track record in a two-party race. And with Horwath holding a clear advantage as the most popular leader in Ontario politics, there's ample reason to think the NDP can make the PCs' job even tougher by continuing its upward trend.

Next year country, Year 5

Yes, we should be due for the Cons' annual declaration that they'll get around to regulating greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands, just not this year....right about now.

Update: pogge has more, including the Cons' post-election promise that this would be the year.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review: Power Failure?

The story can be found in the headlines of virtually any province at any given time. Political parties eager to propose an economic panacea team up with energy developers who make sure to lock in their own profits before anything can go wrong to sell the public on natural resource development - which predictably produces results which favour the private-sector promoter without leading to much public good. And the opportunity for broader and more sustainable development is missed in the attempt to direct energy resources toward the most obvious immediate purchaser (who frequently has better options than the resource a province wants to promote).

But far too rarely does the previous pattern of empty promises get pointed out when the latest proposal is being pitched. And Richard Starr's Power Failure? is a worthwhile read in highlighting just how predictable the pattern is - even if Starr's focus is solely on the energy industry of a single Canadian province.

Naturally, the theme has gone few a through variations over the time period discussed by Starr. The resources in question are now oil, gas and electric power rather than coal. The government's place in the puzzle has ranged from granting monopoly charters to providing subsidies and bailouts, from operating industries itself to privatizing them at cut-rate prices. And the means of extracting money into private hands have evolved from "watered" stock, to corporate mergers and restructurings, and then to long-term contracts locking in profits at public expense.

Whatever the particulars of the moment, however, the overarching message looks to apply equally to most resources in most provinces as to the specific example of Nova Scotia. Resource industries are inevitably dependent on factors beyond the control of a single province. But they're also an appealing source of speculative hope for a province - and there's always somebody waiting to sell that dream at an inflated price.

And what's perhaps most remarkable in is the frequent lack of dissent on any particular resource development scheme. Starr rightly notes that a number of the most questionable moves in Nova Scotia's history of resource management passed with little or no opposition - hinting at the difficulty involved in making any case against development, no matter how flawed a scheme may appear in retrospect.

Of course, with rare exceptions the resource issues themselves form only a relatively small part of the political scene. But if the usual ebb and flow of resource politics has a greater impact in enriching the well-connected at the expense of the public than in substantively influencing public opinion, that only makes for all the more reason not to be drawn into the folly. And Starr's book offers plenty of evidence to support anybody arguing for a more principled stand than most politicians are willing to take.

We appreciate the sacrifice

Shorter Walt Natynczyk:

But somebody has to make use of our expensive entitlements. So I figured, hey, why not me?

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Janet Bagnall discusses Canada's steadily-growing income inequality:
In the last 20 years, the income of 80 per cent of Americans has stagnated while that of the richest one per cent has nearly doubled. Similarly, the Conference Board of Canada reported this week that a third of the wealth created in this country in the past 22 years has gone to the top one per cent of the population. The story for most other Canadians was income stagnation or slight growth.

That top one per cent of Canadians - who number about 246,000 - made their phenomenal gains mainly in the years 1998 to 2007, years when Canada experienced its fastest economic growth since the 1950s and '60s. Fifty years ago, however, the richest one per cent of Canadians took a much smaller portion of the country's income growth: eight per cent.
This extreme inequality in income - a feature in many developed countries today - can have serious consequences. It can undermine the social and economic health of a country, if the skills and capabilities of all its citizens are not being used. Citizens who feel cut off unfairly from their country's wealth won't want to invest in a society that refuses to reward their efforts.

For years, Canada's progressive social programs and tax policies helped keep the income gap in check. More recently, however, a number of forces began driving the gap wider: stagnating minimum wages, decreased unionization, tighter access to unemployment benefits, lower welfare payments and the halving of the top marginal tax rate between 1948 and 2009, from 80 per cent to 42.9 per cent. Quebec, with its tradition of social solidarity backed by legislation, is the province where income inequality has grown the slowest. Market forces - especially globalization and high demand for skilled labour - also drive income inequality.
- And Rick Salution points out a substantial part of the reason why we've reached that point:
We are a society that has largely lost sight of the fact that there is anything to debate in politics except how to save money. So even when (the Rob and Doug Fords) lose, they win — by reinforcing the ground rules. Don’t credit Rob and Doug for inventing this mindset. It’s been drummed into the public ear for decades by think-tanks, pundits and politicians. But the Fords reproduce it ably.
We’re now mired in this profiteering, privatizing mentality. It cuts off every alternative viewpoint. Brian Topp is running for NDP leader. The worst the Harper Tories can say about him is, he has “deep union ties” and can’t “speak on behalf of all Canadians.” They don’t say why, it’s taken for granted. But tell me one thing unions have done that was even slightly as damaging as a business class that shipped out good industrial jobs (and factories) to cheap labour zones; or a financial sector that concocted useless and incomprehensible “devices” that contributed to an economic meltdown rivalling the 1930s. Yet no one challenges the ability of people with “deep business ties” to represent us.

CBC News’ nightly hour on business promotes itself with host-journalist Amanda Lang saying: “I think what is really special about the show is that it does celebrate business.” What — are they feeling needy? They don’t get enough support? They need a party every night? Is there a whole hour per year celebrating unions, librarians or teachers? And this is our public network.
- The Saskatchewan NDP's latest policy launch deals with renewable energy and recycling - with a particularly noteworthy target to achieve 50% renewable energy by 2025. And some commenters wondering whether the party would adopt a "team" approach will also have reason to like the announcement, as it rightly gives Peter Prebble prominent billing as a voice for the environment.

- Finally, pogge highlights the fact that the Cons plan to lock Canada into an information-sharing agreement with the U.S. without the slightest public input - then declare their willingness to listen only when it's too late to change anything.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

As important as it was for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, yesterday's win over Toronto should put to rest a few of the theories about how a change in coaching and strategy has dramatically changed the team.

No, the move to have Darian Durant call his own plays didn't stop the 'Riders from going into exactly the same kind of offensive funk that was all too common earlier in the season. And no, Ken Miller's coaching hasn't ensured that the 'Riders will be ready to take control of each game from the first series - as for a second game in a row, they allowed their opponents to take an early lead.

But the difference now is that the 'Riders were able to come back from those obstacles to win their third game in a row. And while most of the elements of the win (a streaky quick-strike offence, a defence that gave up a fair amount of yardage but held the 'Riders' opponents to field goals) have been common to the team under both of its head coaches this season, it's the end result that matters most for a team that's now back in the thick of the West race.

Mind you, there is one aspect of the team's preparation and coaching which deserves some mention.

All too often, the tendency for any football team with a late-game lead is to go into prevent mode - calling off the pass rush and playing to avoid mistakes rather than to make big plays. And it's exactly that tendency on the part of opponents that's allowed the 'Riders to make the score respectable in so many of their early-season losses.

In yesterday's game, even a slight move in that direction may have allowed the Argos to get back in the game after Saskatchewan took its 23-20 lead. But instead, the 'Riders forced a fumble with a strong pass rush on the Argos' first series. And they then sealed the game on Chris McKenzie's interception return for a touchdown.

Which means that while the 'Riders left more to chance than would have been ideal yesterday, they were willing to take the risks necessary to make the game less of a nail-biter than it might have been. And that confidence in the defence to make big plays when it counts should pay off as the 'Riders face a series of division rivals in the weeks to come.