Saturday, October 01, 2011

Light posting ahead

Gone a-conferencing until next Friday, with limited posting in the meantime. But that's fine, since there are plenty of provincial elections which should keep you busy in the interim.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Trish Hennessy points out that there's a debt crisis facing many Canadians that will only be exacerbated by public-sector slashing:
1.57 Trillion
Canadians’ household debt in the second quarter of 2011, reaching an all-time high this year.
Canadians’ household debt ratio to personal disposable income in the second quarter of 2011, higher than our U.S. neighbours.

Canadian households’ credit market debt ratio to personal disposable income, second quarter 2011.
1 in 10
Number of Canadians who say even with a credit card or line of credit they would have trouble paying an unforeseen $500 expense.
- Janice Kennedy discusses the Cons' efforts to shout down anybody who expresses even the most reasonable disagreement with them:
If differing opinions were anti-Semitic, then half of present-day Israel could be considered anti-Semitic.

It's like the neo-cons' familiar "anti-American" label routinely hung on Canadians opposed to the most recent Bush administration.

A disparaging word about George W. and his cohorts, and - zap - you were anti-American. Trouble is, such reasoning would have made an awful lot of United States citizens anti-American.

But such charges effectively shut down debate. That's their value.
(D)on't hold your breath waiting for some version of Speakers' Corner here. Our neo-con overlords wouldn't stand for it.

They have no qualms about denouncing human rights commissions - which, for all their flawed mechanics, do try to correct wrongs - as "star chambers." As newspaper readers, some of them threaten to cancel their subscription when the paper runs columnists not on their wavelength. They delight in turning up their noses at "political correctness," instead of the, yes, sometimes awkward impulse to reduce the sum total of offence given in the world.

And they apparently relish shutting down, and shutting up, the opposition.
- Naturally I have some doubt about Skippy's claim that conservatism has ever particularly opposed lying, stupidity or creative math. But there's no disagreeing with the reality that any aversion to those problems is sorely lacking from the right on both sides of the U.S. border.

- Finally, the good news when it comes to diversity in candidates in Saskatchewan's provincial election: First Nations are better represented than ever before in the main parties' candidate nominations, with the proportion of aboriginals among the NDP's candidates actually exceeding that in the general population. But then there's the bad news: CBC notes that there's a long way to go toward anything approaching representative levels of women candidates.

Update: Let's add Paul Wells on the NDP leadership race:
The worst thing for the NDP would be a coronation. I’ve been an admirer of Topp’s intelligence and strategic sense since it became obvious, in 2006 or so, that Layton grew bolder and more sure-footed whenever Topp was on hiatus from his labour-union day job to whisper in the leader’s ear. In private, on paper, Topp is the closest any party has to Stephen Harper for political skill. But the things nobody knows about him are most of the things that matter in politics. Can he fill a room with his voice? Stand up to brutal attack? Persuade people who didn’t think they could ever agree with him?

The Liberal lesson is that a problem doesn’t go away just because you wish it didn’t matter. Stéphane Dion’s incomprehensible English was a really big problem. Michael Ignatieff’s eagerness to please was a really big problem. Jack Layton’s last gift to the NDP is this: they have more to lose now than ever before. They should kick the tires on Topp and Mulcair and everyone else, hard.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Musical interlude

Delerium feat. Sarah McLachlan - Silence

Parliament In Review: September 28, 2011

Wednesday's Day in Review comes a day later than usual. But I'll plan to stick to the new schedule for future editions, as the anchors which nicely point to interventions from the current day seem to have a habit of disappearing later.

The Big Issue

Once again, most of the day's debate was spent on the Cons' omnibus crime bill - with a few more interesting developments.

Paul Dewar and Joe Comartin both tried again to pass non-contentious parts of the Cons' crime bill while allowing for the rest to be studied. Francois Lapointe noted that no community should see the economic activity that comes from prison expansions as a net plus. Andrew Cash pointed out that overcrowded prisons will lead to dangers for corrections workers - which led to Scott Armstrong proudly pointing to the prison construction the Cons normally try to downplay. And Brian Jean became perhaps the first Con to admit that the bill might not be perfect - though whether he or anybody else will follow up by allowing anybody else to meaningfully discuss improvements is another question entirely.

But the quote of the day goes to Dave MacKenzie in offering up what seems to be the Cons' governing philosophy - on plenty of other issues as well as crime:
Justice is not done through an open door.
Which might come as a surprise to those of us familiar with the importance of an open court system precisely because a locked door tends to serve as a breeding ground for abuse - but probably hints at what we can expect in the years to come.

Imprudent Statements

John Duncan's answer as to why the Cons have no interest in improving services on First Nations reserves speaks volumes:
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, according to the Auditor General, the quality of life gap between our first nations and other Canadians continues to grow, and the government has not managed to work with the first nations to resolve the problem.

Will the government commit, through a new partnership among governments, to provide equal funding for services of equal quality, as called for by the National Chief, Mr. Atleo?

Hon. John Duncan (Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the government has a responsibility to treat taxpayer money prudently.
Mr. Speaker, the government has a responsibility to deal with budgetary items in a prudent way. We are doing that. We are sensitive to the needs of our first nations and aboriginal people.

I have had meetings in this regard and will continue to behave in a responsible manner.
That's Why They Didn't Ask You

It's been absurd enough to see John Baird jumping up to take questions directed at Tony Clement. But Wednesday saw that farce go to another level: when Charlie Angus asked repeated questions about Clement's actions in picking and choosing which source of funding might have been available to fund an arena project, Baird managed to have the gall to complain that the questions have nothing to do with Baird or his department. (Of course, no explanation as to why he rose to answer them was forthcoming.)

In Brief

Nycole Turmel challenged the Cons to act on the National Council of Welfare's report showing that investing in ending poverty would more than pay for itself. Joe Comartin introduced a bill to allow for single-event sports betting, while John Rafferty proposed legislation to protect a worker's job in the case of injury or long-term illness of up to a year. Scott Andrews quoted Opposition Stephen Harper to the effect that any minister accepting benefits from a Crown corporation benefactor is either extraordinarily unethical or extraordinarily stupid. Just in time for the Cons to endorse their provincial cousins, Andrew Cash pointed out that the two are repeating conflicting lines of spin on the state of the economy. And Francoise Boivin questioned the Cons' willingness to facilitate online hate speech.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Dan Gardner rightly points out that the Cons' continued efforts to trash our parliamentary institutions now that they have a majority shouldn't come as any surprise - even if they still demand plenty of outrage:
Got that? If a member of Parliament insists on knowing the cost of the crime bill - fulfilling the most basic function of Parliament as guardian of the public purse - then he doesn't care about victims of crime. The swine.

This is the Harper government exactly as we have always known it.

If you are critical of the government's policy on Afghanistan, you support the Taliban. Question military spending and you hate the troops. Express concern about the cost of the crime bill and you don't care about victims of crime.
Want to debate the crime bill on the floor of the House? Too bad. Want to ask Tony Clement about his blatantly political misappropriation of $50 million, or the promotion of Tony Gazebo to a cabinet position which requires him to guard against precisely that sort of greasy-fingered management? Fugeddaboutit.

And then there was the bizarre decision of a Conservative-dominated ethics committee to examine the CBC's efforts to avoid access to information requests. How many other far more pressing matters are there in the ethics file? A dozen? And what is it the Conservatives hope to discover? New techniques for stonewalling access requests? Not likely given all the ways the government keeps information locked down. Observers were also stunned by the list of witnesses sought by the committee. Among many odd choices was a federal court judge called to discuss a decision he delivered last year - something which is never done because it violates the separation of legislature and judiciary. But why let the Constitution get in the way of a cheap shot at the CBC?
And in the same vein, Susan Riley has her own take on what Con majority government has meant:
Government MPs now dominate Commons committees and they have been busily burying leftover scandals, lingering embarrassments, and uncomfortable findings from previous auditor-generals' reports. They are excising troublesome items from committee agendas, sometimes behind closed doors, which means opposition MPs cannot even disclose what was said.

They are imposing closure on their controversial "tough on crime" omnibus bill, apparently; they know what the experts say, they know what the Opposition thinks and they don't care.
All authoritarian regimes find it more efficient to dispense with democratic protocol, but, while tempting, it can be dangerous - especially when this same impatience with criticism, and unwillingness to compromise, attends the introduction of new bills, or responses to unexpected events. Sometimes the devil is in the details; sometimes what looks like "common sense" - forcing prisoners to clean up city parks, say - is costly, dangerous and impractical.

Anyone who remembers the Chrétien era will recall that resistance was futile: what his close cadre of advisers decided became law and dissent, within or without, was ignored or ruthlessly shut down.

Harper used to hate that. Now he takes it a step further.
- And if Riley needed more examples of the Cons' abuses of their position, they continue to prove that they think accountability is nothing more than a punishment to be imposed on others - this time by simultaneously trying to tie up the Parliamentary Budget Officer with studies of every single private members' bill while holding their own government bills to a lower standard of study.

- pogge reminds us that while the Cons are pushing a myriad of questionable trade agreements, the Libs have proudly taken credit for their role in promoting one of the worst signed to date.

- And finally, the Star weighs in on why Tony Clement is unfit for cabinet.

Ostentation nation

Remember the dark days gone by when "gold-plated" political perks were only a metaphor? Because John Baird is apparently putting that long national nightmare behind us.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Unite the Left Behind the NDP

No longer just a post tag, now a reality.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Brian Topp highlights the fact that any shared sacrifice to address the Cons' carefully-fabricated federal deficit needs to include those who have the most to spare:
Instead of increasing revenues by cutting high income taxes, as promised, American conservatives tipped the United States into a permanent structural deficit – briefly mitigated by Bill Clinton’s administration, and then made worse by George Bush.

The harvest is a multi-trillion dollar public debt, accumulated even during periods of economic growth. Sapping the ability of the American government to respond to recession and economic shock – like the shocks facing the world economy today. In the process, as intended, we have witnessed on of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in world history.

Not in Canada? Like all other industrial economies, Canada foolishly mirrored American tax policy and has paid many of the same prices. The Conference Board of Canada recently reported that the gap between low and high-income earners is every bit as striking in Canada as in the United States. In our modest Canadian way, we too run structural deficits to pay for annual tax giveaways to those among us who need help the least.

Mr. Reagan's tax policies belong in his museum. If these times call for belt-tightening – a highly debatable proposition, to say the least – then let's start among those with the largest belts. A good place would be with a new top-tier income tax bracket, and a careful look at loopholes and giveaways that embarrass even American billionaires – some of whom are now leading the growing chorus for change.
- Aaron Wherry points out how Opposition Stephen Harper once decried the measures to stifle democratic debate that we're seeing from his government.

- And we can only speculate as to what Opposition Stephen Harper would have had to say about a single cabinet minister's use of $3 million worth of Challenger jet flights.

- Finally, Chantal Hebert rightly notes that Harper's grip on his party has only tightened since the Cons took a majority hold on the House of Commons:
In no small part, Harper survived (minority government) by putting iron-clad controls on his cabinet, his caucus and the civil service apparatus at his disposal.

But those who expected such controls to be relaxed under majority rule should think again.
The Conservative majority has also been flexing its post-election muscles in parliamentary committees.

Some of them are morphing into star chambers for the government; places where the Conservatives come to settle partisan scores.

In one instance, Elections Canada and other officials are being hauled in to discuss Conservatives charges that the NDP accepted illicit union contributions to finance its June convention.

In another, the Conservatives want rival journalists working for Sun Media to testify about the CBC’s ongoing battle with the Information Commissioner over access to the corporation’s records.
Be it by design or because circumstances impose it on the government, the energy that the Conservatives no longer have to spend on keeping Parliament on their preferred track will eventually be redirected to a more muscular policy agenda.

But expect MPs to be the last to find out.

New column day

Here, on how the Regina Food Bank's current crisis demonstrates the need for a social safety net that isn't so easily shredded.

For further reading...
- The Leader-Post has more about the problems now facing the Food Bank.
- The number of current Food Bank users - estimated at over 10,000 per month - comes from the Archdiocese of Regina.
- And the National Council on Welfare's recent report on poverty can be found here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Parliament In Review: September 27, 2011

Tuesday in Parliament saw another day taken up largely with discussion of the Cons' omnibus dumb-on-crime bill. But the tables were turned on them repeatedly, as several efforts by the NDP to reach unanimous agreement on the parts of the bill which aren't currently contentious were met with attempts to delay the Cons' own legislation so that more controversial provisions can stay lashed to ones which could have passed in a matter of days.

The Big Issue

The biggest development on the crime legislation front was a series of attempts by the NDP to deal with non-contentious elements of C-10 as a matter of unanimous consent, with Joe Comartin, Jasbir Sandhu and David Christopherson all trying to move motions which were rejected (presumably by the Cons themselves). And it didn't take long for Andrew Cash to start pointing out the Cons' lack of interest in passing their own legislation even as they accuse the opposition of obstruction.

Another regular theme involved questions about how the Cons could justify following failed U.S. crime policies, with the responses ranging from Larry Miller's blissful ignorance that even Republicans were repudiating their old policies, to a comical assertion from Stephen Woodworth that the Cons' push to eliminate discretion in sentencing and lock up more people for longer is completely dissimilar from the Republicans' strategy of doing the same, to a delightful talking point salad from Stella Ambler which managed to claim the Cons are increasing judicial discretion rather than eliminating it.

Meanwhile, Guy Caron and John McCallum both asked how a former "taxpayers' advocate" like John Williamson could justify backing a bill with massive costs which are being covered up by his government. Linda Duncan discussed the disproportionate effect of the legislation on aboriginal Canadians. Brent Rathgeber cited Edmonton's murder rate as reason to pass a bill which in no way deals with murder-related crimes. Kevin Lamoureux recalled the Cons' past advocacy for full debates which seems to have been long since forgotten. Ted Hsu asked how the Cons could keep a straight face about attacking terrorist financing after paying off Al Qaeda in North Africa - which was met with an embarrassing denial of the obvious from Parm Gill. And Libby Davies helpfully checked as to whether the Cons have any actual evidence for their crime policy. (Spoiler alert: the answer is "no".)

Your Economist Prime Minister

Long after his government started preaching the gospel of austerity and gleefully hacking away at the federal government, Stephen Harper managed to claim that Canada currently has a "very expansionary fiscal policy" - apparently suggesting that his government thinks it has plenty more to do to start limiting growth. If you weren't worried about our economic future yet, this would be a great time to start.

The Talking Point Replicator is Nearly Ready

One lousy comma is all that prevented Christian Paradis from providing the same answer verbatim to two questions about asbestos. But lucky for him, he'll likely have plenty more chances to avoid answering for the issue in the future.

In Brief

Jean Crowder raised adjournment questions about the Cons' lack of any interest in dealing with poverty. And Peter Julian challenged the failure of the Cons' research and development policy - with a particular focus on the connection between a lack of public funding and a lack of positive outcomes.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon reading.

- Ladies and gentlemen, your fully accountable Treasury Board president:
Clement, the MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka and a former Ontario cabinet minister in the Mike Harris years, emerged from Conservative caucus Wednesday to make the announcement in a brief statement to the media.

“We have arranged for myself and others including (Foreign Affairs Minister John) Baird, who had his responsibilities in the program, (Infrastructure) Minister (Denis) LeBel and others to appear before the public accounts committee in the weeks ahead,” he said.

As a result, “parliamentarians will have a full right to ask any additional questions they may have,” Clement added.

Clement then turned and left, refusing to answer reporters’ shouted questions about why he has never stood in the Commons chamber to explain his role in the disbursal of nearly $50 million in G8 Legacy Fund spending in his riding last year.
Incidentally, it's worth raising some question as to the Cons' strategy in the committee hearing. Keep in mind that for the past few weeks, the NDP has been able to reveal more and more of its own research on Clement, keeping the story in the news despite his refusal to answer questions: so might the goal of the committee hearing be to allow the Cons to force everything out into the open now with a single opportunity for MPs to ask any questions at all of Clement before the Cons again declare the subject closed?

- I ask of course only because of the Cons' habits of engaging in Parliamentary warfare and taking unaccountability to new depths.

- Meanwhile, the Star-Phoenix editorial board chimes in on how the Cons' ideology is damaging Canada and the world:
It is not without irony that, as parliamentarians were carrying on their fruitless last hours of debating the crime bill, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was conducting an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with both Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, presumably to discuss the dire global economic situation.

The meeting comes as a group of economists are questioning the efficacy of the type of fiscal austerity Mr. Harper has been preaching in the face of growing evidence that the world is in danger of slipping into a 1930s-like, double-dip recession. The economists note the Depression was a result of such government action.
Although Saskatchewan is experiencing a remarkable boom, among the first victims of a serious global recession is likely to be commodity prices - just as was the case in the 1930s.

It's also the case with this omnibus crime bill, which will disproportionately hit the pocketbooks of those jurisdictions with serious social problems or large aboriginal populations, because of the restrictions placed on judges' ability to take into account special circumstances. The federal government blindly sticking to ideology rather than weighing economic evidence could be a disaster for Saskatchewan.

Canada requires better than a government that ignores facts and limits debates.
- Finally, Cliff nicely highlights the corporatist push to grant rights to capital while denying them to people:
Neil Reynolds today demonstrates the traditional fondness of right wing libertarians for dictatorial authoritarian regimes with a column expressing almost unalloyed admiration for Singapore, a country even (Reynolds) is forced to admit is severely authoritarian.

Some may be surprised at how a self professed libertarian could seem so enthusiastic about a borderline totalitarian state with pervasive, constant surveillance, barbaric criminal law and a rigidly authoritarian state apparatus. Silly rabbit, right wing libertarians don't want liberty for people, people sometimes use liberty to band together against the depredations of capital, and capital is the only thing (Reynolds) and his ilk want liberty for. Capital and those who have it.
So-called 'Free Markets' are the only freedom Reynolds gets passionate about, free people can become obstructive to that freedom through quaint concerns about the environment or workers rights or a decent social safety net and that's a freedom he seems to believe should be discouraged.

Deep thought

I'm sure it's utterly preposterous to even suggest that it's theoretically possible that the Harper Cons might want to torch public money just for the sake of torching public money.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan highlights the fact that while the Cons fight for ever more inequality, even business groups are noting the risks of that direction:
That (the Conference Board of Canada and the International Monetary Fund) are worried should be a signal to Canada’s private sector leaders: pay attention to the compensation gap between your lowest paid worker and that of the CEO, because those differences may tell us a lot about the mess we’re in. After all, businesses rely on the rising purchasing power of the many, not the few, to deliver growth and profits.

But income inequality has grown more rapidly in Canada than in the U.S. lately, according to the Conference Board report. Among 32 OECD nations, Canada has gone from better-than-average to worse-than-average levels of inequality since the mid 1990s, slumping from 14th to 22nd place, despite a decade of robust economic growth and record levels of job creation. Meanwhile, 15 OECD nations -- including peers like Norway and the U.K. -- were reducing income inequality.

Its earlier report noted: “[H]igh inequality can diminish economic growth if it means that the country is not fully using the skills and capabilities of all its citizens or if it undermines social cohesion, leading to increased social tensions. Second, high inequality raises a moral question about fairness and social justice.”

The links between rising inequality, halting economic growth and increasing volatility are getting harder to ignore.
- Meanwhile, Erin Weir concisely sets out corporate Canada's cash hoarding over the past couple of decades - which thoroughly calls into question the theory that cutting corporate taxes will spur investments.

- Impolitical rightly points out the Cons' ridiculous witness list in attempting to conduct a committee show trial against the CBC - with the naming of Federal Court Justice Richard Boivin ranking as a particularly banana-republican tactic.

- Alison chronicles the trade-deal race to the bottom when it comes to ensuring that the benefits of resource development are enjoyed by the resource's owners. Which is to say that we may need to push Greg Selinger and his Manitoba NDP to change positions and stop the current spread of the TILMA.

- Finally, SGEU unveils a fairly brilliant take on the Wall government's plans for Saskatchewan:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Nuzzling cats.

Parliament In Review: September 26, 2011

Monday's session in the House of Commons was dominated by the debate over another military extension in Libya.

The Big Issue

Once again, the Cons were able to win a vote for perpetual military action with the support of the Libs and Bloc. But it wasn't for a lack of trying - and indeed some success - by the NDP in pointing out the gap between the Cons' explanation for an extension and what Canadians expect from their government.

Indeed, in response to Jack Harris' question, Peter MacKay made it clear just how open-ended a standard the Cons have to apply in order to convince themselves that military action is still needed:
Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I will have an opportunity to make a speech shortly but I want to ask the minister whether he agrees that the situation today is far different from what was facing the United Nations on March 17 in the House? It passed the first resolution when Colonel Gadhafi was the regime in power in Libya and was actively threatening to effectively massacre civilians. We now have the opposition, the National Transitional Council, having taken Libya's seat at the United Nations. The regime no longer exists. Therefore, Canada's role can be entirely different from what it was in March of this year.

Hon. Peter MacKay:

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague that the conditions have improved. However, the work that is yet to be done remains. We need to be clear. Civilians are still being attacked by the Libyan regime as recently as this weekend. There is still capacity in place that permits Gadhafi to control a certain element. There is a certain following in the country who have access to weapons that can be used against civilians.
Which of course leads to a pop quiz: what countries on the face of the globe don't have some armed "following" that could conceivably harm civilians, such as to demand Canadian military intervention if the same standard were applied?

But the Cons would look worse before the day was out. Philip Toone went a step further and caught Nina Grewal with no clue what purpose there could be in maintaining a no-fly zone as a means of an enemy without an airforce. And Dean Allison contributed a double dose of embarrassment: completely whiffing on Pierre Nantel's seemingly simple question about the current capacity of Gadhafi forces, then making the statement that the Cons' sole idea of democratic development is freezing and unfreezing oil money.

Meanwhile, NDP speakers including Paul Dewar and Charlie Angus pointed out that Canada and others helped contribute to the Gadhafi regime which is now being pointed to as an enemy which demands military intervention. Jack Harris noted that Norway for one has already transitioned away from a military role, then pointed out that the Cons' supposed commitment to the prospect of popular emancipation raised by the Arab Spring hasn't been reflected in actual nation-building work. And Rathika Sitsabaiesan spoke from her own experience in a war zone in pointing out how humanitarian development matters far more than military intervention.


Of course it's an embarrassment that the Cons are continuing to treat Tony Clement's G8 porkfest (the steady stream of new revelations included) as beneath anything approaching a reasonable response. But one could hardly blame them for being too frightened to move beyond nonsensical talking points in the face of some of the biting questions which met them yesterday. Here's Thomas Mulcair:
Mr. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year the Prime Minister released an important documented entitled “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Ministers of State”. Could the Prime Minister tell us if it is within the guidelines for a minister to run government funding out of his constituency office? Is it within the guidelines to have inaccurate and incomplete information provided to the Auditor General? Also, is it within the guidelines to have ministers interfere in spending reviews?
Mulcair again:
Mr. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, according to the minutes from meetings on the G8 legacy fund, the President of the Treasury Board told local mayors “...budgets in addition to the basic G8 Summit Management Office Budget must first be determined by the Prime Minister's Office”.

Can the Prime MInister tell us how his office was the one determining budgets for a local slush fund? How was his office involved in diverting money from the border fund to help the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka get re-elected?
And Charlie Angus:
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the Muskoka minister had many schemes for funnelling money into his riding under the pretext of the G8.

One scheme involved building a massive hockey arena and then telling everybody it would be used as a media centre. When the OPP raised questions about this pet project on security grounds, what was his reaction? The minister told local mayors that it was good news that the Prime Minister was filled with fury at police for daring to raise questions about security at an international summit.

Will the member explain why the Prime Minister was so furious at officials who were not willing to rubber-stamp his every whim?
In Brief

Charlie Angus made a statement on the Cons' continued failure to ensure that children on First Nations reserves receive anything approaching the educational opportunities their fellow Canadians enjoy elsewhere. Laurin Liu commented on the environmental dangers of the Keystone XL pipeline. Peggy Nash asked why Canada's economic policy shouldn't be based on actually rewarding job creation, rather than giving away free billions based on the desperate hope that they might someday result in economic development where previous decades of the same policy have failed. And Wayne Marston questioned whether Canadians want to gamble their retirements in the stock market rather than being able to rely on a stable CPP.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your afternoon consumption.

- John Cole points to a study comparing economic choices between psychopaths and stock traders - with even more disturbing results than one might expect:
According to a new study at the University of St. Gallen seen by SPIEGEL, one contributing factor may be that stockbrokers’ behavior is more reckless and manipulative than that of psychopaths. Researchers at the Swiss research university measured the readiness to cooperate and the egotism of 28 professional traders who took part in computer simulations and intelligence tests. The results, compared with the behavior of psychopaths, exceeded the expectations of the study’s co-authors, forensic expert Pascal Scherrer, and Thomas Noll, a lead administrator at the Pöschwies prison north of Zürich.

“Naturally one can’t characterize the traders as deranged,” Noll told SPIEGEL. “But for example, they behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.”

Particularly shocking for Noll was the fact that the bankers weren’t aiming for higher winnings than their comparison group. Instead they were more interested in achieving a competitive advantage. Instead of taking a sober and businesslike approach to reaching the highest profit, “it was most important to the traders to get more than their opponents,” Noll explained. “And they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents.”
- Committees pushed in camera so any investigation of the Cons is inaccessible to the public. Gratuitous limits on debate over massive omnibus bills - even as the cost of past legislation reaches jaw-dropping levels. And of course, cabinet ministers hiding for months at a time when it comes to serious questions about their own patronage. I'm pretty sure this is accountability in action.

- So what does the NDP need in a leader to respond to the Cons' attacks on Canada? Duncan Cameron has a few ideas:
The second requirement is to recognize that speaking French (or English) well is not enough. To be successful in federal politics, a party leader has to understand the cultural character (and differences) of both national linguistic communities. To maintain its new standing in Quebec, New Democrats cannot afford to have a leader who (like Stephen Harper) fails this test.

These two requirements are a pre-requisite for the third, which is to be at ease with the complex regional dynamics of Canada. The right leader for the party is the one who can envisage building support in Ontario, and winning seats again on the Prairies, while solidifying the NDP position in Quebec, and creating new opportunities in Atlantic Canada.
A New Democratic leader has to be able to lead a massive membership drive -- Jack Layton wanted one million party members -- so that the party can take full advantage of the political tax credit (give the party $125, and get a credit against tax payable of $100) so as to compete with the Conservative fund raising machine.

For the first time in its existence, the NDP is preparing to choose not just a party leader but someone who Canadians will be consider as a serious alternative to the incumbent prime minister. The right candidate will be the one who can deliver a compelling narrative about what it means to be Canadian today, and what role government can play in improving the lives of Canadians.

The leadership campaign is about finding a candidate who is able to broaden the appeal of the party while articulating its basic values: Canada can only be strong in a world pursuing peace, and practicing global solidarity; individual freedom and social equality go together; and the political direction of the country must come from its citizens, not corporations.
- Finally, Murray Mandryk points out how the Sask Party's decision to fund MS liberation therapy trials while admitting they have absolutely no potential value in testing the treatment serves as the ultimate sign of a decision that's purely political rather than having any basis in sound policy:
(O)ne of the more intriguing and maybe revealing elements came from something raised by NDP health critic Judy Junor. Notwithstanding her concerns about the political timing of the announcement (shouldn't the government at least wait until the research contract was inked?) Junor was generally positive about the announcement and raised the seemingly legitimate issue of having a registry that tracks patients who receive the treatment in other countries. McMorris responded that a registry wouldn't be valid because information would be anecdotal.

Consider what the health minister is saying. After all, we're shipping people to clinical trials in New York, solely based on anecdotal evidence that liberation therapy works. Scientists here are saying success stories are too anecdotal to justify Saskatchewan-based trials. Yet we can't track those who've received the treatment because their stories are too anecdotal?

On backup plans

As part of rabble's discussion of what the NDP can do to increase its membership in Quebec during the course of the leadership campaign, one commenter has suggested a targeted donation system to reward candidates who sign up new members. And the idea may well serve as a useful means to ensure that candidates who do the party-building work we're hoping to see done are duly rewarded.

In the interest of ensuring that the NDP's leadership race reflects what its members hope to see, though, I'll suggest that another of the problems that's been noted by some potential candidates can be addressed with an even easier grassroots campaign.

To the extent some potential candidates are hinting that they might away from the race based on the danger of being stuck with debts afterward at a point when interested members have already made their permitted donations, wouldn't it provide some reassurance if a reasonably-sized group of members declares its intention not to donate during the course of the leadership race, but instead to cover candidate debts after the campaign is done?

Of course, it would take a fair number of members making that commitment to reach the level of being able to cover the costs of a modest leadership campaign. And I'm sure any given candidate would prefer to receive donations immediately than to wait until after the campaign is over.

But a commitment by enough members to donate only when it's needed after the March vote could go a long way toward ensuring that candidates have a plan B ready if fund-raising doesn't work out as planned during the leadership campaign. And that could make a world of difference if the danger of a post-race debt might otherwise exclude viable candidates from the leadership campaign.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Murray Dobbin points out the utter failure of an economic system built on suppressing wages for the general populace in the name of boosting stock values and profits for a few at the top:
Flaherty insisted before and throughout the last election on moving ahead with another unconscionable round of corporate tax cuts -- resulting in a $6 billion increase per year in the deficit. The rationale? It will stimulate investment.

Who will save us from this incompetent? In the first quarter of 2011, corporations were sitting on $471 billion of capital -- awash in cash they have no idea what to do with. Why? Because they and their political flunkies in Ottawa and the provinces have screwed the worker/consumer so badly that demand has flat-lined. No CEO in his right mind invests just on the basis of lower income taxes. There have to be customers with money to spend. Henry Ford would be shaking his head.

The Washington Consensus -- the name given to neo-liberalism and its agenda of privatization, deregulation, free trade, cuts to social spending and massive tax cuts for the wealthy -- was not just a call to moderate state intervention in the economy. It was determined to gut it, to return that period where the economy (by which they always mean capital) was somehow hived off from society and government and allowed to run effectively without regulation or direction. Thirty years of amazing growth and prosperity based on a complex system of mutual dependence between state and capital was tossed aside. It was a sort of revenge of the nerds -- we'll show those uppity workers.

But now the evidence is in. More chickens are coming -- and they will be even more gargantuan. But still no one in authority or in the business press gets it. No one is listening. But Will Hutton, writing in the U.K.'s Observer newspaper a week ago, said it succinctly in an article entitled Our capitalist system is near meltdown: "Markets are beset by mood swings and uncertainty which, if not offset by government action, lead to violent oscillations. Capitalism without responsibility or proportionality degrades into racketeering and exploitation. The prospect of limitless pay is an open invitation to bad, or even criminal, behaviour. Good capitalism cannot happen without referees to blow the whistle or robust frameworks in which markets can function."
- Meanwhile, Excited Delerium calls out the right-wing strategy of provoking false fiscal crises through gratuitous tax giveaways. Linda McQuaig notes that the Cons have turned Canada into a tax haven rather than encouraging a productive economy. And Erin Weir comments on the futility of the latest round of Ontario corporate tax cuts.

- Finally, Tom Shelstad recognizes the value of unions and the benefits they've earned for working people:
It was as if a larger-than-usual number of conservative-minded commentators had burst from the undergrowth in full war cry, brandishing their cliches.

One example was the comment that a certain group of unionized workers made more money and had a lot more vacation time than most ordinary workers who had to work harder to make ends meet. The commentator then used this emotionally loaded reasoning to justify asking the government to give unionized workers nothing and force them back to work.

This is totally perverse. Instead of trying to suppress unions and drag them down to a lower level, we should try to raise those less fortunate up to a higher level of wages and benefits. After all, we don't drive average citizens from their homes just because there are some unfortunate people who are homeless. Instead, we help those in need.

When Statistics Canada tells us 25 per cent of workers retire without a company pension and don't have enough to retire on, shouldn't we all be concerned?

Bonus 'Rider Blogging

Since even the Saskatchewan Roughriders' most reliable boosters seem to be declaring the 2011 season over, let's provide a bonus 'Riders post to point out that there's still plenty to play for.

After all, the CFL introduced its crossover rule (providing that a fourth-place team with a better record than the third-place team in the opposite division would earn a playoff position) in 1997. Since then, 11 CFL teams have ended a season with a record of 8-10 - and all 11 made the playoffs. (The best record by a team not to make the playoffs was 7-10-1, by the 2000 Argonauts.)

To get to 8-10, the 'Riders only need to go 4-2 the rest of the way.

So yes, the 'Riders have a tough road ahead, and don't figure to earn a home playoff game at this point. But they can still make the playoffs without having to be perfect the rest of the way - which is hardly the time to give up on a season.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On civil campaigns

Needless to say, it's a plus to see the NDP's leadership contenders making sure to run a campaign that fit with a message of love, hope and optimism.

But a word of warning: at least some commentators will be looking for any excuse to find just the opposite no matter how bizarre the excuse. (All those who see the slightest parallel between a longtime heir to a perceived throne who effectively pushed his predecessor out the door and a new public face trying to establish credibility at the outset of a leadership campaign, raise your hand!) Which means that it'll take all the more self-control to avoid contributing to a feeding frenzy.

A helpful hint

To Tony Clement and the rest of the Cons:

Yes, it may be tempting to count on your own government's refusal to provide meaningful information in response to access requests as cover for shady dealings. But the recipients of your largesse might not be able to promise the same.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- This blog's current tagline highlights the importance of asking cui bono? when it comes to public policy choices. On that front, points for chutzpah to Baljit Chadha, who actually has the gall to argue that as a poor asbestos merchant he has nothing to gain by seeking public sanction for the industry - particularly compared to the high-powered spouse-of-asbestos-victim lobby.

- It's probably true that the main impact of polling on the federal election was to influence media coverage. But I'd think that serves as an argument for the value of polling: after all, wouldn't the alternative have been for growing popular support for the NDP to go entirely unreported by a media accustomed to framing elections as Con/Lib contests?

- pogge asks some important questions about how Abousfian Abdelrazik was suddenly denied the ability to return to Canada around the same time CSIS was issuing unsupported reports about him.

- Finally, Erin documents the impact of the Ontario NDP's election platform. And it's well worth noting that the cost of McGuinty Libs' corporate tax cuts exceeds both the NDP's own tax reductions which are being met with such vitriol, and the NDP spending which both competing parties are trying to portray as unsustainable.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Parliament In Review: September 23, 2011

Friday's session in the House of Commons saw a few themes discussed which figure to be hot topics of discussion for the next little while - with the continued focus on the Cons' anti-refugee bill partially giving way to economic and foreign-policy issues.

Focus on the Economy

While the Cons' legislative agenda of course has nothing to do with the economic issues at the top of mind for Canadians, the NDP's question period focussed nicely on what the Cons' economic choices actually mean. Thomas Mulcair pointed out that no private-sector actor would wilfully pass up low-cost investment opportunities like the possibility of putting money into infrastructure at rock-bottom interest rates, leading to this exchange with Shelly Glover:
Mr. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP):
Will the Conservatives stop making excuses and start investing in the projects that will restore falling infrastructure while putting Canadians back to work and strengthening our economy?

Mrs. Shelly Glover (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what this country cannot afford to do.
Meanwhile, Laurin Liu pointed out the economic and environmental costs of pushing ahead with a plan to extract and export as much raw material as possible from the tar sands. And Mathieu Ravignat highlighted the absurdity of paying premium private-sector prices to do what can be done publicly.

No Refuge

John Rafferty offered up what may be the best summary yet of what the Cons' anti-refugee bill will do, while Irene Mathyssen and Peggy Nash catalogued some of the groups who would be caught by the Cons' desire to target refugees. Alexandrine Latendresse challenged whether the bill would have any hope of being found to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And Kevin Lamoureux and Matthew Kellway were able to agree that the bill needlessly targets the most vulnerable immigrants to Canada.

But perhaps the most noteworthy contribution was this from Helene Laverdiere:
We know that people who fish have developed nets with which they can catch tuna and let dolphins go free. In this bill, we get the impression that if the smugglers are the dolphins and the refugees are the tuna in this analogy, then the government is casting a large net to catch refugees and let the smugglers go free.
War vs. Peace

Two foreign policy issues also found their way into the discussion - with the results of one nicely serving to frame the other.

In question period, Paul Dewar pointed out that the Cons' assurances that Canada's troops in Afghanistan wouldn't be involved in combat had predictably proven to be false. And that typical gap between promise and reality looks like an important part of the backdrop for the discussion of Libya which is set to take place tomorrow.

Instructions from On High

In principle, there shouldn't have been much basis for Yvon Godin's question about the Cons' handling of committee motions to be dealt with in question period. But given that the Cons responded in substance rather than pointing out any difference between government instructions and MPs' actions, it would seem that questions about what the Cons do in committee are fair game.

In Brief

Helene Laverdiere questioned why the Cons are preventing Tunisian nationals now resident in Canada from having a voice in that country's elections. Irene Mathyssen introduced a bill to ensure that benefits under the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security are indexed to a senior consumer price index. And Deepak Obhrai apparently believes that the Auditor General's G8 report - which was of course not officially released until after May's election - has been officially superseded by the campaign where the Cons consistently declared it to have been off limits for discussion.

The broader view

It apparently took Stephen Harper and his party several years in office to figure out that what happens beyond Canada's borders is actually important enough to be worth their time.

Needless to say, it's good news to see that the NDP isn't taking such a limited view in advance of its push to form government. Which should both ensure greater links to international allies as the NDP works to win power, and ensure that it's ideally positioned to start reversing the Cons' damage if and when it gets the chance.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- David Olive weighs in on the disastrous results of the all-too-prevalent obsession with austerity when economic conditions are still fragile around the globe:
From London to Berlin, and Ottawa to Washington, the world’s leading economies reacted swiftly to the onset of the Great Recession with massive stimulus programs to relieve the financial stress of their people.

The stimulus worked like a charm.
Then the roof caved in after the stimulus programs dried up.

We should have known better. One of the few calamitous mistakes of Franklin Roosevelt was to ease up on stimulus efforts after his 1936 re-election landslide. Unduly sanguine that the Depression was by then a spent volcano, FDR brought on a significant increase in joblessness, wiping out much of his earlier New Deal gains.

With the world economy still in the ICU, public opinion polls now find respondents imploring governments to resume economic stimulus as their chief priority.
- It's a huge plus to see Mark Carney criticizing corporatists who want to pretend that the interests of society at large are subordinate to those of bankers who want free rein to squeeze out every dime they possibly can. But is there any reason for him not to follow up with similar commentary on other obvious examples?

- Tabatha Southey theorizes as to what might be behind the Cons' war on facts.

- Finally, Warren McCall rightly slams the Sask Party's effort to make it more difficult for First Nations citizens to vote:
The Sask Party knows full well that the NDP has enjoyed tremendous support from First Nations people across the province and in particular in constituencies such as Athabasca, Cumberland, Meadow Lake and Saskatchewan Rivers. As a matter of fact, without the support of on-reserve First Nations people, the NDP would not have won these seats in past elections. By targeting on-reserve voters, the Sask Party is trying to increase its chances of winning these seats while disenfranchising First Nations voters in the process. It is simply wrong.

There is simply no evidence of any voting irregularities that would require such legislative changes. These changes target people who are typically less likely to vote – urban poor, seniors, young people and in particular First Nations people – and who, when they do vote, don’t tend to cast their ballots for right wing parties like the Sask Party.

These changes go beyond party politics and right to the core of extending democratic rights to all Saskatchewan citizens. In particular, on-reserve First Nations people were denied the right to vote in provincial elections until only very recently and their voter turnout in elections they have been eligible to vote in has not been typically high. With the Sask Party purposely and blatantly putting obstacles in place to prevent First Nations people from voting, it will only breed more division and mistrust in our province long after this election is over.

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Seldom do so many respectable-looking pieces make for such an ugly puzzle.

Yes, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were blown out on the scoreboard in yesterday's game against the B.C. Lions. But on a closer look, there's far more reason to see the result as a matter of every small break going the wrong way, rather than the result of a serious gap in talent or preparation.

Saskatchewan's special teams continued to be effective, with the cover team keeping the Lions in check and the return game ranking as solid (with potential to have been even better if not for a couple of holding penalties).

On the defensive side of the ball, the one inexcusable play was Arland Bruce's 100-yard touchdown reception - featuring a blown coverage, two missed tackles, and a conspicuous lack of defenders in pursuit as Bruce sauntered into the end zone. But otherwise, the defence was able to make plenty of plays throughout the game - only to have trouble lining up two in a row to allow the 'Riders to take the ball back. And it came close to forcing a couple of turnovers, but fell just short. (Just think how different the game would have looked if Chris McKenzie had held onto a possible interception with nothing but open field in front of him.)

Likewise, the 'Riders' offence avoid the type of multi-series slumps that have marred the 2011 season. Instead, it regularly managed a couple of first downs, then either stalled or turned the ball over just before getting into scoring range - with two of the three turnovers while the game was in doubt (Marc Parenteau's bad snap and Anthony Reddick's pickoff of a pass which bounced off Weston Dressler's hands) falling under the category of freak occurrences rather than problems with Darian Durant's management of the offence. And the offence too was just inches away from turning opportunities into points at several turns in the game, as several drives ended on passes which barely hit the turf before finding their way into receivers' hands.

Mind you, there was one area where the 'Riders made plenty of avoidable mistakes: the team was penalty-prone throughout the game, with the defensive line looking particularly vulnerable to being drawn into the Lions' backfield long before any play was in motion. (Indeed, Dario Romero is probably tackling a Lion quarterback as I write this.)

But that problem aside, the 'Riders' loss looks to have been a matter of getting absolutely no breaks in a game which was far more evenly matched than the scoreboard showed. And while plenty of fans seem eager to panic, there's still time to get enough of those breaks going the 'Riders' way to make something of the season.