Saturday, October 08, 2011

Saturday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan points out what a "Buffett tax" could do for Canada:
Put Larry and his 99 fellow CEOs together, and they could put almost a 10% down payment on a national program to bring dental care to school kids. Canadians spend more than $13 billion on dental care, and cavities are 100% preventable. Talk about putting our money where our mouths are—the savings would be enormous.

But you don’t need to be a millionaire to make a difference. If the 8,000 Canadians who received stock options as part of incomes over $250,000 paid taxes on this money at the same rate as the rest of their income—treating executive compensation the same way you treat the income of any other working stiff—it would have raised $337 million for federal coffers in 2009, a down year for options.

Now take that argument a little further. Canada’s federal personal income tax rate is 29% on all incomes above $129,000. That’s much lower than the current top rate of 35% in the U.S.—a rate that’s likely to rise. A new bracket that taxed incomes over $250,000 at 32%, lower than the 33% rate applied to that income level in the U.S., would raise about $2 billion. That could pay for the federal share of a national child-care program.
A 35% tax bracket for Canadians whose income is higher than $750,000—the U.S. top rate, except there it’s applied when your income hits $373,650—would yield $1.2 billion. That, for example, could start to address all our aging nationwide wastewater infrastructure.
- But of course, the Cons have other ideas as to what's most important. And Vic Toews is dictating that provinces have no choice but to slash social spending in order to pay for new prisons required by the Cons' dumb-on-crime legislation.

- Rory MacLean reports on the need for a Saskatchewan provincial water strategy. But since a massive part of the problem arises from water wasted by the oil industry in Alberta, we can rest assured that Brad Wall's Sask Party won't have any interest in listening.

- Finally, Naomi Klein writes about the importance of Occupy Wall Street (the movement it's spawning around the globe).

Deep thought

Five months after the election of Canada's first-ever NDP official opposition at the federal level, it's now been declared conventional wisdom that the real opposition comes from provincial governments (who, last I checked, were limited in their ability to spend much time pointing out the federal government's failings since they have their own provinces to run) rather than Parliament.

And I'm only surprised it took so long.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Musical interlude

Faithless feat. Dido - One Step Too Far

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Both Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Interim Auditor General John Wiersema are rightly ripping the Cons for their complete unwillingness to be honest about how they're wasting public money. But then, the Cons see a complete lack of accountability as a feature rather than a bug.

- Statistics Canada notes that major changes to the census are a bad idea even on a ten-year time frame. Which makes the Cons' last-minute evisceration of the long form look even more insane.

- Paul McLeod points out that the Cons' attempts to rewrite the outcome of provincial elections went far beyond mere endorsements and spin:
On Prince Edward Island, Liberals are quietly seething despite Robert Ghiz’s re-election with a majority government. They accuse the federal Tories, in particular Senator Mike Duffy and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, of trying to steal the election for the Tories.

The dispute centres on Kenney calling in the RCMP in the middle of the election campaign to investigate allegations of fraud and bribery around a provincial immigration program. The story was concurrently leaked to the Globe and Mail, which ran the piece on its front page.

The charges came from three former government bureaucrats. It was later revealed they were driven to a news conference by a Mike Duffy staffer.
- Finally, we'll have to hope that the workers injured in an explosion at Regina's CCRL refinery. But it's also worth noting that between the refinery fire and the death of a worker at an asphalt plant near Glaslyn, this week's news doesn't exactly speak well of the Sask Party's emphasis on voluntary safety in the workplace.

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Sometimes, an ugly result on the scoreboard bears little resemblance to the actual flow of a football game. But last Saturday's annihilation at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders was not one of those games for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The 'Riders' offensive line was thoroughly ineffective throughout the game, leaving Darian Durant with few opportunities to make plays and likely contributing to a frustrating set of turnovers. And the team's defence looked pitiful trying to tackle Stamps running back Jon Cornish, who was able to strongarm most of the 'Riders' defenders and outrun the rest at seemingly every turn.

Which means that now is probably the time for the 'Riders to consider how to set themselves up for next year. So let's name some names as to what changes might be worth making as the season winds down.

The easiest calls are older players who were already of relatively little help to the 'Riders, and almost certainly won't be improving over the course of another offseason. The already-traded Jamie Boreham looks to be one example (and indeed it was odd to see the 'Riders' sign him in the first place with Chris Milo developing nicely over the course of the season), but there are plenty of other possibilities.

In particular, an offensive line with four starters and a top backup over 30 hasn't been able to keep up with opponents' defenders for much of the season - with the current tackles (Alex Gauthier and Dan Goodspeed) along with reserve George Hudson looking especially unlikely to contribute to the next contending 'Rider team. So now would seem to be the time to see what a substantial number of younger linemen can do given an opportunity to face regular-season gameplay - to establish themselves if they're ready, and to make it clear what positions the 'Riders need to fill if not. And the 'Riders' more versatile veterans like Gene Makowsky and Marc Parenteau can fill in the gaps for those who don't live up to expectations.

Similarly, veterans like Barrin Simpson, Jason Clermont, Graeme Bell, Ryan Dinwiddie, Dario Romero and James Robinson don't have much to prove or improve at this point. And while it's probably worth keeping at least the former four around as mentors and possible contributors next season, the 'Riders shouldn't be far from looking at their positions as valuable sources of playing time and experience for younger players.

Meanwhile, it's not as if the 'Riders are lacking for young talent to try out. There's effectively a full non-import offensive line sitting on the team's bench and/or injured list, and a defensive line waiting for its turn between the bench and the practice roster. The team has a number of skill-position non-imports who could expand their roles, with Scott McHenry and Jordan Sisco needing repetitions to get accustomed to the CFL while Stu Foord has yet to receive much of a chance to establish himself in the 'Riders' offence. And perhaps most importantly, third-string quarterback Cole Bergquist has been around the 'Riders for over two seasons and should be getting close to either taking over as the team's backup or making way for another prospect.

At the same time, a series of promotions from the practice roster to the active one will also open up plenty of space for new import talent. And the prospect of using the end of 2011 as an early start to training camp for 2012 for an unusually large crop of new additions could give the 'Riders a leg up on their competition.

Of course, the 'Riders almost certainly won't give up on 2011 until they're mathematically eliminated - and it could be that we'll see a late-season surge. But it's at least time to start planning to make the most of the chance to prepare for the years to come, and the season will look like even more of a waste if the 'Riders pair continued disappointment with a failure to plan for the future.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Adam Radwanski warns that Ontario's voters can't afford to stay home from today's provincial election.

- Jim Stanford calls out the Harper Cons and their right-win echo chamber for their baseless and gratuitous attacks on unions. But given the decades-old trend linking stagnant wages and increasing inequality to a reduction in union activity, I'm not sure it's such a bad thing for the progressive cause in the long run if the Cons continue to make it abundantly clear that they're dedicated to destroying organized labour and the greater equality and prosperity it stands for.

- Frances Russell rightly points out that while there's plenty to be proud of in Manitoba's provincial election outcome, the province saw a massive gap between its voting results and the resulting seat distribution - making for just one more data point in favour of proportional representation.

- Finally, Thomas Walkom notes that the Occupy Wall Street movement (which is making its way into Canada and elsewhere) looks to play an important role in shaping public discussion of our economic future.

New column day

Here, on how the small-c conservative wave that was projected as a possible consequence of a majority federal government has instead given way to a tide of voters rejecting the Harper Cons' mindset.

For further reading, Susan Delacourt and I both considered different "magic numbers" which could have changed the face of Canadian politics. Chantal Hebert makes a similar point to that made in the column. Update: And the Calgary Herald documents the Harper Cons' apparently-failing attempt to cheerlead Tim Hudak to power in Ontario.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your midweek reading.

- Erin compares the stimulative effects of Ontario's election platforms:
A multiplier is the amount by which a dollar of budgetary outlay increases Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The federal Department of Finance estimates multipliers of 1.3 for public expenditure, 0.9 for personal tax cuts and 0.2 for corporate tax cuts in the year after their enactment.

Applying these multipliers to Ontario’s election platforms suggests a GDP boost of $1.3 billion from the Conservatives, $1.4 billion from the Liberals and $1.8 billion from the NDP if corporate tax credits are treated as corporate tax cuts. Counting these credits as public spending brings the NDP’s stimulus to $2.3 billion.

Of course, all of the above multipliers would be lower in Ontario because it is smaller than the national economy. Proportionally more spending would flow outside the province than outside the country as a whole. The NDP’s Buy Ontario policy would limit this outflow by keeping a larger share of procurement spending inside the province.

Given higher outflows and lower multipliers at the provincial level, the federal government should take primary responsibility for using fiscal policy to manage economic demand. However, to the extent that Ontario provincial platforms can be evaluated as stimulus packages, the NDP proposal is strongest.

New Democrats would deliver the most stimulus and job creation at the lowest fiscal cost by focussing on measures with the biggest bang per buck: direct public investment and targeted tax credits. By contrast, Liberals and Conservatives have prioritized slashing tax rates on corporate profits, the least effective way to stimulate the economy.
- Andrew Steele is right to point out the need to treat voter suppression as the crime that it is. But it's equally important that those of us who value widespread participation call out attempts to suppress the vote through legislation and other means as well, rather than buying into the spin that we should value evidence-free assertions about a need to crack down over real access to the polls.

- CUPE notes that the Sask Party's rhetoric about privatizing surgical functions to increase the number of procedures performed has proven entirely false in practice, as millions of dollars in added funding (contingent on the money being siphoned into the private sector) have actually led to less surgeries being performed.

- Finally, I'm guessing most readers will already know about the Manitoba NDP's fourth straight mandate. But it's still a huge plus to see that the efforts to build a right-wing western bloc have hit a barrier at the Manitoba border - and hopefully we'll see even more pushback as the fall's election season progresses.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

NDP Leadership Roundup

A few very quick updates since my last commentary on the NDP leadership race...

Martin Singh, Nathan Cullen and Paul Dewar are in, while Thomas Mulcair should be shortly (with Phil Edmonston's endorsement). Brian Topp's new endorsers include Libby Davies and Shirley Douglas among others.

But the most important development of the last little while is what seems to me a relatively surprising announcement that Peter Julian won't pursue the leadership. That's so both because he'd already managed to earn several key caucus endorsements, and because his combination of a British Columbia base, organizing experience in Quebec, the potential to win over ethnic communities around other urban areas and strong issue identification looked to give him as plausible a path to victory as anybody.

With Julian not running, several groups of voters who figured to end up in his camp may be up for grabs - and it's not at all clear that the candidates who have joined the race so far are great fits to win them over. Which means that I for one will very much be hoping for another larger name or two to enter the race.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Chris Selley points out the absurdity of Ontario's Libs and PCs both running away from the idea of a coalition just as needlessly as their federal counterparts. But let's remember that since the NDP spoke up for the idea of a coalition federally, the Libs were entirely comfortable taking a supporting role - so if Ontario's election produces relatively similar seat totals for the three main parties, might the NDP's willingness to consider a coalition actually give it the upper hand in forming government?

- The Cons are finding out the hard way that the type of evidence-free bluster that sustains their own party doesn't get very far with the likes of Elections Canada. And the NDP is nicely pushing back against the obvious implications of the Cons' central message control.

- Murray Mandryk notes that the Sask Party's determination to pick fights with Saskatchewan workers is leading to just as much posturing and bullying with unions who try to avoid conflict as with ones who are up for the challenge - leaving little reason for workers to take the former path.

- Finally, Andrew Jackson comments on Canada's shaky economic fundamentals - with a particular focus on how the trade-at-all-costs agenda pushed by the Cons and Libs alike has undermined our balance of payments compared to our international competitors.

On labelling

Aaron Wherry has noted that one Stephen Harper answer that struck me as shocking has in fact become a regular Con economic talking point. And it's worth noting both how inaccurate the line about an "expansionary" fiscal policy actually is, and the harmful effects if the public comes to believe it.

To start with, let's note that nothing in the Cons' fiscal policy has changed in the slightest since their June budget - which attempted to claim some job creation out of past stimulus spending, but contained at best some minor tinkering in terms of anything remotely aimed at increasing economic growth (particularly contrasted against the contractionary effects of actually cutting off stimulus programs).

In effect, the Cons have taken what they previous labeled as austerity and deficit-fighting, and simply declared it retroactively to be "expansionary".

Which figures to serve two purposes for the Cons. First, it gives them a position - however ill-founded - against the case for further stimulus that the opposition parties are rightly starting to make as the economic situation in Canada and abroad gets bleaker by the day. And second, if things do get worse, it sets them up to declare that expansionary policy has failed, and thus insist that the beatings have to intensify until morale improves.

And that's why it's particularly important for the opposition parties not to lose the battle of language over what the Cons have done to date. Simply put, the task for this fall should be to dredge up every available example of the Cons declaring their existing budget to be focused on austerity and cuts rather than anything "expansionary" - to make sure that both the Cons and their policies take the blame they deserve.