Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Evening Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Alice provides the definitive overview of the NDP's leadership campaign, including the right perspective on who will decide the race:
It is entirely possible – and the probability can only increase with time – that at least one of the two presumed front-runners now won't be in first or second place by the end of the race. And while the story-line of a third candidate coming up the middle against two presumed front-runners is one New Democrats can easily identify with, we shouldn't assume at this point who that might be, nor that the winner in that scenario would inevitably be the weaker for it.

It won't be the party's current membership that decides a One-Member-One-Vote race based on their first choices, this is to say. It will also be the new members, and the second and perhaps third choices of all party members, whether new or old.

A story, in other words, that defies easy description now, but which promises lots of interesting twists and turns along the way.
- Alex Hibelfarb nicely points out not just why tax shouldn't be considered a four-letter word, but also how an undue focus on "economy first" spin has harmed not only other important policy priorities but the economy itself:
For too long those of us in public policy have got it wrong. Even the most compassionate among us argued that we have to get the economy right first, that we would look at social and environmental issues later when we could “afford” to. But surely it’s now clear that we cannot get our economy right if we don’t treat society, democracy and environment as central. We cannot afford to do otherwise. We will not retake the future until we change the conversation and that has to begin with a commitment to greater equality and fairness, to jobs and opportunities for the many and not wealth for the few, to dignity for all those who fall out of the market in tough times or cannot get in through no fault of their own, and a concerted effort to combat poverty and its extraordinary costs to us all.

The future will need a more innovative Canada, a more productive Canada, a more confident Canada – but none of that will happen without a more just and equal Canada.
- Ira Basen recognizes that doctrinaire economics can be its own worst enemy when its simple theories and models prove to have little connection to what happens in the real world.

- Finally, La Presse offers the first indication of how the NDP may be able to further expand from its current seat count in 2015 - as oft-mooted Quebec star candidate Julius Grey has publicly stated that there's a strong possibility he'll make a run.

On survival strategies

For all the talk about whether Canada's Liberal Party is dying, let's note that one of the most important determinants of its future is the question of how its supporters are prepared to survive.

After all, there are two radically different paths available to the party which might help it to rebuild from its current third-party standing. And the steps needed to carry out each one may serve to rule out the other.

If the Libs see their raison d'etre in the terms which seem to reflect the party's main self-image - as a natural governing party which attracts members of disparate ideological persuasions by offering the prospect of power, and adopts policies put forward by others based on outside pressure rather than advocating for strong positions itself - then they figure to have little choice but to spend much of the next four years trying to regain their previously-assumed standing as a government in waiting by challenging the NDP directly. Which offers the most direct path back in the general direction of power for those who see the Libs as a vehicle to get there - but also leaves open a strong possibility of the party becoming truly extinct if it loses the contest.

On the other hand, the Libs could start to adapt to a more traditional third-party position. To start with, that would involve coalescing around a set of comparatively distinct and consistent principles and advocating for policies based on those principles. And in the longer term, it would also involve taking on more of an anti-establishment outsider persona - even if that might make for a rather uncomfortable fit for a lot of current Libs (not to mention a complete brand reversal which might take some time to sink in with the public).

In effect, the Libs' strategies figure to be almost diametrically opposed based on whether their top priority is to win back the life they enjoyed just a few years ago, or ensure their long-term survival in some form. Which means that the most important question the Libs' core supporters may face is whether they consider life as a third party to be worth planning for.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Nycole Turmel sums up what Canadians should rightly expect from their government - but figure never to get from the Harper Cons:
Canadian families aren't looking for finger-pointing. They're not looking to shift the blame. Quite simply, they are looking for action.

Action on job creation. Not more of Mr. Harper's failed corporate giveaways to the most profitable corporations. Handed over with no guarantee that even a single job would be created.

Action to make their retirement more secure. Not Mr. Harper's half-baked schemes to encourage families to invest even more of their money in a tumbling stock market.

Action to build a sustainable future with sustainable jobs. Not a massive Keystone pipeline project that would see Canadian oil and Canadian jobs shipped south.

Leadership to promote labour stability in tough times. Not Mr. Harper's unbalanced and unnecessary labour interference. His approach will lead to increased labour insecurity by taking away the incentives for all sides to sit down and negotiate in good faith.
- Just in time for the Occupy rallies this weekend, Jim Stanford points out that Canada isn't lacking for its own billionaires sitting on wealth grossly out of proportion with the rest of the country: 61 individuals who between them own twice as much net wealth as 50% of Canada's population. And Roland Martin rightly makes the case for the Occupy movement to focus on morality rather than partisanship - though it's of course worth keeping in mind the need to provide political incentives to bring about the change the movement wants to see.

- Doug Saunders notes that the seemingly daunting trillion-dollar figure needed to start stabilizing Europe and rebuilding the U.S. economy could actually be collected relatively quickly if the countries pleading poverty could agree on global tax enforcement.

- Dan Gardner runs into a Con spokesflack defending the party's dumb-on-crime legislation with talking points which are patently false on the face of the bill. Which should come as a surprise to precisely nobody.

- Stephen Maher comments on the need for the Cons to move past their state of denial when it comes to Tony Clement's Muskoka manipulations.

- Finally, all the best to Mertensville NDP candidate Catlin Hogan as he recovers from an accident. But surely the party knows that rather than risking a negative metaphor, the proper way to treat such a development is to cover it up until the end of the campaign?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Musical interlude

Probspot - Blueberry

On diverging tracks

The next time we hear as received media wisdom that it's politically toxic to abandon a huge share of Saskatchewan's resource wealth to the corporate sector will be the first. And I've yet to hear anybody make the case that devolving provincial resources to, say, municipal governments is a political death wish.

But apparently Murray Mandryk is convinced that proposing to share part of Saskatchewan's resources with the First Nations who have lived in our province the longest (and been rewarded with far worse standards of living than the rest of the province) is an unforgivable political sin.

Fortunately, Saskatchewan's voters are the ones to say whether or not he's right. And I wonder whether a focus on the NDP's effort to include First Nations in Saskatchewan's growth (rather than dismissing their concerns as the Sask Party and its federal cousins are so eager to do) may be exactly what's needed to get voters asking which party is actually proposing the more fair division of our province's resources.

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Trish Hennessy is on board for an Occupy Canada movement:
To my friends adopting a wait-and-see approach, I say: The least they can expect from progressives who have been criticizing the system (some since Woodstock) is a little help from their friends.

Occupy Wall Street, and the emerging movements flowing into Canada, is evidence that our democracy is alive and well; and that democracy happens in between trips to the ballot box, not just at election time.

The ground is heavily contested and powerful elites are counting on us to stay at home, turn on the TV, and passively judge whether the ‘reality TV' of real-life public demonstrations is worth pinning our hopes on or not.

The revolution is finally going to be televised but dude, do you seriously want to watch it from the comfort of your couch at home? Or do you want to be a part of it?
- The Star and the Globe and Mail both decry the Cons' regressive anti-labour positioning. Meanwhile, Rod Mickleburgh notes that Lisa Raitt may end up putting herself out of a job in the process of attacking unions and workers at every turn.

- Barrie McKenna notes that the tax-goodie model for corporate research and development has proven to be a miserable failure - which figures to be particularly problematic when our current federal government won't stand for the type of direct investment that actually produces results.

- Finally, a double dose of Dan Gardner. First, he criticizes the Cons' war on knowledge. And in tweets assembled by pogge, he points out how the Cons' dumb-on-crime policies include direct discrimination against property renters.

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

After yet another ugly loss, there doesn't seem to be much doubt that the Saskatchewan Roughriders need to make some major changes - both to set themselves up for 2012, and to try to improve on the play that's been nowhere near good enough for much of the 2011 season. But let's look on the relative bright side, as there are at least a few areas where the team doesn't figure to need a lot of work.

To start with, while the 'Riders' receiving corps has been painfully inconsistent due to departures, injuries and new additions this year, there's no doubt that it includes tons of talent if everybody's back and healthy in 2012. Which means that while it's well worth testing out some new faces, the more important task for now may be to sort out where the team's depth receivers (Getzlaf, Koch, Hill and Baker) figure to slot in compared to primary targets Weston Dressler and (hopefully) Andy Fantuz along with a returning Rob Bagg.

At quarterback, the backup spot should absolutely be up for grabs. But there's no reason to even consider taking the starter's position away from Darian Durant, a still-young franchise player who led the 'Riders to Grey Cups in his first two years in the job and has had plenty of strong moments even in an otherwise disappointing season.

On defence, the secondary has actually been fairly effective through most of the season - meaning that the biggest change I'd want to see there is the return of James Patrick to a coverage role to free up Tristan Jackson to spend more time on special teams. And on the defensive line, Keith Shologan and Shomari Williams should both be at the centre of the 'Riders' plans, while a strong debut by Kenny Rowe gives the team reason to test whether he can distance himself from the pack of utility players otherwise taking snaps on the line.

And the 'Riders' special teams, long an Achilles heel even as the team went through its run of success, have finally come around this year despite some key injuries. Chris Milo has proven to be an effective kicker, and both the return game (led by Jackson and Brandon West) and kick coverage have been genuine strengths under coordinator Craig Dickenson.

As for the areas most in need of attention, the aging offensive line is surely at the top of the list. And I'd also add the linebacking corps, where it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see wholesale changes before next year (especially if Jerrell Freeman sticks in the NFL).

But at the very least, the 'Riders are far from starting from scratch. And while there's obviously a long way to go between where the team is now and where it wants to be, it's well worth keeping focused on closing that gap rather than duplicating the team's existing strengths.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Thomas Walkom points out that the effect of cracking down on peaceful and legal strikes - as the Cons are so determined to do - is to force workers to take more creative steps to make their concerns heard:
Canada’s messy labour relations system exists for a reason.

People don’t like being pushed around at work. They’ll put up with a certain amount of grief, depending on how fearful they are.

But at some point, enough is enough. In one way or another, they fight back.

Legal strikes allow this bitterness to express itself in carefully managed ways. To outlaw strikes is to encourage that anger to express itself in a different and more creative fashion.
For Air Canada’s flight attendants, the screeners’ campaign suggests a new form of industrial action to use now that the Conservative government has moved to prevent a strike.

Air travel is chock-a-block with rules. If flight attendants adhered strictly to these rules, they could almost certainly disrupt Air Canada’s schedule enough to pressure the company.

And if the government legislated against that, the flight attendants could try something else.

There are many ways for angry employees to demonstrate their feelings. A legal strike is only the most civilized.
- Brian Topp comments on the meaning of the Occupy movement, while Romeo Saganash points out how the Harper Cons are governing by and for the few in a new blog which should make for an interesting exchange of posts as the NDP's leadership campaign progresses.

- Duncan Cameron offers one suggestion to make sure that Canada's financial sector serves the public rather than the other way around:
As the Occupy movement spreads in Canada, the focus should be clear: nationalize the banks. The 1981-82 "Great Recession" led the Canadian Labour Congress to adopt a resolution to that effect at its convention. Even the NDP proposed to nationalize one bank. Now is the time to take up the issue again.

Bank credit is created based on our ability as a society to repay loans out of future economic activity. The public should decide democratically what projects should be undertaken in the general interest, and allocate credit accordingly. Public credit for private profit makes no sense at all, unless the general interest is being well served. What people are saying is that the system works for one per cent of the population, leaving 99 per cent adrift. Making banking a public utility is the way to turn the situation around.
- Meanwhile, Toby Sanger proposes that Wall Street should be taxed as well as occupied.

- Finally, it's noteworthy enough that Andrew Potter recognizes that the Occupy protesters have a point when it comes to inequality and exploitation. But for Jim Flaherty to acknowledge the same surely speaks to the impossibility of denying the problem of increased inequality - even as the Cons of course do their utmost to exacerbate it.

Right turn, wrong way

I wouldn't have expected to end up concurring with Rob Silver's analysis of the NDP leadership race. But there's an awful lot of truth to Silver's take on Thomas Mulcair's strategy - particularly based on some of what Mulcair had to say in the lead up to his leadership campaign debut.

Which isn't to say that I'd see Mulcair's campaign as entirely running against the NDP's existing legacy. But he's certainly making statements which seem far more likely to serve as fodder for future Con ads than as reasonable descriptions of where the NDP stands at the moment:
"If we continue to say what we should spend money on without saying where we will get money from, then I think that the public might look at us and say, 'Well, we don't think that you are going to be able to do this job.'

"So the trick for us is to convince Canadians that we can and do have a team of men and women who can manage the public purse in the public interest and keep things on target with regard to budget and administration."
Of course, one could see the issue as simply a divergence of interests between Mulcair and the broader party if the effect of such a message was to help his cause in the leadership race. But the more important problem for Mulcair is that he looks to have opened up about the widest possible pathway for Brian Topp to claim the leadership.

It was one thing for Topp to have the advantage of being the establishment candidate, which to my mind only countered his disadvantage in not yet being an elected MP. But if Topp can position himself as both the choice of the NDP's operational core assembled by Jack Layton and the defender of left-wing values within the leadership campaign (which a few weeks ago would have seemed highly implausible for a candidate known in large part for his association with Roy Romanow's government), then it's hard to see a path to victory for any other candidate that doesn't involve bringing in tens upon tens of thousands of new members from outside the party.

Naturally, the calculus could change if another candidate does move into the ample room on the left. But it's far from clear who might be able to mount a challenge on that front. Of the candidates currently in the race, Romeo Saganash is the only one who hasn't positioned himself primarily as a centrist - meaning that his odds of joining the perceived top tier of candidates may soar if the field remains as it stands. Or alternatively, it could be that a Peggy Nash or Niki Ashton will jump into the race with a more progressive message than that being delivered by the candidates so far.

Moreover, while the development of a third top-tier candidate to push the race leftward might reduce the likelihood of a first-ballot romp for Topp, it wouldn't figure to do a lot of good for Mulcair if he spends the leadership race alienating the more progressive voters who get drawn into the race by that campaign - at least barring a complete reversal of fortune for Topp that forces his supporters to split off between Mulcair and the new challenger on a final ballot.

As Silver notes, then, it's curious to see Mulcair so eagerly cut himself off from much of the NDP's existing base at the outset of the leadership campaign. And the result may be to make Topp much more of a favourite than seemed possible not long ago.

Weapons of mass economic destruction

Shorter Stephen Harper:

Unless the beatings intensify, morale will never improve.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Chantal Hebert wonders whether the Libs have reached the point of no return, while Stephen Maher also points out that the NDP is in a historically strong position across Canada.

- Donald Lenihan muses about what better gender balance in politics might figure to accomplish:
If women are poised to play a bigger role in politics, I believe there will be a gender effect, but I don't think left vs. right is the best way of framing it. I agree that women will make politics more progressive, but this is not necessarily the same as more left-wing.
Eventually, I concluded that some kind of selection effect was at work here and that women were more naturally disposed to work collaboratively than men. They seemed more comfortable with sharing recognition, resources and leadership. They were less territorial and had less need for individual praise and recognition. If women are poised to play a bigger role in politics, something similar may start showing up in our politics.
I think women tend to be at least as concerned about how government works as they are about the tilt of its policies. As a cohort, they will lean to a style of governance that is less monolithic, less authoritative, more flexible, and more open. In a phrase, their approach to government and governance is more bottom-up.

I would also argue that bottom-up government is more progressive, in the sense that it is more likely to promote equality and inclusion, which, after all, is what it the term originally meant in politics. On the other hand, if "left wing" means assigning government an even greater share of the responsibility for solving problems, it is not at all clear that collaboration edges us toward the left.
- Marc Lee highlights the glaring disparity between profit and wage growth in British Columbia over the past 20 years.

- Finally, Matt Taibbi lists a few demands which could help the Occupy movement to bring about much-needed political and economic change.

New column day

Here, on how Saskatchewan's election campaign pits a party pushing instant gratification against one basing its policies on an appeal to voters' altruism.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saskatchewan Election Roundup

The NDP unveiled its health-care platform today, and learned in short order that the minister currently responsible for our province's health isn't so strong in the accuracy department. [Update: Or the admitting one's own gross error department.] The Saskatchewan Party is mirroring the Harper Cons' propensity for targeted but substance-free tax goodies, while the Libs follow the federal Cons' 2006 pitch for the most highly visible and economically indefensible single tax cut they can think of. And the Greens unveiled their own health-care suggestion with a proposal for no-cost ambulance service.

Meanwhile, the province's media decided to limit participation in the election debate to two parties. But I wouldn't see much upside to Dwain Lingenfelter acceding to the request of other parties' supporters to boycott the debate if it isn't opened up, since the opportunity to avoid debates altogether would presumably have Brad Wall doing cartwheels.

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Frances Russell comments on how the Cons' war mentality is leading them to shut down any inconvenient opposition using unprecedented procedural tricks:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his coveted majority by convincing Canadians his radical days were behind him. So what are Canadians to make of the Conservatives' recent conduct?

They are using their majority on parliamentary committees to block investigations of politically embarrassing issues by going in camera, where MPs are bound by secrecy and can be found in contempt of Parliament if they talk.
University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas says going behind closed doors in parliamentary committees is part of the standing orders. Traditionally, however, it is restricted to personnel or national-security issues.

He notes, however, that "even when they were in minority, the Conservatives produced a 100-page instruction manual for their MPs on how to frustrate the committee process." He laments the injection of fierce partisanship into committees. Historically, committees were the one venue where parties could cross party lines and do bi-partisan inquiry.

"The Conservatives seem prepared to frustrate the standing committees from doing any serious work probing into government performance," Thomas continued in an interview. Value for money investigations "have become a joke. It's depressing, really."

If the issue before the committee is sufficiently serious, opposition MPs might consider risking the consequences, taking off their gags and alerting the public, Thomas says. What would the consequences be? Likely sanction by the Speaker and suspension from Parliament.

Asked if this smacks of authoritarianism, Thomas replied "Yes, there's a real aura about it."
- Tim Harper muses about some reasons for reduced voter turnout:
While it is too much to expect that more inspiring politicians and more inspiring campaigns would spark a stampede to the polls, votes that do not promise change are votes that do not create excitement.

The year of the incumbent also means the year of voter suppression — not in the sinister, underhanded way the term implies — but a year of governing parties happy to keep turnout low because, historically, low turnout means advantage to the incumbent.

It also explains why any radical overhaul of the voting system is met with such indifference by incumbent governments, which have just benefited from an existing system that lets the sleeping voter lie.

These factors ride shotgun with a lack of anger in this country in 2011.

Whether this contentment is misplaced or not is certainly a matter for debate, but a lack of anger plays to the collective shrug we are seeing during successive campaigns this year.
- Greg Weston digs into how Harper insider Bruce Carson used (and misused) federal green energy funding after being hired to head the Canada School of Energy and Environment.

- Finally, the Sask Party spent years citing SaskTel's subsidiary Navigata as their poster case as to why Crowns shouldn't do any business outside the province. Now, SOS Crowns makes it clear exactly how responsible they were in disposing of the province's investment:
Following the adoption of the Sask First policy, the Brad Wall government began the process to divest of a number of Crown Corporation subsidiaries including Navigata in 2009...(T)he organization including their physical assets was sold for only $1.25 million. At that time, the purchase price was minuscule compared to the estimated value for all of the physical assets and infrastructure.

Even though Ken Cheveldayoff, former Minister of Crown Corporations, insisted at the time that subsidiaries would not be sold off at fire sale prices, the truth is now being revealed.

Recently, SOS Crowns learned that the new owner of Navigata has chosen to redirect the core focus of the company, resulting in the sale of their microwave communication towers for $18 million.

On deposits

I posted yesterday about the Sask Party's opening offering in this fall's election campaign. But it's worth pointing out the NDP's first policy event as well, as Dwain Lingenfelter unveiled more details about the party's proposal for a Bright Futures Fund. And what's perhaps most notable is that the NDP is committing to build up the fund beyond the obvious immediate source of money.

After all, any talk of a public resource fund has mostly been driven by the unprecedented resource prices of the past few years. And so the obvious purpose for a public wealth fund is to serve as a destination for unbudgeted windfalls (particularly when the alternative is tax slashing which creates future structural deficits).

But the NDP is proposing to go further, building annual contributions of at least $100 million per year into its plan in addition to possible funding from windfall revenues. Which looks to signal a determination to build public wealth in the long-term rather than budgeting strictly to buy votes in the short term - raising an obvious question as to whether the Sask Party has any interest in following suit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cat and carry.

Saskatchewan Election Links

General links for those looking for last-minute information on their Saskatchewan election options.

General Information
Elections Saskatchewan - Voter Information

Parties and Platforms
New Democratic Party - Website - Platform
Saskatchewan Party - Website - Platform
Green Party - Website - Platform
Liberal Party - Website - Platform
Progressive Conservative Party - Website - Platform
Western Independence Party - Website

Media and Commentary
Regina Leader-Post
Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
Accidental Deliberations posts by tag


[Update: Filled in for election day.]

Trickle-up politics

Saskatchewan's election campaign is officially underway, and so too is the Sask Party's campaign to transfer wealth upward as quickly as they can get away with. Just look at the numbers behind their supposed help for students:
Two programs are proposed.

One would give students graduating from high school up to $2,000 to use on tuition fees at any post-secondary institution or recognized training course in the province.

It would cost $4.6 million in the first year, the Sask. Party says.

The second program piggybacks on the federal Registered Education Savings Plan and would add 10 per cent to what parents are contributing, to a maximum of $250 a year.

The Saskatchewan Party says that program will cost around $11 million a year.
So a student whose parents can't afford to contribute to an RESP gets a grand total of $2,000 toward his or her education - an amount which is already less than the tuition increases caused by the Sask Party's decision to stop freezing tuition levels. Meanwhile, a student whose parents can afford to to max out their RESP contribution limits will receive up to a tidy $7,000 (plus returns on the RESP) - ensuring that those who need help the least get the most. And even the raw cost estimates involve substantially less than half as much funding for the universal benefit as for the one targeted toward wealthier families.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised that Wall is governing for the benefit of the few. But the question is whether the many will recognize how they're being left behind.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

On concealed agendas

Just because the Cons have no credibility in decrying popular protest as a means of political change doesn't mean they won't do their best to undermine activism now that they have full control over the levers of power. And they're going out of their way to impose costs on citizens who want to be involved in pushing for change.

Here's the reality facing some participants in the Occupy movement:
This girl did not want her face revealed, because she is looking for work and is afraid public protesting will harm her chances with an employer. When she’s not covering her face with this sign, she wore a bandanna pulled up over the lower half of her face, which made her look a little dangerous and mysterious.
And needless to say, the Cons want to make sure that such fear keeps citizens from demonstrating altogether:
Mr. Blake Richards (Wild Rose, CPC) moved for leave to introduce Bill C-309, An Act to amend the Criminal code (concealment of identity).

He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in the House to introduce my private member's bill, the preventing persons from concealing their identity during riots and unlawful assemblies act. This act would amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to wear a mask or other disguise to conceal one's identity while taking part in a riot or unlawful assembly.

This would give the tool to police to first, hopefully prevent these kinds of things from getting out of hand; and, second, if and when they do, it would give them another tool to punish those who were involved in these kinds of things and ensure they do not get too far out of hand.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- No, it's no huge surprise that the Cons are planning to launch systematic attacks against labour as the next step after making it clear they'll treat any strike or lockout as both illegitimate and entirely the fault of uppity serfs.

But it is worth pointing out that by threatening legislation to make sure that a vote against ratification of an agreement never happens again, the Cons are taking a step beyond even what most anti-labour regimes have put forward in recent history: rather than pretending they have any interest in workplace democracy (which is the line normally peddled as an excuse for, say, making certification more difficult), they're making it abundantly clear that they don't think union members should have any say whatsoever in the nature of the collective bargaining agreement that governs their work.

- Saskboy is right to worry that much Saskatchewan's media has been far too quick to narrow the options available to voters in this fall's election campaigns. But it's worth recognizing that its insistence on declaring a Sask Party victory to be a foregone conclusion before the campaign begins also forms part of that same myopia.

- Meanwhile, Steve points out the absurd lengths adopted by the Hudak PCs to prevent an entirely typical bit of misfortune from becoming part of the narrative of Ontario's election campaign.

- Finally, Newfoundland and Labrador go to the polls today. And there's plenty of reason for excitement that we'll see the province's first-ever NDP opposition as a result. [Update: And of course, the Yukon's territorial election is also happening today.]

On mutual interests

As a general rule it's fairly safe to say Gerry Nicholls' advice to left-wing parties is based on something other than a desire to see them succeed - and his latest is no exception. But it's worth pointing out one entirely valid observation behind his attempt to wrongfoot the NDP.

Indeed, I've pointed out before that any candidate interested in winning the leadership of a party that's set to form government will need to work on keeping the positive attributes that led the NDP to this year's historic gains. And it's entirely true to note - as Nicholls does - that the Cons will be waiting to pounce on any development that can serve to undermine the NDP's position.

But where Nicholls seeks to lead the NDP's contenders astray is in his suggestion as to what that means for the leadership campaign. Contrary to Nicholls' advice, the spectre of a Con operative with a camera is all the more reason to talk about genuine policy ideas rather than mere personality politics.

After all, surely neither Nicholls nor any other observer who's paid the slightest bit of attention to Stephen Harper's political strategy would pretend that the Cons will do anything but distort and distract when it comes to their depiction of the NDP's actual policies. And so any effort to talk like a right-winger in order to appease the genuine article is doomed to failure - while a strong progressive discussion in the course of the leadership campaign will open more political space for whoever wins the leadership in the years to come.

Meanwhile, one of the most obvious areas where the NDP needs to grow is in developing a movement of volunteers and donors to match the one which has given the Cons a huge resource advantage over its competitors - including having enough spare cash sitting around to allow for multi-million-dollar attack ad buys against any opposing leader. And a campaign that runs away from the NDP's base will be sure to make matters all the worse on that front.

As a result, there's no reason for leadership candidates to soft-pedal policy discussions based on the fear that the Cons will do what they'll do in any event. But there is reason to be cautious when it comes to the factor that's allowed the Cons to avoid answering for their policies at all.

It shouldn't be any great secret that the strategy of trying to attach a negative narrative to the leader of the opposition is now a fixture in Canadian politics - with the Libs' recent history (particularly the use of Michael Ignatieff clips against Stephane Dion) showing exactly what happens when leadership rivals fail to think past the immediate campaign. And there's little any candidate or operative can do to help the Cons more in the long run than to gift-wrap negative statements about the eventual winner for use in future Con ads.

So the real takeaway from Nicholls' warning is this: any negative campaigning in the leadership race only figures to make it much harder for any candidate to achieve the party's ultimate goals once the leadership campaign is over. And that should make for all the more reason for candidates to talk about policy ideas that will get people interested in joining the NDP, rather than fighting a war of attrition that serves only to help its adversaries.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On royal demolition

Yesterday I posted about one way in which the Cons' threat to go over the head of Canada's governing institutions in order to hold onto power looks to have plenty of repercussions in the years to come. But let's note another massive gap between the Cons' message of 2008 and their actions since winning a majority government.

There's been plenty of criticism of the Cons' focus on symbolic references to the British monarchy, including by renaming Canada's Air Force and Navy to include the term "royal". But what would have been the consequences for the ongoing relationship between Canada and the U.K. if Harper had resorted to going over the head of the Queen - particularly if he'd succeeded? And if Harper was prepared to slash our substantive ties to the monarchy for political gain, doesn't that make for reason to doubt the sincerity of his subsequent exercise in rebranding?

Parliament In Review: September 30, 2011

The Harper Conservatives' choice to talk about everything but the economy continued on September 30, with the day's debate taken up by the Cons' anti-refugee bill as well as a first look at the latest incarnation of Senate reform.

The Big Issue

Let's give top billing to Senate reform, if only because Tim Uppal's introduction of his bill so nicely highlighted the problems with the Senate that Stephen Harper has gone out of his way to exacerbate over the past few years:
(S)enators are selected and appointed through a process that is neither formal nor transparent, with no democratic mandate whatsoever from Canadians.
Taken together, the Senate lacks any essential democratic characteristics. Its effectiveness and legitimacy suffers from the democratic deficit.
Not surprisingly, part of the NDP's response included challenging the Cons' own unelected and illegitimate Senators who blocked climate change legislation which was passed by a majority of elected MPs in the House of Commons. Even less surprisingly, the Cons took no responsibility for having done so.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties had plenty more to say about the current Senate. David Christopherson highlighted the fact that the Senate's purpose was explicitly anti-democratic, having been based on a desire to ensure "that the unwashed masses did not run amok", and also noted that an elected Senate would likely prove even more partisan than the current version. Christopherson and Stephane Dion agreed on the dangers of gridlock arising out of an elected Senate. Niki Ashton noted that under the Senate's age restrictions, she and nearly 20 other elected NDP MPs would be prohibited from seeking election. Marc-Andre Morin warned that a greater role for the Senate would provide a means for Stephen Harper to govern from beyond the political grave long after voters had definitely rejected his party.

Finally, Alexandrine Latendresse pointed out that the title of the Senate reform bill is explicitly aimed at "the selection of senators", being an issue where provincial consent is constitutionally required. Which will make for a particularly noteworthy observation given the significance the Cons attached to the name of their other bill up for debate...

Unfriendly Welcomes

Once again, the opposition parties presented plenty of strong critiques of the Cons' anti-refugee bill. Philip Toone traced the origins of the international refugee treaties violated by the bill back to the attempts of refugees to flee Nazi Germany. Marie-Claude Morin pointed out how gratuitous restrictions on reunification attack the family unit as a vital source of support for potential immigrants.

But rest assured that the Cons had at least one ace in the hole, as newly-elected MP Costas Menegakis proudly told the opposition that it should ignore the fact that the bill itself attacks refugees alone based on the fact that its title mentions human smugglers. If only the Cons could be counted on to actually apply the standard of debating only the title of any given bill rather than its substance, just think of the private members' bills the opposition could pass under the title of the Praise Be to Our Strong and Glorious Leader Stephen Harper Act.

In Brief

Joe Comartin questioned the Cons on giving away futile corporate tax breaks which perfectly match their structural deficit, while Guy Caron challenged their insistence on PBO costing of private members' bills while refusing to allow the same for their own legislation (including their plans to trash the Canadian Wheat Board). Bruce Hyer called for a focus on passenger rail, while Olivia Chow introduced her private member's bill on transit and tested the Cons' reaction. Mathieu Ravignat took up the NDP's cause of legislation to prevent floor-crossing. And Andrew Cash kept the pressure on Tony Clement by asking that any additional business e-mails sent from his personal address to escape detection be released.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Murray Dobbin comments on the role that the Occupy protest movement can play in countering corporate power that's faced far too little opposition for far too long:
Why now? Perhaps it is the international dimension of this spontaneous burst of political action. The notion that Stephen Harper would respond even to large demonstrations is given little credibility. But adding your body and voice to international outrage is something else -- solidarity with others experiencing the same frustrated rage is cathartic. Do the masses gathering at the heart of finance capital around the world identify with the Greeks, Irish, Brits, French, Spanish and Italian workers who are demanding to know why they are being punished for the bankers' crimes?

It could be seen as citizen globalization in counterpoint to corporate globalization. It riffs off the Arab spring and for many perhaps even the shift to the left in many Latin American countries where citizens, after years of repression, are now being listened to.

And of course everyone with hopes for this new spontaneous revolt worries about how it will last, who will inspire its direction, what sorts of "demands" will it make, what organizational form it will take, how will it actually challenge power. And power, of course, is still at the heart of the question. They have it and we don't.

But these questions are premature. This expression of anger (and of love and caring) is not primarily political. It is cultural. And if it manages to wake people from their long acquiescence to the exercise of corporate power and government contempt for democracy it will have accomplished what nothing else to date has done. It is not enough. But without it we cannot begin to make a better world.
- And there's plenty worth protesting in the U.S. model that the Con government is so eager to impose on Canada. After all, Jillian Berman points out that median incomes have actually fallen further in the U.S. in the last two years than they did during the 2007-2009 recession, while Kevin Drum notes that financial-sector profits are already surpassing their pre-recession levels. And We Are The 99 Percent has plenty of stories of how individuals have been affected by an economic system set up to siphon wealth upward.

- Meanwhile, as Erin notes, even right-wing commentators like Neil Reynolds apparently don't see any prospect of avoiding some redistribution of utterly unearned wealth (even if Reynolds conspicuously uses Republican framing to describe an inheritance tax).

- Finally, it's well and good that Megan Leslie's description of the Cons' climate change policy as "designed to fail" seems to be sticking. But it's also worth taking a close look at just how successful the Cons have been in bringing about that failure:
The Environment Commissioner’s Fall 2011 report, required under the 2007 Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, assesses federal efforts to meet the abandoned Kyoto Protocol target of six per cent below 1990 levels. Of the $9.2-billion in federal funds allocated to fight climate change between 2008 and 2012, the report found that $5.9-billion in program spending would achieve no emissions reductions by 2012.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

History repeating

In 2008, it was then-cabinet minister Gary Lunn who wound up embroiled in at least a minor scandal over coordinated third-party expenses.

And in 2011, there's once again some sign of shenanigans afoot. In particular, a cluster of third parties based in Richmond, B.C. - including two individuals registered at the same address - turned up in Elections Canada's third party advertising report. And it'll be worth keeping an eye on what further connections develop, as well as what the supposedly-independent ads actually said.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- Bruce Johnstone comments on the real source of Saskatchewan's relative economic success over the past few years - and not surprisingly, it has nothing at all to do with the Sask Party government that's so desperate to take credit:
Doug Elliott, publisher of Sask Trends Monitor, the statistical monthly newsletter, noted last year that the province's real economic growth (accounting for inflation) averaged a tepid 1.1 per cent during the previous five years, including two years (2005 and 2009) of economic contractions.

And Elliott observed that most of what was deemed to be an economic boom (such as the four-per-cent plus growth in 2008) was largely due to price increases for our resource commodities.

"There was no 'economic boom' in real GDP, the statistic used by most economists to measure economic activity. The growth in 2007 and 2008 was purely price-related," Elliott said in his October 2010 report.
(T)he very resources and commodities that drive our economy - oil and gas, potash and uranium, grains and oilseeds - tend to fluctuate in price. As a result, our economic growth is likely to be bumpy and unpredictable, rather than slow and steady, like larger, more diversified economies.

That's nothing to be ashamed of.

But let's not jump to conclusions about how we came to enjoy such impressive economic growth as we've seen in the past couple of years.

Neither should we be under any illusions about how permanent and predictable our economy has become either.
Which, in addition to calling into question the Sask Party's attempt to claim credit for any development, would seem like a rather compelling case to make sure that short-term price boosts turn into longer-term development through a Bright Futures Fund.

- Via Aaron Wherry, the Literary Review of Canada publishes Jack Layton's take on the place of idealism in politics:
The idealist current holds that human society has the potential to achieve liberty when people work together to form a society in which equality means more than negative liberty, the absolute and protected right to run races against each other to determine winners. Idealists imagine a positive liberty that enables us to build together toward common objectives that fulfill and even surpass our individual goals.

In Canada and in other “developed” democracies, we have seen positive understandings of social institutions pushed aside in recent decades. Suspicion has been cultivated of anything done by “government” …

Canadians have not been quite so quick to jump to these absolute positions, however … When asked what they value most about their country, many Canadians will cite the fundamentals of our public healthcare system, even as they underline certain shortcomings. A collective project, caring for one another irrespective of financial means or resources, is seen as a fundamental, a defining characteristic, a source of quiet pride and a good reason to stay at home. Canada’s healthcare system is, in many ways, an incarnation of the positive perspective on freedom—the power to work together, through our democratic institutions, to build the kind of community in which we want to live.

In response to the challenges we face, we need to work together to build a Canada in which government is the vehicle for our collective efforts to make the better world we all hope to leave to future generations. Canadian Idealists can help guide our thinking.
- Meanwhile, Barrie McKenna questions the mindset that's limited the place of idealism for far too longer:
(T)hree decades policies have produced the same economic problems they were supposed to fix, including stagnant growth, high unemployment, deflationary pressures and piles of public sector debt, according to Mr. Curtis, a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., and Mr. Ciuriak, former deputy chief economist at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

And now with the world awash in goods people can’t afford, the solution of choice in many countries is to spur even more production and to slash transfers to debt-burdened families.

There’s an inherent contradiction in the model. Those policies are causing household incomes to fall, making consumers less able to buy things, and driving inflation lower. The recent sharp plunge in the prices of oil, wheat, copper and other vital commodities suggests that’s exactly what’s happening.

Second-guessing supply-side economics is more than an academic exercise. Some of the prescriptions now on the table to get the world out of this mess may actually be hastening another recession.
Accepted beliefs can, and do, change. Today’s orthodoxy can become tomorrow’s heresy.

It’s certainly worth asking the right questions so we avoid repeating the same mistakes.
- Finally, Michael Geist points out that consumers' interests are noticeably lacking in the CRTC's consultation report on Internet video services.

Leading by example

David Atkins points out how the Tea Party (however contrived and astroturfed) may have contributed to the rise of the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement by legitimizing protest as a means of political change. And it's worth highlighting that Canada has every reason to draw the same lessons from its own right-wing forces who would normally want to suppress any public activism - even if the story hasn't yet found its way into the public consciousness in the absence of the same constant promotion that the Tea Party has received.

Keep in mind that when faced with defeat at the hands of a democratically-elected majority in the House of Commons, the Cons publicly stated their willingness to attack the very foundations of Canadian governance in order to try to cling to power.

Yes, there were protests on both sides of the 2008 coalition showdown - which themselves served to signal the view that popular assembly has a place in shaping political outcomes. But it's even more striking that Stephen Harper's backup plan to cling to power involved "going over the head of the governor the Canadian people", reflecting both an expectation that mass protests could be assembled to keep the Cons in power, and a statement that such protests as a means of undermining Parliamentary processes would be an acceptable and viable political tool.

Of course, I'm sure the Cons would paint that as yet another example of IOKIYAC which doesn't apply to activism that doesn't support their political ends. But while a progressive protest movement shouldn't be as reckless as the Cons in its willingness to trade off long-term destruction for short-term political payoffs, it shouldn't hesitate to point to the Cons' example as an indication that citizens expressing their grievances through popular protest have an entirely legitimate role to play in reining in a government which refuses to listen to them through any other means.

Parliament In Review: September 29, 2011

As Parliament heads into a week off, let's get caught up on what happened in the last couple of weeks before its break - starting with a day that focused on the NDP's choice of opposition day motions.

The Big Issue

While the Cons have spent nearly all of their time cracking down on immigration and pushing dumb-on-crime policies, Peggy Nash's motion started a discussion of economic issues. And the result was fairly telling on a few sides.

The back-and-forth discussion between the Cons and the NDP saw a sharp clash of economic philosophies. The Cons canonized Margaret Thatcher and cited David Cameron as an economic authority, while the NDP pointed out how much harm the likes of Thatcher and Mike Harris actually did. Robert Aubin pointed out the harmful effects of inequality and was met with the argument from Cathy MacLeod that the Cons don't have any interest in reducing inequality except through private-sector trickle-down effects. Guy Caron, Raymond Cote and Mike Sullivan all pushed back effectively against the Cons' efforts to paint any opposition to tax cuts as being an inherently unreasonable position. And Cote nicely traced the centuries of economic knowledge that have been thrown out the window in the name of corporatist dogmatism.

Meanwhile, one point from the Cons looks to be particularly worth following in the time to come. A parliamentary secretary (Cathy McLeod) suggested that the Cons' current policies don't constitute "austerity" since they haven't directly slashed transfers earmarked for social programs - which looks to imply that when the Cons do push austerity measures around the globe, that's exactly what they're supporting.

The Libs' preferred line for the day was to focus on a change in circumstances between budget day and the fall, as Ralph Goodale in particular argued that changed circumstances demanded a change in policy. John McCallum noted that by the Cons' own numbers their 2011 budget was contractionary. And Scott Brison delivered what may have been the day's best description of the Cons' policies:
(Sherry Cooper) called for counter-cyclical fiscal policy, while what the Conservatives are doing, which I guess is the only thing we can call it, is a counter-Keynesian fiscal policy. It is not just that the Conservatives are ignoring the advice of the economists. They are doing exactly the opposite of what the economists are calling for during these tough times.
Finally, Mike Wallace apparently believes that he lives in a world where opposition parties tried to stop the Cons from engaging in stimulus, rather than having to push them to implement it in the first place. Brad Butt is apparently stuck on anti-coalition talking points rather than having anything to say about actual policies. Ted Hsu mused that the Cons' success in removing some Canadians from the tax rolls may have to do with their no longer having jobs. Pat Martin and Fin Donnelly discussed the strong returns on investment in conservation and green energy. Jean Crowder focused on the harmful effects of poverty. And in question period, Nycole Turmel pointed out the costs of aboriginal unemployment in particular.

Fully Endorsed

In case there was any doubt whether the Cons' cabinet officially supports the idea of dragging sitting judges in front of committees to serve as political props, James Moore repeatedly approved of his caucus-mates' maneuvers to do just that. Outrage did not ensue.

In Brief

Libby Davies asked why the Cons are pushing a drug to treat vision loss that costs $1500 per month instead of a functionally equivalent one that costs $7. Pat Martin tried in vain to get an answer from Kellie Leitch about how a trained physician could possibly support asbestos pushers. Olivia Chow delivered a statement on the desperate need for a national transit strategy, while Martin introduced open government legislation. Charlie Angus rightly asked why Tony Clement instructed his G8 collaborators to hide their unapproved spending if it made for the good news story the Cons are now trying to claim, while Alexandre Boulerice suggested that the Cons might at least want to update their spin to respond to the steady stream of new and damning revelations. And Glenn Thibeault highlighted the consumer debt crisis which the Cons are only exacerbating by rejecting any support for the Canadians who need it most.

[Edit: Fixed typo.]