Saturday, December 03, 2011

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Greg Weston nicely chronicles Peter MacKay's flat-out lies about how he came to take a $30,000 helicopter ride. And while Weston despairs about the likelihood that MacKay will pay any price, he does point out why we shouldn't accept anything less:
Few things corrode the effectiveness of our democratic system more than dishonesty among those elected, appointed or hired to serve the public.

As much as honest politics may seem oxymoronic to many Canadians, feeding the public a crock is not a victimless offence.

What is the impact on the morale of the dedicated men and women of Canada's armed forces when their defence minister claims his misuse of a military helicopter as a personal taxi was merely participating in a search-and-rescue demonstration?

What message are Canada's more than 250,000 federal public servants supposed to take away from MacKay's example as they go about their jobs spending taxpayers' money?

If politicians lie about the small stuff, why would ordinary Canadians believe anything the government says on matters of grave importance?
- Meanwhile, Kelly McParland notes that the Cons are using every dirty Nixonian trick they can think of in trying to tear down any semblance of opposition.

- Patricia Pearson points out how federal intervention has created massive problems for remote First Nations. And Bob Lovelace worries that the Cons are planning to use their own failings as an excuse to push First Nations out of their home communities.

- The Economist weighs in against the Cons' dumb-on-crime legislation.

- Finally, John Geddes' wish list for 2012 includes a hope that we'll see an end to disingenuous attempts to reform the Senate, with a genuine push toward abolition in their place.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

New column day

Here, on the need for equitable resource sharing to start writing a new ending to Canada's shameful story of First Nations relations - and how the Saskatchewan NDP nearly took itself out of the narrative.

Scott Stelmaschuk has an opposing take on the proper response from the NDP.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Light blogging ahead

I'm on the move over the next couple of days, and will have limited opportunity to blog in the meantime. Have no fear, though, as I should be connected again in time for Sunday's inaugural NDP leadership debate.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your midweek reading.

- Rachel Mendleson reports on research showing that inequality is correlated to mortality rates within a particular city - with the sole exception of communities with a high proportion of immigrants. Which makes it awfully tempting to suggest that based on their combination of inequality-exacerbating and immigration-limiting policies, the Harper Cons should be considered objectively pro-death.

- And needless to say, Leona Agglukaq's continued efforts to derail any effort to limit sodium in Canadian food would only play into that image. A handy hint: if the fundamental flaw with a regulatory scheme is that companies would be tempted to opt out, then don't make it optional.

- Sixth Estate points out the connections between Con spokesflack Jason Lietaer and the funding that looks to have funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into continued tobacco production in the name of ending it.

- Finally, Andrew Jackson points out a new study discussing tax evasion on a global scale.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cuddled cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dan Leger comments on the combination of secrecy and control exerted by Stephen Harper over the entire federal government. And the "Harper Government" re-branding exercise - now confirmed by reams of direct evidence yet still somehow denied by the Cons - serves as the emblematic case in point.

- But let's not go too far in suggesting that "the state is everywhere" under the Cons. Instead, the biggest problem is that Harper is determinedly pairing an omnipresent PR apparatus with a state that does as little as possible in terms of actual public service.

- Jim Stanford highlights what banks have done to siphon off Canadian wealth while minimizing any actual contribution to its development.

- And finally, Hans Rollman wonders whether we're seeing the end of the right to strike which enabled the labour movement to push much of the societal progress made in the 20th century.

Leadership 2012 - Policy Roundup

As the NDP's leadership race moves into the limelight, the candidates are starting to unveil some of their policy priorities. As I've mentioned it's an open question as to how much members will want to change from a set of ideas that's worked rather well for a few election cycles - but let's take a quick glance at what's been unveiled so far.

- First out of the gate was Martin Singh with his paper on entrepreneurship. And while much of the effort to better link ideas, education and capital would find a place in any party's platform, Singh's explicit focus on both the value of social entrepreneurship and the public profits to be made in investing wisely takes the plan a couple of steps further than we've normally heard (and in a way which looks to appeal to NDP members).

- Paul Dewar's job strategy scratches the surface of a number of policy areas, including not only a direct defence of infrastructure, training programs and public services, but also some populist flavour in cracking down on tax havens and rejecting sales tax increases. Those proposals fit nicely with the NDP's current positions, but by the same token don't advance the policy debate very far - meaning that we'll have to see whether Dewar has some more daring policy ideas on the way.

- Nathan Cullen's energy policy stands out in the pack so far as a particularly detailed analysis which also makes some more daring proposals than we've seen elsewhere. The general combination of improved conservation and an incremental shift toward renewable energy is fairly standard progressive policy, but Cullen also proposes some substantial (and positive) changes to the status quo in cutting nuclear power off from the public teat, introducing environmental screens in trade policy and discouraging the export of raw resources where there's a reasonable case to be made for Canadian processing.

- Finally, Brian Topp's tax plan includes noteworthy proposals to ensure that high-income Canadians can't avoid paying their fair share of taxes by using loopholes based on capital gains or stock options, while adding billions to the public treasury. But perhaps the most important element of his plan is the statement that one of the functions of of our tax system should to reduce inequality - which figures to make for a useful theme for all candidates even if they disagree with the specifics of Topp's proposal.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- With prorogation looking like it's bound to be back on the table fairly shortly, Lori Turnbull offers a worthwhile suggestion to end the Cons' abuses:
The 2012 prorogation would be substantively different. First, there is no obvious political land mine to avoid. Second, the Conservatives have demonstrated how majority status confers an immunity of sorts from even the most scathing criticism from the opposition benches. These factors make a potential upcoming prorogation less necessary from a political standpoint, but the fact remains: We live in a country where a prime minister can shut down the House, the pre-eminent institution of our parliamentary democracy, on a whim, for no particular reason.

In our new book, Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government, we argue that prorogations should occur only with the consent of a two-thirds majority of the House. This would place the balance of power in the hands of elected representatives, where it belongs. The House would have to consent to turning the lights off. If we allow the prime minister to unilaterally decide whether and when the House can perform its scrutiny function, we reverse the basic logic of responsible government, which dictates that the government must be accountable to the House. The two-thirds majority threshold is high enough to nearly always necessitate multiparty support.

A simple majority, as suggested by the Liberals and the NDP, would still allow a majority government prime minister to get his way just by whipping the votes of his own caucus. We argue that where prorogation is routine, the supermajority threshold should be reached easily. But, if adopted, our proposal would enable the House of Commons to protect itself against a prime minister who is motivated to avoid it. We seem to be living in an era where elected representatives have to stand up for their right to do their jobs; this reform would change that.
- Meanwhile, it shouldn't come as much surprise that the Cons plan to formally declare that they see no problem tearing up international climate change agreements. But the more remarkable part of Roger Smith's revelation that they plan to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol is that the Cons' plan was to wait until after the next major round of negotiations - at a point when global reaction will likely determine whether it's possible to make progress despite the Cons' constant obstruction on behalf of the tar sands - to repudiate the work that's been done in the past.

- And the Cons' spirit of openness and honesty can also be found in their systematic deception about the cost of renovating the Nortel campus for the Department of Defence.

- Finally, pogge chronicles the birth of a zombie lie (which we can expect to hear repeated ad nauseum as the Cons attempt to distract from the appalling conditions facing Canada's First Nations by attacking their leaders).

Parliament In Review: October 31, 2011

Monday, October 31 saw a study in contrasts as two matters were debated in the House of Commons: a private member's bill which understandably saw broad agreement, and an opposition motion which should have but was instead met with a painful level of denial from the Cons.

The Big Issue

That of course would be Claude Gravelle's motion calling for Canada to end the mining, use and export of asbestos. But you'd never know it from the Cons' response - as the first two Con speeches stuck so dutifully to the party's talking points that they didn't even deign to mention the word "asbestos" once in dealing with the motion. Which surely speaks volumes as to how indefensible the Cons know it is to stick so stubbornly to their defence of the industry.

Mind you, the streak was finally broken in a response from Wladyslaw Lizon in defence of dangerous substances generally. And even that may not have been the most jaw-droppingly callous moment from the Cons, as Christian Paradis argued that we should keep encouraging the use of substances which have been proven to be unsafe by pointing to a lack of data about possible substitutes.

Not surprisingly, Pat Martin played a prominent role in the debate - highlighting the amount of public money and time the Cons have used to tar Canada with the reputation as the lone developed country which refuses to acknowledge the dangers of all forms of asbestos, duly mocking the lone study supposedly supporting the use of chrysotile asbestos on the basis that it's harmful enough to boost the immune system of those exposed to it, and proposing that the public money now going into propping up the asbestos industry instead be used to remediate buildings still laced with it. Elizabeth May questioned why the Cons are willing to ignore hundreds of thousands of asbestos-related deaths while shedding crocodile tears over much smaller humanitarian crises. May also pointed out the environmental damage that asbestos mining has inflicted in Quebec, while Anne Marie Day noted the health impacts of asbestos mining. Dennis Bevington countered the Cons' attempt to paint the motion as an attack on the mining industry as a whole by noting that we'll have a much tougher time exporting anything at all if we send the message that all of our products are as unsafe as asbestos - which figures to be a particular problem as the Cons turn Canada into an international pariah. Joe Comartin, Nathan Cullen and Francois Lapointe all noted the entirely justified concern expressed about asbestos by Cons past and present. And Cullen nicely summed up the the dangers when a government sees itself primarily as a lobbying arm of an industry (as the Cons are doing just as much for asbestos as for the tar sands):
I have some experience with this argument because I introduced a private member's bill in a previous Parliament to ban a certain type of chemical in plastics, a softener that was an endocrine disrupter and a known carcinogen. As it moved through Parliament, the government raised the same issues, as did industry. They said there were no good replacements. Government members said there were no known replacements and that any replacement they could find would be very expensive. This is exactly how industry, which is being targeted for exposing people to risky products, always responds. It is the same argument in reverse that the tobacco industry used for years. It asked for proof that smoking gave people cancer, said it could not be done, and said it would provide experts who would say otherwise.

Of course, industry is going to defend itself to the nth degree, because that is what it does, but the role of government is to defend the rights and interests of Canadians and, as a further extension, to stop promoting the use of something that we know kills people and at the very least to slap a label on it that says it is dangerous.
First Contact

Meanwhile, Con MP Patricia Davidson spoke to her legislation to regulate non-corrective cosmetic contact lenses - which received support from all parties who spoke to it. But it was hard not to suspect that if exactly the same bill had been introduced by an opposition member, the Cons would have received orders to vote against it en masse as an attack on Canadian jobs.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel mused that oil and gas is the only sector of Canada's economy that hasn't been stagnant under the oil-backed Con government. Cullen spoke against the Cons' determination to torch the data from the federal gun registry. Helene Laverdiere challenged the Cons to take the lead against the criminalization of homosexuality in the Commonwealth. Harold Albrecht's bill on an suicide prevention strategy received positive responses from all parties. Charlie Angus raised the e-mail in which Tony Clement directly stated that he'd be flowing funds to municipalities, only to be met with the usual change of subject from the minister not responsible. Jean Crowder questioned the Cons on their cuts to Service Canada. And finally, Rathika Sitsabaiesan's question about the lack of jobs available for new graduates struggling under the burden of massive student debt was met with the Cons' usual spin about providing tax breaks for those lucky enough not to face that problem.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- Dr. Dawg highlights the fact that a shift toward private charity doesn't do anything to escape the Cons' politicization of public services, as the Ottawa United Way is systematically defunding exactly the same women's programs that have come under fire from the right on the national level.

- Sixth Estate is fleshing out the Fraser Institute's pay-for-play research model - leading me to wonder just what kind of disclaimer could possibly justify reporting on future "studies" from an institute that so shamelessly promotes itself as a service provider to big-money interests seeking a predetermined outcome.

- pogge comments on the insanity of the Cons' funding to stop tobacco farming which was administered by an industry lobby group - and seems to have done nothing but provide free money for continued production.

- Finally, Roy Romanow weighs in once again against the efforts of Preston Manning and others to push more-expensive private care as some kind of solution to health costs:
"The notion of private and public is a bit of a mistaken debate," he said. "The evidence is very very clear that the core provision of health services is more effectively done through the public model."

And he suggested that the discussion of federal versus provincial funding is a moot point.

"The problem with respect to the whole issue of funding is the cost will have to come out of somebody's pocket one way or the other," he said, warning that giving the provinces the means to raise their own health care funds is the wrong way to go.

"Patchwork quilt Canada," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Emily Dee takes a first look at what may be a highly important story about the Cons' use of the notorious right-wing push-poller Responsive Media Group:
I had been conducting some research into the last federal election campaign, which was probably the most bizarre on record.

Many of the strange occurrences, especially the phone calls, could all be matched to similar strategies used by Karl Rove and company.
I then looked at the first few ridings where those prank phone calls took place and examined the Conservative candidate's financial reports and darn if they all didn't have a similar entry for RMG, most for the same amount of $15,000.00

If they were conducting phone surveys, why would it cost Block, in a riding of 69,547; the same amount as Peter Braid of Kitchener-Waterloo with 126,742?

Or Rodney Weston of Saint John, population 82,078, the same as Marty Burke running in Guelph, with 114,943?

Or Tilly Oneill-Gordon of Miramachi with 53,844, the same as John Carmichael of Don Valley West with 117,083?

The "In and Out" immediately came to mind. Was this actually an expenditure of the national campaign, broken up into smaller invoices so they could again spend more than the legal limit? And remember by passing these expenses off to local campaigns, the candidates are eligible for rebates from Elections Canada on behalf of Canadian citizens. Our money.

I spent several hours yesterday combing reports and found 66 Conservatives claiming amounts paid to RMG, totalling almost a million dollars. So far everything is speculative, but it's amazing how well it fits with earlier research.
- Gary Mason profiles Leadnow as one of the key voices of Canada's emerging progressive movement, while Sixth Estate documents a few of the funders of right-wing causes who figure to put roadblocks in the way of change at every possible turn.

- Thomas Walkom points out a couple of key myths in our health care debate:
First, medicare isn’t about to be bankrupted by the elderly. That’s a common misconception, spurred by the fact that baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are nearing retirement.

In both political and media arenas, this particular myth is treated as unshakeable truth, creating fears that doddering boomers will monopolize virtually all health-care dollars.

But as figures released this month by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) demonstrate, such fears are grossly exaggerated.

The government-funded agency calculates that the aging population has only a “modest” effect on medicare spending — in large part because, thanks to social programs like old age security, Canadians over 65 are healthier than they used to be.
Second, medicare costs in general aren’t spinning out of control.

This is an even more pervasive media myth, spurred on by doomsayers who argue that health-care spending, if unchecked, will soon consume entire provincial budgets.

In part, this misconception results from the fallacy of extrapolation — the assumption that past trends must inevitably continue.

It reminds me of a prediction, made before the invention of the rotary dial phone, that by 1960 all North American women would be working as switchboard operators.

That turned out to be false. As physician and consultant Michael Rachlis pointed out in this newspaper, so has the myth of the voracious health budget.
- But of course, the privatizers always have new myths waiting to replace the ones which are debunked - and on that front, the push for privatized health care in Saskatchewan and elsewhere has often been justified by a supposed focus on the needs of patients or users of the system. Which means that it's well worth considering whether corporate care actually makes matters worse on that front.

And it shouldn't come as much surprise that in a direct comparison, for-profit care homes generate significantly more resident complaints than public and non-profit counterparts.