Saturday, January 07, 2012

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Not surprisingly, the last week has seen the NDP's leadership candidates push their campaigns into high gear for the last couple of months of the race. So let's take a quick look at what's developed in the first week of 2012.

- Niki Ashton spoke to Andy Radia about her definition of "new politics" - noting in particular that it means building on the NDP's existing principles rather than discarding them:
I believe the [NDP] needs to use its principles as a guide; principles that led us to the historic success that we have today as official opposition.

[In the last election] we saw a record number of Canadians that haven't voted NDP before or hadn't gotten involved in politics before come out and respond to Jack Layton's message and our message.

And I think that's a sign—if we continue to build on who we are as a party and really reach out to regions where we have grown tremendously, like Quebec and Western Canada, we will continue to grow.
- Nathan Cullen questioned the ethics of the Cons' shilling for the oil industry when climate change poses a threat to people around the world.

- Paul Dewar rolled out the endorsements of NUPGE National President James Clancy and BC MLA Mable Elmore.

- Thomas Mulcair made an Alberta swing through Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton, unveiling the endorsement of former AFL president Reg Baskin and earning positive reviews from David Climenhaga. And he then added BC MLA Leonard Krog's endorsement today.

- Peggy Nash won the endorsements of Sarah Polley and MP Dany Morin in advance of what she's touting as a major national event tomorrow.

- Romeo Saganash unveiled a blog post focusing on how the NDP can do better for families than the Harper Cons, while also seeing a flurry of Twitter activity on CETA and the economy.

- Martin Singh earned a Hill Times article pointing out that his base looks to be concentrated in the Sikh community across Canada rather than in the Atlantic region.

- And rounding out the candidate activity review, Brian Topp unveiled another big Saskatchewan endorsement, this time from former premier Lorne Calvert. But his efforts to win over the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix look to have been at best a modest success, as one has to wonder how proud his supporters can be of Les MacPherson's column in particular (featuring such prominent messages as "almost bearable" and "I probably will never vote for the federal NDP") along with an editorial that doesn't say much about Topp personally.

Meanwhile, plenty of candidates made news appearances or noise of their own on the economy, particularly when it came to the Electro-Motive lockout.

On the pundit side, Sylvia Bashevkin commented on the need for Ashton and Nash to offer some substantive difference from their competitors. [Update: And Ashton justly responded by pointing out the need for substance applies equally to all candidates.] John Ibbitson is the latest pundit to frame his own lack of knowledge about what's going on as a criticism of the NDP and its leadership process. And Justin Ling reviews the policies unveiled so far in the leadership campaign.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Brian Jones writes that we're well on our way to an only slightly-sanitized version of feudalism:
According to news reports this week, the average annual income of the Top 100 CEOs is $8.4 million. That’s less than is paid to superstar puckster Sidney Crosby, but then, the headaches one gets from running a major corporation, though significant, don’t necessarily rival “concussion-like symptoms.”

Also newsworthy was that the average Canadian earns $44,366 per year, and the average Top 100 CEO had already earned that amount by 2:30 p.m. on the first workday of the new year, Jan. 2.

This information, based on 2010 statistics, was in a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, it should be noted, is “left-leaning,” meaning it still clings to the quaint and antiquated notion that fairness has anything to do with economics.
Despite all the boasting about technology and progress and 21st-century this and 21st-century that, there are a lot of feudal attitudes held by those with economic power.

We are reverting to a society of lords and peasants, although a main difference is that nowadays there’s less mud.
Some shills in the business media this week defended the salaries of Top 100 CEOs. A common argument is that Canadian CEOs are brilliant, and their competence adds value to their companies.

Fair enough. But this logic must also then be extended to other employees. Their competence creates earnings for the company, so, to be consistent, they also deserve top dollar for their efforts. Instead, Canadians’ earnings, in real terms, have been falling for years.
- And John Cole's summary of Bain Capital's operations under Mitt Romney looks like an apt description of what far too many corporatists are trying to push in Canada and elsewhere as well:
Basically, what Bain Capital did to GS Technologies and their workers is a miniature model of what they want and have been doing to America - extract the resources, enrich themselves, loot the Federal treasury, then tell the people there is no money left and we’re going to have to cut your pensions, your SS, and your medical care while they run off to overseas tax havens to deposit their loot while chanting about job creation and free markets. Bain and Mitt Romney pocketed $8 million for the price of a community, all these workers pay and benefits and pension, and $44 million in federal money.
- Meanwhile, Erin Weir highlights why the attempt to equate high-income freebies with actual economic development is doomed to fail:
Erin Weir, a Toronto-based economist with the United Steelworkers union, said having such discrepancies in wealth between regular people and the elite is bad for the economy.

For one thing, he said, it's not good for creating domestic demand for goods and services.

"People generally have less propensity to spend as their income rises," he said. "Obviously, people with higher incomes are going to spend more, but they'll tend to spend a lower proportion of their income.

"If the goal is actually to increase consumer spending to drive economic demand, a more egalitarian distribution of income would be better."

Weir added that such inequality tends to drive higher levels of personal debt, which is currently running in Canada at record levels of about 150 per cent of annual disposable income.

"People's consumption decisions are often driven by looking at those a little bit ahead of them on the income scale," Weir said. "So the more inequality there is, the more people need to borrow to keep up with the Joneses."
- Lawrence Martin points out the moral bankruptcy of the Harper Cons:
Of the many remarkable political moments in 2011, one of the most telling, for me anyway, came after the prime minister was found in contempt of Parliament. That finding, which followed a probe by the Speaker of the House, was significant enough in itself. It had never happened to a prime minister before.

But even more noteworthy was Stephen Harper`s reaction to the unprecedented condemnation. He was dismissive. Canadians “don’t care” about that kind of thing, he said. What he was saying essentially was that the process doesn’t matter. The people are concerned only with the results.

This was a point Conservatives made frequently in defending their flaunting of democratic norms in 2011. But can it be the case? Do voters not really care how the system functions?

Didn’t people in this country and around the world spend decades or in some cases hundreds of years fighting for honourable process, for the establishment of democratic systems?

Following the contempt indictment and his casual dismissal of it, the prime minister led his Conservatives to their first majority victory. His view on the functioning of democracy, as cynical as it was, could be said to have been vindicated. For evidence our system is broken, it was a fine exhibit.

If the contempt charge was just a one-off thing, it wouldn’t have been so noteworthy. But there were so many other examples showing that the system no longer serves as a check on executive power. The examples and the mild public response to them are worth recalling because what they suggest is that we have a prime minister who can get away with pretty much anything.
- And Dan Gardner notes that Stephen Harper's position on federalism - as on virtually any other matter of principle - boils down to little more than backing whatever set of talking points best suits his political purposes for the moment.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Musical interlude

Melodia - Motion Theory (North Star Remix)

Friday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- No, we shouldn't be surprised that the Harper Cons are allowing defence contractors to deliver nothing at all. But is it really so much to ask that they not actually provide an incentive for further delays by reducing the penalties applied as they push delivery dates ever further into the future?

- Meanwhile, Jeff MacKinnon discusses the Cons' efforts to kill off collective bargaining. But it's well worth keeping in mind that in dictating that workers have no legal means of pursuing their fair share, they're likely only opening the door for much more serious disputes.

- Fortunately, the NDP is taking the right line in response to the Cons' attacks on workers - linking it to the Republicans' anti-worker extremism and seeking to build a countermovement in Canada rather than falling into the trap of ceding principled territory in the name of false moderation for its own sake.

- Finally, Carol Goar points out how Canada's EI system is failing the citizens who need it when it matters most.

Helpful for now

Frances Bula offers up what should be a good-news story about a volunteer effort to track down tax rebates for homeless people:
Ms. Lissimore did 300 tax returns last year and expects to do about the same or more this year. Most of those returns do little more than ensure that a lot of low-income people get their HST rebate.

But for some, who have been living disorganized and occasionally homeless lives for longer, she gets much more: as much as five years of GST and HST rebates (the maximum) and tax refunds from many more years for people who once worked.

“Sometimes, I’ve gone back as far as 14 years,” said Ms. Lissimore, who works out of the church most of the time using her laptop to record information and file returns.

She’s helped out by a couple of other agencies: Revenue Canada and another non-profit program.

Canada’s friendly tax agency has supplied her with forms and manuals going back to the 1990s, so she can file old returns properly.

“The income-tax people have been wonderful,” she said.
But does anybody think the Cons will see providing that type of assistance as being part of the core function of the Canada Revenue Agency? And if not, how long can we expect the good news to last as long as the civil servants who managed to assist in the effort are on the chopping block in an entirely misguided attempt to save money by attacking the public service?

Parliament in Review: November 15, 2011

Much of Tuesday, November 15 was spent discussing C-13, the Cons' budget implementation bill. And with a giant and scattered omnibus bill came a Commons debate to match.

The Big Issue

The main topic of debate on the Cons' budget was once again their series of tax credits, with the opposition parties raising plenty of serious concerns. Malcolm Allen and Christine Moore noted that the Cons' upper-income-targeted tax goodies do nothing at all for anybody who can't afford to spend extra money in the first place. Moore also noted how impractical the caregiver tax credits would be for most people who would have any need for it, and suggested as a general principle that social benefits should be targeted toward people who need them most (rather than away from them as the Cons have arranged). And Rodger Cuzner pointed out that the evidence available on past tax credits showed that they did nothing at all to encourage the activities involved.

In fairness, though, the Cons did have at least a couple of answers at the ready. According to Larry Miller, it's volunteer firefighters who don't have enough income to actually get any money back will be happy just to qualify in theory for the tax credit. And in response to Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Steven Fletcher claimed that the tax credits are really just another form of trickle-down economics.

Meanwhile, Hoang Mai highlighted the pattern of the rich getting richer while most Canadians sink further in debt. Guy Caron pointed to the massive amount of cash already sitting in business coffers as evidence that more corporate tax slashing won't help matters any. Annick Papillon discussed both the importance of economic equality and the glaring lack thereof within Canada. Kennedy Stewart suggested the Cons pay attention to the effectiveness of cluster investment strategies in Nordic countries. Brian Masse noted that the Cons are following in Mike Harris' tradition of repeatedly announcing big-money programs which are designed not to be usable. Alain Giguere and Massimo Pacetti criticized the Cons' unwillingness to so much as listen to amendments to a massive omnibus bill. Dany Morin asked why no funding is available for small municipalities. Jean Rousseau pointed out a similar absence of funding for environmental projects, dovetailing nicely with questions from Ted Hsu and Caron as to why the Cons refuse to provide a stable retrofit program. Morin also raised concerns about the availability of pensions for workers who have been promised them for decades, and noted the upper-class bias in the Cons' budget. And finally, Jonathan Tremblay raised a question about the Cons' about-face on tax evasion - which they once promised to fight before deciding not to bother.

Needless to say, the Cons had no appetite for any more such discussion about their failings. And so Peter Van Loan gave notice of their intention to shut down debate on C-13.

In Brief

Fin Donnelly introduced a private member's bill to extend the maximum benefit period for catastrophic illness under EI. Peter Van Loan responded to Joe Comartin's point of order about the Cons' attacks on the CBC and judicial independence with a hearty "hey, let's just see what happens". Peter Julian was ahead of the curve in moving that the Cons not push ahead with a national securities regulator before receiving the results of their Supreme Court reference. Anne Minh-Thu Quach noted that actual border security has been suffering while the Cons have diverted border funding into Tony Clement's gazebo empire. Elizabeth May repeatedly asked why the Cons were eliminating per-vote funding but not the equally large - and far less fairly-distributed - tax rebates on political donations. Gerry Byrne called for action on airline passengers' rights, while Francis Scarpaleggia queried whether the Cons might ever bother to develop a national water strategy. James Rajotte's proposal to work on financial literacy was well-received by all parties. Irene Mathyssen demanded that the Cons stop stalling on addressing sexual harassment within the RCMP. Dennis Bevington followed up on gross mismanagement in the Con-implemented northern development agency. And Manon Perreault questioned the limited availability of CPP disability benefits.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Frances Russell criticizes the Cons' latest attempts to stifle parliamentary accountability. And the Citizen can only scoff at Tony Clement's claim to be an advocate for open government:
What matters is whether government makes information available. The statistics from access-to-information requests suggest that less information is getting out under this government, not more. And the Conservatives' highly defensive position on such matters as the detainee documents, or who put "not" on an international-development funding document, has not increased Canadians' trust in their government.

Public servants and scientists are too scared to talk to reporters. Even communications staff want questions in writing, and some are slow to respond.

In fact, Clement himself has damaged his credibility by refusing to be candid about the funding decisions that were made under the guise of G8 legacy projects in his riding. It's a bit much for a minister so closely identified with a slush fund and with obfuscation to be the champion of open government.
- If there's any sure signal as to how ill-advised the Cons' corporate tax-slashing strategy is, just look at Neil Reynolds' latest - where Reynolds has to selectively cite the same pack of Republican presidential candidates seen as a "hodge-podge of marginal types" who are destroying their own party to find anybody else on the planet so obsessed with handing out money to the corporate sector, and even then finds himself offside against the front-runner.

- Meanwhile, a more reasonable take on the impact of corporate tax cuts comes from Glen Pearson:
Just this week the Government of Canada reduced the corporate tax rate. It stood at 21% in 2005 but is now a mere 15%. In the last two years the government has lost $11.5 billion in annual tax revenue because of the scaled reductions.

We are constantly being informed that such reductions are necessary to keep us competitive and our economy healthy. There are surely boatloads of money being made each and every year in Canada but the 99% can’t find it or get some kind of boost in their standard of living because of it.
- And the constant corporate tax slashing looks all the more unproductive in light of the revelation that those billions of free dollars haven't stopped employers from retrenching on pension funding - not to mention the attacks on workers from Stephen Harper's own poster employer.

- Finally, Alice presents a fascinating look at a poll carried out by Brian Topp for the NDP's leadership race.

New column day

Here, responding to plenty of talk about the rising West with a look at the challenges and decisions we're facing as a region.

For sources and further reading, the column refers to...
- Data on price and quantity of goods from Stephen Gordon
- B.C. economic comparison from the now-defunct Progress Board via Don Cayo
- Inequality data from Statistics Canada provincially and John Myles (via Gillian Steward) municipally;
- Vacancy rate information from CMHC
- Poverty data from Statistics Canada via Ainslie Cruickshank
- And finally, information on Alberta's Heritage Fund from Alberta Finance.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Travaillons ensemble

Following up on this post, I'll expand briefly on what looks to be one of the more interesting questions for the balance of the NDP's leadership race.

I've pointed out before that one of the subtle advantages of having a leadership race immediately after ascending to Official Opposition status is that the NDP isn't facing some of the job scarcity issues that might apply in a party with more entrenched power structures.

To the best of my knowledge, the NDP hasn't yet fully staffed its parliamentary offices under a permanent leader, nor has it come anywhere close to tapping into the full fund-raising potential for an official opposition party. And so it should be possible for a new leader building the party's future organization to add together the components of various leadership campaigns along with the NDP's existing organizational base.

That is, as long as there's a mutual willingness to work together. Which means that it may be worth asking both the leadership candidates and their supporters: what strengths do are they willing to acknowledge even in the candidates they're currently opposing? And what's their strategy to get all sides to join forces again at the end of the leadership campaign (not to mention on general party priorities in the meantime)?

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The Star makes the case for Canada's wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share:
Apart from their hefty pay packets, the top-earning CEOs are sitting on $2 billion in stock options that are treated as dividend income, and taxed at half the value. That’s a tax break worth $475 million, the centre calculates. Arguably, for those who need it least.

These numbers aren’t just about whipping up raw envy. They reflect public policy choices at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is looking to chop federal spending to erase Ottawa’s $31-billion annual deficit in the next few years. It’s hard to make a compelling case that the affluent need tax breaks that ordinary workers will never see when Ottawa is short on cash. And when 3.5 million Canadians live in poverty.
The question such numbers do raise, however, is one of basic tax fairness, and whether Canada’s personal and corporate tax systems need change to ensure that the burden is shared more progressively and equitably. In the long run, ever-growing inequality undermines prosperity and well-being for everyone – including the super rich. This is not a debate the Conservatives are eager to hold, for ideological reasons. But it will gain urgency as the Harper government rolls out its austerity budget and Ontario, too, faces tough choices.
As Finance Minister Jim Flaherty draws up the budget, tax reform ought to be up for discussion. If there’s one message the Occupy activists managed to get across, it’s that not all of us are contributing our fair share.
- Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail reports that at least part of the move to place corporate-friendly low-tax branding above all other priorities looks to have been put on hold, as Ontario is taking a second look at the corporate tax slashing pushed by the Harper Cons.

- Barbara Yaffe points out the cost of the Cons' attempts to shut down Insite. But it's worth noting that the financial cost of the court case may pale in comparison to the human and financial costs of refusing to facilitate harm reduction strategies elsewhere.

- Tim Naumetz reports on Paul Dewar's national organization. But the most important variable in assessing Dewar's chances may be this:
Mr. Dewar has been so determined to brush up on his French-language skills that he moved in with his male volunteer language tutor for an entire week before Christmas.
Mr. Dewar, taking three days with his family skiing in Quebec this week, spent his free time before Christmas with his French instructor.

“In a week of full-time French immersion leading up to Christmas and then Boxing Day, to New Year’s, he stayed in Ottawa, but he moved in with his French teacher and he was allowed two hours of family time a day, but otherwise he was living with his French teacher,” Mr. Cressy said.
Of course, it's a plus for Dewar that he's assembling a strong organization. But Dewar's success in presenting himself in French in the debates to come may well determine whether that organization can convert potential support into actual votes when it counts.

- Finally, time is running short - but anybody interested in getting around the Libs' limitation on blogger certification to live-blog their convention should drop iPolitics a line.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Treed cats.

Tuesday Evening Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Glen Pearson follows up on the importance of organized labour - particularly as a desperately-needed counterweight to the pressures faced by public officials which may not be obvious to anybody less connected to the political scene:
I often thought about this during my time in the Canadian Parliament. Corporate presence and pressure was everywhere – hard to ignore and even harder to oppose. Politicians blessed with benefits, holiday pay, and the kind of pensions that unions struggled so hard to attain for everyone, learned to give lip-service to union representatives while at the same time passing legislation that serviced the corporate sector but deprived not only union protections, but the abilities of average workers to gain a productive wage.

And so we come to a sad truth. Beginning in the 1970s, corporations on both sides of the 49th parallel undertook a comprehensive assault on unions. In Canada, opportunities emerging in the global economy meant that they didn’t want to be linked to Canadian labour legislation anymore. While the majority of small and medium-sized businesses continued to abide by the arrangements, the large corporations wanted to slip the reins and move unhindered. Unions slowly awoke to the reality that a new unfettered capitalism was about to sever the historic link between employers and their workers.
- The CCPA has released its annual focus on soaring executive compensation. But if one needed to know how striking the 27% jump over last year actually is, take a look at Mike Moffatt's immediate suspicion that the numbers had to have been torqued by a redefinition of the term "CEO" to produce such a massive increase - followed by his subsequent recognition that in fact the CCPA has merely measured what's actually happened from a consistent baseline.

(Of course, now that the increase is known to be a real phenomenon rather than merely a shocking number, Moffatt is back to suggesting that it's nothing worth worrying our pretty little heads over.)

- Meanwhile, Frances Woolley points out how the unintended consequences can be seen in past building construction - raising a nice illustration of the importance of focusing taxes on the right sources of funds. Though I'd argue that high-end incomes which have relatively little positive impact in terms of either economic or social outcomes would look to be a more important source than consumer-based reserves.

- Jean Sorensen points out that B.C. voters have intervened in a couple of attempts to privatize drinking water.

- Finally, Anu Partanen points out that Finland's efforts at improving education as a matter of equal access to quality schools have produced far better results than the U.S.' competition-driven system.

Leadership 2012 Links and Policy Roundup 3

Assorted policy and punditry from the NDP leadership campaign.

- On the policy front, it's looking like time to give Nathan Cullen full credit for being well ahead of the pack with a well-rounded and detailed set of policies. I missed his democratic reform proposal in my last policy roundup - and others have noted that Cullen goes a step beyond most of the NDP's contenders in calling for a referendum the role of the monarchy in addition to backing proportional representation and Senate abolition. Since then, Cullen has also released an Arctic policy that calls for infrastructure and resource development based on local needs rather than outside assumptions, as well as a trade policy that looks to raise global standards through trade agreements.

- Meanwhile, Niki Ashton's position on foreign investment looks like a noteworthy start in her policy development - though again I'll hope to see it fleshed out as the campaign progresses.

- UPDATE: And Peggy Nash has released a proposal of her own on foreign investment, calling for a more transparent "net benefit" test and better enforcement of investors' commitments.

- That's about it for policy news over a relatively quiet time in the campaign - but there's been plenty more to note on the candidate messaging front. Ashton has focused her public message on dealing with inequality. Cullen has called for an anyone-but-Harper movement over the next few years. Thomas Mulcair has nicely summarized his campaign theme as one of sustainable development. Peggy Nash has painted herself as a bridge-builder with a focus on the economy. And Brian Topp is rightly noting that the leadership campaign shouldn't be a boring one.

- But then, there isn't too much risk of that when pundits like Stephen Maher are having to walk back from their initial assumptions about the race to take a closer look at the field. And Bill Tieleman helps those who haven't been paying attention so far by surveying his top tier of candidates.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Monday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Yes, it's blasphemy to point out the obvious returns on public investments. But let's point out a couple more examples: Andrew Jackson wonders why we're not looking to lock in low interest rates, while Paul Krugman points out that infrastructure investments will offer even more bang for the buck than usual during an economic slump.

- But don't worry: at least our CEOs are doing just fine. So if the rest of us keep falling behind, well, what exactly is the problem again?

- Andrew Coyne gives away a few secrets to success in the field of punditry.

- Finally, Dr. Dawg shreds an Ezra Levant attack on Naheed Nenshi, and rightly questions whether there's any possible motive other than an excuse for ritual Muslim-bashing.

Anyone But

As promised, let's take a closer look at the dynamics of "anyone but" movements in leadership campaigns - with a particular focus on whether one looks likely to develop in the NDP's current race.

The most obvious prerequisite for an "anyone but" movement is the perception that a particular candidate is within striking distance of being able to win at current support levels if nothing changes in a race - but not such a prohibitive favourite that it's futile to try to organize an alternative. From that starting point, the incentives that result in a two-camp race are obvious for both eventual sides of the divide: the front-runner ends up working on holding (and at most narrowly expanding) a base of support within the leadership campaign, while the competitors see a need to band together to have any hope of emerging victorious and thus end up developing deeper links between campaign organizations.

But what ultimately leads to a true "anyone but" movement is a common sense of lingering dissatisfaction with the leading candidate - in effect, a base of negative opinion that can serve as the main unifying force among multiple candidates' supporters once the outcome of a campaign hangs in the balance. (And the base needs to be stronger in a one-member, one-vote campaign rather than a delegated one - especially if a substantial number of votes are locked in prior to voting day.)

Ultimately, for an "anyone but" movement to succeed, the competitors' campaigns and supporters need to be willing to sacrifice any of the messages and values they've pushed throughout the campaign in the interest of stopping the front-runner. And that broad focus on a negative perception within a party doesn't come about as the result of a single factor; instead, it needs to find some roots in a combination of fundamental policy disagreements, personality conflicts, and perceived self-interest among other candidates' campaign teams in preventing the front-runner's organizers from ascending within the party.

Meanwhile, the front-runner can exacerbate the problem with both a commitment to a tightly-controlled inner circle, and a campaign strategy designed to limit opponents' growth which develops exactly the common sense of grievance that feeds into the countermovement. Think of the Republicans' current Iowa caucus campaign, where Mitt Romney's main plan has been to play attack-ad whack-a-mole with half a dozen "anyone but" competitors who can each be driven down to single-digit support within a week - only to find that a new leading opponent emerges within days of the last one being beaten down.

So how likely is that type of dynamic to develop within the NDP?

Well, we don't yet have any particularly compelling information as to any of the candidates' positioning in the race. And largely as a result of the NDP having just emerged as Canada's Official Opposition thanks to its surge in Quebec, it's difficult for any candidate to take any base of support for granted.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that Thomas Mulcair's support is somewhere in the range where an "anyone but" campaign might make strategic sense. The next vital ingredients for an "anyone but" campaign are then a front-runner campaign that feeds into the dynamic by failing to reach out beyond the initial support base, and a widespread sense of dissatisfaction among the rest of the party.

And those don't seem to fit particularly well with what I've seen so far. Instead, all indications are that the campaign has seen plenty of interest in developing links in both directions - both in the form of Mulcair reaching out to actual and potential members alike, and in members of all kinds of stripes showing a genuine interest in what Mulcair and the rest of the candidates have to offer. (Indeed, I've been struck by how many of my personal connections with strong left-wing backgrounds have Mulcair on a three- or four-candidate shortlist at this stage of the campaign.)

Of course, not all of those interactions necessarily lead to positive impressions. And there are a few members who have relegated Mulcair to the bottom of their lists as a result. But the number looks to be far too small to serve as a breeding ground for an all-out anti-Mulcair movement (though we may want to add any negative impressions to the list of key indicators for Mulcair).

What's more, the makeup of the rest of the field may make it difficult to assemble a united "anti" campaign even if there were a perceived reason to try. In particular, while Brian Topp has been the candidate most eager to challenge Mulcair, he's also been a fairly polarizing figure himself - creating an added obstacle on the path that leads to the non-Mulcair camps joining forces to the extent necessary to direct members' votes in a particular direction.

Naturally, it remains to be seen how the rest of the campaign will play out, and it may be that something in the next few months will create the conditions for a true "anyone but" dynamic. But for the moment, those conditions don't look to be in place - and it's hard to see much benefit for anybody in pushing to create them.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Dr. Dawg asks some rather important questions about whether we think our current checks and balances are enough to rein in the Harper Cons:
The lesson of the first story is, for me, how quickly the “normal” can be disrupted, our country taking a sharp and nasty turn to the extreme racist Right. When it came to safety over liberty, not a second thought was given by government or populace—and it didn’t hurt that the property of these instant-pariah Canadians was sold at firesale prices to their white neighbours.

The proclamation of the War Emergency Measures Act by Pierre Trudeau is another example of how quickly the “normal” can be transformed. In a trice, the country was effectively placed under martial law, our civil liberties suspended by decree. The mayor of Vancouver tried to use the legislation to round up hippies. And most of us just watched, as Trudeau suggested we do.
Indeed, the lines between the government, the media, industry (e.g., the Alberta oil sands) and the military (Harper’s Canada as “warrior nation”) have become blurred to the point of practical extinction. The unions are the largest independent counter-force remaining, but have been hobbled to the point of helplessness by barrages of legislation. And a crescendo of gratuitous slurs against them by Conservative front-benchers indicate that union rights, too, are on the chopping-block.
My single New Year’s resolution? To fight like hell against it. And it should be yours, too.
- Which means that while I don't necessarily see Murray Dobbin's proposed solution as the best one, it's well worth highlighting the problem to be dealt with over the next four years:
There is a deep malaise in Canadian democracy rooted, it seems, in a profound alienation from politics and radically lowered expectations of what is possible from government. Much of this is the result of a deliberate strategy of voter-suppression employed by the Conservatives, a strategy of making politics so offensive and good government so unimaginable that millions of people simply tune out, as if it has nothing to do with them.

For those who thought that this was a temporary attitude of the Harper anti-government, that there would be more civility with a Conservative majority, the evidence is in. This is a permanent strategy to keep the party in power. It will not diminish with time or with the advancement of the Harper agenda. This was never about Harper being frustrated with his minority status. It is about who the man is, a malignant political rogue, contemptuous of his own country.
(W)ith the election of Stephen Harper, everything changed. No prime minister in Canadian history has come to power with such a ruthless determination to implement an agenda so at odds with the interests of the country and the values of its citizens. This involves not just a set of policies aimed at eliminating the social and economic role of the federal government. It includes, on a parallel course, a determination to change the political culture of the country to one that either supports or acquiesces to that policy agenda. (The Governor General's Christmas message was about volunteerism and philanthropy, Harper's long-term replacement for the state.) Working in tandem, these two political streams, if allowed to proceed for any length of time, could effectively change the country permanently -- or at least for all currently living generations. Harper aims for nothing less.
- Meanwhile, Glen Pearson highlights one of the desperately-needed institutions to keep the worst corporatist instincts in check - and signals that political parties who share the same values shouldn't be shy about recognizing the value of a strong labour movement:
Governments and legislation years ago sanctioned unions specifically because the wealthy elite walked away with the money while workers toiled in poverty. Parties of all stripes supported the effort. Within a decade the middle-class in Canada began to flourish. As unions grew, their efforts at bargaining also improved the lot of those working in non-union jobs. Consider this list of what union support brought to average citizens, regardless of where they were employed.

weekends off – lunch breaks – safety standards – overtime pay – employment insurance – pensions – health benefits – collective bargaining for workers – holiday pay – child labour laws – 40-hour work week – 8-hour work day – sick leave – minimum wage – long and short-term disability – pregnancy and parental leave – the right to strike.

These are just some in a long list of hard-won options for Canadian workers. But to listen to many ardent voices these advances are the reason why companies can no longer compete. That’s also what they said 60 years ago, when it wasn’t uncommon for people to work 80 hours a week with no breaks. The companies and their agents turned out to be wrong.
Once a steadying reality, union density in Canada is now below 30%. Again the linkage between worker’s rights and the economic health of a nation are seen to be linked – as unions decline, so does the middle-class and the equitable strength of our economy. Wages and benefits are now in decline, even as massive profits are being accrued by companies.

This development is something that should be of great concern to all of us, but instead certain proponents of a privileged capitalism want you to believe that you and your community would be helped far more if we could just get rid of unions. Really? Since unions are in decline along with income fairness and corporate profits continue to balloon, how does that rationale figure? As citizens, if we buy into this kind of lunacy then we will all suffer in the realm of wages and benefits.
- Finally, Gillian Steward points out that the western provinces held up as the Cons' model for how an economy should operate are also the ones with the worst levels of inequality. And both Lana Payne and the CP highlight the fact that billions in corporate tax cuts are producing no apparent investment.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 14, 2011

Monday, November 14 saw MPs return to the House of Commons from a week's break. But if anybody thought the time away would lead to less contentious debate, the day instead saw one of the more fundamental debates we can expect to see out of our elected officials - with the Cons refusing to show a trace of self-reflection even when challenged on recklessly irresponsible actions.

The Big Issue

So what was the major issue up for discussion? Well, that was Joe Comartin's point of order seeking the Speaker's intervention to prevent Con-dominated committees from attacking judicial independence by summoning a sitting judge to participate in their CBC-bashing session. And other opposition speakers made strong points as to why the Speaker's intervention was needed, with Kevin Lamoureux pointing out the House's necessary supervisory role and Elizabeth May focusing on the rule of law.

Of course, Gordon O'Connor's evidence to counter his party's joint attacks on the CBC and judicial independence was a declaration that he watches hockey. But in response to Charlie Angus' questions, James Moore declared that the interference which the parliamentary law clerk described as "unlawful" was exactly what his party was elected to do.

Goverment In Hiding

Meanwhile, the Cons also shut down debate on Charlie Angus' motion to carry out follow-up work on the Ethics Committee's study on Helena Guergis. But their excuse for doing so (instead forcing a vote on the Ethics Committee's report alone) made rather little sense given that the Cons themselves went out of their way to avoid participating in debate on their own bills.

First, there was plenty of debate on the Cons' Senate election bill. Don Davies noted that the Senate is an anachronism in a modern democracy which will only become more dangerous if it's given more of a claim to legitimacy, while also duly mocking the Cons' assertion that it's in any way independent of the directions of the Harper PMO. Matthew Kellway echoed Davies' concerns, pointing out that Stephen Harper had previously declared the Senate a relic of the 19th century while noting that its anti-democratic tendencies actually date back much earlier. Alexandrine Latendresse noted the discriminatory age restrictions which limit access to the Senate. Frank Valeriote pointed out that the Cons' scheme - like so many of their policies - downloads costs to the provinces for no apparent benefit.

And oh yes, Peter Stoffer pointed out directly that the Cons weren't bothering to defend their own legislation.

Meanwhile, the Cons put in somewhat more of an appearance to discuss their copyright legislation - though as per usual they didn't bother responding to any of the opposition's substantive concerns. Andrew Cash criticized the Cons' decision to favour media conglomerates over consumers by declaring that digital locks trump all other rights, while Geoff Regan pointed out that the Cons actually had the gall to suggest we shouldn't worry about an appallingly imbalanced law because big business might not bother enforcing it. Laurin Liu and Scott Simms highlighted the need to ensure that creators benefit from the use of their creations. And Peter Julian read the portion of the bill which required distance education students to destroy their class materials.

In Brief

The NDP focused on aviation, transit and trucking safety issues in question period, culminating in Olivia Chow's introduction of a bill to require truck side guards which have been mandatory in Europe for 25 years. Meanwhile, Regan moved second reading of a bill to raise awareness of epilepsy, with the lone concerns from Djaouida Sellah having to do with the Libs' translation of the bill. Megan Leslie and Claude Gravelle both cited the Cons' Keystone XL failure as evidence that they're not accomplishing anything in dealing with Canada's closest neighbour. Pierre-Luc Dusseault presented one of the NDP's sharper members' statements in criticizing the Cons' own ad scam, while Jack Harris and Alexandre Boulerice followed up in question period. And Francoise Boivin slammed the Cons for their embarrassing gender imbalance in judicial appointments.

Book Review: Pulpit and Politics

Dennis Gruending is a former journalist and NDP MP who blogs about political and religious issues - which in theory should make for an ideal background for a book focusing on the interplay between religion and politics in Canada.

And Pulpit and Politics is indeed well worth a read. But it does fall somewhat short of its potential in one key area.

By way of example, the subject of the influence of religion in Canadian politics - particularly on the right side of the spectrum - is one that's already been explored in plenty of detail by Marci McDonald. And part of what I'd hoped for out of Gruending's book was a deeper and better-connected discussion of some of the issues already made prominent in The Armageddon Factor.

But instead, Gruending's take on the religious right is limited in large part to relatively brief overviews of the same stories and personalities already covered so thoroughly by McDonald. Which means that while it's difficult to disagree with Gruending's take on her work (to the effect that people should be reporting more on the influence of the religious right in Canada), it's disappointing that Gruending's book on substantially the same subject doesn't advance the cause more than it does.

And that limited development of the theme of the religious right serves as the most stark example of the broader issue with Gruending's writing style. In effect, much of Pulpit and Politics reads as a collection of loosely-connected blog posts - detailing events and encounters from Gruending's own life, commenting on headlines, public debates and polls, and developing little by way of themes or theses from one chapter to the next - rather than the cohesive narrative that would have been ideal for a book format.

To his credit, Gruending is highly readable in that medium. In particular, his detailed discussion of polling data from the 2011 federal election and his extended review of the fate of KAIROS under the Harper Cons serve as important reminders of both what influence religious affiliation has in Canadian politics, and how the Cons are looking to change the current balance.

And the juxtaposition of political and religious institutions assembling by Gruending offers some noteworthy connections which aren't pointed to explicitly. For example, Gruending's rightful frustration as to how the Catholic Church dealt with its child sexual abuse scandal - by denying what it knew to be true, then minimizing and spinning the subject to avoid any consequences for abuses within its ranks - would ring equally true as a chronicle and criticism of how far too many political parties (particularly on the right) handle any news that doesn't suit their purposes.

But there does look to be plenty of room to expand on much of the content of Pulpit and Politics - both in doing deeper research into the areas dealt with as one-off vignettes by Gruending, and in analyzing the connections between them. And while I'll certainly recommend Pulpit and Politics as an important contribution to the discussion of the relationship between religion and politics in Canada, I'll hope to see Gruending and others engaged in moving the subject forward further in the years to come.

Leadership 2012 Reference Page Update

Once again I've made some changes to my Leadership 2012 Reference Page. For those curious about the content of the candidate profiles so far, I've dealt mostly with personality and strategy based on the lack of detailed platforms for comparison so far in the campaign. But I'll continue to point out and comment on policies as they're released, and put together candidate-based policy reviews before the February membership cutoff.

As always, comments and suggestions are more than welcome.