Saturday, January 28, 2012

Leadership 2012 Roundup

In the lead-up to tomorrow's official debate in Halifax, the end of this week saw plenty of developments in the NDP leadership race - including both the familiar combination of endorsements, videos and policy releases from the campaigns themselves, and an increase in outside reporting that took coverage in a few perhaps-unexpected directions. So let's take a look at what's new.

At the outset, Abacus' first polling of the campaign received radically different interpretations in the media. But the key takeaway looks to be that experience as an MP hasn't translated into name recognition for the likes of Nathan Cullen and Niki Ashton, while Brian Topp's media blitz has managed to get him known as well as anybody else in the race. (Of course, that doesn't mean that familiarity necessarily translates into votes based on Forum's polling so far - and I wouldn't be surprised if Topp's warm and fuzzy family videos reflect an effort to close that gap before anybody else knew it existed.)

Meanwhile, Glen McGregor started a tempest in a teapot with his story about past donations to the NDP by the candidates.

As for the candidates themselves...

- Nathan Cullen released a food security plan. And he then highlighted his campaign's volunteer leaderboard - which may make for a means of motivating some types of supporters which the party will want to replicate in the future.

- Paul Dewar received two more MP endorsements and released a set of family policies which ambitiously seeks to build a more caring Canada.

- Thomas Mulcair unveiled the support of MP Ryan Cleary, adding another to his list of prominent Atlantic endorsers.

- Peggy Nash released a child care plan designed to pay for itself, while also receiving some positive press from Le Devoir.

- Romeo Saganash offered a reminder of the need to protect Canadian families from the Harper Cons' business-first agenda.

- Brian Topp released a family support policy including a national child nutrition program, while also taking some questions from Aaron Wherry.

- Finally, on the commentary side, Dr. Dawg wondered whether Topp's lack of a seat in Parliament should be seen as a major negative. Nelson Wiseman noted that the NDP's membership-driven approach means that we shouldn't expect leaders to be able to plan to dictate party policy to the same extent we'd anticipate from the Libs or Cons. Tim Harper highlighted Mulcair's message that the NDP has plenty more work to do to build strength in Quebec. And John Wunderlich released a well-received open letter on the factors he considers important in choosing the NDP's next leader.

On unequalization

As usual, the Cons' latest attack on social programs - this time the Old Age Security which has played a key role in lifting Canadian seniors out of poverty - is supposedly based on some inescapable lack of fiscal capacity to provide a reasonable standard of living. But the truth is that there's a rather simple choice to be made as to what priorities to fund - and the Cons are squarely on the wrong side of it.

Let's consider the Harper spinmeisters' doomsday scenario as to what OAS might cost by 2030. The Cons' estimated total cost is about $108 billion. But based on Statistics Canada's medium-case demographic estimates, seniors ages 65 and 66 will make up only 11.5% of the total population aged 65 and up as of 2031.

So if OAS is relatively evenly applied across the age spectrum, the savings from pushing back the retirement age for Canadians in general will amount to 11.5% of $108 billion - or just over $12 billion per year.

At the same time, the Cons plan to push through general income splitting and increases to tax-free savings accounts. And those plans - targeted squarely at large-single-income households and those wealthy enough to have $10,000 to sock away every single year - will cost...just under $12 billion per year. And unlike the Cons' numbers for OAS, that's without taking into account any growth in the size of the tax base in the meantime.

So no, cutting the OAS by applying a higher retirement age isn't a matter of necessary fiscal prudence. Instead, it's half of a large-scale plan to redistribute wealth from those who make little enough to qualify for the OAS, to those who already have money to burn. And there's no way the Cons should be allowed to balance the budget on the backs of would-be retirees without answering for the fact that their goal is to hand that same money to those who need it least.

Update: Dave and Jymn have more.
[Edit: fixed wording.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- The CCPA offers up a handy infographic on the diverging economic paths of the ever-wealthier 1% and the rest of Canadians.

- Once again, the Cons are claiming that nobody should take their own internal documents seriously - this time when it comes to the statement that the supposedly-neutral National Energy Board is an ally in ramming through the Gateway pipeline, while anybody interested in the environment is an enemy. But the good news is that the Cons' attacks have produced a much-needed counterweight as Canadians reinforce the environmental groups standing up to the oil industry and its Con puppets.

- pogge points out the latest example of Con transparency, as eight out of the first ten committee meetings following the return from a parliamentary break were pushed in camera to avoid allowing the public to know what its elected representatives are doing.

- Apparently the "mostly competent government" meme is set to fit just as well in Saskatchewan as on the federal level. Just this week, news broke about a helicopter ambulance program rendered useless by a lack of helipads. And then there's the outsourcing deal that will see SaskTel pay twice its internal cost of installation work to a B.C. contractor.

- Which is to say that even if the Wall government had any interest in dealing with skyrocketing housing costs and vanishing availability of rental units, we can rest assured that any "solution" would involve massive giveaways to the corporate sector which accomplish nothing.

- But then, it isn't just Saskatchewan's cities facing a massive housing crisis which is being utterly neglected by the levels of government which can afford to address it - as Judith Lavoie reports on the appalling conditions facing many First Nations reserves.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Musical interlude

Delerium - Heaven's Earth (Key South Remix)

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Jack Knox comments on how the rest of the world sees Canada under the Harper Cons:
A week after bleating about foreign radicals slowing the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, you have to figure Joe Oliver just wishes he had kept his cakehole corked.

Instead of turning public opinion against the interference of well-heeled American environmentalists, Stephen Harper's natural resources minister succeeded mainly in A) awakening Canadians to the growing extent of Asian influence in the Alberta oil patch and B) alerting the rest of the world that the Canadian cowboy now wears a black hat.

When did the Americans sell us to China, Canadians asked.

When did Canada become a global bad boy, asked the foreign media.
- In "mostly competent government!" news, Jeffrey Simpson notes that the Cons are paying more "information officers" to release as little information as possible. Greg Weston questions the ongoing funding being thrown into supporting a public appointments commission which doesn't actually exist. And most importantly, the Cons are just now backtracking on months of assurances that they didn't need to think about alternatives to spending tens of billions of dollars on F-35s.

- Which is to say that Susan Riley is exactly right in observing that Harper's electoral success looks to be based largely on voters getting lulled to sleep.

- Stuart Trew updates us on the latest developments surrounding the CETA.

- Finally, Christine McLaughlin discusses the dangers of the Cons' bill to criminalize anonymous protesting.

On responsible management

Tobi Cohen's report on fund-raising in the NDP's leadership race ends up serving largely as an analysis of Nathan Cullen's position and fund-raising to date due to his willingness to provide a donor list before it's required. (Which nicely signals the value of working with media on that type of story.)

But let's connect the dollar figures from the NDP's campaign to the ones involved in the last national leadership race.

As a starting point, the Libs' leadership candidates in 2006 ended their campaigns over $4 million in debt - meaning that their expenditures exceeded their campaign fund-raising by that amount.

For the NDP's contenders, that cumulative level of debt is simply impossible. The expense limits for the eight candidates would total $4 million if every candidate spent the maximum - which is itself a questionable assumption. But every dollar fund-raised reduces the amount of debt that could possibly be left. And Cullen's data looks like a useful data point on that front.

While I'm curious to see whether I've missed anything, I don't recall his campaign doing much on the fund-raising front that the other contenders haven't. And yet even at a stage of the race focused more on membership sales than fund-raising (which will of course change after next month's membership deadline), Cullen has managed to reach approximately a third of the total he could possibly be allowed to spend.

We can compare that number to the proportion of the Libs' ultimate expenses which they had raised by a later point in their 2006 leadership race, being the first mandatory reporting deadline 4 weeks before the vote. And the numbers show a couple of patterns which look to be radically different for the NDP's candidates.

First, the Libs' front-runners didn't have much trouble fund-raising from the start of the race, but ran into problems later due to their high spending totals. Michael Ignatieff had fund-raised over a million dollars by the first reporting period, but spent slightly over twice that for the campaign as a whole. Bob Rae raised just below a million, but spent about three times that. And likewise Gerard Kennedy, who raised just over $400,000 by the first reporting period, spent about three times that.

The pattern was relatively similar for the next tier of candidates. Martha Hall Findlay was only at about a quarter of her ultimate expense total; Ken Dryden was somewhat below the one-third threshold as of the first deadline and never got caught up; and Joe Volpe was just around the one-third level as well.

Meanwhile, Scott Brison had raised over half of his total expenditures by the first reporting deadline. And Hedy Fry, Maurizio Bevilacqua and Carolyn Bennett all dropped out of the race, with Bevilacqua the lone candidate to incur particularly large debts before doing so.

And then there was Stephane Dion. By the first reporting deadline, he had raised just over $270,000 - only to spend over seven times that in winning the race.

So what can we take from that comparison? Well, based on the NDP's spending limit Cullen is at a better place in terms of fund-raising his possible final spending total than any of the Libs' 2006 candidates except Brison in raw dollars, or Brison and Ignatieff in terms of percentages. And that's with another month left before the first reporting period used as the point of comparison for the Libs.

At the same time, based on the amount of money raised by the Libs' front-runners without seemingly breaking a sweat, there should be little doubt that the NDP's front-runners will have no trouble raising their total spending limit or more during the course of the campaign. (Though of course we'll have to confirm that when the first disclosures are made.) And unlike Ignatieff, Rae and Dion, the Mulcairs and Topps of the NDP's race won't be able to get into a multi-million dollar spending war that leaves them with debt despite strong early-campaign fund-raising.

So the NDP figures to see its front-runners easily cover their costs. And Cullen and anybody else fund-raising reasonably well from a trail position should also have relatively little trouble breaking even for the campaign period. What's more, even if a candidate somehow spends the maximum without raising a dime, the downside is roughly the average debt incurred by the Libs' candidates.

Now, none of the above should be a huge surprise based on the spending limit set by the NDP. But it's worth highlighting to show how the NDP's choice of rules nicely closed off any risk of having to spend years fund-raising to made up leadership debts - and Cullen's example suggests that the candidates themselves may be slightly ahead of even the pace we'd have expected based on that low-risk choice.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Jackson notes that the IMF is telling countries in Canada's position to hold off on gratuitous austerity. And Trish Hennessy wonders why so many Canadians seem to have forgotten what happened last time budget-slashing was in vogue.

- Meanwhile, Erin documents how Ontario's corporate tax giveaways have produced zero return in terms of investment. And Martin Regg Cohn wonders whether a government eager to take on bullying in schools and communities has any interest in applying the same principles when it's being pushed around by shameless corporate bullies.

- Kev notes that the Cons are giving away far more than they have to in order to complete a free trade deal with the European Union by comparing a similar deal being negotiated by India. But is there much evidence that the Cons aren't actively looking for excuses to, say, hand over another pile of free money to big pharma?

- Laura Ryckewaert points out how the NDP's planning in buying its headquarters has helped to position the party for the longer term. But I do think it's a bit speculative to suggest that the building will make a big difference in election financing: is there any evidence to suggest that any party has had any trouble securing loans for national party financing, with or without real estate to pledge as collateral?

- Finally, Greg Marchildon rightly argues that we should be looking to complete the final phase of Tommy Douglas' vision for health care - rather than looking for excuses to trash it as so many want to do.

Parliament in Review: November 23, 2011

Wednesday, November 23 saw the last votes in the House of Commons on the dismantling of the single-desk Wheat Board. And to who thought there might be some suspense as to the Cons' determination to impose their agenda without listening to anybody, it's always great to welcome new readers.

The Big Issue

Of course, the passage of the Cons' Wheat Board bill started with Peter Van Loan's latest time allocation motion. Joe Comartin warned Van Loan that the NDP had plenty of material available to show the Cons once considered exactly that type of action to be profoundly antidemocratic, and Niki Ashton, Alexandrine Latendresse, Matthew Kellway and Pierre-Luc Dusseault made good on the promise.

Meanwhile, Scott Simms managed to get Gerry Ritz to admit that at least one other single-desk marketer is on the chopping block. And Garry Breitkreuz argued that the fact he's been telling constituents that the Cons planned to ram through the bill immediately and without debate somehow served as reason for them to go ahead and do so.

Once debate resumed on the bill proper, Lynne Yelich broke the Cons' streak from the previous couple of days by deigning to speak in favour of the Wheat Board bill. But she may also have proven why the Cons are less than eager to bother, as Ralph Goodale pointed out that the position of processors that they expect better prices in the absence of a single-desk Wheat Board can only mean that less money is going to farmers. Niki Ashton highlighted the total lack of study and planning as to the actual effects of torching the single desk. And Don Davies called for the Cons to let farmers decide whether they support the bill.

But sadly, the Cons rammed through motion and the unamended bill.

Consider the Source

Kirsty Duncan cited both a departmental briefing note to Peter Kent and his own written submission in response to a question as evidence that there was no duplication in ozone monitoring to be cut - only to be informed by Kent that she should "use more reliable research". Which led in turn to this before Duncan was cut off by Andrew Scheer for reasons not apparent:
Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of the Environment a question and cited a response to an order paper question signed by the minister himself. The minister's response was that I should use more reliable sources. The minister's answer suggests that the minister's order paper response is wrong and has misled the House.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose the minister either misled the House in his order paper response or he is misleading the House now--
And that wasn't the only odd intervention by Scheer, who also responded to a point of order about a blatant breach of privilege by Gordon O'Connor by commenting that he agreed with a later point by Ed Holder about the behaviour of visitors.

In Brief

Don Davies and Chris Charlton both raised the desperate need to alleviate poverty in members' statements, while Jean Crowder followed up in question period. Elaine Michaud noted that concerns about the appointment of a unilingual Auditor General extended to at least a couple of prominent Cons. Nycole Turmel and Jack Harris challenged the Cons to provide some evidence that their dumb-on-crime plan would accomplish anything. Olivia Chow wondered about the rationale for slashing airline safety inspections while spending millions on little-used jets. Scott Brison nicely questioned the Cons' stimulus priorities:
How could the Conservatives use GPS to track action plan signs and not bother to track how many jobs were created?
Laurin Liu questioned the Cons' lack of interest in investing in clean energy, while Megan Leslie pointed out the consequences of dirty oil when it comes to trading partners' perceptions of Canada. Francois Lapointe noted that not a single employee is currently being paid to mine asbestos in Canada, and wondered why the Cons continue to shill for the industry rather than looking for alternatives for workers. Carol Hughes introduced a bill to establish medals for military service during the Cold War, while Davies followed with a proposal to extend voting hours in federal elections. Francis Scarpaleggia spoke to his bill on water exports - with a particularly odd intervention seeing an objection to Elizabeth May's request to co-second the bill, while the Cons managed to find excuses to oppose action to prevent bulk water exports. And Sean Casey presented a petition calling for all junk mail to be made out of hemp paper.

New column day

Following up on this morning's roundup, I comment here on how the NDP's group of leadership candidates includes loads of possibilities to take up Jack Layton's mantle of negotiation and cooperation.

As a brief bit of further reading, it was Dan Gardner who asked whether Stephen Harper had ever engaged in serious negotiations with parties outside his government. And it doesn't look like anybody had a single example to suggest.

Finally, for anybody interested in finding out more about the NDP's leadership candidates, the candidates' sites are accessible through my reference page among other sources.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Yes, Alice comes as close as one can to distilling the entire NDP leadership race into a single post. But there's still plenty going on as the field becomes official - so let's take a look at what's new over the past couple of days.

- Niki Ashton released a statement on foreign policy, calling in particular for the fight against poverty to be Canada's top priority around the globe.

- Nathan Cullen announced that he'll be taking time during the campaign to present at the Gateway pipeline project review panel in February.

- Paul Dewar added Maher Arar to his list of endorsements focused on human rights, while also presenting a plan for public service employment.

- Peggy Nash unveiled several more labour endorsements, while also earning Bill Tieleman's nod.

- And Romeo Saganash responded to this week's First Nations summit by pointing out the need for trust in relations between aboriginal groups and Canada's federal government.

- In more general news, last night's forum in Montreal drew five candidates, along with coverage from Anja Karadeglija and Les Perreaux. ENDProhibition released candidate responses to its questions about drug policy - with Saganash standing out in calling for "full legalization, regulation and taxation" of marijuana. And Ish Theilheimer collected explanations from key endorsers for five of the candidates.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Nycole Turmel offers a reminder that we shouldn't allow the Cons and their proxies to distract anybody with shiny objects when they're so obviously wrong on the core issues facing the country:
In taking aim at the Conservatives’ priorities, Ms. Turmel criticized Mr. Harper for his seeming preoccupation with MPs’ lucrative pension plans rather than ensuring secure pensions for all Canadians.

“He thinks the most pressing issue right now is MPs’ pension, not the retirement security of millions of Canadians,” she charged. “Maybe it’s because I’m a long, long way from having an MP pension. But I’m here to fight for better pensions for all Canadians.”
As part of the government’s search for cuts in government spending – the Harper Conservatives have vowed to find $4-billion in annual savings – Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said that reforms to the MP pension plan are on the table. In fact, Mr. Clement has suggested there are no sacred cows and everything is being considered for the cuts.

Ms. Turmel’s argument – and that of her party – is that this simply a smokescreen to avoid dealing with issues such as helping Canadian families.
The Prime Minister recently dropped a 10-year health-care accord on the laps of premiers – saying take-it-or-leave-it.

Ms. Turmel called out Mr. Harper for again failing to show leadership on this file – and offered the premiers to join with the NDP as partners on fighting for good health care for all Canadians.

“We are New Democrats ... we will not let our health care wither and die,” she said.
- Terry Milewski points out that Stephen Harper's talking points from the free-market playbook are now out of place even among the elite gathered in Davos - meaning that they're even further from the reality actually facing most Canadians.

- The Canadian Labour Congress highlights a Corporate Tax Freedom Day as of February 1. And reporting on the same study, Elizabeth Thompson takes note of the fact that corporate tax cuts have led to massive piles of hoarded capital rather than the investment that's been promised.

- And finally, Ryan Cleary suggests that the viability of seal products should be measured based on market demand rather than a stubborn insistence on preserving the hunt. Predictably, the result is a wave of attacks from the Harper Cons, and zero defence from any free-marketeers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Rugged cats.

On consistent distortions

Of course, we shouldn't be spending too much time watching polls four years away from the next federal election campaign in the first place. But is it really too much to suggest that an eight point drop for the governing party and a near-total lack of movement get reflected in the headlines, rather than having two separate outlets put together equally-overwrought declarations that NDP movement within the margin of error is the end of the world?

On distorted outcomes

Having apparently decided that two levels of government and the health systems under their control (along with multiple propaganda tanks funded by who-knows-how-much-money contributed by we're-probably-not-even-allowed-to-ask) make for an insufficient number of mouthpieces for health-care privatization, Murray Mandryk continues to take on the role for himself. But let's see what's missing from both his latest column, and the health-care debate generally.

To start off with, I'll note that the primary care clinic touted by Mandryk today is rather less offensive than some of the other, more corporate-controlled facilities which he's so eagerly lumped together as "innovation!".

As I noted in this column, though, any effort to actually test the relative efficiency of the private and public sectors should involve some basis for a fair comparison between the two. But instead, it's hard to imagine a more distorted set of incentives than the one pushing all parties toward leaving the new clinic to private physicians.

After all, in setting up a separate clinic, the health professionals involved can count on a reliable source of patients whose treatment can be billed under the provincial health insurance plan - representing a nearly-guaranteed flow of new funding for the structure that allows for private profit. And the proximity to a publicly-funded facility to deal with tougher cases who are more trouble than they're worth from a profit standpoint is an added bonus.

But if the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region were to set up a publicly-administered community clinic to carry out exactly the same tasks, it would receive...not a dime from the provincial government beyond its existing funding envelope. Which means that *given a lack of willingness to consider publicly-administered options*, the best the health region can hope for is to push as many patients as possible toward private clinics to reduce its own backlog.

And that's a shame, because it's entirely plausible that the health region could do better managing a clinic and integrating it into our broader health-care needs if it received an equal amount of funding to do so. But the odds of that happening are of course zero.

In other words, the reason why a private clinic carries any particular appeal is that our system makes additional direct funding available for privately-delivered medicine, but not for publicly-delivered medicine. And while I'll readily acknowledge that the overall system has been in place under governments of different stripes, the Saskatchewan Party's obsession with privatizing as much as possible and refusing to fund public facilities looks to be making matters far worse.

Once again, then, the push for a private clinic to reduce ER times suggests less that privatization is the right answer than that the Saskatchewan Party won't accept any other answer. And citizens should expect better, rather than buying the Wall spin that "innovation" means moving as much care as possible toward private delivery.

[Edit: clarified wording.]

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A quick look at just a couple more days of developments in the NDP's leadership race...

- Niki Ashton proposed an increase in immigration, particularly when it comes to family reunification.

- Paul Dewar challenged Thomas Mulcair to take a position on bulk water exports, provoking at least somewhat of a contentious exchange between various camps.

- Meanwhile, Mulcair released a plan on women's equality to ensure equal representation on the boards of public institutions and push toward the same end in the private sector. And tonight he'll appear on This Hour Has 22 Minutes in a sure sign that the leadership campaign is starting to sink in with the general public.

- Peggy Nash put to rest any doubt about her ability to rally a crowd in a post-protest speech in London.

- Finally, Brian Topp unveiled the endorsement of Bill Siksay - a notable addition to the extent it goes beyond the perceived NDP establishment to include an MP who was disciplined by Jack Layton for not going along with a vote for a Con crime bill. And Topp also made the point that the NDP shouldn't want to copy the Cons' voter suppression - though that would seem to make for a fairly obvious contrast to the extent limited turnout is seen to benefit right-wing parties.

- On the commentary side, Tim Harper compared the NDP's campaign to the Republican presidential primaries - and it's indeed worth noting that we have much less data to work with in analyzing the NDP's race than pollsters and pundits can sift through in the latter. And Joel French offered more thoughts on three candidates who made recent appearances in Edmonton.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 22 saw the Cons' refusal to debate their own government bills reach absurd levels, as Con MPs spent more time arguing against a single opposition private member's bill than they did defending some of their supposed key priorities.

The Big Issue

But then, one can hardly blame the Cons for having been distracted, as the Auditor General's report gave the opposition parties plenty of material for question period. Peter Julian pointed out the utter lack of any evidence that the Cons' much-advertised economic plan actually accomplished anything, then noted that even basic management skills involve at least some element of setting and measuring goals which the Cons completely overlooked. And Alexandre Boulerice highlighted what may be the defining feature of the Cons' government:
(T)he Auditor General's report has confirmed what the NDP has been saying for quite some time. The Conservatives have a habit of being opaque. They ignore evidence, reject the advice of experts and are not accountable to Canadians. The Auditor General said “that poor information is a widespread, chronic problem in the federal government.”
Meanwhile, John McCallum presented a grab bag of critical AG quotes. Hedy Fry and Libby Davies pointed out the failure of Health Canada to act on drug safety issues. Christine Moore criticized an evidence-free military-industrial complex. And Malcolm Allen observed that a program intended to cut down on tobacco farming had actually boosted production at a cost of $300 million.

Silent Treatment

Two government bills were up for debate. And in both cases, the Cons couldn't be bothered to actually speak up for their own legislation - a point which Mike Sullivan and Irene Mathyssen made explicitly. But the good news is that the Cons' choice not to spout talking points left plenty of time for substantive discussion of both issues.

On Senate reform, the NDP's main theme - discussed by Francois Pilon and Glenn Thibeault - was that there's a relatively easy means available to limit the cost and damage that the Senate can do as matters stand now. Here's Thibeault:
I recall one of my constituents, Craig, telling me that he did not support a triple-E Senate. He supported a single-E Senate, and that single E stands for empty.
Pilon also noted that the Cons' plan looks to have been designed to make senators accountable to nobody before being handed massive pensions at a time when MPs' own pensions are in the spotlight. Denis Blanchette observed that Senate elections held concurrently with provincial or municipal elections to save money could result in exactly the type of voter confusion the Cons seem to want to encourage. Claude Gravelle highlighted the Senate's sad legacy of bagmanship which the Harper Cons have taken to new lows, while Marc-Andre Morin mused about its other function as a recycling ground for failed Con candidates. Pierre Dionne Labelle worried that the couple of bills passed by actual elected representatives which have already been shredded by unelected Cons may only be the tip of the iceberg, while Claude Gravelle wondered whether asbestos could be the next issue to see an unelected body block a bill which could win majority support in the House of Commons. Elizabeth May went into law wonk mode in noting the mushy language intended to allow prime ministers to ignore the results of any Senate election. Alex Atamanenko mused about how the Senate could be somewhat less of a blight if it wasn't so blatantly abused for partisan purposes. Andre Bellavance made clear that the Bloc is fully onside for Senate abolition. And Fin Donnelly worried about the unintended consequences likely to come from a partially-elected body facing even more questions about its legitimacy than the Senate already does.

On copyright, honours for the line of the day went to Olivia Chow:
It will be illegal to remove a lock, even if done so for a lawful purpose. If someone locks himself or herself out of the house, we do not drag them off to jail for trying to enter his or her locked property; why should digital property be any different?
Meanwhile, Rathika Sitsabaiesan also pointed out the Cons' obsession with locks and prisons. Peter Julian contrasted the NDP's call for constructive engagement against the Cons' utter refusal to listen to anybody other than their own spinners. Scott Simms answered the Cons' usual blather about how the right time for debate is anytime but the present by pointing out that a second-reading vote would prevent any significant changes in principle. Elizabeth May looked at the positive in the bill while pointing out the desperate need for amendment when it came to digital locks. Matthew Dube expressed concern about the bill's impact on libraries. And Kennedy Stewart drew a comparison to Mulroney-era patent reforms which made loads of money for big pharma without doing any good for most Canadians.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel called for public input into the future of health care funding just before Harper decided to rule out any such possibility. Megan Leslie wondered when the Environment Minister would notice that his government is doing nothing but harm on his assigned file, while Laurin Liu pointed out the economic risks of being a laggard on climate change. Marie-Claude Morin used National Housing Day to highlight the Cons' failings on the issue, only to be met with the response that 1.5 million Canadians with inadequate housing should be satisfied knowing that one percent of that number of residents received renovation tax credits for their existing homes. Peter Van Loan announced the latest time allocation motion, this on the single-desk Wheat Board demolition bill. Denis Coderre spoke to his bill to improve some EI benefits, only to be instructed by Mike Wallace that opposition parties should stick to presenting non-binding motions rather than bothering to try to improve legislation. Brian Storseth pretended that his bill to attack protections against hate speech was something other than a top-down, Harper-approved initiative, while Francoise Boivin noted the problems with the bill. Jamie Nicholls questioned why successive Con ministers responsible for infrastructure have all failed to show any interest in planning past the next media cycle. Malcolm Allen reiterated the need for a stronger CPP as the base of Canada's retirement system. And Francois Lapointe called out Con MPs who oppose asbestos exports for their cowardice in sticking to the party line.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Erin nicely challenges Brad Wall's efforts to tilt the playing field against poorer provinces when it comes to Employment Insurance and equalization.

- But I'm not sure we can expect much change to EI in any event. After all, as Dr. Dawg notes, the current Harper-created financing board may be the ultimate non-functioning public agency to reflect the Cons' inclination toward ineffective government.

- Philip Boffey points out that the source of the U.S.' disproportionate health-care costs is precisely its reliance on market pricing that so many are eager to introduce in Canada. And Tom Tomorrow rightly notes that the U.S. health-care system isn't lacking for Wall-style innovation.

- David Akin points out a striking correlation between voting locations and outcomes.

- Finally, Daniel Lick theorizes that Canada spends roughly twice as much on corporate welfare as direct social welfare.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 21, 2011

Monday, November 21 featured the final day of debate on the Harper Cons' omnibus budget bill.

The Big Issue

Not surprisingly, the final day of debate on budget legislation gave rise to plenty of clash, with Peter Julian offering up the best summary of the contrasting positions:
What the Conservatives are saying is that the tens of thousands of seniors living in poverty in the country need to continue living in poverty because it wants to bring in more corporate tax cuts. It is saying to the one million Canadians who rely on food banks just to get through the month that they will need to keep going to food banks because it wants to bring in more corporate tax cuts. It is saying to the 72,000 Canadians who lost full-time jobs in the month of October, almost half of whom will not have access to employment insurance, that it needs to cut their benefits so that it can bring in this further corporate tax cut.
It is the middle-class and poor Canadian families who are paying the price for the government's irresponsible attitude when it comes to fiscal policy in the country.
Julian likewise contrasted continued tax giveaways to the corporate sector against the Cons' imposition of austerity on actual citizens, while Wayne Marston added up the cumulative effect of Lib and Con corporate tax cuts over the course of over a decade. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet and Alain Giguere noted that the Cons' gratuitous cuts are turning Canada toward the Greek Syndrome that the government is supposedly trying to avoid. Scott Brison criticized the Cons' tax credits for being targeted to avoid anybody who actually needs help, while Alain Giguere added that needlessly complex application processes will keep hundreds of thousands of seniors from receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Kirsty Duncan proposed children's nutrition funding as a far better investment than the Cons' trinkets and baubles. Alexandre Boulerice pointed out that even the IMF has recognized inequality as a serious issue that demands action, while lamenting the Cons' focus on short-term political interests rather than long-term planning. Marston and Francois Choquette pointed out that a job creation tax credit would do far more for Canadian workers than the Cons' unfocused tax hacking. Marston also called for a boost to the Canada Pension Plan, while noting that the Cons chose not to bother when there was plenty of provincial demand for action. Raymond Cote rightly criticized the Cons' now-defunct transit tax credit as having been utterly useless when it came to actually providing transit, and suggested that we shouldn't turning our economy over to the Gordon Gekkos of the world. Nycole Turmel suggested that the Cons pair their new regulatory requirements with desperately-needed investment in infrastructure. And Jean Crowder pointed out that the Cons' "jobs! jobs! jobs!" spin is far from a full answer to economic issues when the jobs actually created aren't enough to keep a worker or family out of grinding poverty.

For the Cons, Colin Mayes honestly seemed to think Julian would be able to do nothing but proclaim the Cons' brilliance in mentioning their softwood lumber sellout - only to be met with the reality of 50,000 lost forestry jobs as a result. Royal Galipeau made it clear that as far as he's concerned, Canadians should expect to fend for themselves. And Cheryl Gallant delivered a remarkable paean to the hundreds of millions of dollars the Cons have thrown into AECL even while selling it off.

Finally, Elizabeth May attempted one last time to challenge the Cons' choice to attack per-vote funding rather than exceedingly generous donation tax credits that disproprotionately help the Cons, only to be told by Randy Hoback that it had been decreed thus from on high - and in keeping with that theme, the bill passed at third reading.

Tomorrow's News Today

Once again, the NDP identified a significant story months before the media seems to have caught on, as Jasbir Sandhu and Sylvain Chicoine both questioned the politicization of RCMP communications months before the story found its way into the press. But in fairness, I'm sure plenty of media observers were once again too busy writing about how little they've seen from the NDP opposition to notice what was actually happening.

In Brief

Helene Laverdiere wondered whether the Cons' call for strong action against Syria would include any limitations on the business done there by Suncor - and Bob Dechert's answer strongly suggested otherwise. Peter MacKay answered a question from John McKay by stating that there's no expectation of reaching initial operating capability with F-35s anytime before 2020 - calling into question why there wouldn't be time to properly consider Canada's options before then. Don Davies introduced a bill to remove federal sales taxes on energy-efficient products. Dan Harris provided a few current cabinet ministers' greatest hits decrying closure and time allocation under past governments before they became Canada's leading offenders in that department. Ruth Ellen Brosseau highlighted the increase in food bank use under the Cons. Andrew Scheer issued his ruling on the Cons' refusal to respect judicial independence, choosing to punt the issue back to committee rather than addressing the problem. Tyrone Benskin called for the Cons to recognize the value of crime prevention rather than focusing stubbornly on punishment, while Francis Scarpaleggia questioned whether officials from municipalities who can't afford new wastewater requirements might be joining the new crowd in Canadian prisons. Peter Stoffer spoke to his private member's bill to stop pension clawbacks for Canadian veterans. Tarik Brahmi tried again to get some answers about the Cons' failure to do anything to rein in credit-card gauging, only to be told by Eve Adams that tax slashing for the wealthy is basically the same thing as consumer protection. Charlie Angus and Alexandre Boulerice questioned some of the new revelations about Tony Clement's G8 porkfest. Anne Minh-Thu Quach wondered why the Cons chose to have health funding studied by unelected non-representatives in the Senate rather than a Commons committee. Justin Trudeau tested whether Peter Kent would go off message long enough to demonstrate basic knowledge about ozone issues; needless to say, Kent failed miserably. Julian suggested the Cons stop asking Canadians to play retirement roulette. And Turmel called out the Cons for forcing the provinces to pay the price for so many of their policies.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - January 22, 2012

For all that's happened over the past week, the ultimate result has been largely to confirm the relative placement that the NDP's leadership candidates have faced all along. And in cutting through the increasing volume of activity, this week's rankings look to be drifting back toward the first set of candidate perceptions from November - with the exception of one key development that seems to have been confirmed over the last week.

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Lest there be any doubt, an outburst of media kvetching over Mulcair's dual citizenship doesn't figure to affect his standing within the leadership race - and indeed, the prospect of outside attacks may be just what he needs to get other candidates' supporters working in his defence. But it's somewhat more worrisome for Mulcair that at least one competitor has somewhat validated the concern for NDP members by echoing the theme.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

Because of the need to discount for her home-field advantage, I couldn't see Nash's debate performance as hugely improving her position. But she did more than enough to maintain her position as the most likely challenger to Mulcair on a final ballot.

3. Brian Topp (4)

This week nicely encapsulated the entire campaign for Topp. His debate performance was strong in substance but lacking in audience engagement; he pulled off an effective policy release that doesn't seem likely to advance his cause all that much; and he unveiled a couple of big-name endorsements, but in the process raised questions as to whether he's reached anybody beyond his pool of immediate colleagues. But he does still climb in the rankings thanks to...

4. Paul Dewar (3)

The main question for Dewar remains his ability to communicate in French. And his Toronto forum performance wasn't a positive sign on that front, as the outcome of what was supposed to have been a concerted effort to improve in his second language over the holiday break came up wanting. At best, one might theorize that more frequent debates will ultimately help Dewar find his sea legs - but it has to be worrisome for a candidate's best hope to involve getting comfortable in a language during the home stretch of a leadership campaign.

5. Romeo Saganash (6)

In terms of visible organization, Saganash would rank a couple of spots below this. But he's put in some highly visible work to get in front of audiences beyond his core supporters - and as long as he's within shouting distance of the candidates below him for organizational strength, Saganash's resume and personal story still figure to give him the upper hand.

6. Niki Ashton (5)

Ashton didn't stand out from the crowd this past week as she did in the first official debate. And at this stage of the campaign, she can't afford to blend into the background.

7. Nathan Cullen (7)

Yes, his new caucus endorsements help. But it's still an open question as to where Cullen can possibly accumulate later-ballot support - and the Toronto response to his cooperation proposal signals that there's still plenty of concern about his primary message.

8. Martin Singh (8)

One final note that I didn't include about the Toronto forum was that Singh's performance was much improved from the first official debate: rather than sticking as carefully to his chosen themes he engaged with the other candidates on a variety of issues, and he seems to have received a positive response in doing so. Which still leaves him a long way from contention, but raises the possibility that he could assemble enough later-ballot support to play a major role at the convention.

[Edit: fixed formatting.]

Parliament in Review: November 18, 2011

Friday, November 18 saw two pieces of legislation discussed. And the contrast couldn't have been much more stark between an opposition effort to develop better legislation, and a government focused on nothing more than sticking to talking points regardless of whether they made the slightest sense in context.

The Big Issue

The main topic of discussion was the Canadian Wheat Board, including debate on the opposition's amendments to at least eliminate the Cons' plan to take a wrecking ball to the elected board of directors. But predictably, the Cons offered no defence of those particular provisions - stubbornly repeating their "delay" talking point even though the bill would obviously take no longer to pass amended than unamended.

Meanwhile, Robert Sopuck's speech deserves special note as an example of a Con deliberately pretending that everything that led to his election never happened. Sopuck won his seat based in part on his firm statement that the Wheat Board should be defended - only to use his opportunity to stand up for his riding by doing nothing but spouting the same anti-Wheat Board talking points we've heard dozens of times before, including by saying that voters had already decided the issue by electing him.

Needless to say, Pat Martin eagerly pointed out the fact that plenty of western voters had taken the Cons at their word that the Wheat Board wouldn't be torn down without some opportunity to be heard, while Don Davies discussed his grandfather who was both a Conservative voter and staunch defender of the Wheat Board. Anne-Marie Day criticized the Cons' trampling of a democratically-operated institution in favour of direct political appointments and silencing affected parties, while Claude Gravelle wondered why the Cons are so eager to take Canada's farmers for granted. And Wayne Easter noted that the single-desk Wheat Board is highly efficient compared to other marketing mechanisms while also returning all surpluses to farmers (at least until the Cons decreed otherwise), while also noted that the same "producer freedom" arguments repeated ad nauseum when it comes to the Wheat Board would apply with equal force to supply management which the Cons plan to maintain.

Flag Football

The other bill debated was the Cons' first foray into literal flag-waving, as John Carmichael spoke to his private member's bill to make it a criminal offence to limit the flying of the Canadian flag. Tyrone Benskin and Guy Caron raised concerns about the heavy-handed punishment included in the bill. Scott Simms wondered whether Carmichael's bill might have served as a means to prosecute Danny Williams in the course of his anti-Harper protests. And Royal Galipeau asked a cryptic question about "civil society organizations that receive public subsidies, money from Canadian taxpayers, and refuse to fly the Canadian flag" - signalling that explicit loyalty tests may be coming in the relatively near future if he has his way.

Evolving Traditions

Lib MP Mauril Belanger made a novel request, asking that Gerald Keddy table an iPad which he had referred to in answering a question. And at the very least Keddy was willing to table the text he was referring to - meaning that the Cons aren't yet using advances in technology as an excuse to completely negate all historical disclosure obligations.

In Brief

Jack Harris and Helene Laverdiere both praised the Cons for taking at least one step to allow for proper debate and analysis of C-10, only to be met with a response that they had no interest in doing anything more. Rosane Dore Lefebvre questioned the Cons' reliance on risky and inequitable voluntary savings programs - only to receive a response from Shelly Glover highlighting the riskiest and least equitable choices the Cons have made. Francoise Boivin and Alexandrine Latendresse challenged the Cons' attacks on pay equity. Glenn Thibeault noted that a voluntary consumer protection system (which the Cons chose in favour of actual regulation) is falling apart as TD Bank pulled its previous participation. Jason Kenney demonstrated that his math tutoring from Jim Flaherty is going about as well as could be expected. Claude Gravelle asked when the Cons would bother to proclaim their long-promised emission reduction regulations for the oil sands, only to be told that the Cons don't believe anybody should even ask the question. Ryan Cleary pressed the Cons on increasing EI processing times which keep money out of the hands of workers when they need it most. Jean Crowder and Anne-Marie Day challenged the Cons to do something about poverty. And Randall Garrison questioned why the Cons are withholding funding needed to restore rail service on Vancouver Island.

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to end your weekend.

- As Thomas Walkom notes, it's an open question as to who will take up the cause of defending universal public health care in Canada - but easy to figure out who poses the greatest threat to it:
Writing in The Globe and Mail this week, political scientist Flanagan attacked the very idea of Ottawa spending money in areas of provincial jurisdiction like health. He lauded Harper for moving “incrementally” towards a more classic form of federalism, where aberrations such as national medicare would not exist.

Programs like medicare, Flanagan wrote, “create the illusion for both levels of government that they are spending something less than 100-cent dollars” and thereby lead to more debt.

All of this suggests we are in for a grim few years on the health-care front.

Don’t expect the Harper government to attack medicare directly. It’s too popular with voters.

But what we can expect is a hands-off approach from Ottawa, which, when coupled with federal transfer cutbacks, will encourage cash-strapped provinces to search for more privately funded alternatives — from user fees to private-pay clinics.
- I for one can't imagine how placing a national police force under the strict political control of a government could possibly go wrong.

- Nancy Macdonald rightly points out that the largest questions about the Gateway pipeline are being raised by First Nations in B.C. - not the foreign boogeymen being invented by the Harper Cons. But we should fully expect that the Cons will try to tie the historical occupants of the land into their spin about unworthy interlopers.

- Meanwhile, it's becoming glaringly clear who views a government which exists primarily in service of the tar sands as a enemy - and which dubious characters see that as the definition of an ally.

- And Andrew Nikiforuk highlights one of the dirty truths about the oil industry, as it provides a woefully small number of jobs for the amount of GDP generated - with the Keystone XL pipeline only figuring to make matters worse:
(For the record, the oil industry is not a jobs machine. It is the world's most capital-intensive industry and earns more than 10 per cent of the world's GDP. But it only employs less than one tenth of one per cent of the world's workers. In Canada it accounts for but 1.8 per cent of the workforce.)

No matter. TransCanada's immodest economic models, for example, piped out job estimates 13 times greater (199,000) than those done by U.S. State Department (5,000 to 8,000) over a three- year period.

A 2011 Cornell University Global Labor Institute report crunched the numbers too and revealed that the project's construction would inject no more than $4-billion into the U.S. economy and only create between 2,500 and 4,650 jobs.

Unlike Canadian Tories, the Cornell study pointed out that the pipeline, by exporting raw bitumen to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, would steal good jobs from Canada. Every time Canada exports 400,000 barrels of raw bitumen, economists calculate that the nation sends approximately 18,000 upgrading and refining jobs abroad and reduces Canada's GDP by 0.2 per cent.
- Sixth Estate documents how the Cons have sent every important report generated under their government down the memory hole.

- Finally, Andrew Jackson points out that the roots of inequality are largely political rather than a matter of inherent economic structure - no matter how feverishly some corporate apologists are working to pretend otherwise.