Saturday, February 04, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 30, 2011

After the previous day's debacle in which government-sponsored amendments to the Cons' dumb-on-crime bill were ruled out of order, one might have expected at least some acknowledgment of fallibility on the part of the Harper Cons.

The Big Issue

But Wednesday, November 30 saw nothing of the sort, even when the Cons were questioned directly. Instead, Rob Nicholson responded to entirely valid questions by claiming that his party still supported "every measure in this bill" even after it had tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill. But Nicholson's general grasp on reality seemed to be lacking generally, as he railed against "(e)very time the opposition parties, in the last five years, got together and forced an election on the Government of Canada" - by which he presumably meant exactly once.

Meanwhile, Andrew Cash reminded Nicholson that there were plenty of non-contentious parts of the bill which the opposition would have been happy to have passed already if the Cons didn't insist on tying them to poison pills, while Alexandre Boulerice noted in particular that provisions to address worker exploitation shouldn't be lashed to evidence-free policy on drugs and other justice issues. And Cash and Megan Leslie discussed the racialization of both poverty and crime.

But in the end Peter Van Loan pushed ahead in yet again cutting off debate, with the Cons again forcing through both the cloture motion and the unamended bill.

In Brief

Nycole Turmel and Charlie Angus returned from Attawapiskat to demand that the Cons declare a state of emergency (or at least show their faces in the community). Don Davies listed off many more Con-connected appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board than Jason Kenney was willing to admit the previous day. Christine Moore pointed out the latest Con misadventure in acronyms, as the Air Force's French acronym following the Cons' re-insertion of "royal" matched that of a Colombian terrorist group until somebody pointed out the association. Davies introduced a private member's bill to lower the voting age to 16, Chris Charlton proposed to allow Parliamentary staff to unionize, and Alex Atamanenko presented a bill to establish a Department of Peace. Olivia Chow noted that the imposed vote on C-10 was cutting into promised time for committee questioning on infrastructure. Jamie Nicholls polished his futurist credentials by successfully predicting that an adjournment question on G8 patronage would be answered with mindless talking points. And Guy Caron followed up on issues of corruption in corporate tax enforcement at the Canada Revenue Agency.

On uncertain measurements

Patrick has assembled an interesting response to Eric Grenier's work in quantifying the effect of endorsements in the NDP leadership race. But while I can understand the instinct to try to put together a measurement system for endorsements as a whole, I'd think it's worth being careful about simply adding up numbers, rather than looking at them in context to see which might most plausibly have the greatest effect on the course of the campaign.

Let's start with the seemingly noncontroversial statement that any candidate will have natural constituencies of supporters.

Of course, endorsements from within those anticipated support groups are certainly better than a lack thereof. But it isn't particularly news that Thomas Mulcair has a leg up among Quebec MPs, Peggy Nash within the labour movement, Paul Dewar within the current Manitoba NDP and Brian Topp among Saskatchewan's recent NDP legislators.

As a result, endorsements fitting the expected pattern don't figure to do much to change our baseline expectations for a campaign. And that goes doubly when they essentially duplicate existing endorsements of a particular type. (No offence to Lorne Calvert, but the cachet involved in Topp's claiming the support of a past Saskatchewan premier was substantially reduced when Roy Romanow had already provided exactly that.)

Coversely, a few endorsements loom as particularly significant in shaping the outcome of the NDP's leadership race in ways which may be missed by efforts to categorize by number without considering how they've challenged existing perceptions of candidates.

Most obviously, Brian Topp's ability to point to endorsements from Ed Broadbent and Francoise Boivin gave his campaign instant credibility from the start of the leadership race. And he's combined that initial endorsement from two high-profile political veterans who might not have been expected to support an outsider with an effective media strategy to get himself labeled as a top contender in a contest where his lack of history as an elected official might otherwise have been seen far more of an obstacle.

As for other endorsements with potentially massive impacts on the trajectory of the campaign which might not be captured in any metric, I'd point to:
- Pierre Ducasse's support for Peggy Nash, allowing a candidate who started the campaign without an obvious Quebec base to benefit from Ducasse's role in getting the NDP's progress started in the province that delivered its electoral breakthrough. For those eager to develop metrics, that might signal a need to account for "authoring major party documents" (or perhaps "name drops" based on Nash's frequent references to Ducasse in debates), but I'd consider Ducasse more an example of the difficulty developing meaningful objective criteria in the first place.
- Libby Davies' endorsement of Topp, which may have substantially affected the composition of the race to the extent it split urban B.C. support which Peter Julian may have needed to see a viable path to the leadership.
- Linda Duncan's support for Dewar and Don Davies' for Mulcair, both of which added regional balance from highly-respected members of the NDP's existing caucus to campaigns which otherwise lacked a great deal of visible support west of Manitoba and Ontario respectively.
- And most recently, the UFCW's recent nod to Thomas Mulcair - which signals that the front-runner is moving beyond the endorsements of individual union leaders to bring substantial parts of the labour movement onside.

Once a candidate has locked in a few endorsements of a particular type, though, I'd expect additions to the list to result in diminishing returns - meaning that I'd be skeptical of assigning equal weight to later examples. About the only exception to the greater potential impact of early endorsements is then to be found in rare cases which again arise only based on a candidate's particular circumstances: for example, a campaign that's facing a scandal or otherwise perceived to be on the downswing may be able to generate a new sense of momentum with a major endorsement or two regardless of whether it involves a new category of supporter.

All of which is to say that while it's great to see some effort to measure the state of the NDP's race through endorsement counts, they (like fund-raising totals and polling based on non-members' preferences) figure to show only a small part of the picture. And so we shouldn't be too quick to use them as a proxy for the state of the campaign.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Mike Ward nicely describes the "Orwellian reverie" being used by the Cons to try to manipulate the public into acceding to the every wish of the oil sector:
In what other world could the delivery of jobs, profits and unrefined oil to a totalitarian foreign government be considered an act of patriotism? In what other sphere could dirty oil be called "ethical," and a fragile pipeline, strung across 700 rivers before spilling its contents into balloon-skinned tankers, be eulogized as enlightened?

Unless peace is war, how can First Nations peoples be cast as alien-controlled enemies of the state; unless ignorance is strength, how can a paltry 200 jobs justify the endangerment of 200,000?
- Jeff Davis unfortunately misstates what Dick Harris' private member's bill on Employment Insurance figures to accomplish. (And of course, plenty of right-wing mouthpieces are entirely eager to repeat the inaccuracies.) So let's set the record straight.

No, the current EI system doesn't allow an incarcerated individual to "collect double the (EI)" of anybody else. Instead, it provides for an extension on the time limit in which to apply for precisely the same amount of EI benefits which would otherwise be available. And that makes some sense based on the fact that a person who's incarcerated won't have a need to start collecting EI to meet living expenses until after being released.

Of course, it's fair enough to suggest that other applicants with a valid reason for not applying immediately shouldn't be worse off for waiting. But Harris isn't doing anything in the slightest to help anybody else; instead, he's merely looking for an excuse to vilify and exclude people who paid into EI and meet all other qualifications to receive it.

- Meanwhile, Susan Riley offers some suggestions as to what the NDP can propose as an alternative to the Cons' mean-spirited and inefficient government. Gerald Caplan wonders when we'll see a stronger extraparliamentary opposition develop. And the NDP offers up a useful image to help build the outrage the Cons have so determinedly earned.

- Finally, there seems to be plenty of reason for concern that decisions have been made about the future of the Regina Public Library's downtown home with cursory "consultation" to happen only after it's too late. And a wall of silence from the RPL board certainly isn't helping matters.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Musical interlude

Andy Moor - Halcyon

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Yes, the fraudulent collaboration between the Harper Cons and Sun TV should offer nothing but reason for suspicion about both portions of the right-wing noise machine - and Dr. Dawg, Heather Mallick, Simon Houpt and the Star have all had plenty to say. But let's add a third major problem to the dishonesty on both sides: shouldn't a government supposedly committed to efficiency (and preparing to take an axe to numerous departments as a result) expect its civil servants to have something better to do than to act as props for a photo op?

- I'll have to take issue with Dan Gardner's column on OAS by offering a reminder that the "but retirements are getting longer!" doesn't exactly apply across the board:
(T)hose working but in low income will lose a hefty portion of the OAS/GIS benefits that would otherwise have been paid to them.

It is all too often forgotten that, notwithstanding rising longevity, many of those in lower income groups still die relatively young.

...(T)here is a big difference of probability of survival to age 75 by income group, and also by aboriginal status.
So for Gardner or anybody else who's actually concerned about ensuring parity in retirement time, the answer is to make sure that OAS and other benefits are available to lower-income seniors at a low enough age to allow for a reasonably comparable period of retirement - while withdrawing the Cons' handouts to the wealthy from people who don't need them.

- Meanwhile, David Climenhaga notes that the Cons' attacks on pensions shouldn't come as any surprise. And Stephen Maher comments on the Cons' starve-the-public strategy:
Reagan put it this way in 1982: "There were always those who told us that taxes couldn't be cut until spending was reduced. Well, you know, we can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance."

It's known as "starving the beast." Rather than doing the politically painful work of cutting spending, you cut taxes and increase public debt to the point where it is necessary to cut spending to keep the repo men at bay.

Unlike Reagan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has never publicly discussed his "starve the beast" plan, but it's pretty clear that that's what he's doing.
Last month, (Harper) told Calgary radio host Dave Rutherford to expect "fairly aggressive action" to "position this country for growth over the next generation."

That sounds like more radical surgery than the inefficiencies he blandly discussed during the campaign.

It may mean cuts to Employment Insurance and equalization.

Having starved the beast, Harper may now be ready to climb into the cage and take on the weakened creature more forcefully.
- Finally, Carol Goar theorizes that the Cons should work with the public on contentious issues rather than ramming through zero-consultation bills without debate.

And I'd agree entirely from the perspective of providing remotely responsive and competent government. But I suspect the fact that the Cons have so resolutely refused to allow any meaningful discussion speaks volumes about the outcome they'd expect if they had to defend their ideological positions by doing anything more than repeating talking points - making a concerted effort to shut out the public an inevitable part of their plans to trash Canada beyond recognition.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

New column day

Here, on the Wall government's insistence that public-sector cuts are the answer no matter what the question - and the cautionary tale we should draw from their Irish model.

For further reading...
- The CP documents Wall's latest demand for austerity at any price.
- Paul Krugman has done plenty of work showing where Ireland has gone wrong in both its initial economic model and its subsequent austerity program. See posts here, and especially here among others.
- And for more on the IMF's admonition that governments not engage in gratuitous cuts if they can afford not to, see the BBC and Stephen Gordon.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Carol Goar notes that the Cons' decision to mess with retirement security may be just the type of issue to rouse voters who had been lulled to sleep by promises of stability - which seems more plausible than Chantal Hebert's theory that the Cons can reasonably expect to benefit politically by focusing attention on exactly the kind of cuts they can only get away with in relative silence. Meanwhile, Ellen Roseman points out that an increase in the eligibility age makes no sense at all and Trish Hennessy runs the numbers on how cuts to OAS might play out.

- Meanwhile, in the "accountability for thee but not for me" department, the Cons want to stoke outrage over CBC salaries while jealously hiding what we're paying Stephen Harper's PMO spinners. And the Cons are also making the stunning claim that e-mails sent in response to media questions can't be quoted.

- But in fairness, encounters with reality have had a tendency not to end well for the Cons.

- Finally, Paul Moist weighs in on the NDP's leadership campaign by pointing out the wider role the party needs to play in speaking for workers.

On close competition

Alice has taken a thorough look at the 2011 Q4 fund-raising totals in the NDP's leadership race and mused that fund-raising may serve as a proxy for first-ballot support. But I'll follow up on a couple of points.

Let's start with a couple of reasons to take yesterday's numbers with a grain of salt. After all, they don't particularly match the one source of information we already had on exactly the same point, as Nathan Cullen's reported fund-raising to the end of December involved an extra 100 donations totalling $24,000. And I'm curious to hear how that divergence in reporting came about.

But even if yesterday's data is in fact the better source as of the end of 2011 than reports from campaigns themselves, it's still a month out of date at a point where the campaign is just emerging into the public eye.

That said, we can certainly glean some useful information from the 2011 numbers, as there's far more parity in candidate fund-raising this time out than there was in 2003. Five candidates look like they'll have absolutely no trouble raising something close to the limit, and Martin Singh is also doing remarkably well to boot - with only Romeo Saganash and Niki Ashton lagging behind what they might plausibly have planned for.

Of course, it could be that nobody is running up the score on fund-raising simply because there's little advantage to be gained in going beyond the spending limit. And if that's the case, then the theory about using fund-raising as an indicator of support will fall by the wayside. But if it's true that fund-raising can be considered a proxy for first-ballot support, then the 2011 numbers suggest there's little enough separation between over half the field to ensure that the winner will need plenty of later-ballot support as well.

Update: It's been pointed out by a couple of readers that there may be an explanation for my uncertainty above. Here's the part of Tobi Cohen's story that makes it unclear what time frames are covered:
Candidates were required to submit an interim financial statement to the party on Jan. 12 and Cullen was the only candidate who agreed to share some of the information, namely his list of donors, with Post-media News.

The disclosure offers a first glimpse into the sort of money involved in the campaign, as candidates don't have to publicly disclose their expenditures with Elections Canada until four weeks before the March 24 vote.

According to the data, Cullen received some 550 individual donations up to the end of December totalling more than $111,000. He's raised another $24,000 since, officials close to the campaign said.
The most plausible interpretation looks to be that Cohen's "up to the end of December" line - which I took at face value - describes what were in fact donations up to the January 12 reporting date, with Cullen then raising the additional $24,000 in the first couple of weeks of 2012. And if that signals a faster pace of fund-raising in the new year, then there's even less reason to think most of the candidates will have any trouble matching each other dollar-for-dollar up to the cap.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 29, 2011

Tuesday, November 29 saw debate at third reading on the Cons' omnibus crime bill. And with even some Cons starting to recognize the desperate need for amendments, the government's obstinate refusal to allow for any real consideration of the bill stood out all the more.

The Big Issue

At the start of debate, Andrew Scheer ruled as to the validity of a number of amendments to C-10. And notably, the amendments which he ruled out of order included some originating with the Cons after they carelessly voted them down at committee - providing a rather compelling indication that everybody recognized some need to improve the bill rather than ramming it through.

Which naturally means that Peter Van Loan took the opportunity to announce his intention to once again cut off debate on the bill. This time, his motion was met by a reply from Jack Harris seeking the study which the bill so obviously needed - but naturally that effort to favour intelligent policy-making was shot down.

Meanwhile, Harris noted that the Cons' bill is actually even more strict than the U.S.' failed tough-on-crime legislation in allowing no flexibility on minimum sentences. Elizabeth May observed that the main effect of mandatory minimums would be to force parties toward plea bargains on lesser counts. Irwin Cotler pointed out the obvious danger in allowing governments to determine as a matter of political calculation which groups to expose to lawsuits under the terrorism lawsuit provisions of the bill (which as he noted had never been debated before). Dany Morin challenged the Cons' determination to force provinces to cut social programs to pay for prisons. Jean Crowder highlighted research showing that we can get seven times as much crime prevention (to say nothing of additional social benefits) by investing in social development rather than burning the same money on prison construction, while Bruce Hyer compared the costs of incarceration to those of education. Isabelle Morin challenged the Cons' position that the public is uniformly behind it by pointing to several specific constituent concerns about the bill. Anne-Marie Day asked Kyle Seeback whether he honestly considered a citizen growing 6 marijuana plants to be a drug lord who should be subject to the same mandatory minimum as a major cocaine trafficker; remarkably, Seeback answered with a resounding "yes". Linda Duncan raised concerns about the disproportionate effect a dumb-on-crime policy will have among aboriginal communities. And Daryl Kramp lamented the state of Canadian prisons, while conspicuously failing to mention how tossing thousands more inmates into them for no particular reason would help matters.

Resentment as Policy

Dick Harris spoke to his private member's bill to eliminate an EI access period for convicted criminals. Needless to say, the bill epitomizes the Cons' focus on taking away from people they don't like rather than ensuring more equitable access for people who need it - as Claude Patry promptly pointed out.

In Brief

Chris Charlton proposed that public holidays be harmonized between industries under federal jurisdiction and the home province of workers. Crowder called on the Cons to finally act on Parliament's long-held unanimous agreement to put an end to child poverty. Peter Julian wondered whether the Cons were willing to acknowledge the reality of deteriorating economic forecasts. Brian Masse pointed out that Con negotiations with the U.S. have led to disastrous results, and wondered what nasty surprises were in store for Canadians' privacy. Justin Trudeau criticized the Cons for spending less to deal with climate change at the federal level than Quebec alone invests as a province. Don Davies noted that over half of the primarily-Con-appointed members of the Immigration and Refugee Board either failed the qualifying exam or were screened out for incompetency; Jason Kenney replied by saying the Cons are apparently proud to have rejected many better applications than the ones they accepted. John Williamson managed to ask a question that had so little to do with government administration that even Scheer couldn't allow a Con minister to deliver a scripted answer. Anne Minh-Thu Quach wondered why the Cons were missing in action in a global conference on the social determinants of health. And Megan Leslie's adjournment questions on ozone were met with the same bare-bones talking points Michelle Rempel would normally deliver in question period when the response time is actually limited - serving perhaps as an indication that Rempel's hype as the Cons' new up-and-coming female is destined for the same fate as that which once surrounded the likes of Rona Ambrose and Lisa Raitt.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Paul Wells points out that despite the Cons' best efforts to get Canadians to panic over the state of our retirement system, the truth is that we're actually better positioned now than was projected 20 years ago. (And for those looking inexplicably for middle ground between the status quo and the Cons' apparent plans: no, a mere modest increase in seniors' poverty isn't a positive outcome.)

- Lest there be any doubt, it's well worth researching personalized health assessment - so kudos to the Cons for planning to fund the idea. But of course it'll be worth keeping an eye as to whether the plan turns into an excuse to devolve payment to the individual level. And in also in the department of credit where due (though only to the extent due), Brad Trost's musings about MP independence deserve some support even if his own plans figure to be even worse than the Cons' Harper-dictated policy and talking points.

- Of course, we'd have a lot more confidence the Cons didn't have ulterior motives if they weren't so insistent on governing in secret. Or if they could provide an honest and relevant answer to even the most direct of questions. Or if they didn't suddenly announce the end of programs without warning.

- Finally, Rob Rainer writes that the answer to reducing inequality is simple enough - if only we didn't have a federal government determined to go in the wrong direction:
As the London-based Equality Trust states, there are two compatible options:

• Reduce the differences in employment income before tax; and
• Increase the redistribution of income through tax and benefit systems...

(T)he more effective option for combating inequality is for governments to, first, rebuild greater fairness into our systems of taxation and, second, increase the distribution of income from the "top" to the "bottom." In 1948 there were 19 personal income tax brackets in Canada, and the top marginal tax rate was 80 per cent on incomes over $250,000 ($2.37 million in 2011 dollars). Today, we have but four brackets and the top rate is but 29 per cent, kicking in on earnings over $132,406.

The key to solving inequality seems pretty clear. Have we the public will now to support the political will for a fairer, better society?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Luxuriating cats.

Parliament in Review: November 28, 2011

Monday, November 28 saw the final day of debate in the House of Commons on the Cons' legislation to trash the single-desk Canadian Wheat Board. And not surprisingly, the result was a particularly focused set of concerns about the bill - though those were waved aside yet again.

The Big Issue

The line of the day went to Carol Hughes on the empty promise of "freedom":
Perhaps the Conservatives are correct in a sense in that they are giving our farmers more freedom. However, what they are doing is freeing our farmers from the protection that the single desk provides. They are giving them freedom from financial stability, freedom from proven risk management, freedom to be bullied and bought by big agriculture. They are now freed from a guaranteed decent price on the global market.
Meanwhile, the Cons decided not to stay seated for the debate. Instead, David Anderson kicked off proceedings by hearkening back to the 1920s as his apparent ideal for agricultural marketing systems. Pat Martin again asked for any evidence whatsoever as to the anticipated impacts of demolishing the single desk, only to receive no answer even from the parliamentary secretary responsible. Alex Atamanenko and Frank Valeriote tested whether the Cons had paid any attention to the disastrous effects for farmers when the Australian Wheat Board was similarly torched. Atamanenko also criticized the replacement of an elected board of directors with a set of undemocratic political appointees. Wayne Easter wondered why the Cons were effectively taking the side of the U.S. and its agribusiness giants against Canadian farmers. Randy Hoback described what he would see as a fair voting process based on acres farmed, but didn't bother to explain why his party hadn't bothered to conduct that kind of plebiscite rather than overruling the only votes ever actually taken. Niki Ashton remarked on the helpful declaration by Gordon O'Connor that she could count on being attacked by the Board-bashers brought into Parliament by the Cons. And Alain Giguere pointed out that plenty of institutions beyond the Wheat Board itself stand to be affected by the Cons' attack.

But all the arguments in the world were ultimately for naught, as the Cons voted down any amendments (including the ones limited to preserving some semblance of democracy in the Wheat Board) and rammed through the bill.

Dumb on Crime 33 1/3: Too Dumb to Count

Meanwhile, some time was also taken debating David Wilks' bill to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for the kidnapping of a child by a stranger. Needless to say, the Cons' speeches didn't present the slightest justification for the bill other than their usual stream of declarations of (paraphrased for greater eloquence) "tough! good! criminals! bad! tough! good!". Jack Harris responded by imploring the Cons to take into account the exhortation to make good laws and wise decisions. Sean Casey nicely discussed the need for proportionality based on the facts of a particular case. And Jonathan Genest-Jourdain focused on prevention on the basis that the minimum sentence was nothing more than a sideshow.

In Brief

Peter Julian decried the Cons' environmental vandalism in reneging on Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and standing in the way of any meaningful replacement. Robert Aubin again pointed out the absurdity of the Cons' unfunded, unplanned and unfocused committee on French language rights in Quebec workplaces. Rodger Cuzner highlighted the disastrous results of Con neglect and austerity when it comes to processing EI claims. Anne Minh-Thu Quach questioned what Canada would have to show for billions in extra prescription drug costs based on CETA. Kennedy Stewart wondered why the Cons led the City of Calgary on for three years before declaring that recreation centres weren't eligible for P3 funding. Olivia Chow reiterated her call for legislation requiring side guards. Chris Charlton introduced a bill to bring Canada into compliance with an ILO convention against child labour by raising the minimum age requirement for workers, while Atamanenko proposed to allow conscientious objection to the use of tax dollars for military purposes. Linda Duncan asked the Cons to lift the 2% cap on aboriginal education funding. And Francois Lapointe asked an adjournment question about the opportunity to transition away from asbestos mining at a time when nobody is actually employed in the industry, only to receive an extra-long version of the Cons' greatest denial hits from Jacques Gourde.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Kady points out that the Cons are back to their old tricks in trying to push as much committee work as possible behind closed doors.

- Susan Delacourt theorizes that the Cons are likely to use anger rather than fear as their basis for imposing cuts. I suspect the rhetoric will vary from issue to issue (and indeed the OAS message has been based squarely on the latter, echoing the Republican Social Security line that it's necessary to attack social programs in order to save them) - but it won't come as much surprise if the Cons' usual fabricated enemies are indeed on the receiving end of the worst of the slashing.

- The Ottawa Citizen recognizes that OAS is the wrong place to cut, while Andrew Jackson notes that Canadians in lower income groups aren't enjoying the lengthy retirements being cited by some as justification for raising the OAS eligibility age. Which means that when Brian Lee Crowley says "we" should all put off retirement, he doesn't have any interest in sharing the burden evenly with mere working stiffs. And indeed Crowley's entire column is an absolute howler to the effect that OAS somehow forces people to retire before they really want to.

- But if the Cons are confirming their desire to rob from the poor to give to the rich, then a few sources to highlight the gap such as should be an important addition to Canada's public debate.

- Finally, Christin Milloy points out an appalling regulation introduced by the Cons which would theoretically ban transgendered individuals from flying in Canada. Thankfully it doesn't seem to have been applied yet in practice - but if the best one can say for the Harper Cons is that nobody takes their bigoted and ill-advised decrees seriously, that's hardly a vote of confidence.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

The NDP's leadership campaign has been relatively quiet in the day-plus since Sunday's debate as the resumption of Parliament offered other fodder for political discussion. But let's follow up on the debate and what has happened since then.

- Aaron Wherry live-blogged the debate, then rounded up debate reactions so the rest of us don't have to. [Update: And as a bonus, Aaron also profiles Brian Topp.]

- Barbara Yaffe suspects that the Cons' attacks on pensions will offer an ideal opportunity for the leadership candidates to start building awareness past the NDP's traditional membership. And Thomas Mulcair for one is taking up the opportunity.

- Peggy Nash unveiled endorsements from three Nova Scotia MLAs, signalling that her Atlantic strength goes beyond her early nod from Alexa McDonough.

- Tim Harper theorizes that Mulcair is ahead of the pack in his ability to step in immediately as leader of the opposition, while Lawrence Martin points to a Mulcair/Cullen combination as a strong base to work with.

- And finally, a few more candidates will be turning up on This Hour Has 22 Minutes tonight.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 25, 2011

Friday, November 25 saw the House of Commons debate two NDP ideas: one to allow for meaningful debate and consideration of legislation in Parliament, the other to give effect to a principle the Cons are looking to punt to a committee in the apparent hope that it'll never surface again. And not surprisingly, the combination gave rise to some rather jaw-dropping contradictions.

The Big Issue

Just guess which MP had this to say at one point in the day's proceedings:
Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed to hear the (member opposite) talk about wasting time. Taking a close look at an issue before making a decision is not wasting parliamentarians' time.
That would of course be...Maxime Bernier, telling NDP MP Pierre Nantel why the Cons are setting up a committee on what I'm sure is a never-before-studied question of language matters in Quebec (rather than supporting the NDP's bill to harmonize language requirements between the provincially- and federally-regulated sectors in Quebec). And yes, Jonathan Tremblay picked up on the Cons' sudden interest in delay as soon as anybody else's ideas were at stake.

But let's move back to the first motion of the day: Joe Comartin's proposal to amend or delete the time allocation rules being so merrily abused by the Cons:
That, in the opinion of the House, the thorough examination and debate of proposed legislation on behalf of Canadians is an essential duty of Members of Parliament, and that the curtailment of such debate limits the ability of Members to carry out this duty and constitutes an affront to Canadian democracy; and, therefore,

that the Speaker undertake a study and make recommendations to amend the Standing Orders with respect to closure and time allocation, such that: (i) a Minister would be required to provide justification for the request for such a curtailment of debate; (ii) the Speaker would be required to refuse such a request in the interest of protecting the duty of Members to examine legislation thoroughly, unless the government’s justification sufficiently outweighs the said duty; (iii) criteria would be set out for assessing the government’s justification, which would provide the Speaker with the basis for a decision to allow for the curtailment of debate;

that the Speaker report to the House no later than February 6, 2012;

that a motion to concur in the said report may be moved during Routine Proceedings, and that only when no Member rises to debate the motion, the Speaker shall interrupt any proceedings then before the House and put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the motion; and

if no motion to concur in the report has been previously moved and disposed of on the 20th sitting day following the presentation of the report, Standing Orders 57 and 78 shall be deemed to have been deleted.
Comartin also made clear that unlike the Cons, the NDP will be prepared to stand by its principles once it forms government. Charlie Angus and Jinny Sims commented on the contrast between a Westminster system based on the supremacy of Parliament and the Cons' message box politics, with Sims then setting Lois Brown straight as to what was actually decided in the May 2011 federal election. Sean Casey agreed with the NDP's concerns by pointing to Jay Hill's once-firm belief in the problems with closure, but Massimo Pacetti waffled as to his party's position on the actual motion.

Meanwhile, Colin Mayes tried to do math. Hilarity would have ensued if it hadn't been so painful - or been followed by Harold Albrecht claiming in short order that the use of accurate numbers was "manipulation".

Language Barriers

The other topic of debate was the NDP's private member's bill on French in federally-regulated Quebec workplaces. Robert Aubin described the bill as a concrete action based on the recognition of a Quebecois nation within a united Canada. Yvon Godin pointed out that the steps required to comply with the bill wouldn't be the least bit onerous for the businesses which fall under federal jurisdiction. And Matthew Dube noted that the result would simply be the type of harmonization between requirements from different levels of government that the Cons normally push at every opportunity.

Finally, Aubin wondered in question period whether there was any substance to the Cons' promise of a committee to deal with the subject - only to receive nothing but laugh lines from Bernier. And here's another one for the road:
As regards the legislation, our government always passes laws that are based on facts.
Once again, one could hardly ask for a more galling juxtaposition with the insistence that Canada be forced to accept dumb-on-crime legislation without debate or amendments.

In Brief

Isabelle Morin saluted Global Buy Nothing Day. Peter Julian lamented the Cons' push toward lower-quality jobs. Comartin wondered whether we'd ever see any accountability under the existing health care accord. Christine Moore and Matthew Kellway challenged the latest dodgy math on F-35s, this time wondering how plausible it was to suggest (as the Cons did) that we'll pay half what Norway does for the same planes. Jinny Sims asked why CIDA seemed more interested in photo ops than actual assistance under the Cons, only to be told by Brown that it's simply more focused in its efforts. Randall Garrison questioned the Cons' efforts to gum up the works when it comes to HIV/AIDS funding. Kennedy Stewart asked Joe Oliver to commit to government-to-government talks with First Nations on the Gateway pipeline, only to be told that Stephen Harper will be the decider once he's determined that he's tired of hearing from dissenting voices. And Irwin Cotler introduced a private member's bill to ensure all Canadian citizens receive their country's support abroad.

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Susan Delacourt wonders whether the Cons plan to launch an attack on the environmental movement to match the schism which helped the Libs and the Bloc to divide up the Quebec political pie over sovereignty. But it's worth keeping in mind that even with multiple parties eager to keep the national question as the main point of contention, the polarization over sovereignty eventually collapsed - making for much of the reason why the NDP was able to emerge as a party which wasn't constantly seeking to reinforce the divide.

- Meanwhile, at least some federal officials are paying enough attention to know that the Cons' stubborn refusal to address greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands is a serious problem both environmentally and economically.

- Lana Payne is the latest to note that citizen engagement is an absolute must in order to move past the Cons' cynical brand of top-down politics.

- The Star's editorial board notes that the Cons' dumb-on-crime approach is looking worse by the day as a strong majority of Canadians believe in prevention over the Cons' punishment-only approach.

- Finally, the discussion paper on the future of Canadian labour from the CAW and CEP is well worth a read. But lest anybody think there wasn't already some good news to report, CUPW can point to at least one finding that the Cons' back-to-work legislation last year was invalid in law.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Parliament in Review: November 24, 2011

The main topic of debate in the House of Commons on Thursday, November 24 was again copyright - and once more, the Cons couldn't be bothered to try to defend their own legislation.

The Big Issue

But that left plenty of time for opposition speakers to raise the level of debate while pointing out that the Cons' choices figure to cause serious problems for creators and consumers alike. Marc-Andre Morin, Denis Blanchette, Helene Laverdiere and Francois Lapointe all noted that media conglomerates look to be the sole beneficiaries of a regime built around the supremacy of digital locks. Mylene Freeman noted that the new legislation would take us from a grey area as to consumer rights, to a black-and-white system where many seemingly ordinary activities would be criminalized. Mike Sullivan revisited the history of copyright, and particularly how the licensing-for-airplay model developed. Isabelle Morin expressed disbelief that the sentences the Cons want to impose for copyright violations are far more severe than those applicable to serious crimes. Charlie Angus discussed the dangers of locking down content, then noted that the Cons' attack on royalties amounts to taking away the capacity of many artists to earn a living. And Jonathan Tremblay raised the point that increased public reliance on electronic storage of information makes it all the more problematic for media giants to be able to control access.

Meanwhile, a couple of Cons did get involved in asking questions of NDP MPs. MP Joyce Bateman asked an eminently reasonable question about the plus side of providing for mandatory licensing for the perceptually disabled. But particularly considering their obstinate refusal to consider a levy-based model in general, one has to wonder whether the Cons would have met exactly the same response from an opposition party by alleging that the result is a "braille tax" (particularly since Mike Lake raised the "iPod tax" talking point yet again). And Brad Trost responded to Pat Martin's musing about allowing income averaging for artists in particular by locking onto the concept as a general means of cutting government revenue.


The other government bill discussed was C-14, dealing with the Agreement on Internal Trade. Lake deigned to speak to the content of the bill, but somehow dismissed Guy Caron's valid questions about the effect of the AIT as irrelevant to a bill designed to alter it. Caron then discussed the difference between desirable harmonization of standards and unacceptable intrusion on a province's ability to legislate in the interest of its citizens, while Dennis Bevington noted that northern regions are particularly vulnerable to having easy work skimmed off by outside bidders (leaving no local capacity to do needed work).

In Brief

Chris Charlton introduced one private member's bill to allow CPP claimants to receive arrears for more than the current limit of 11 months, and another to make public information about Stelco's acquisition by US Steel. Charlie Angus highlighted the information commissioner's warnings about the Cons' interference in access to what should be public information. Nycole Turmel raised a proposal for health-care discussions with the provinces which the Cons obviously decided to ignore, while Libby Davies wondered why no progress has been made on prescription drugs as promised when the last 10-year agreement was signed. Jack Harris pointed out that the lone source the Cons have pointed to in support of their train wreck of an omnibus crime bill had in fact criticized their heavy-headed approach. Alexandre Boulerice compared the patronage appointment of Jean-Pierre Blackburn to the history of Alfonso Gagliano and other Lib outrages. Yvon Godin questioned Con MP Bernard Valcourt's position that any worker without a grade 12 education should be ineligible for EI benefits. Joe Comartin called for the answer to the traditional Thursday scheduling question to be less politicized - to no avail based on Peter Van Loan's spin-heavy response. Leon Benoit introduced a motion on CCSVI treatment for MS, with Anne Minh-Thu Quach taking care to ensure any further action is based on evidence before indicating the NDP's agreement. Rathika Sitsabaiesan asked what the Cons are doing to try to rein in student debt, and was informed by Kellie Leitch that the plan raise the amount of debt permitted under the federal student loan program. And John McKay questioned whether the Cons cared in the slightest about the rule of law when it came to the execution of Moammar Gadhafi - with Deepak Obhrai's response raising more questions than it answered.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - January 29, 2012

With one exception, the NDP's Halifax leadership debate looks largely to have largely reinforced the previous positions of its leadership candidates. But there could be plenty more changes in store if a few developments from the debate hold up in the weeks to come.

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

As the front-runner, Mulcair naturally took the most fire in the question-period format (which incidentally made for a highly worthwhile addition to the debate). And Mulcair's response to Paul Dewar - featuring both righteous indignation and substance without going over the top - offered a nice hint as to what we can expect when he faces outside challenges.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

The one problem for Nash in today's debate was that she followed up Mulcair's question to Nathan Cullen with a less-effective version of the same concern about his non-competition plan. But otherwise she again more than held her own on both content and style.

3. Brian Topp (3)

Topp has eliminated a few of the tics that made for difficult viewing in the first official debate, signalling some positive progress throughout the campaign. But perhaps the best gift he received today was Romeo Saganash's question about income taxes: where Saganash had positioned himself to Topp's left on a number of issues, the comparison between Saganash worrying what the Cons would say about income tax increases and Topp's response as to the need to win the argument in the general public made for an ideal moment to highlight Topp's central message.

4. Paul Dewar (4)

In the absence of any stumbles ahead of him Dewar doesn't move up the rankings this week. But he delivered a far more passionate English performance than we've seen from him in previous debates - and if he can keep that up in debates to come, he'll have a much better chance of convincing members the party can allow some time for him to develop his skill in French.

5. Romeo Saganash (5)

The flip side of the above comment on Topp is that Saganash may have missed out on a path which held out plenty of promise for him. And while I still see at least some available path for Saganash to emerge victorious, it figures to a much more complex route if he can't rely on "go left" to make room for himself.

6. Nathan Cullen (7)

Yes, Cullen once again showed far more humour than any of the other candidates in today's debate to go with at worst a draw in commanding the crowd. But the outside factor which may actually help him most is that his central proposal is becoming less and less plausible.

With plenty of (however inaccurate) headlines trumpeting a Lib revival, there doesn't seem to be much reason for leadership voters to see a willing partner for non-competition. And that may make it easier for members to evaluate Cullen on his personality and other policy proposals.

7. Niki Ashton (6)

Her drop in the rankings is more the result of another strong performance by Cullen than any problem with Ashton. But it's not clear she'll have much chance to move up if the rest of the campaign is largely framed around a debate format where she seems to be having trouble standing out from the crowd.

8. Martin Singh (8)

Once again, the big question for Singh is whether he's willing to move past his few areas of policy specialization toward more general discussions. And while he was plenty comfortable in front of a hometown crowd, he still stuck more to his areas of familiarity than he can afford to if he wants to overtake any of his competitors.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your weekend reading.

- Stephen Maher reminds us that the Harper government now lecturing us about the need to attack social programs because of a federal deficit is the same incompetent group that caused the deficit in the first place through reckless tax slashing and vote-buying trinkets. But then, Bruce Johnstone points out that the cost of Old Age Security (which the Cons want to cut) is lower than that of similar programs in nearly any other comparable country, while Thomas Walkom also notes that cost of OAS can easily be met by a government which isn't determined to pull the rug out from under its citizens.

- Susan Delacourt points to Martin Goldfarb's observation about the state of the Cons (which doesn't look to have changed much in the past year):
Harper is still searching for the big idea that will establish his brand promise for himself and his Conservative party.... A series of attributes unconnected to a big idea, or a brand promise, will not attract people.
And presumably we'll see that change over the next few years as the Cons face both ample time in which to define themselves, and a primary opponent which doesn't lack a coherent vision of its own.

- And no, repetition of the word "major" doesn't figure to count - though it will likely signal what the Cons ultimately select. Meanwhile, putting trade above all else probably qualifies as a brand promise, but I'm not sure the Cons will want to have to defend it against an alternative based on individual equality.

- Finally, Rafe Mair tears into Joe Oliver over his contempt for anybody concerned about the Gateway pipeline, while Marc Lee documents the odious profits that look to be paired with environmental degradation as the two main effects of having it built.