Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Thomas Walkom highlights the lesson we should draw from the economic devastation caused by the shutdown of an Electro-Motive plant which was supposed to serve as a poster child for corporate giveaways:
Using tax breaks to encourage domestic production is a standard prescription. Yet, ironically, that’s exactly what the Harper government did.

In 2008, it offered tax write-offs worth an estimated $5 million annually — not to Electro-Motive (which, at the time, was owned by two hedge funds) but to Canadian railway firms that used locomotives.

The idea was to encourage companies like CN to replace their engine stock more quickly. And if it hadn’t been for globalization, the scheme might have created a few more jobs in London.

But globalization does exist. Canadian railways can still get those tax breaks on new locomotives. It’s just that now they will buy them from Indiana and Mexico.

None of this means that manufacturing has to be doomed. Ottawa could take a leaf from the U.S. and pass Buy Canadian legislation. The province (which is not tightly bound by international trade agreements) could penalize companies that purchase goods from jurisdictions with unfair labour laws.

Governments could even copy the tactic of Trudeau-era trade minister Ed Lumley, who famously threatened to hold up the import of Japanese autos until companies like Honda built assembly plants here.

But Canadian governments don’t do such things. To be seen as anything but avidly free-trade spooks both politicians and business.
- Meanwhile, Erin notes that artificially low royalties are doing nothing at all to spur resource development, but plenty to ensure that the public doesn't benefit when resources are exploited.

- Barbara Yaffe theorizes that the NDP should abandon its environmental principles in order to try to win seats in the West. To which I can only offer a reminder what happened - in Western Canada and elsewhere - to the last official opposition to try to appease the oil sector rather than providing some meaningful alternative to a government which acts as a wholly-owned industry subsidiary.

- pogge wonders whether any self-pronounced speech warriors will take up the cause of environmentalists singled out for silencing by the Con government for the content of their message.

- Finally, Frances Woolley compares the relative effects of RRSPs and TFSAs. But it's worth pointing out that the people who benefit most from the multiplicity of tax-sheltering devices are those who don't have to choose between them, but can instead take advantage of all of them.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

News and notes from the last few days as the deadline to sign up looms just a week away in advance of a convention that's set to far exceed the turnout the NDP expected.

- Niki Ashton responded to questions about whether she'd stay in the race with a strong indication that she won't be pushed out.

- Nathan Cullen added a noteworthy endorsement from Brian Masse, who becomes the first MP from outside Cullen's home province to back his leadership bid.

- Paul Dewar unveiled his foreign policy, while Daniel Leblanc wrote that this weekend's Quebec City debate could serve as as a crucial test of Dewar's French.

- Thomas Mulcair met with the Toronto Star editorial board, offering up an interesting perspective on the need to expand beyond an appeal to "ordinary" Canadians. And Mulcair also unveiled endorsements from three more MPs.

- Peggy Nash earned the endorsements of two more Quebec MPs, released plans party-building and foreign policy, and criticized the Cons' prioritization of the oil and gas sector over any other economic development.

- And before his exit from the race, Romeo Saganash took aim at regressive tax expenditures.

- Meanwhile, the Star Phoenix covered the Saskatoon candidate forum, while QMI didn't exactly do the same for last weekend's Sudbury debate. Rick Salutin framed the core debate over the NDP's future based on the respective leadership positioning of Cullen and Nash. Chantal Hebert had plenty to say - first in musing that the race was still largely taking shape, then highlighting both the importance of challenging the Cons in Western Canada and what strikes me as an overblown assumption that the NDP can't carry out that task while also building on its Quebec gains. And Joan Bryden notes that the NDP's membership-driven voting process won't leave much room for the type of backroom dealing that's decided so many Canadian leadership races over the past decade.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Musical interlude

Matthew Good Band - Symbolistic White Walls

How bizarre

A tweet responding to this week's column post raises a point worth plenty more discussion. So let's go into a bit more detail about how the Sask Party's response to should indeed be considered utterly bizarre - even if it may reflect standard operating procedure for right-wing political parties.

By any reasonable account, the most important development in the decision released Monday was the finding that the Sask Party's entire essential services bill was unconstitutional and thus had to be struck down. And after a couple of days of criticism from enough media outlets, even Brad Wall had to acknowledge that the decision reflected real failings on the part of his government.

Unfortunately, though, anybody reading the Saskatchewan Party's press release in hopes of figuring out what was happening in the province would completely miss that point.

Instead, the finding that the Sask Party's actual bill was found to be unconstitutional is mentioned once, then buried under an avalanche of "commitment to essential services". A passage from Mr. Justice Ball suggesting that essential services legislation could be valid if (unlike the Sask Party's bill) it involved some reasonable proportionality and dispute mechanism is treated as supporting the position of the same government which was found to have exceeded its authority. And even the one-year delay in implementation of the decision (standard in cases striking down significant legislation) and the fact that another bill met the bare standard of being found constitutionally permissible are somehow presented as victories for the Sask Party.

Now, I don't dispute that such a distortion is standard political operating procedure for parties who combine top-down messaging strategies with utter contempt for their audience. And indeed the Harper Cons do much worse on a daily basis.

But those of us who think public policy should be grounded in reality should indeed consider it bizarre (or worse) whenever we see such ridiculous spin from any government - as we'll never be able to keep our leaders honest in dealing with the public if we come to think it's normal for them to be self-delusional.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- David Climenhaga marvels at the fact that the Fraser Institute manages to claim charitable status while serving as an entirely political organization:
The Fraser Institute is serious all right, although its research is not serious in the normal sense of transparency and lack of bias, no matter what it claims. But it surely is political. Indeed, the Fraser Institute is all politics, all the time.

As it turns out, this is important, because the Fraser Institute is also a registered charity, meaning that those Canadians who do pay taxes are in effect subsidizing its purely political operations. Indeed, to go a step further, we are also subsidizing those wealthy individuals, organizations and corporations that bankroll the Fraser Institute's propaganda efforts to work directly against the interests of ordinary Canadians.
When a charity files its annual income statement with the Canada Revenue Agency, it is always asked: "Did the charity carry on any political activities during the fiscal period." Yet in each year between 2000 and 2010, according to a recent Access to Information request by the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Fraser Institute answered "No."

"Any rookie observer of Canadian politics knows this is nonsense," the AFL wrote in its Jan. 17 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance on Tax Incentives for Charitable Donations. "The Fraser Institute is actively involved in the Canadian political landscape. Any reporting or suggestion otherwise is a sham."

In 2010, for example, the Fraser Institute explicitly communicated to the public calls for laws to be changed, thereby engaging in politics as defined by the CRA.
(N)ever mind why the media treats the Fraser Institute's dubious findings with such respect, the question most often asked about this organization. That seems obvious enough considering who owns the media.

A better question is: Given its responses to the CRA, can Canadians have any confidence that the Fraser Institute is staying within the 12 per cent of its allowed limit for political activities?

Moreover, it is fair to wonder: Is anyone at the Canada Revenue Agency paying attention or even raising concerns about the Fraser Institute's constant political activities, let alone questioning its charitable status?
- Frances Russell summarizes the anti-social goals of the Harper Cons:
The 2008 federal budget provided a handy compendium of what the Conservatives consider "core" responsibilities -- national defence, public security and the economic union. Period.

Absent is any reference to the pillars of the Canadian postwar state -- equalization, pensions, medicare and employment insurance.

Instead, Conservative "nation-building" amounts to an array of expensive "boutique" tax cuts like the Children's Art Tax Credit, alone projected to cost $100 million in 2011-12. The Frontier Centre for Public Policy reports that more than 70 per cent of these "boutique" tax credits for everything from hockey and dance lessons to tools go to the 25 per cent of taxpayers earning more than $50,000 annually.
The Conservatives believe Canada cannot afford its public pensions. They commissioned Edward Whitehouse, an economist for the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to do a study. He reported that Canada "does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its pensions" and "there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future." Nevertheless, the Conservatives persist they are too generous.

The forthcoming assault on pensions and Canada's social safety net is driven by Harper's libertarian "no tax is a good tax" ideology. Not reality.
- Meanwhile, Marc Laferriere calls out Con MP Phil McColeman in particular for fearmongering about Old Age Security with no basis in fact. And Leftdog notes that the Cons themselves claimed to want to defend Old Age Security against exactly the type of attacks they're now planning to inflict.

- Kady highlights the Cons' remarkable position that elected representatives from all parties are to speak only when a majority government tells them to, rather than having any place voicing the concerns of their constituents.

- And finally, Thomas Walkom describes the strategy behind the Cons' fake citizenship oath.

Leadership 2012 - Saganash Bows Out

In my most recent leadership candidate rankings, I mentioned that I still saw a possible path to victory for Romeo Saganash. To expand slightly on what I'd planned to turn into a more substantive post, that view was based on the possibility that he could effectively put into practice Tarik Brahmi's theory of a Stephane Dion-style victory - with a stellar resume and strong issue focus combining to overcome the lack of a top-tier campaign organization and a lack of soundbite-friendliness in English. (And I'm not sure the comparison would have been a fatal one, as a party which recognizes the value of an opportunity to form government wouldn't have been as quick to throw a new leader under the bus as the Libs were with Dion.)

Now, Saganash is apparently set to announce that he's dropping out of the race. So what will effect will that have on the rest of the candidates?

The timing of Saganash's departure means that his campaign should have already managed to sign up most of the prospective members who had any interest in joining the NDP for the purpose of supporting him. And the result may be to significantly tighten the race among the top six candidates - as Niki Ashton and Nathan Cullen figure to be natural magnets for First Nations and rural votes to the extent they can keep Saganash's new members interested in the campaign.

Meanwhile, there's bound to be plenty of speculation about Saganash eventually backing Brian Topp (as rumoured before he entered the race initially). But whether or not that endorsement materializes, the biggest advantage for Topp in Saganash's departure may be the fact that he's now the only Quebec-based candidate left other than Thomas Mulcair. That figures to provide Topp with a unique narrative about bridging any gap between the party's new Quebec MPs and its longstanding national base as the leadership vote approaches - giving him a much better chance to emerge from the field than if voters concerned that the next leader should be from Quebec but uncertain of Mulcair had a third option.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

New column day

Here, on how the evolution of labour rights under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be traced directly to anti-labour overreach by right-wing governments - and how Brad Wall seems determined to push the limits yet again even as his first effort proved unconstitutional.

For further reading...
- The two cases discussed in the column are here (warning: PDF) and here.
- The Wall government's bizarre response to having been found to have acted unconstitutionally is here.
- Again, Murray Mandryk discussed the effect the decision will have on Wall's always-sketchy claim to moderation. And the Star-Phoenix muses about hard cases making bad law, while conspicuously refusing to suggest Wall bears any substantial responsibility for the case that developed.

[Edit: fixed link.]

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Mind you, some of the stories are a couple of days old precisely because there's been an embarrassment of riches in the Con criticism department this week. Most of the time, stories about a government violating immigrants' privacy for the sake of a photo op, blatantly politicizing a gratuitously extravagant system of medal-awarding or going far over the top in claiming political disagreement means undermining a country's troops would rank relatively high on any weekly list of outrages.

- But instead, the Cons are reaching the cartoon-villain standard of pushing trans fats and torture.

- Yet even those affronts to reason and human decency may not quite say as much about the mindset of the party governing our country as the fact that the Cons are under orders to be needlessly disagreeable:
At the time, it was explained to me by a staffer that the snub was unintentional -- Conservative MPs are simply told to deny any request for unanimous consent not emanating from the government side.
- All of which is to say that whatever morality supposedly guides the Harper Cons doesn't figure to serve much purpose other than as an example of how to get it wrong.

- So what can we do to change matters? Well, George Lakey points out what peoples' movements were able to accomplish in Norway and Sweden.

- And in another great opportunity to work toward something positive at home, Alice discusses the impending Toronto-Danforth by-election, while Megan O'Toole notes that the Libs' oft-repeated promises of a star candidate have fallen by the wayside.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Ten More Days

I'll post a quick reminder that the deadline to register for an NDP membership in order to be eligible to vote to elect a new leader is February 18 - ten days from today. And particularly for voters who supported the NDP in 2011 for the first time as the best alternative to Stephen Harper's Conservatives (as well as for younger Canadians who would have voted if they'd been able), the leadership election will represent a unique opportunity to set the direction of a strong and growing Official Opposition in the absence of decades-old factions and entrenched interests.

So I'll encourage anybody interested to read up and then sign up - as it'll take as many active citizens as possible to help turn Canada in a better direction.

Parliament in Review: December 5, 2011

Monday, December 5 saw the House of Commons debate the NDP's motion on climate change. And while the Cons tried to put up a relatively brave facade on an issue where they've been fighting progress at any turn, they inevitably ended up showing their true colours.

The Big Issue

At the outset, it's worth noting that Megan Leslie's motion was worded in a way that wouldn't be at all objectionable to any party except to the extent one wanted to focus on a mention of the Kyoto Protocol:
That this House urge the government to: (a) play a leadership role in tackling global climate change and ensuring Canadian jobs aren’t lost as the rest of the world moves towards a new sustainable energy economy; (b) work in a leadership role at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Durban towards a binding climate change treaty with the goal of limiting average global temperature increases to 2°C; (c) recognize the real, science-based threat of global climate change, as well as respect and adhere to its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord; and (d) take immediate action to lower net carbon emissions in Canada and increase Canadian trade with our major partners in a new sustainable energy economy.
But it shouldn't come as much surprise that the Cons opposed the motion in its entirety even while claiming to be meeting most of its objectives. Michelle Rempel suggested it's the duty of any patriotic Canadian not to accept valid criticism from abroad, though she had rather less to say in response to Pierre Nantel's observation that Cons actually applauded their own government for receiving fossil awards. Michael Chong took credit for provincial programs in his spin as to how much the Cons' current and planned programs figure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Stephen Woodworth rather undermined his party's "only 2% of global emissions!" line by listing off a grab bag of projects featuring such global-scale impacts as a 52-home development and batteries installed in two B.C. communities. And Brad Trost mocked the idea that a transit strategy could be useful in Saskatchewan, only to have Mike Sullivan inform him that in fact the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities is demanding the type of transit strategy that Trost's party can't be bothered to provide.

All of which goes to show that Francois Choquette's hope that a few Cons might be more open to action than they appeared was entirely misplaced.

Meanwhile, Leslie criticized the Cons' lack of interest in developing an economy that wasn't totally dependent on the fossil fuel industry. Kirsty Duncan and Leslie agreed on the grave dangers posed by increasingly severe weather events. Charmaine Borg and Hoang Mai noted that the costs of climate change are being foisted on future generations - making for a far more severe intergenerational transfer of wealth than the one the Cons have tried to invent when it comes to pension funding. Bruce Hyer noted that the Cons have been outright destructive rather than merely lax in dealing with climate change. Ted Hsu mentioned the jobs available in the green energy sector while wondering why the government wouldn't support further development. Jinny Sims challenged the Cons' jingoistic view that being Canadian means cheerleading for environmental damage. Francine Raynault noted that the Cons are two years behind their own promised schedule in regulating oil and gas sector emissions.

Finally, Linda Duncan deserves plenty of credit for a number of well-thought-out interventions. In her speech, she listed off the international commitments which the Cons have either outright broken or sloughed off - including ones made at Copenhagen and Cancun under the Harper government. In response to a question from Christine Moore, Duncan noted that it's perfectly possible to develop the oil sands within a reasonable climate-change policy framework - but that the Cons have no interest in bothering. And under fire from, she highlighted the Cons' hypocrisy in claiming that it's not worth engaging with developed countries to reduce emissions when China's emissions might increase, while simultaneously encouraging the export of bitumen which can only contribute to that very expansion.

Bottom Lines

The Cons have come under plenty of criticism for being willing to give away the farm in trade negotiations - including billions of dollars in increased prescription drug costs and most ability to support local economic development through procurement policies among other major giveaways. But Brian Masse pointed out one of the few concessions that the Harper Cons were seeking from a potential trading partner which signals where the government's priorities really lie:
Apparently it is not enough that the government dumps hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cancer-causing asbestos onto developing countries every year, now a trade official confirms that Canada wants India to drop its 10% duty on Canadian asbestos exports.

While other countries are banning or restricting the deadly material, the Prime Minister is actively seeking ways to profit even further from it.
In Brief

Pierre Dionne Labelle took a turn lamenting the increasing use of (and need for) food banks. Peter Julian highlighted the OECD's findings about growing inequality, while Louis Plamondon noted that Canada's unemployed were taking the brunt of the Cons' EI failings. Helene Laverdiere wondered why the Cons were still allowing Suncor to funnel money into Syria's repressive regime even while engaging in a display of fist-shaking for the cameras. Olivia Chow followed up on her safety theme by questioning the Cons on their failure to require terrain warning systems on airplanes. Maria Mourani introduced a bill to expand the availability of family leave, while Russ Hiebert tried again to attack unions through his own bill. Larry Miller was caught napping during the presentation of reports - but the opposition parties, unlike the Cons, were willing to allow him the courtesy of consent to making up for the mistake. And a take-note debate on organ donation led to the Cons evading responsibility by claiming the issue is beyond their jurisdiction, while Dany Morin repeatedly and effectively questioned the government as to how it could seek to inform the public about a need for organs while categorically rejecting them from anybody who had engaged in homosexual activity over the previous five years.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- The New Democrat comments on the need to develop the NDP as a movement as well as a party. And a national movement to protect pensions looks like a great place to start.

- I'm generally in agreement with Trish Hennessy on the substance of what we can take from the utter failure of constant tax-slashing to do anything to help the economy. But while it's worth looking out for anti-union animus, I don't see how (a couple of isolated online comments aside) there's been any particularly effective effort on that front in the wake of Caterpillar's abandonment of its London plant. And indeed, the fact that even plenty of corporate actors are running from any association with Caterpillar looks like a compelling signal that nobody seems particularly prepared to defend the employer's callous disregard for its workers - leaving only the question of what ending to write for the stronger narrative on the workers' side.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Livesey wonders whether the business model is at the root of many of organized labour's current challenges.

- Sure, one might be tempted to file the Cons' embarrassing gaffe in getting their own by-election date announcement wrong under "mostly competent government". But in fairness, isn't it normally taken as a given by Harper and company that what really matters is the press release rather than the substance of any action?

- Finally, Lawrence Martin debunks the myth that the Cons have been anything but weak in managing either the economy or Canada's public finances.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Solar-powered cats.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A few leadership notes covering the gap between Sunday's informal debate and tonight's version in Saskatoon...

- Niki Ashton unveiled her justice platform, proposing a "judicare" program to ensure greater access to the legal system as well as soft drug decriminalization.

- Nathan Cullen took questions from Aaron Wherry, featuring his view that energy is the "elephant in the room" which isn't getting as much attention as he'd like in the leadership campaign.

- Paul Dewar earned a report from Tim Naumetz on his party-building plan, as well as a story from the Star.

- Thomas Mulcair strengthened his standing in Atlantic Canada with endorsements from multiple Nova Scotia MLAs, including Finance Minister Graham Steele.

- Peggy Nash talked to David Akin about the leadership campaign so far, including the fund-raising numbers released last week.

- Romeo Saganash appeared on CBC's C'est la Vie,

- Finally on the commentary side, Scott Stinson wasted plenty of space concern trolling over the fact that NDP leadership candidates haven't piled up money they wouldn't be allowed to spend before raising the slightly more relevant question of whether donor numbers might be an issue. And Ian followed up on some of the problems with Nathan Cullen's electoral cooperation plan.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Geoffrey Stevens discusses the basic problem behind the Cons' insistence on cutting back actual help to people while wasting billions on prisons and fighter jets:
(I)f the government did have a weakness (which, as noted, it does not concede), it might be that it does not suffer fools gladly — “fools” being loosely defined as anyone who fails to applaud everything the Conservatives do. This is quite a large category, encompassing (or so pollsters tell us) two-thirds of the Canadian populace.

Not only does the government not embrace criticism, it does not trust experts. The overhaul of the old age security system that Harper announced, minus details, in Davos (safely removed from the fools in Parliament) illustrates the point. As Harper sees it, the changes — which apparently will require seniors to wait longer and accept smaller pensions — are needed to make OAS sustainable for future generations. But is that really the case?

Non-partisan experts argue that if the Conservatives factor in economic growth and increases in the working-age population though immigration, they will discover a quite different picture, and not a bleak one at all. One of those experts is Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer (and a troublesome fellow in Tory eyes) “We don’t have a long-term sustainability problem,” Page says. “I think he (Harper) is doing it for broader problems.”

Common sense would suggest that the Conservatives acknowledge that independent experts just might have a point worth considering (by a royal commission perhaps?). At very least, the public deserves a more convincing explanation and some reassurance before the best finance minister on the planet attacks a pension system that has served the country well over the years.
- Bea Vongdouangchonh reports on Joe Comartin's efforts to make Parliament more open and democratic.

- Sixth Estate laments the embarrassment of riches in trying to choose a single weekly Flack Award.

- Last week's column looks to have been particularly well-timed, as word gets out that the Wall government is trying to recruit some of the same people taken in by Ireland's false promise of an economy built on corporate giveaways to help build a similar set of bubbles in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, kudos to the team of labour activists which succeeded in demonstrating that the Wall government's essential services legislation was unconstitutional. And Murray Mandryk nicely sums up how Justice Ball's findings that the Sask Party's essential services legislation was the most draconian in the country serve to undermine the Wall government's pretense at moderation.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 2, 2011

Friday, December 2 saw the final day of debate in Parliament on the Cons' omnibus crime bill. And for at least a moment, the proceedings took a perhaps surprising turn.

The Big Issue

As debate wound down on C-10, Irene Mathyssen questioned why the Cons insisted on delaying the passage of greater sentences for child abusers in order to keep them tied to other, less explicable parts of the bill. Francoise Boivin pointed out that the Cons' campaign of fear hadn't actually managed to keep Canadians from feeling safe in their communities - meaning that the supposed need for the bill was entirely lacking. Boivin and Irwin Cotler then compared notes on the Cons' stubborn refusal to so much as listen to opposition amendments, a theme discussed as well by Guy Caron in the final speech on the bill. In a lovely example of translation, Con MP Robert Goguen was quoted calling for a "more repressive justice system". And Gordon O'Connor claimed that the Cons have no control whatsoever over what Stephen Harper's Senate toadies might do to amend the bill.

But the passage of the day came from Alain Giguere in pointing out that the Cons had also been rather selective in their omnibus legislation by focusing on low-level individuals rather than systemic problems:
(T)his omnibus bill always makes me think of the late Italian anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone. Before he died, he said that there were three kinds of policies: those that work for the Mafia, those that work against the Mafia and—the most dangerous of all—those that let the Mafia be.

There are a lot of measures in Bill C-10, but there are a lot of things missing too. It does not address the serious crime of money laundering. Where are the regulations against money laundering in this bill? Is there special punishment for people who import cocaine in containers? Will police officers be assigned to the fight against serious crime? The bill does not talk about that.

The government is increasing prison sentences for petty criminals, for people who sell drugs. We all agree that criminals must be punished. But we should start by going after organized crime, after the people who commit crimes, who bring in containers and order assassinations. I would like to know this will affect organized crime, when we know that any small-time drug dealer is easily replaced.
When all was said and done, a voice vote on the bill led Andrew Scheer to conclude...that the "nays" had it, as the opposition parties were apparently more fired up to oppose the bill than the Cons were to voice their approval. And so matters stood - at least until the inevitable recorded vote.

In Brief

Annick Papillon highlighted the positive example of transit in Quebec City, while Jose Nunez-Melo noted the urgent need for much more similar development with federal support. Jonathan Genest-Jourdain asked whether the Cons had bothered following up in the slightest on departmental visits to Attawapiskat. Caron and Philip Toone pointed out the climbing unemployment rate even as the Cons try to take credit for implementing their vision for Canada's economy. Laurin Liu mentioned a lament from one of Nelson Mandela's cabinet ministers about hardly recognizing Canada under Stephen Harper; while nothing on the record reflects Rob Anders responding with a hearty "filthy commie!", we can only assume it was said. Djaouida Sellah demanded answers as to whether CETA will indeed result in billions in giveaways to big pharma. Rodger Cuzner compared the standard 85% occupancy for a properly-managed call centre with the appalling 99% level at Service Canada (which the Cons only want to exacerbate by further slashing jobs). Manon Perrault wondered whether yet another international commitment - this time the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - would ever be followed by action. Glenn Thibeault proposed a bill to require the development of a universal charger for cell phones. And Jean Rousseau, Thibeault and Manon Perreault spoke to the NDP's seat redistribution bill at second reading

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Tim Harper comments on the Harper Cons' collusion in a war against Canada's middle class:
Under the Investment Canada Act, (foreign) takeovers are supposed to demonstrate a “net benefit” to Canada, but, in fact, are acting as an anvil on wages, living standards and the prosperity of communities in central Canada.

MacDowall says breaks should only be offered to small or medium companies that actually want to set up shop and create jobs here.

Both opposition parties in Ottawa have called for a review of the Investment Canada Act, which has been exposed time and time again as a paper tiger by foreign corporations in this country.

The NDP says tax credits to companies should be tied to job creation — the credit would only kick in when the jobs are created.

Federal Conservatives largely ran for cover but the few who were brave enough (or ordered to) face the cameras Friday were quick to engage in buck-passing.
Every politician, federal or provincial, who stood by and watched this performance — where a 50 per cent pay cut was somehow described as an “offer” rather than the threat it was — has to answer for their neglect.
- Meanwhile, David Olive rightly criticizes Caterpillar's bad-faith actions as just a particularly galling example of the type of corporate-dominated economy the Cons are trying to push.

- And Sixth Estate nicely demonstrates another facet of that utterly unbalanced business-first ideology in challenging one of the more ludicrous examples of Fraser Institute astroturfing - this time in the form of a claim that thousands of preventable deaths from air pollution should be considered acceptable if they serve the cause of corporate profits.

- CfSR catches Vic Toews claiming a need for secrecy over information that's available on a public website in order to avoid answering for his government's actions.

- Finally, Andrew Jackson answers the nonsensical line that the existence of Old Age Security somehow prevents anybody from working past 65 as a matter of choice by pointing out that actual data proves otherwise. Elizabeth Thompson breaks down seniors' income by geography and gender to point out who stands to lose the most in attacks on retirement income. (Who would ever have guessed that the Cons might make women take the brunt of their ill-advised policies?) And Robert Brown suggests putting any debate about the OAS on a factual foundation - though when (as Brown notes) those facts are that the current system is entirely sustainable and the Cons' anticipated change would be deliberately and gratuitously regressive, the question of what should be done answers itself. [Update: see also Dave and Owen]

On rush jobs

I'll avoid making too much of the Cons' machinations around the Toronto-Danforth by-election.

But it does seem worth noting that the announcement comes in advance of the six-month deadline to call the by-election by roughly the two-week gap between the by-election and the NDP leadership convention. And that's a change in pattern from the last Parliament, where Harper consistently moved toward calling by-elections as late as possible.

So why might Harper have changed course? Well, the earlier by-election call and date will throw a couple of curves at the NDP: first by requiring it to divert resources from the leadership campaign to the by-election, and second by making sure that the party's new leader can't point to personal momentum from the by-election results.

That said, any ultimate effect from those factors looks to be minor at best - as there was bound to be some overlap between the leadership campaign and the by-election writ period in any event. And hopefully the NDP will be able to use the publicity offered by the simultaneous by-election and leadership campaign to draw in new participants who can play an important role in both.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 1, 2011

In the midst of a week of acrimonious debate over both the substance of the Cons' dumb-on-crime legislation and the government's procedural maneuvers to prevent even improvements which it recognized as necessary, December 1 served as a comparative beacon of cooperation (as noted specifically by Don Davies).

The Big Issue

That's because the government bill under discussion was C-26 on self-defence - which largely paralleled Olivia Chow's private member's bill from the previous Parliament by allowing for citizen's arrests in circumstances other than the moment when a crime was being committed.

Which isn't to say there weren't some noteworthy points of concern and clarification. Jack Harris wondered why the new provision would allow for a proportionality element only in defence of people rather than property - a question which was finally answered by Kerry-Lynne Findlay in a rare moment of Con recognition as to which ought to be treated as a more important priority:
In the case of self-defence or defence of another, these defences allow for the use of intentional deadly force, depending on the circumstances. This is because it is a life that is being threatened. It is only reasonable for individuals who face a serious threat from another person to protect themselves. If the nature of the threat is such that it is reasonable to counter that threat with deadly force, that may be acceptable, depending on the circumstances.

Threats to property are not the same. Human life always outweighs our interest in property. So when the situation is one where damage or destruction of property must be balanced against the determination of human life, the property interest must give way to the greater interest in human life.
Libby Davies expressed concern that the citizen's arrest power would be disproportionately applied to rid stores of targeted individuals. Helene Leblanc noted that in the Lucky Moose case cited as the impetus for the legislation, it was a reasonable judicial decision that resulted in a fair outcome - signalling the need to respect the judiciary rather than box it in as the Cons have so often done with mandatory minimum sentences in particular. Malcolm Allen discussed the importance of community policing generally. Tyrone Benskin worried that the bill might encourage vigilantism. And Sean Casey questioned the Cons' obsession with crime even while signalling his general support for the bill.

Unfortunately, the Cons did manage to fit in one example of jaw-dropping callousness. In raising a question after Irwin Cotler's speech, Blaine Calkins had the gall to joke about Cotler's impending retirement - turning his own party's unconscionable false robocalls into Cotler's riding into a matter of personal amusement.

Name That Party

An MP offered a member's statement about environmental concerns surrounding a project in his riding. Guess who had this to say about the need for a serious environmental review:
Mr. Speaker, the Highland Companies group, backed by a Boston-based hedge fund, proposes to dig a 2,300-acre limestone quarry on prime farmland in Melancthon Township in my riding....

The company wants to dig down 200 feet, well below the water table. The end result is that 600 million litres of water per day, enough for over one million (people), would have to be pumped out, treated, stored and injected back into the local aquifers. The project proponents say this procedure would pose no risk to the local environment.

(The area) is home to the headwaters of four major river systems flowing in all directions. To claim that there would be no effect on the headwaters and beyond stretches the realm of possibility.

I call upon the Minister of the Environment to order that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conduct a full environmental assessment. The residents of my riding and of Canada deserve no less.
Naturally, the MP expressing that entirely valid concern was...Con David Tilson. And it'll be well worth watching whether he has any interest in similar concerns nationally as his government seeks to short-circuit environmental review processes for oil pipelines which could have far more severe consequences than a single local quarry.

In Brief

Marie-Claude Morin highlighted the gap in life expectancy based on income as an example of inequality which demands action. Guy Caron expanded on the list of Con-connected appointees to the Immigration and Refugee Board, while Don Davies noted that even the screening committee was worryingly Con-heavy. Nycole Turmel slammed the Cons for sending auditors to Attawapiskat instead of actual help, then pointed out that a 50% gap in social program funding ($9,000 per person on the reserve compared to $18,000 nationally) figures to be one of the main explanations for the community's difficulties. Peter Julian criticized the Cons' lack of cooperation with B.C. in developing a process to remove the HST after citizens voted it down. Mark Eyking and Anne Minh-Thu Quach wondered when the Cons' promises on AIDS funding would result in their actually sending a dime. John McCallum pointedly questioned why the Cons had shifted money out of green infrastructure funding to other departments without authorization, only to be told by Denis Lebel that Industry Canada's 2011-12 Report on Plans and Priorities was authority enough. Irene Mathyssen noted that hundreds of thousands of seniors aren't receiving benefits to which they're entitled. Roxanne James spoke to her private member's bill to limit complaints by prisoners - only to be told by Candice Hoeppner on behalf of her own party that it didn't go far enough in silencing anybody who raised concerns about prison conditions, even as Sylvain Chicoine pointed out that there's a good reason why a large number of complaints might originate with a few relatively well-educated inmates. And finally, Glenn Thibeault wondered why the Cons' promises to create a real code of conduct for credit cart providers had come to nothing.

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - February 5, 2012

Since it's been a little while, I'll offer another of my periodic caveats that these rankings are intended to reflect my perception as to how likely a particular candidate is to win the NDP's leadership rather than my own preferences. So has anything changed on that front since last week?

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

Well, the top of the rankings hasn't changed at all as long as I've been putting together these rankings. And with Mulcair starting to build a national labour base to rival that of any other contender, it may take either a serious scandal shockingly disappointing Quebec membership numbers to drop him from the top position at any point in the campaign.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

And similarly, two smooth policy launches and a strong video release keep Nash comfortably in second place.

3. Brian Topp (3)

Here's where it starts getting somewhat more interesting. I'll leave Topp in the #3 position thanks to a combination of impressive fund-raising numbers and what's continued to be a mostly solid campaign. But the controversy around a campaign worker misrepresenting Romeo Saganash's ability to speak French might offer the start of a dangerous narrative for a candidate whose appeal is based largely on organizational ability.

4. Paul Dewar (4)

By all accounts Dewar has continued to impress over the past couple of weeks. But I'll need to either see him hold his own in French or conclude that Topp is running into an equally significant obstacle in order to move Dewar up.

5. Nathan Cullen (6)

So here's the change for this week. Cullen's organization has matched up nicely with the top tier of candidates from the start of the race in terms of fund-raising, and he's starting to pull in a substantial amount of earned media attention.

6. Romeo Saganash (5)

Meanwhile, Saganash's weak fund-raising numbers look to offer a definitive "no" to the question of whether he had some initial organization strength that wasn't showing up in traditional political channels. And while I still think he has a path to victory, it's getting late to start making up ground compared to his competitors.

7. Niki Ashton (7)

And in fact, Ashton may not be far from eclipsing Saganash - particularly if she has any more MP endorsements left to follow Carol Hughes' nod this week.

8. Martin Singh (8)

This was actually a very positive week for Singh, as he not only released his first policy plank in ages, but also showed that he's doing better than both Saganash and Ashton on the fund-raising front. But while I'd probably take an even-money bet that Singh won't be in last place on the first ballot, these rankings are still based on the likelihood of victory - and there seems to be little chance of Singh assembling enough down-ballot support to come out on top.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Vivian Belik looks at the long-ignored outcomes from a guaranteed income experiment in Dauphin, MB - and finds that the positive results of of providing a secure income to all citizens were well worth the investment:
(T)he Mincome program was conceived as a labour market experiment. The government wanted to know what would happen if everybody in town received a guaranteed income, and specifically, they wanted to know whether people would still work.

It turns out they did.

Only two segments of Dauphin's labour force worked less as a result of Mincome—new mothers and teenagers. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren't under as much pressure to support their families.

The end result was that they spent more time at school and more teenagers graduated. Those who continued to work were given more opportunities to choose what type of work they did.
- Thomas Walkom notes that the current focus of business and government alike is instead on attacking workers to the greatest extent possible, as epitomized by the Caterpillar shutdown in London.

- Roland Paris criticizes the Cons' strategy of fomenting fear wherever they go.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Cheadle reports that federal public servants have reason to fear they'll be punished for telling the truth rather than parroting government talking points. And that lack of trust looks to be a natural corollary when fraudulent PR stunts - like the false citizenship oath staged for the benefit of Sun TV - get singled out for praise.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk rightly slams the Sask Party for barring Saskatchewan PC leaders from the legislative building on the basis that their speaking to the media makes them a "security risk".

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Thanks to an end-of-week conference it's been a few days since I've done a general roundup on the NDP leadership race. And based on the pace of activity, it looks like we're into the home stretch as candidates enter the last couple of weeks in which to sign up new members.

- Niki Ashton unveiled the support of MP Carol Hughes before participating in the National Student Day of Action.

- Nathan Cullen earned a column's worth of discussion from Chris Selley, albeit with the conclusion that his electoral co-operation plan likely won't fly.

- Paul Dewar unveiled a plan for women's equality, then used the profile of the leadership campaign to host a fund-raiser for locked-out Caterpillar workers in London just before the plant's closure was announced.

- Thomas Mulcair won endorsements from UFCW Canada and Howard Hampton.

- Peggy Nash released policies on post-secondary education (featuring both dedicated transfer payments and reduced interest on student loans) and northern issues. And she also launched a slick video to boot.

- Romeo Saganash set out his plan to work toward peace in the Middle East - earning plenty of points for ambition in the process.

- Martin Singh released his environmental policy, featuring a noteworthy choice to implement a carbon-pricing system without offsets.

- And finally, Brian Topp unveiled his plan to build the NDP (with a particular focus on increasing participation at all levels of the party), while also warning against trying to outshout the Cons.

[Edit: added second Topp link.]