Saturday, February 25, 2012

Leadership 2012 Roundup

Assorted news from the past few days in the NDP leadership race.

- While Niki Ashton had already introduced her justice plan, she re-emphasized her commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and treating addictions as illnesses rather than prosecutable offences in the wake of support for the principle from provincial Attorneys General and municipal figures.

- Paul Dewar added several prominent First Nations figures who had previously supported Romeo Saganash to his list of supporters, making for a extra boost in the second tier of candidates (particularly if other Saganash supporters follow suit).

- Thomas Mulcair unveiled a lengthy list of Saskatchewan endorsers, with two key takeaways: his support from past government such as former Finance Minister Harry Van Mulligen serves to counter Brian Topp's claim to support among the province's longtime NDP governments, while endorsements from the likes of Lon Borgerson and Lawrence Joseph may resonate more with the province's more activist members.

Meanwhile, Mulcair suggested in an interview with Xtra that Canada should reconsider its membership in the Commonwealth if it can't make progress on human rights including queer rights:
How would you promote queer rights abroad?

Let’s look at this year’s Commonwealth meeting. There are a lot of Commonwealth members that have an abysmal record on “queer rights,” as you call them, that still consider it a crime. There has to come a point where in your foreign policy that type of abject refusal to recognize human rights becomes an impediment to closer relationships.

So there’s a difference between a working arrangement with other countries, diplomatic relations with other countries, but when you get into a closer relationship, as with the Commonwealth, either the Commonwealth is going to start standing up and showing leadership on these issues or countries like Canada that respect these rights and understand them are going to have to send a clear signal that they’re not going to be part of that club any more.

You would actually have Canada withdraw from the Commonwealth?

The Canadian government has already sent a signal that the last meeting was totally unacceptable, that there’s been no progress. You can do that once. You can do that twice. But if you’re still dealing with several countries that are showing absolute failure to respect rights and are in fact treating it as criminal behaviour, yes, of course, this is a question of whether or not you would associate with these people in the closest possible way. That’s what the Commonwealth is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about shared history, shared institutions and shared values. If there’s a total breakdown on that on such an identifying issue as this one, then at some point you have to send a clear signal that if it continues like that, that you’re willing to break that relationship. That has to be clear.
At the same time, Derrick O'Keefe noted that at least some donors to Thomas Mulcair have extensive track records supporting other parties - including Gerry Schwartz, who went out of his way to stop the NDP from emerging as the leading alternative for government in the 1980s. And Dr. Dawg for one was not pleased with what that source of funding might say about Mulcair - though in fairness similar questions have been raised about big-money donors to Brian Topp.

- Peggy Nash answered Aaron Wherry's questions, including this on what to do and avoid in looking to overtake the Cons:
Q: What does this party have to do to beat Stephen Harper, practically speaking, in the next election?

A: We have to show, first of all, that we have a real alternative to the Conservatives. That the Conservatives continually act in ways that undermine the creation of good Canadian jobs. They’ve stood back while so many of our resources have been sold out to foreign companies. They haven’t respected our communities. So we have to present a strong alternative. We also have to organize. There’s nothing that replaces the hard work of building our riding associations, building our community support, having good candidates that are out knocking on doors early. And the Conservatives are very good fundraisers. We have to be as good in raising funds in order to be able to mount the kind of campaign that it takes to win across such a vast country. I think our road ahead is pretty clear. We have to present an alternative. We have to build our base. And we have to have the resources to be able to win.

Q: Do you take any lessons from how the Conservatives have won?

A: Well, I take a cautionary tale. I see how they have been divisive for partisan purposes. I think that’s reckless leadership because we are a federation and a federation means that people have to work together. You have to respect differences, but you have to work together. And using, exploiting differences for partisan purposes, I don’t think represents good leadership. I also am concerned that the Conservatives have really stretched the limits of campaign, in terms of fundraising we saw them cross the line and now there are serious concerns about these robocalls. We don’t know, we’re not at the bottom of that yet, but there are real concerns about it. So there are definitely things that the Conservatives have done that we will not do.
- Brian Topp was profiled by Joanna Smith (with a particular focus on his time as an aide in Roy Romanow's Saskatchewan NDP government), while also pitching himself as a left-wing option to Meagan Fitzpatrick:
The rich and profitable don’t need any more of the government's help and it's time for tax fairness, Topp has said throughout his campaign.

"I don't think there's any question that New Democrats strongly support these proposals and I've seen that all across the country," said Topp. "And we did some research to reassure ourselves that that's true."

He said there would be three main themes of a Brian Topp government if he were to win the leadership and next election: undoing the damage done by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to the public finances; acting on climate change; and closing the inequality gap in Canada.
Topp also released a foreign policy focusing on fair trade agreements and avoiding any race to the bottom in labour and environmental standards.

- Finally, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East released an evaluation of the leadership candidates (PDF).

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- There's been plenty of followup on Robocon, with columns from Andrew Coyne and Thomas Walkom on the Cons' increasingly unethical culture, along with followup reporting from Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor on live voter fraud and Steve Rennie and Bruce Cheadle on Elections Canada's willingness to give the Cons the benefit of the doubt before the scheme proved quite so systematic ranking at the top of the list of must-reads. But for those with time, there's more from the CBC, pogge, and @ethicalls.

- Meanwhile, the Cons' unique definition of ethics and accountability is also getting nicely exposed by Peter MacKay, who's running and hiding from the revelation that he used military personnel for political purposes.

- Gerald Caplan highlights how even compelling proof that rigging our economic system toward top-heavy growth is doomed to failure has done nothing to stem the tide of shock doctrine opportunism:
(E)verything that’s happened in the past several years has gone to further empower and enrich the 1 per cent (or maybe the 5 per cent) at the expense of the rest of us. Look anywhere you want. What else does the universal demand for austerity programs mean? What else does the sudden concerted attack on public sector workers mean? What else does the intransigent line taken by multinational corporations against their unions mean? What else does the demand for “right-to-work” laws mean? What else does the widespread attack on seniors’ pensions mean?
Throughout, economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, whose forecasts have repeatedly been borne out, assured the few who would listen this was a guaranteed recipe for exacerbating Greece’s economic woes. It meant, after all, instead of growth, a guaranteed contraction of the economy. Which is exactly what happened. But apparently these critics, while correct about the consequences of enforced austerity, were wrong about the proper solution. The punishment, it seems, had not been crushing enough. Now a new and improved package of pain will be inflicted, a condition for the country receiving bailout funds at sky-high borrowing costs. For the vast majority of them, it’s a Greek tragedy.

At least 21 per cent of Greeks are unemployed. Yet the thumbscrews are to be tightened once again: more austerity, more spending cuts, eliminating another 20 per cent of all government jobs and slashing the minimum wage by another 22 per cent. All this, in a country in its fifth year of recession.

Spain is not far behind, collapsing under the same burden of salvation. The economy’s contracting, unemployment has soared; 350,000 newly out of work, giving a jobless rate of 22.8 per cent, including almost half of all young Spaniards. These are staggering figures. In Britain too, David Cameron’s punishing economic strategy had led to a shrinking economy.

How exactly ordinary Greeks and Spaniards and Brits will endure, get by, pay for their rent or groceries or transportation, or offer their kids a hopeful life – this has become the greatest question of the early 21st century.
- Similarly, Linda McQuaig laments how the prospect of revenue increases - particularly to close the deliberate deficits set up by the Cons - has been a no-go zone for most observers despite widespread public support.

- Finally, Antonia Zerbisias' latest fits nicely with the developing rift between the Cons' strategy of favouring western resource sectors and the Ontario voters who have the most to lose from that choice.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Musical interlude

Neptune Project vs. Luke Bond - Atlantis (Temple One Remix)

Friday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Friday reading.

- Jim Stanford points out that free trade hasn't delivered any productivity gains as promised - and has in fact moved Canada further away from the model that's working elsewhere:
The famous Macdonald Commission, influenced heavily by market-oriented economic analysis, made two core recommendations in this regard. Canada’s social welfare programs should be rationalized to reinforce labour market discipline. And we should pursue comprehensive free trade with the U.S., to expose our firms to the full force of competition and eliminate our remaining 10-per-cent productivity disadvantage. The proposals were fiercely debated, but in the end implemented. The Macdonald Commission’s 1985 report heralded a new era of economic rationalism; it might be less “compassionate” than previous policy frameworks, but would surely deliver the productivity goods via the invisible hand of a freed market.

The graph that accompanies this article starkly illustrates the ironic results. No sooner had the Macdonald Commission helped spur a historic turn in Canadian policy, than Canada’s relative productivity began to fade. The more social programs were curtailed, the more we faced global competition, the more sectors were deregulated, and the deeper taxes were cut, the worse Canada’s productivity performance became. Today we’re right back where we started: poor cousins again, with business sector productivity equal to only 70 per cent of U.S. levels, and still sinking.

In terms of innovation, our performance has been even worse: lagging far behind the U.S. and most of the industrialized world. As we focus on extracting and exporting ever-more unprocessed minerals, our capacity to develop innovative products, services, and processes for the world has withered away.
Indeed, the experience of most successful industrializing countries in recent decades suggests a very different idea of how innovation, productivity, and export-led growth actually occur. From Korea to Finland, China to the Netherlands, Brazil to Germany, countries which actively direct and manage growth seem to perform better in productivity, innovation, and global trade. These countries have fostered investment and innovation with focused sector strategies; deliberately favourable capital market, exchange rate, and trade policies; and sophisticated efforts to manage income distribution so that productivity growth visibly translates into higher living standards (unlike Canada where there is no longer any visible link between productivity growth and personal incomes). Intellectual support for the effectiveness of those approaches is provided by recent new thinking in development economics, highlighting the central role of a proactive “developmental state” in attaining qualitative and quantitative economic progress, rather then reifying market forces.
- Meanwhile, Ezra Klein points out how tax expenditures - preferred by the Cons and other anti-government parties as a means of handing out money without creating any corresponding social institutions - are both less effective and more dangerous than direct spending.

- And Andrew Jackson notes that even the IMF doesn't buy the rhetoric of budget hawks anymore, warning that misplaced austerity may do as much damage to bond markets just as it does to workers.

- pogge rightly suggests that Peter MacKay's use of defence resources for political purposes would serve as a resignation-worthy offence for any minister with the slightest sense of responsibility.

- Finally, following up on John Ibbitson's column today, Alison gives a clear-cut example of the Cons encouraging exactly the kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude toward political deception that led to the newly-named Robocon.

On battlegrounds

Paul Wells has a theory about the political playing field developing for Canada's 2015 federal election. And his laments that a new NDP leader won't get to take a three-year sabbatical aside, I can only hope that he's right.

Yes, it's true that the Cons will enjoy a few more favourable ridings in the West after their seat redistribution takes effect. But it's equally true that they'll still need to win a substantial chunk of Ontario to get anywhere close to a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

Wells' theory (to paraphrase) is that the Cons plan to push the resource sector, while cutting public services and generally expressing apathy toward the other industries made uncompetitive under a resource-inflated Canadian dollar. Which means that their road to a continued majority would involve successfully chanting "drill baby drill!" to win over voters in the province whose economy is suffering most from that mantra.

I won't say it can't be done, particularly with both corporate oil money and the resources of the state being used to sell the message in the interim. And there are at least a few possibilities for more favourable terrain (such as a major scandal that turns parts of the populist West into a wasteland for the Cons). But if Wells is right in forecasting the issues we'll be debating in 2015, I have to like our odds of toppling Harper.

New column day

Here, on the open questions as to whether Nathan Cullen's plan for pre-electoral cooperation would serve any useful purpose.

For further reading expanding on the points in the column:
- I've previously posted on some of the practical considerations involved in Cullen's proposal, while also questioning whether we should write off the possibility of the NDP winning a true majority on its own and pointing out the failures of strategic voting schemes in 2011.
- Alice ran through her own list of pros and cons to the Cullen plan.
- Malcolm crunched the numbers as to the vote retention rate needed to make pre-electoral cooperation work.
- And Stuart Parker theorized that pre-electoral cooperation might work better than some of the proposed alternatives.

Friday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- Sure, it's a plus to know that Canada's military is ready and willing to leap into action to protect what matters most to the government of the day. Now if only that meant something other than serving as political operatives to protect the Harper Cons' interests.

- Which is to say that the breaking robocall scandal is far from the only example of the Cons' anything-you-can-get-away-with mentality pointed out by John Ibbitson:
(I)t is certainly true the Tories push their campaign tactics to the edge of legality and sometimes beyond. They pleaded guilty last year to violating federal election laws in 2006 with their “in-and-out” scheme to fund the national campaign with money laundered through local campaign accounts.

And they may have instilled such an intensely partisan anything-you-can-get-away-with mentality among their campaign workers that one or more of them concluded it would be okay to cross the line of legality.

Political parties can’t be held responsible for the actions of rogue supporters. But they can he held accountable for creating environments that produce those rogues.

This is a mirror into which Stephen Harper and everyone who works for him should be looking.
- Meanwhile, Carol Goar slams Jason Kenney for ignoring what had been a reasonable set of compromises and accommodations developed in the previous Parliament to force through a bill designed to unduly restrict Canada's refugee system.

- Andrew Jackson points out how Andrew Coyne's attempt to dismiss Paul Krugman's economic prescription falls flat:
(A)s any reader of Krugman’s blog knows, he has acknowledged that a very modest US recovery is underway, while pointing out that the US economy is still operating well below its potential growth path.

He argues – incessantly – that the US economy needs additional stimulus if that gap is to be closed, and he has never argued that the first stimulus package had no effect, only that it was far too small to promote a meaningful recovery.

So there is absolutely no contradiction between what Krugman has argued and the fact of a very tepid US recovery.

Coyne goes on to side with the Fraser Institute argument that fiscal stimulus in Canada had no impact – an argument that has been thoroughly debunked by neutral economists such as Serge Coulombe...
- And given my own interest in chronicling what happens in Parliament, I'll readily note that it's worth reading about Elizabeth May's vigil in the House of Commons.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 15, 2011

Thursday, December 15 was the final day in the House of Commons before the winter break.

The Big Issue

Once again, debate focused primarily on Bill C-26 to clarify the availability of self-defence under the Criminal Code. And the opposition parties started proceedings by granting unanimous consent to an effort to speed through second reading of the bill - which I'm pretty sure resulted in the Cons regularly expressing gratitude for the cooperation.

But then, that wasn't the only point of distinction between the Cons and their opponents. When Kevin Lamoureux asked whether the NDP would have amendments to present, Mike Sullivan suggested it might take the time to listen to experts at committee before taking a final position. In contrast, when Lamoureux asked whether the Cons would in fact consider amendments, Harold Albrecht helpfully responded by cheerleading for his party's "decisive action" in ramming through C-10 while listening to nobody but its own spinners.

Meanwhile, Alain Giguere highlighted the difference between peace officers who are trained to use minimal force and citizens who may not be, then warned that good intentions could produce harmful results. Pat Martin discussed his own experience in apprehending vandals, but also noted that there's a glaring lack of support for people who want to escape unsafe streets. Elizabeth May wondered whether we should empower citizens to collect evidence rather than trying to apprehend suspects for themselves. And Peter Julian slammed the Cons' overall dumb-on-crime agenda.

In Brief

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet criticized the Cons' attempts to shift committee work from the public eye to behind closed doors. Nycole Turmel proposed some resolutions for Stephen Harper to consider over the holidays. Charlie Angus again questioned why the Cons were punishing Attawapiskat with a third-party manager for highlighting their own neglect. Julian noted that the Cons seem entirely willing to claim money grows on trees when it comes to the massive cost of corporate tax cuts, jails and fighter jets - while Christine Moore noted that they'd recently decided to chip in tens of millions of dollars on added research just to keep the F-35 facade upright for a few more months. Wayne Marston and Giguere both asked whether Jim Flaherty would countenance improvements to the CPP, only to be told that the Cons have no interest in anything other than funneling private savings into the financial sector. James Bezan proposed a bill to inform Canadians of the dangers of tanning beds. Dennis Bevington wondered how a government supposedly interested in northern security could shut down the only Coast Guard office in the western Arctic. And Marie-Claude Morin asked whether the Cons would bother to renew social housing agreements to allow for some level of stability for vital social services - with Diane Finley's response pointing to past spending suggesting otherwise.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- pogge points out that the Cons' response to the perception that judges aren't fully onside with their efforts to impose top-down control has been to eliminate the judiciary's ability to ensure fair results:
Where the institutions of government have put constraints on Conservative ambitions, this government has tried to game them, sabotage them or roll right over them. If a regulator like Linda Keen gets in the way, she gets fired. Legislation from Jason Kenney and now Vic Toews has attempted to give the ministers ever-wider latitude to act on their own discretion without accountability. If regulatory processes threaten to prevent, or even slow down, government-approved development projects then regulatory processes need to be "streamlined."

It shouldn't come as a surprise that they're also trying to game the legal system to prevent judges and courts from impeding their agenda. It's what these Conservatives do.
- Which is to say that we should fully expect them to next try to ensure that partisan appointees can prevent the likes of Election Canada from investigating fraudulent voter suppression.

- Dave comments on the B.C. Libs' punishment budget.

- Finally, this week's column will run a day late - as in the meantime, the Leader-Post is dedicating its opinion page to a well-deserved tribute to columnist Ron Petrie.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A quick survey of what's happened in the NDP leadership campaign over the past couple of days...

- Niki Ashton has rightly criticized other candidates' operatives who seem to be working to push her out of the race. But the behind-the-scenes maneuvering may only backfire it if gives Ashton and her supporters reason to be wary of the contenders behind it.

- Nathan Cullen's economic plan has received some media attention already. But it's well worth noting that a plan which largely mirrors Brian Topp's take in increasing the resources available for social equality may offer about the best hope possible for Cullen to earn down-ballot support - particularly compared to other candidates who are relying more on reputation than policy proposals in appealing to the NDP's base.

- Meanwhile, as the media picks up on the significance of the labour movement in the campaign, Paul Dewar's labour policy looks like the most thorough nod toward both safety and bargaining interests so far in the campaign.

- Thomas Mulcair released transit and housing plans. But perhaps more interesting than the controversial is the choice of other priorities Mulcair attached to both as defining his campaign:
Today’s announcement was one of several proposals Mulcair has made during his leadership campaign tour including a comprehensive cap and trade program to combat climate change, a plan to provide every Canadian access to a guaranteed benefit pension and a proposal to require that 50% of all appointments to the boards of Crown Corporations and government agencies be women.
- Peggy Nash unveiled one of the more interesting endorsements of the campaign - though considering the controversy surrounding the CAW's past involvement with and against the NDP, I'm somewhat surprised Nash wanted to make much of a show of Ken Lewenza's support.

- Brian Topp took questions at Rabble, including this answer how environmental revenues should be used:
In my view all revenues derived from our plan to reduce carbon emissions should remain within the environmental plan. These funds will be needed to do the job we need to do (transitioning to a much lower-carbon, much more-energy efficient and – not incidentally – a much for productive, competitive and prosperous economy). also, keeping them focused there will ensure public support for green measures. And I don’t think we want the government to become a carbon addict – dependent on revenues derived from carbon emissions which we want to radically decrease.
- Finally, Chantal Hebert questioned Brian Topp's view that the Libs can safely be ignored - which makes for a fair criticism, even if the answer isn't necessarily to try to swim a three-legged race the rest of the way. Aaron Wherry compiled the candidates' response to this week's final membership numbers. And the leadership events page is heating up - including visits to the Regina area by four candidates over the next week.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thomas Walkom points out that the McGuinty Libs' choice to emphasize austerity rather than stabilizing Ontario's economy may lead down exactly the same destructive path travelled by Greece and other countries:
(T)he crises in Spain, Portugal and Greece occurred because government spending cuts designed to remedy debt problems sent those countries spinning into economic decline.

Throughout much of Europe, measures aimed at reducing debt have created a self-reinforcing spiral of doom.

Government workers are laid off to save money, which leads to higher unemployment. Higher unemployment reduces tax revenues, thereby widening fiscal deficits. Governments are forced to borrow more to cover these shortfalls, thus increasing debt.

And on and on.
If we assume, as Drummond seems to, that the U.S. economy will never fully recover and that the price of oil (and therefore the loonie) will stay perpetually high, then Ontario’s economy will remain precarious.

In this scenario, “unprecedented” spending cuts of the kind Drummond recommends would be the worst possible action.

It would be far better for Queen’s Park to undertake a less ambitious debt reduction scheme, even if doing so caused the government to miss its 2018 target date for balancing the budget.

Spain’s austerity regime has led to a youth unemployment rate of 50 per cent. Greece’s has led to rioting in the streets. Ontario doesn’t need either.
- Chris Selley rightly suggests that total online surveillance is an intrusion into the lives of Canadians that deserves a fight. And Rick Mercer rants:

- Aaron Wherry surveys a few suggestions from MPs on how to make Parliament more effective.

- Mike de Souza reports that an obsession with pushing unrestrained tar sands development at the expense of all other economic priorities may prove to be just as damaging for Alberta on its own as for the other regions of the country which are more obviously suffering for the Cons' warped priorities.

- Finally, J. Rhys Kesselman has some ideas to actually improve Canada's retirement income system. But since they run contrary to the Cons' strategy of transferring wealth from those who need it most to those who need it least, I wouldn't expect them to get anywhere as long as Stephen Harper is in power.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats in formation.

On universal growth

Alice has weighed in on the final membership numbers for the NDP's leadership campaign, pointing out that B.C. and Ontario between them will go into next month with a combined majority of the party's membership. But I'll add one more observation as to the provincial membership numbers which speaks well for the NDP's growth as a federal party.

Keep in mind that B.C. and Ontario - along with Saskatchewan and Manitoba - saw contested provincial NDP leadership races in the past few years. And so there may have been reason to think the party and its provincial leadership competitors might have already exhausted any potential growth - particularly in the western provinces where it's either in government or the obvious main challenger.

Likewise, Nova Scotia elected an NDP provincial government in 2009, and could have been expected to have little room left to grow.

But none of the provinces which seemed like they might have hit a ceiling did anything of the sort. In fact, every single province saw at least double-digit growth in the course of the federal leadership campaign: Ontario led the way in total numbers while ranking 4th in percentage; Nova Scotia ranked 3rd in percentage by nearly tripling its; B.C. added another 8,000 members above those who participated in last year's provincial race; and even Saskatchewan and Manitoba saw impressive boosts to hold onto most of their provincial weight.

If there's anything slightly disappointing in the final tally, it's that Quebec's membership growth was somewhat lower than I would have hoped. But on the balance, there's every reason to be satisfied that the NDP's leadership contenders have managed to find room to grow in every Canadian province - and excited about the prospect of continuing to build in the years to come.

On limited choices

Daniel Leblanc's report on a possible detente between Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp certainly makes for some interesting scenario-building. So let's follow up on what Paul Wells has already written.

Obviously, we wouldn't expect locked-in supporters of any candidate to be swayed by the appeal. So the obvious first target would figure to be the substantial number of voters who are undecided to date. And to the extent voters buy the idea that it's necessary to choose from Mulcair or Topp in order to keep the NDP's Quebec gains (which itself seems rather questionable when Topp has less caucus supporters in the province than Peggy Nash), the main effect would be to elevate Topp above the second tier of candidates to become the chief challenger to Mulcair.

But that strategy would succeed only at a massive cost to Topp's ultimate prospects. Even if he manages to win enough early-ballot support to emerge as the second-place contender, any signal that Mulcair is an acceptable choice would only give the supporters of every other candidate reason to figure there's no need to line up to stop the front-runner. Which means that absent some follow-up plan to severely damage Mulcair in a campaign where no attacks have yet managed to make a dent, the most plausible effect of making the message stick would be to elevate Topp to second place...while effectively handing Mulcair the leadership.

That makes me wonder whether Topp's motivation may be a matter of setting up his place in the pecking order within a Mulcair-led party, rather than any perception that he has a plausible path to victory. But it'll be well worth watching both how Topp handles Mulcair from here on in, and how the other campaigns respond to the move to narrow the field.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The outrage against the Cons' total online surveillance scheme continues, with Dan Leger, Mia Rabson and Michael Geist adding noteworthy comments to the mix.

- Meanwhile, the Star rightly criticizes the latest legislation to hand Con cabinet ministers the power to make major policy decisions by fiat with no accountability. But lest there be any doubt, that's been happening since long before the Star apparently noticed the issue surrounding refugees.

- And the minister responsible at that time is doing her own share of damage to vulnerable groups, in this case the workers whose retirement benefits stand to be slashed. So let's offer a reminder of what the Cons hope the public forgets: if we're facing a declining tax base and need to build up reserves, the sane thing for any government to do would be to make sure we're taking in enough revenue now to bridge the gap, rather than slashing taxes with no regard for (or outright hostility toward) our ability to fund social needs.

- Susan Delacourt rightly notes that the only surprising part of Vic Toews' ravings this week is the fact that anybody in the media bothered to challenge the Cons on their standard-issue demonization of all opposition.

- Finally, Jessica Bruno reports on the desperate need for better parliamentary oversight over federal government spending. But it's also worth being careful not to accept the Cons' distorted definition of what our representatives should be doing: surely it's equally important to identify and support what actually needs funding, rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time declaring what shouldn't be.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Parliament in Review: December 14, 2011

Wednesday, December 14 saw another day of debate devoted to free trade issues, this time addressing a proposed treaty with Jordan. But first...

The Utterly Unprecedented, Stunning Development Which Shook The Very Foundations Of Canada's System Of Government As Administered By Stephen Harper

Helene Laverdiere asked a simple question to Peter MacKay. And MacKay actually answered it.

The Big Issue

Gerald Keddy started debate on C-23 with a fairly helpful summary of the goods currently traded between Canada and Jordan. But as the opposition parties noted, there's much more to the picture than mere dollars: Brian Masse pointed out Jordan's abuses of migrant workers, while Wayne Easter highlighted its political instability. Wayne Marston noted that the main difference in philosophy between the NDP and the Cons is that the former considers human rights to be a top priority in foreign relations, while the latter somehow believes that deals aimed solely at shiny dollar figures will take care of all other issues. Masse questioned how Canadian industry can be expected to compete against sweatshop labour, and tore into the Cons over their utter negligence in dealing with the United States on border issues. Linda Duncan noted that the Cons' versions of free trade agreements were omitting even the lip service that was once paid to labour and environmental standards in NAFTA and other previous deals. Chris Warkentin, apparently concerned about any such talk, invoked the Cons' amendment-barring tactic to make sure that omission wouldn't be fixed within the bill. And Raymond Cote noted that Parliamentary scrutiny should be a crucial means of preventing Canada from signing onto bad deals - rather than the nuisance the Cons find in any critical analysis of every bill they present.

In Brief

Alex Atamanenko expressed disbelief that the Cons would approve of GMO contamination of Canada's food supply, while Libby Davies made a statement criticized their efforts to undermine the long-term viability of a publicly-funded health care system. Nycole Turmel responded to Stephen Harper's description of the Kyoto Protocol as "stupid" by pointing out some genuinely stupid political decisions. Marc Garneau raised the Cons' newly-announced intention to move all committee proceedings behind closed doors. Kennedy Stewart wondered why the Cons are rushing to force through approval for new pipelines when we already lack the resources to monitor the pipelines which currently exist in Canada. Peter Julian noted that the Harper government's spirit of giving was limited to further freebies for rich corporations - to which Jim Flaherty responded by offering the public a lecture about credit. Brad Trost, apparently concerned that we're not selling off our natural resources fast enough, introduced a bill to facilitate total foreign ownership of uranium mines. Ryan Cleary's bill proposing an inquiry into the cod fishery was defeated by the Cons at second reading. And Helene LeBlanc summed up the case for her infrastructure motion, while Dan Harris criticized the Cons' attempt to impose a private toll structure on any new infrastructure.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Damian Carrington reports on the Harper Cons' sad efforts to prevent the European Union from accurately accounting for greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands, offering in particular a look at how Canada's actions look to our global neighbours who don't operate from the Cons' petro-state starting point:
Darek Urbaniak, at Friends of the Earth Europe, which obtained the new documents, said: "These letters are further evidence of Canadian government and industry lobbying, which continuously undermines efforts to combat climate change. We find it unacceptable that the Canadian government now openly uses direct threats at the highest political levels to derail crucial EU climate legislation."

The unveiling of Canada's threats is the latest in a series of recent embarrassing revelations. On 12 February, the occurrence of a secret strategy "retreat" in London in 2011 was discovered. High-level officials discussed the "critical" issue of winning the tar sands argument in the EU, to "mitigate the impact on the Canadian brand" and to protect the "huge investments from the likes of Shell, BP, Total and Statoil". Representatives of Shell, Total and Statoil attended the meeting alongside the UK's state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

In December, the Guardian revealed the secret high-level help given to the Canada by the UK government, which included David Cameron discussing the issue with his counterpart Stephen Harper during a visit to Canada, and stating privately that the UK wanted "to work with Canada on finding a way forward". Canada's minister for natural resources, Joe Oliver, stated: "[The British] have been very, very helpful."

The UK proposed an alternative "banded" approach to ascribing carbon emissions to different fuel types, which does not single out tar sands. But environmentalists dismiss it as a delaying tactic and the Guardian understands that the UK has failed to present its proposal formally or provide supporting evidence.
- Meanwhile, Greg Weston notes that the Cons' pathetic excuse for a mining complaint agency (designed to do absolutely nothing without the consent of the corporations whose actions might be challenged) has burned over a million public dollars while proving as useless as expected.

- Erin points out Ontario's corporate capital tax giveaway - which slashed public revenue without having any positive economic impact.

- Kennedy Stewart's motion to allow public petitions to require a response in Parliament looks like a great step in promoting direct democracy.

- Finally, T.C. Norris rightly questions how media outlets often misreport on polling by both cutting out the multiple sides to the story actually told by poll results, and misinterpreting the context of a given set of results.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Leadership 2012 Candidate Rankings - February 19, 2012

We'll get plenty more information about where the leadership campaign stands once we see how membership sales have turned out. But there's been enough news in the past week to make one change to the rankings for now.

1. Thomas Mulcair (1)

When I started these rankings, I clarified that being ranked at the top of the list (and thus having a seemingly greater likelihood of winning than any other candidate) didn't necessarily mean Mulcair was more likely than not to emerge as the NDP's leader. Now, I'll at least temporarily revisit that clarification: while the principles behind the rankings haven't changed, I'd currently place Mulcair's chances of victory somewhere slightly north of 50%.

2. Peggy Nash (2)

Meanwhile, the identity of his top challenger remains the same as well. But I'll be curious to see whether there's been any positive/negative impression polling to show if Nash actually enjoys enough enthusiasm to actually gather momentum, or whether inertia is the most important factor operating in her favour.

3. Paul Dewar (4)

I don't think the poll results released this week change the relative positioning of the candidates as spun by Dewar's camp. But his latest set of endorsements gives him a far stronger answer to the question of "can he win support in Quebec?" than he could offer so far, and that's enough to vault him narrowly ahead of...

4. Brian Topp (3)

The other part of the reason for the change in this week's rankings is that one of Topp's weaknesses from day one only seems to have been exacerbated as the campaign has progressed. The more Topp turns off supporters of other candidates, the less likely he is to earn enough down-ballot votes to win - and while I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the need for clash in the leadership campaign, Topp seems to have provoked more of a negative response than any other candidate which severely limits his chances of emerging as a compromise choice.

5. Nathan Cullen (5)

Cullen had a great week in the media thanks to shows of support from key outside groups. But while he looks like a strong bet to finish third or fourth on the first ballot, it's still questionable whether enough of the NDP's base will provide him with any down-ballot support to permit any growth from there.

6. Niki Ashton (6)

A quiet week may signal that Ashton is looking to the debates to make or break her campaign from here on in - which may well make for her best hope, especially if her fund-raising hasn't picked up.

7. Martin Singh (7)

Finally, it's been another quiet week from Singh's camp as well - and again, no news isn't good news for a candidate already stuck at the back of the pack.

[Edit: added labels; fixed wording.]

Parliament in Review: December 13, 2011

Tuesday, December 13 served to confirm the range of concerns that hadn't yet been taken into account in the Cons' seat redistribution bill - even as debate came to a close and the bill was rammed through against the protests of a united opposition.

The Big Issue

In response to the start and end of third reading debate on C-20, Stephane Dion and Mike Sullivan wondered why the Cons had been unwilling once again to countenance any amendments. And Scott Reid answered the latter question with a remarkable assertion:
Mr. Speaker, I have been around here for five Parliaments now and three of those were minority Parliaments. Two of them were Conservative minority Parliaments. My experience was that it was very difficult to get any legislation through at all.

I think I am correct in saying that aside from legislation initiated by the opposition, no legislation went through unless it was being presented on the condition that should it be defeated on a bill, the government would fall and have an election.
Of course, that can be disproved simply by looking at the progress of the first substantive bill ever introduced by the Cons after they took power, not to mention dozens of other examples (as a stroll through the progress of bills in the 39th and 40th Parliaments on LegisINFO would reveal to anybody concerned about facts). But it doesn't come as much surprise that Reid and other Con MPs have been instructed to wilfully ignore what actually happened in order to portray themselves as victims of democracy.

Meanwhile, Alexandrine Latendresse pointed out the obvious flaw in the Cons' statement that the bill had to pass immediately, since on its face it includes transitional provisions to allow for different possibilities as to when it would take effect. Francoise Boivin spoke about how Ed Broadbent convinced her of the need for proportional representation. Pat Martin discussed what consultation really means and looked forward to an NDP government putting the principle into action. Martin then noted the need for specific representation for different types of communities of interest - intriguingly adding socio-economic needs to the usual list based on culture and geography. David Christopherson noted that part of the effect of the Cons' bill would be to limit the time for public input on the redrawing of riding boundaries. Peter Julian pointed out a noteworthy correlation between provinces who elected Lib MPs and those who would lose seats under the Libs' proposal. Jamie Nicholls noted that pure representation by population (absent regard for provincial and cultural concerns) was never the basis for agreement on Canada's historical development.

Selective Benefits

Alexandre Boulerice spoke on his bill to bring federal parental leave up to par with that provided under provincial jurisdiction, with Christine Moore pointing out the existing gap. Kellie Leitch confirmed that the bill would do nothing more than to bring federal standards in line with provincial ones - but nonetheless declared that the Cons have no interest in bothering. And Rodger Cuzner similarly declared his party would rather see a uniformly lower standard of benefits for employees under federal jurisdiction than try to ensure equity within each province.

Pop Quiz

Terence Young compared the Cons' seat reallocation bill to which of the following events?
A. the Arab Spring
B. the fall of the Berlin Wall
C. the French Revolution
D. the war of 1812
The answers are: A and C. Which would raise far more questions about the Cons' total lack of perspective if anybody were paying attention.

In Brief

Kennedy Stewart presented a petition for a more systematic approach to combating hate crimes, while Claude Gravelle offered one seeking improved rural access to communications technology. Elizabeth May lamented the Cons' decision to tear up the Kyoto Protocol. James Rajotte was entirely unabashed about declaring the Cons' fealty to bankers. Nycoel Turmel wondered whether the Cons would reconsider their determination to shred the data underlying the federal gun registry under threat of legal action by Quebec, while Francoise Boivin noted that the Cons' own vandalism in refusing to ensure the current registry was accurate didn't provide an excuse to do otherwise. Libby Davies challenged the Cons' unilateral plan to limit health care transfers. In a series of questions on the latest report from the Environment Commissioner Megan Leslie wondered why the Cons had no interest in enforcing the law when it came to environmental offenders, Laurin Liu asked about dangerous goods transportation only to be met with the clearest indication yet that the Cons couldn't care less about preventative measures before an accident actually happens, and Philip Toone highlighted the need for accurate data about fish stocks in order to make decisions about Canada's fisheries (then followed up in adjournment proceedings). Carolyn Bennett reminded the Cons of the "99 other Attawapiskats" which have just as much need for federal action even if they aren't in the headlines at the moment. Peter Julian contrasted the virtuous circle of investment in needed services and infrastructure against the Cons' vicious cycle of handouts to the corporate sector coupled with an eroding standard of living for most Canadians. Andrew Scheer delivered his decision letting the Cons off the hook on technical grounds for their attempt to push Irwin Cotler out of his seat. Larry Miller introduced a private members' bill to prevent the bulk export of transboundary waters - but with a noticeable lack of interest in extending the standard any other types of water. And Wayne Easter slammed the Cons' disrespect for the law in forcing through their attack on the Canadian Wheat Board.

Leadership 2012 Roundup

A quick look back at the last few days in the NDP's leadership race...

- In addition to his support from Leadnow and Avaaz, Nathan Cullen won cross-partisan support from the B.C. Green Liberal Caucus. But it's an open question whether the result will be a net plus for Cullen, as a positive response from a group which apparently fits comfortably within the Conservative-friendly B.C. Liberals may not send quite the message he's hoping for in trying to unite anti-Con forces. Meanwhile, Cullen also took questions on Rabble, featuring this noteworthy response on the relative role of government and business:
Traditionally private industry has existed under the power of the state and that it was a privilege (not a right) to operate a business. Now it seems that the tail wags the dog and that Canada now has a lobbyist for the oil sector in the prime minister and his cabinet. I'm not aware of any legislative barriers that prevent our governments from re-establishing the role and responsibility of the state.
- Paul Dewar filled in the last major gap in his base of endorsers, picking up the nod of two highly-respected Quebec MPs in Helene Laverdiere and Hoang Mai. Dewar also took questions and criticism about his French - but that makes his ability to convince at least a couple of the NDP's new wave of Quebec MPs of his merit all the more important.

- Thomas Mulcair earned a public endorsement from Charles Taylor - leaving roughly zero room for anybody to counter with a more distinguished party figure in Quebec.

- Brian Topp confirmed that if elected leader, he'd ask a Quebec MP to step aside to allow him to run in a by-election - which as Aaron Wherry notes makes for a well-worn path to Stornoway. But I wonder whether it would be worth making the case that Topp might be able to do more good outside the House in any event: after all, it's not as if asking daily questions to a perpetually-unresponsive Stephen Harper did wonders for the public's impression of the last two Lib leaders. Topp then made an appearance on the House with Evan Solomon, responding with his answer to each of the other candidates' cases for the leadership.

- And on the media and commentary side, Lawrence Martin updated the number of NDP members and voters anticipated in advance of yesterday's deadline. And it's worth keeping in mind the difference between the two: if turnout is in the two-thirds-of-members range normally seen in leadership votes, then a total membership of 115,000 would likely set the number of votes required to win in the range of 40,000. PSAC-Quebec released a report card on candidate responses to a survey on values about the public service - but perhaps more striking than the union's own evaluation is the fact that only three candidates responded in the first place. And Trefor analyzed the candidates' positions on Israel/Palestine policy, while DL classified the candidates into two tiers.