Saturday, June 02, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that to end your Saturday.

- Andrew Jackson comments on how a premature push for austerity has driven the global economy to the brink of more disaster - as slashing intended to summon the confidence fairies has instead led businesses to reasonably conclude it's not worth trying to grow. And Trish Hennessy adds some numbers on the victims of austerity.

- Tim de Chant posts on how inequality within a city can generally be seen from space through a simple look at which neighbourhoods have the most trees.

-  While I haven't kept up as much with Robocon as would be ideal, pogge is always up to the task - this time correcting some media misconceptions as to who's investigating what.

- I'll give credit where due, as the Saskatchewan Party's willingness to fund the construction of some rental housing on the Whitecap Dakota First Nation looks to be a step forward in putting needs and results over jurisdictional excuses. But I'd be rather curious for an explanation as to how a government which can recognize the need for that investment can so blithely refuse to do anything but offer corporate tax baubles when it comes to the desperate housing shortfall in Saskatchewan's cities.

- Finally, Brad Lavigne's Policy Options discussion of the NDP's decade of growth under Jack Layton's leadership is well worth a read.

On federal cases

Paul Krugman compares the effects of burst housing bubbles in Florida and Spain to point out how the EU's lack of genuine fiscal federalism has exacerbated its crisis. But there's an important lesson to be learned for Canada as well.

After all, the Harper Cons and their big-business allies are doing their utmost to criticize precisely the stabilizers that have helped to prevent North American sub-national jurisdictions from facing the same calamity as countries like Spain and Greece. From general equalization payments to targeted health care funding to employment insurance benefits, each of the stabilizers that helps to prevent regional collapse is under attack either by the Cons directly or their ideological allies.

And the preferred replacement for genuine federal transfers is the allocation of "tax points". That's supposed to allow provinces room to raise money for themselves - which of course means an added bonus for whoever is doing well at a particular moment. But it would also ensure that a province with a collapsing economy falls into the same trap that's bedeviled the struggling states of Europe, as a combination of strict outside constraints and nonexistent federal support would make it impossible to take the steps needed to reverse a collapse.

So if we want to avoid having Quebec or Ontario turn into Greece down the road, here's one suggestion: don't let the Cons have their way in building firewalls between provinces.

[Edit: added labels.]

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Krugman highlights the anti-social austerity agenda at work in the U.K. and U.S.:
(T)he austerity drive in Britain isn’t really about debt and deficits at all; it’s about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs. And this is, of course, exactly the same thing that has been happening in America.
In fairness to Britain’s conservatives, they aren’t quite as crude as their American counterparts. They don’t rail against the evils of deficits in one breath, then demand huge tax cuts for the wealthy in the next (although the Cameron government has, in fact, significantly cut the top tax rate). And, in general, they seem less determined than America’s right to aid the rich and punish the poor. Still, the direction of policy is the same — and so is the fundamental insincerity of the calls for austerity.
The big question here is whether the evident failure of austerity to produce an economic recovery will lead to a “Plan B.” Maybe. But my guess is that even if such a plan is announced, it won’t amount to much. For economic recovery was never the point; the drive for austerity was about using the crisis, not solving it. And it still is. 
- Meanwhile, Les Whittington identifies the Cons' attacks on fair wages as an example of the same in Canada. And Gerald Caplan points out that even as they demand nothing but sacrifice from the general public, the Cons are more than generous in handing out money to anybody who passes a partisan loyalty test.

- I've regularly criticized commentators in the past for using their own ignorance as a basis to claim the NDP somehow didn't exist on the political scene. And let's leave no doubt that the claim is equally asinine when applied to the Libs.

- Finally, Susan Delacourt nicely documents how the Cons have gone out of their way to tailor public images to political narratives which have nothing at all to do with reality. And I have to figure there's a delightful story to be written out of Scott Feschuk's description of David Wilks as "a brick in the toilet tank of democracy".

- Update: Before it's too late, I'll also point out rabble's list of budget protest events across Canada today - with a particular emphasis on the fact that they're reaching well beyond the largest urban centres.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Musical interlude

Sam Roberts Band - Let It In

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Since the Cons don't seem to have much else in their quiver at the moment, I'm sure they'll keep trying to pretend that it's monstrous of Thomas Mulcair to suggest that all industries (including those in Alberta) pay the cost of their real environmental impact. But the sales pitch isn't getting any easier when the people who meet Mulcair without a partisan agenda react like this:
(L)ocal leaders and businesses have been more measured in replying to Mr. Mulcair than rival politicians, and avoided any inflammatory language after Thursday's visit.

“In my opinion, it was a productive discussion. We outlined some of the challenges we face and discussed Suncor’s approach to responsibly develop this resource in a manner that also respects communities and stakeholders,” Suncor said in an e-mail statement attributed to Mark Little, its executive vice-president of oil sands.
Melissa Blake, mayor of the local Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, spent half an hour with Mr. Mulcair at her Fort McMurray office Thursday morning.
They agreed on the need for environmental oversight in the region. “Nobody in the province is disagreeing with that,” Ms. Blake told The Globe and Mail afterward.
- Meanwhile, if there is common recognition of the need for oil-sands development to be environmentally responsible, the news of mercury contamination in the area surely signals that the Cons are failing utterly in that goal.

- And the Cons' efforts to build an enemies list elsewhere are receiving due criticism as well - with Randy Hoback's McCarthyism rightly getting highlighted as an example.

- Having hinted at the idea myself I'm glad to see the Canadian Medical Association calling for policies to be assessed for their effects on health.

- And finally, it shouldn't come as much shock that more onerous IP legislation is all about boosting corporate profits rather than actually generating innovation. But in case we needed confirmation, Eduardo Porter provides it.

On central questions

A few notes on the Calgary Centre by-election we'll see in the relatively near future as a result of Lee Richardson's departure from Ottawa...

First, it would of course be a major shock to see any party other than the Cons marshal a win in Calgary. It's been over 40 years since a party without a conservative label won a seat in the city - and while the usual low turnout in a by-election might increase the range of possible outcomes, it doesn't figure to make up for a 40-point gap all at once.

But the race for an anticipated second place (if not an upset victory) still promises to be an important one.

As I've pointed out, Calgary was one of only two major urban areas where the Libs managed to run ahead of the NDP in 2011. But the gap was a fairly small one - and the margin between second and third in Calgary Centre was only three points despite the Libs making the seat a main Calgary target.

What's more, that was at a time when the national polling gap between the NDP and the Libs was 12 points rather than the current 15. So the starting point for the by-election may be something close to a dead heat in support. And that could turn the by-election into a litmus test as to which party's overall message resonates best in the most favourable possible Calgary terrain - not to mention an opportunity for the NDP to cement its status as the clear alternative to the Cons across the country.

Further complicating matters, the Greens ran a respectable campaign in 2008 to fall just short of second place (only to drop off in 2011 as the party focused on its single-seat strategy). Which surely creates some potential upside for them in putting up as much of a fight as they can - but also means their possible Etobicoke Centre option of staying on the sidelines doesn't look to be on the table.

Of course, there's also an obvious question as to which parties will have spare resources to use in a riding where there's an extremely limited prospect of getting elected. But beyond the value of organizing generally, each party has reason to view the by-election as a crucial signal as to who can challenge the Cons on their own turf - and the outcome might thus be more significant than we'd normally expect from an early-term by-election.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Thomas Walkom makes the point that the hysterical response from Brad Wall and others can't mask the fact that Thomas Mulcair is right in his analysis of the effect of a high, resource-driven dollar:
Mulcair’s solution is hardly radical. He argues that the petroleum industry currently does not have to cover the full environmental cost of extracting heavy oil. If it were forced to cover these costs, he says, oilsands development would slow and the dollar would come down.
An expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada came to much the same conclusion in December, 2010. It pooh-poohed those who describe the tar sands in apocalyptic terms. But it did find that the environmental costs of oilsands development were not being taken into account.
Incidentally, this is much the same critique that former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed made when he urged oilsands developers to move more slowly.
The western premiers may attack Mulcair. But they know he’s right.
- Meanwhile, Eric Beauchesne rightly notes that for all the economic bluster from the Cons and their corporate allies, the Harper government is doing far more damage to Canada's economy through gratuitous austerity than it can possibly claim to avoid through its attacks on labour.

- Jason proposes one way to make the social determinants of health: by creating a ministry responsible for them so as to avoid claims that it isn't anybody's job to consider them. But I'd think rather than a separate ministry, the better path might be to filter all policy choices (regardless of the department responsible) through an analysis of their effect on the social determinants of health.

- Finally, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's discussion of head vs. heart in politics (and associated conclusion that we need a "slow politics" to counteract the right-wing instant attack machine) is well worth a read.

New column day

Here, on the importance of public libraries - and why the powers that be may be entirely happy to tear them down through a contrived war against their workers.

For more on the RPL's current contract dispute, see Check Us Out.

Toxic Sludge is Good Enough for You

I don't actually doubt Joe Oliver's sincerity in claiming that as far as he's concerned, people will soon be able to drink from tar-sands tailing ponds.

But I do suspect that mostly has to do with the Cons' pathetic idea of water safety, rather than any reasonable belief that Canadians are eager to take a big gulp of this:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On trade-offs

Much of the recent discussion as to how to develop a strong and sustainable Canadian economy has included absolutely no challenge to the theory that natural resource development is somehow a driver of increased jobs. So let's take a closer look at the relative economic contributions of the natural resource sector which the Cons are so determined to prioritize above all others, and the manufacturing sector that's suffering as a result.

Here are Statistics Canada's total job numbers by industry for 2011 - which lump together "Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas" into a single unit employing a grand total of 337,200 people. And even oil industry spinmeisters say the great promise arising from a free-for-all in unfettered oil sands growth is "tens of thousands" of jobs over the next couple of decades, signalling that there's no great jobs boom to be had by placing further emphasis on the sector.

By way of comparison, Statistics Canada shows that manufacturers provided 1,760,200 jobs across Canada - five times the amount provided by the entire resource sector. And there are plenty of those that stand to be lost to high resource prices: in fact the study so often cited as showing merely a "mild" case of Dutch Disease so far also points to a loss of 200,000 jobs already, with plenty more to come as the Cons push even further toward emphasizing resource extraction.

And in case there's any doubt, the massive net loss of jobs caused by focusing on resource development at the expense of manufacturing won't be made up for by higher wages. Yes, resource-sector jobs pay somewhat more than their manufacturing-sector counterparts - but the difference is on a scale of substantially less than 2-to-1, in contrast to the 5-to-1 ratio in present-day jobs and seemingly similar scale of job effects as our dollar's value is further influenced by resource extraction.

So the Cons' emphasis on resource extraction is just another aspect of their consistent goal of making sure that Canadian workers see as little benefit as possible from our country's economic activity. And citizens from all regions of Canada should be able to see how damaging that is to everybody but the Cons' corporate benefactors.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Thomas Walkom criticizes the Cons' war on labour at the federal level - though John Ivison notes that the Cons' habit of interfering in every federal labour dispute looks to help the NDP all the more. And Pat Atkinson worries that the Sask Party is headed down a similarly destructive road in Saskatchewan.

- John Ibbitson recognizes why Thomas Mulcair's message on the environment and the economy has been well received by the Canadian public:
Mr. Mulcair accuses the Conservative government of failing to require oil and other natural resource companies to pay the full environmental cost of their operations, and would compel them to do so if the NDP came to power.
“It's about the enforcement of federal legislation,” he said. “Since the beginning, we've made it clear that we're very concerned that the federal government is not enforcing federal law.”
Mr. Mulcair's message is powerful, first and foremost because he believes it. He was saying it months ago, long before he won the leadership. Cynics forget the impact that a principled argument, passionately held, can have.
The NDP leader offers opponents of Stephen Harper a standard around which to rally. This is the first time that progressive forces have been able to put forward a leader and a message that offer such a compelling alternative to the Prime Minister and his conservative orthodoxy.
- And Tim Harper suggests that the Cons and their spokesflacks only look silly in demanding that the leader of the opposition stop doing his job:
Mulcair is a federal leader and, as such, he has the right — indeed, the obligation — to question federal environmental policies.
No matter how many times he is demonized from the West or across the aisle in the House of Commons, he is raising questions that call for mature debate, not comic book counterattacks from Conservatives who want to paint the nation in white hats and black hats.
The federal environmental record of this government is appalling; its own environmental commissioner said as much earlier this month.
“What I say with regard to sustainable development applies as much in New Brunswick as it does in British Columbia,’’ Mulcair said this week. “It’s a vision to include economic, social and environmental aspects every time the government takes a decision.’’
- But then, it may be inevitable that the Cons are out of touch with much of the country based on their divide-and-scare approach - which Frances Russell points out in her latest.

- Finally, David Climenhaga highlights tonight's Casserole Night in Canada as a chance for citizens to show they're not willing to be cut out of our political processes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Synced cats.

Parliament in Review - May 4, 2012

Friday, May 4 saw a relatively short day of debate on the omnibus budget bill - but with a few twists on the discussion seen to date.

The Big Issue

Claude Gravelle noted that the range of major changes in C-38 goes far beyond the environment alone.
Ted Hsu wondered why the Cons slashed the home retrofit tax credit, then noted that the budget included the elimination of capital investment in research and development; Costas Menegakis responded to the latter point by cheerleading for general corporate tax slashing. Laurin Liu pointed out a poll in her riding suggesting that the EI system already fails unemployed workers - making it all the more appalling that the Cons are working on making it less accessible. Anne-Marie Day described the Cons' economic philosophy as being "to lower both salaries and purchasing power". Mathieu Ravignat highlighted how the bill serves to make the federal government less accountable. And Romeo Saganash pointed out the appalling efforts of Taseko Mines to cut First Nations out of project assessment processes, while wondering why the Cons would be so eager to facilitate that type of corporate-dictated change.

False Assumptions

In the previous day's question period, the Cons tried to evade accountability for their frivolous use of taxpayer money on limos and unused five-star hotel rooms with a "they do it too!" attack. Just one problem: Paul Dewar and Ravignat came prepared with facts in response, with Dewar noting thatManitoba has a single assistant whose duties include driving while Ravignat pointed out that Darrell Dexter's Nova Scotia government actually did away with the driver service previously enjoyed by Cons and Libs alike.

Needless to say, we shouldn't expect the Cons to apologize anytime soon for their utterly baseless smears. But just in case there was any doubt that reality is not a friend to the Cons...

In Brief

Rosane Dore Lefebvre slammed the Cons' laxity on crime committed for their own purposes or by their media friends. David Christopherson noted in the wake of the news that the Cons' F-35 cost projections had been exposed as lies that their benefit estimates now looked to be similarly dubious. Romeo Saganash wondered why on earth the Cons would be cutting funding to fight tuberculosis. In a sure sign of the NDP's lack of interest in Alberta, Nathan Cullen questioned whether the federal government would put some resources into twinning Highway 63 around Fort McMurray in light of recent deaths. Jean-Francois Fortin contrasted the Cons' austerity on actual public services against their lavish spending on pointless symbolism. And Rejean Genest closed debate on his rental housing motion.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Harald Bauder comments on the Cons' continued efforts to provoke a race to the bottom when it comes to wages:
(B)oth the planned EI reforms and the temporary foreign workers program are part of a wider strategy of lowering the bar on minimal working conditions. Both policies seek to add a segment to the bottom of the labour market, below normal wage and labour standards.
In fact, the foreign workers program has been very effective in establishing wage and labour standards below those of what Canadians would accept. This program has established a double standard, according to which foreign workers are more vulnerable and exploitable than Canadian workers.
Now Finley asks Canadians to lower their standards to the same level. Canadians who are unwilling to accept the same working conditions kept artificially low by the foreign workers program will lose their EI entitlements.
If the Conservative strategy is successful, then McDonald’s and other employers would gain access to a low-wage and docile workforce of Canadians who are just as vulnerable and exploitable as foreign workers are today.
- But Lawrence Martin notes that even as the Cons push as far as they can in the opposite direction, public opinion is firmly on the side of combating growing inequality and personal insecurity:
Until now, the blowback against the undoing of the old Canadian way has been held in check by several factors, among them Stephen Harper’s skill at not appearing radical in what he is doing, the ascendancy of Western conservatism, the weakness of the Liberal party and the power of the Harper team to frighten and intimidate critics.
But there are signs of change. The New Democrats, leading the Conservatives in a poll released this month, have reached historic highs. The issue of inequality is now ranked as the most pressing concern of Canadians. It being an issue that is a hallmark of a regressive society, it could spur a progressive revival.
- Bea Vongdouangchanh reports on the growing list of former PC ministers reacting with due alarm at the Harper Cons' attacks on Canada's fisheries.

- And finally, Brian Topp wonders what would happen if we applied the anti-government crowd's assessment criteria for public investments to the types of corporate structures that have so regularly led to economic ruin.

On shadow governments

Plenty of others are theorizing that it's time for some radical action in response to the Cons' continued contempt for democratic accountability. But I'll take a few minutes to work through some of the considerations which should be kept in mind in deciding where to go from here.

To start with, it's worth keeping in mind that there are two different sources of power and influence in Ottawa which any party should be seeking to use to the greatest possible effect: the Parliamentary institutions which the Cons are shutting down, and the country's largest political media apparatus. And it's rather a plus to work with the latter even while protesting what happens within the former.

That makes Dr. Dawg's "no such thing as a secret hearing" strategy seem fairly appealing, as it neatly combines protest against the Cons' overreach with ready interaction with the media. But that looks to be only a first step, since it will almost surely be met by a Con refusal to hold official meetings of any significance whatsoever.

At that point, there's a glaring need to to more than just throw up our hands and say there's nothing we can do. Fortunately, though, both opposition parties seem to be headed in the right direction as to what comes next: if the Cons are determined to shut down Parliament as a source of meaningful debate and discussion, then the response needs to be to provide alternative means of reaching that same end.

In some cases, that means fanning out across the country to reach people who aren't watching Ottawa closely. In others, it means creating channels that come as close as possible to simulating Parliamentary structures and investigative procedures to remind people what we're missing when an authoritarian prime minister decides that accountability is inconvenient. But both can be seen as part of a common theme: if the Cons are determined to shut down all meaningful forms of consultation with the Canadians affected by federal decisions, then the opposition will take up the job.

The above isn't to say the opposition parties can't find some ways to make a difference at the margins in Parliament even under the Cons' strictures. But in order to make sure the Cons can't turn their own distaste for democracy into a "government doesn't work" narrative that only helps their ultimate cause, we'll need to be the ones to make sure voters see it's possible to do better. And any protest against the Cons' demolition of meaningful consultation needs to include some thought as to what we can and should build instead.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- T.C. Norris points out that one of the most important developing themes in economic research is the recognition that reductions in employment insurance benefits only force job-seekers into damaging situations rather than creating economic benefits. But as we all know, mere facts won't stop the Cons from turning Canada into a case in point.

- Peter Julian suggests that the NDP's "polluter pay" theme is both right in substance and appealing to the Canadian public. And Forum's latest poll surely fits that thesis - though its numbers on inequality are even more important than its party findings:
The Forum Poll for the National Post also suggests a wide majority of Canadians – more than three-quarters – think Canada suffers from an income gap, where the rich are getting too rich and the poor are getting too poor.
Regionally, Albertans were the least likely to worry about an income gap (63% did), compared with 89% in Atlantic Canada, 80% in British Columbia, 78% in Ontario, 77% in the Prairies and 76% in Quebec.
- Sixth Estate ties the Cons' federal funding for frozen pizza in with the lobbying of a longtime party crony.

- And finally, Keith Gerein reports on the predictable results of the Saskatchewan Party's determination that it doesn't want a film industry around - as Alberta is set to recruit the creative talent that's been exiled from Saskatchewan.

Parliament in Review: May 3, 2012

Thursday, May 3 saw yet another debate over the Cons' use of time allocation - this time respecting the omnibus budget bill which features so many radical changes that demand serious discussion. And not surprisingly, the opposition parties raised plenty of entirely valid concerns, while the Cons obfuscated and ran out the clock.

The Big Issue

The Cons' talking-point-dispenser for the day was Ted Menzies. And Menzies highlighted the absurdity of the Cons' constant deflection tactics by answering the simple question of what path the bill would follow with the answer that he didn't bear any responsibility for the choice.

Meanwhile, Nathan Cullen properly reminded the Cons of their disgust toward omnibus legislation back when they were on the opposite side of the House. Denis Blanchette questioned how stifling debate would do anything to help economic growth. Andre Bellavance pointed out the fact that the bill is loaded with poison pills that should properly be removed, while Philip Toone noted the importance of allowing the MPs with expertise on each of the issues to properly scrutinize the legislation. Mike Sullivan noted that it would be difficult to thoroughly read - let alone debate - the 425-page monstrosity in the time allocated for discussion. And Brian Masse noted that the OECD's best practices include three months' notice before the new fiscal year begins - not a belated six-week sprint to ram through budget legislation and scores of unrelated measures through a single bill before anybody outside the government can fully assess the consequences.

Once debate started on the bill itself, Linda Duncan pointed out that some of the Cons' environmental gutting might breach international commitments not to downgrade environmental laws, while Kirsty Duncan wondered whether the Cons would report on greenhouse gas emissions at all after eliminating both the leading national research body and any responsibility under the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. Dennis Bevington made several noteworthy contributions, contrasting the wealthy MPs who would benefit disproportionately from the Cons' inequality-boosting policies against the vast majority of his constituents who stand to lose out from attacks on social programs, questioning how the Cons can take credit for adding park space while cutting the staff available to maintain Canada's national parks, and speaking to the frustration of the Northwest Territories who were denied a request to exercise greater power over their own budget. Randall Garrison highlighted the absurdity of the omnibus bill by noting that the most controversial provisions which take up upwards of a third of the legislation didn't even rate a mention in Eve Adams' speech. Ted Hsu wondered whether the Cons were capable of recognizing that tax slashing can't solve social concerns like a lack of access to eduction - with Wai Young offering an emphatic "no" in response. Irwin Cotler noted that the Cons aren't even willing to countenance non-controversial amendments to other legislation, making it a virtual certainty that serious problems with a complex omnibus bill will be ignored. Duncan highlighted the fact that Canada's environmental performance under the Cons has been among the worst in the world even before the latest round of cuts and legislative attacks. Romeo Saganash asked what the Cons meant by a willingness to "consult" with First Nations, with Kerry-Lynne Findlay limiting that involvement to tolerating "input" on "development programs". And Elizabeth May delved into some of the details of the bill which don't match the Cons' rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Brian Jean introduced a rather interesting strategy on behalf of his oil industry sponsors, trying to play oil magnates against one another by claiming that his party's real concern about environmental funding is that some might come from oil producers based elsewhere. But Malcolm Allen met that conspiracy theory with due mockery, pointing out that the corporations pointed to by Jean are in fact major tar-sands investors.

Out of Order

Ralph Goodale questioned whether the Cons had used their politically-controlled CIMS database for government purposes. Pierre Poilievre's response that the question was out of order might have had some merit - if he hadn't then made clear exactly how committed he is to recognizing the proper role of government and opposition by turning around and trying to ask Goodale a question about Frank Valeriote's campaign.

In Brief

Marc Garneau introduced a bill to establish a federal Commissioner for Children and Young Persons. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe commemorated World Press Freedom Day, while Andrew Cash wondered whether such a thing still applies in Canada given the Cons' decision to make cronyism an essential part of the job description of the CBC's board chair. Jack Harris questioned the Cons about their failure to provide mental health support for members of the Canadian Forces. Stephane Dion and Yvon Godin asked the Cons to clarify some thoroughly conflicting answers to the NDP's bill on bilingual officers of Parliament. Hoang Mai suggested that the Cons crack down on actual tax fraud, rather than using the CRA for a witch hunt against environmental groups. Francis Scarpaleggia's question about food inspection was met with Pierre Lemieux's answer that Canadians "should be able to trust labels" - which is certainly true as an ideal standard, but couldn't be much further from reflecting the Cons' reality. Ruth Ellen Brosseau, Laurin Liu, Christine Moore, Anne-Marie Day and Mylene Freeman all spoke in favour of Alexandre Boulerice's bill to extend parental benefits into the federal sector. And in adjournment questions Dan Harris asked about a national transit plan, while Jonathan Genest-Jourdain questioned attempted funding cuts to First Nations education.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Guest Post: On Standards of Fairness

Dan Tan offers this assessment of the CP's reporting on recent polls about Thomas Mulcair's economic comments:
Harris-Decima recently asked a group of Canadians what they thought about Thomas Mulcair's "dutch disease" warnings.

A majority of Canadians responded that they had never "heard about Mulcair's comments".

Of the minority who had heard of Mulcair's comments, most were from "parts of the country most involved in the oilsands" (read: Alberta).

So naturally, the Canadian Press reached these firm conclusions:
  • The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests slightly more Canadians disagree than agree with Mulcair
  • Most people don't share Mulcair's sentiments in Ontario, the country's manufacturing heartland
  • No region seems particularly convinced that oilsands development has been hurting exports of other sectors of Canada's economy
  • Most Green party supporters also disagree with Mulcair
In case the absurdity is lost on anyone, these selected Canadians were being asked to agree/disagree with an argument most had never heard before. More importantly, they were judging a statement for which they lacked any supporting evidence or analysis.

We should not question the motives of Harris-Decima. The polling firm merely recorded the reaction uninformed Canadians had to an unevidenced statement.

However, everyone should question the manner in which Canadian Press reported these findings.

Despite knowing that a majority of Canadians are ill-informed about Thomas Mulcair's position, the Canadian Press chose to limit Mulcair's argument to brief one-liners & conclusions. Absolutely no supporting analysis or evidence was provided in support of his views.

By contrast, the Canadian Press had no trouble presenting supporting analysis & evidence on behalf of the Conservative position. Before parroting the conclusions of various Conservative politicians, readers were offered an entire paragraph of supporting analysis by the Canadian Energy Research Institute:
A study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute says Ontario enjoys the lion's share of oilsands benefits outside Alberta. The Calgary-based think-tank has suggested the oilsands will create billions of dollars in economic spinoffs in Ontario and tens of thousands of jobs over the next quarter century.
The Canadian Press never disclosed the sources of funding for the "Canadian Energy Research Institute". According to the organization's own website, they are funded by "the Federal and Provincial levels" and "a broad cross-section of private sector energy interests".

So the one piece of analysis included by the Canadian Press just happens to be funded by the very Conservative-allied politicians & industry leaders opposed to Thomas Mulcair's position.

Of course, the Canadian Press had access to government-funded research which supported Thomas Mulcair's position. The organization simply chose to ignore it. Just last week, on a Friday evening before a long-weekend holiday, the organization reported:

  • The Harper government has funded research that argues Canada's economy suffers from so-called Dutch Disease, an economic theory the prime minister and other senior officials ridiculed when raised recently by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair..
  • The paper, "Does the Canadian Economy Suffer from Dutch Disease?," concludes that a third or more of job losses in Canada's manufacturing sector can be attributed to resource-driven currency appreciation.
The Canadian Press should observe the minimum standards of fairness when reporting on Thomas Mulcair, the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
 Update: T.C. Norris has more.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Bruce Johnstone reminds us that much of Stephen Harper's low-wage, anti-worker agenda has been rather poorly hidden for a long time:
Everything from growing trees for farmers to processing immigration applications to inspecting meat to examining evidence in criminal investigations, all of the activities being cut are providing an important, even critical, service to the public. How does that increase efficiency, reduce redundancy or improve service?
The short answer is: it doesn't. That's not even the point.
The point is Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canadians off the federal feed bag. Whether its changing the rules for Employment Insurance, raising the age of Old Age Security payments to 67 from 65, or getting out of the business of selling wheat and barley or growing trees for western farmers, the PM's policy purpose is the same: to restructure and permanently reduce, not only the size, but the role of government in our society.
Harper once told a U.S. think-tank: "You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it.''
Don't say you weren't warned.
- Meanwhile, Mike de Souza notes that for all the Cons' attempts to distinguish between greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution, they're now doing everything in their power to eliminate public-sector tracking and regulation of both.

- Elizabeth Thompson reports on the appalling lack of follow-up on hidden foreign bank accounts shielding millions of dollars of high-wealth money from the CRA. But it's well worth looking past the single example of LGT Bank at the myriad of other tax-evasion conduits which have channelled money out of Canada for the sole benefit of those who already have the most.

- Finally, Sixth Estate neatly documents the stunning effects of a B.C. bill intended to prevent environmental groups from pointing out examples of preventable disease - which if the legislation were enforced as written could go so far as to outlaw telephone books.

Parliament in Review: May 2, 2012

A combination of the one-year anniversary of Canada's 2011 federal election and a relatively short day in Parliament left little room for a lot of debate on Wednesday, May 2. But the day did see some serious questions raised about the Cons' rush to pass their budget without debate.

The Big Issue

Before debate actually started on Bill C-38, Scott Brison pointed out that a couple of different drafts of the bill had been circulated - making it unclear whether the bill introduced in Parliament was even the same one provided to the opposition parties. Nathan Cullen echoed that concern, only to be met with repeated declarations of "just trust us!" from a government that's gone out of its way to make sure nobody paying the slightest bit of attention feels safe taking its word for anything. And so it took confirmation from the office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel to clarify just what was being debated in the first place.

Of course, it's probably fair to say that few MPs were going to be reading the bill as they went in order to debate it. But that only highlights the fact that the omnibus bill is designed to cram more content into a single piece of legislation than can possibly be scrutinized properly. Which made it particularly galling that before the end of the first shortened day of discussion about a bill whose contents hadn't even been confirmed, Peter Van Loan moved to close down debate.

Meanwhile, Peggy Nash questioned why massive environmental deregulation was being pushed through in a budget bill, then put that concern in context alongside the Cons' general distaste for accountability and debate. Brison pointed out the fact that Joe Oliver's selection as the Cons' lead speaker just highlighted how clear it was that the bill wasn't really budget legislation, and slammed the Cons' laughable insistence that handing money to the corporate sector will somehow serve to alleviate inequality. And Oliver kept up the we-know-best line by confirming that the Cons want to give Peter Kent the sole authority to determine what review will be carried out for any project.

In Brief

Alexandre Boulerice criticized the Cons' "aristocracy" for keeping limo drivers on standby up to 360 days a year while calling for everybody else to put up with austerity. Niki Ashton pointed out that the Cons' budget will do direct damage to Canadian women. Sadie Groguhe contrasted the treatment of Code Pink activists who were refused entry into Canada against the open arms extended toward Conrad Black. Robert Chisholm invoked the words of former Conservative fisheries minister Tom Siddon to question the gutting of fisheries regulation, while Fin Donnelly noted that the Cons' omnibus attack on fisheries legislation is being rammed through Parliament just months before we receive a key report on B.C.'s wild salmon fishery. Peter Julian summed up the NDP's dissent from the Cons' tar-sands boosterism through the Standing Committee on Natural Resources. And in adjournment proceedings Carolyn Bennett asked the Cons to explain their characterization of First Nations as "adversaries" in contrast to their "allies" in the oil industry (with little success), while Carol Hughes challenged the Cons' planned cuts to OAS.