Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Bruce Johnstone and the Star-Phoenix editorial board both join the voices decrying the Cons' decision to throw parliamentary democracy under their omnibus budget bill. And Gerald Caplan points out the Harper Cons' more general tendency to silence dissenting views:
(T)here’s little doubt the government was deliberately crippling many of Canada’s best and brightest, including many groups who upheld the country’s good reputation abroad that the Harper government was cavalierly undermining. In any event, the groups weren’t targeted because of their actual achievements, which were often exemplary.

Something entirely different was going on here. In the words of Amnesty International Canada’s Alex Neve, this was part of the government’s systematic “campaign against advocacy and dissent,” a campaign that has only deepened since last year’s majority election. And the message Stephen Harper was sending home from Europe was that there’s more to come. Your government is after dissidents, folks.
There is a fundamental issue of democracy here. There should be no illusions about the almost unlimited power of a majority government in Canada. Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, has nothing like the unilateral power of Stephen Harper. It may have taken a little longer for the Prime Minister to pass his omnibus “budget” than he liked, but pass it will, as will everything else he wants to do. None of the defunded organizations will get their money back. None of the silenced watchdogs will get their voices back. Environmental groups will soon feel the full wrath of this petrol-fixated government.
- In keeping with this week's theme of recognizing the consequences of reckless resource development, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on the damage a poorly-regulated oil sector is inflicting on North Dakota:
According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.
- It's certainly interesting to see a few leading proponents of sabermetrics speaking out about how the philosophy can be applied to politics. But the most important point to be made is likely that there's more at stake in political strategy than one-time wins and losses:
James likened the idea of trying to win an election through get-out-the-vote drives as "analogous to trying to win a pennant race by doing better in the close games." A team that won 75 games and lost 87 over the course of a season could get to 90 wins if they changed their win-loss record in one-run games from 26-29 to 41-14.

"It can happen," James said. "But it's a lousy strategy."

"When people disagree with you, what you ultimately have to do is persuade people to agree with you -- period," he added. "You can't ultimately dodge defeat by winning close elections."
- Finally, pogge notes that the Cons' strategy of devolving power away from Parliament toward ministers' office hasn't given them quite as much room to govern without accountability as they seem to have hoped. And Dean Del Mastro, Con ethics spokesperson, is in yet more trouble.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Musical interlude

Kirsty Hawkshaw - Reasons to Forgive (The Blizzard Remix)

Friday Evening Links

This and that to end your week.

- Jeffrey Simpson discusses how the Cons have diminished Canada's place on the world stage:
For those who care about Canada's international reputation and Canada's ability to influence others in the pursuit of Canada's self-interest, these are discouraging days.

Everywhere, there is penny-pinching that makes no sense, a hectoring tone not appreciated by others, and a misunderstanding about how international affairs really work. For a government that has proclaimed Canada is “back” on the international stage, what is actually happening would be funny were it not serious.
Canada has retreated into an anglospheric worldview coupled with a focus on trade deals, but lacking any sense of a wider conception of international affairs.

Hectoring and lecturing undoubtedly appeals to the Conservative Party's core voters. It does not impress other governments, including friendly ones.
- Andrew Coyne does well in highlighting the importance of the opposition's stand against the Cons' abuses of democracy. But his turn as a self-proclaimed judge of political seriousness doesn't much help matters when it comes to trying to encourage people to notice what's gone wrong.

- Alice sorts out how votes shifted between the 2008 and 2011 federal elections. And while it may not be the largest block of voters moving, I'd think it's worth highlighting this rather remarkable factoid:
The Green Party held less of its own 2008 vote in 2011 (30%) than defected from them to the NDP (33%).
- Finally, Paul Dechene points out that Regina's latest evidence of painfully low housing availability is nothing new at all - and that in fact the glaring lack of rental accommodations has been festering for upwards of three years without a hint of action from the city or province.

Cheap and dirty

Yesterday, I columnized about what seemed to be fairly unobjectionable purposes of environmental assessments:
The most recent spill into the Red Deer River paired a high-volume pipeline with a pristine area where a tributary feeds into multiple sources of drinking water. And in a proper assessment process, that combination would be identified as creating a high level of risk - requiring either mitigation in terms of where the pipeline is placed, extra precautions if no other alternative is available, or a serious re-evaluation as to whether the pipeline can safely be built in the first place.
Today, Peter O'Neil and Mike de Souza confirm that it's that type of balance that the Cons are determined to eliminate:
Federal fisheries officials were having "troubling" disagreements with Enbridge Inc. over the company's interpretation of its responsibility to protect fish habitat along the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline route before the company submitted its project proposal in 2010, according to internal documents.
Enbridge was concluding some of the crossings, over an estimated 1,000 waterways, were low risk when fisheries biologists felt the same were medium or high risk to fish and fish habitat, according to emails obtained through the Access to Information Act.
"There is not much movement (by Enbridge) for avoidance of sensitive areas," said one biologist at a February, 2010 meeting, according to a record of that gathering of four officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
"Sometimes the proponent is pushing for the cheapest option," said another meeting participant in his reply.
(F)rom January 1 to the tabling of recent Fisheries Act amendments company lobbyists met with a little more than100 government and opposition MPs, cabinet ministers and senior political and government officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright. 
One of the items on the company's wish-list, according to the federal lobbyist registry, was the desire for "improved efficiencies in the government secondary permitting processes for Department of Fisheries and Oceans permits . . . for pipeline construction."
So the entire purpose for gutting Canada's environmental legislation is to allow the oil industry to slap up the cheapest pipelines possible, with no regard for the environmental destruction which will predictably result.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday Evening Links

Assorted content to end your day.

- Thomas Walkom highlights why we should be nothing but dubious about the austerians' call to slash public supports:
The Harper Conservatives are scaling back spending on national parks to save about $20 million. But at the same time they are planning to spend $25 billion on 65 new fighter jets.
My guess is that most Canadians would make do with one less jet in order to fund parks properly. But in this, as in so many decisions, the voters — once they have elected a majority government — get no choice.
In Europe, restraint means disaster. Spanish government restraint has put about 24 per cent of the country’s labour force out of work. Even this week’s decision by other European nations to bail out Spanish banks won’t solve that problem.
Indeed, by putting pressure on Madrid to accelerate its restraint measures, the bailout may make matters worse.
- Apparently Dean Del Mastro's campaign misdeeds include submitting a false invoice to Elections Canada - making for a particularly problematic development for the Cons' point spokesflack on ethics and election fraud.

- But if only everybody would just accept their orders to stop pointing out what the Cons do wrong, such trifles wouldn't create the slightest problem.

- Finally, Don Braid floats the theory that the Calgary Centre by-election may be far more competitive than most of us tend to think, particularly if the Cons nominate a particularly extreme reactionary as their candidate.

Our budget, our voice

Aaron and Kady are both chronicling the omnibus budget bill votes as they happen. But lest there be any doubt, there are still plenty of ways to speak out even while the House of Commons is voting - and indeed, now is a great time to highlight the Cons' cultish devotion to protecting every comma approved by the PMO rather than considering what we want in #ourbudget.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The OECD is the latest independent observer to confirm Thomas Mulcair's point that dutch disease is a real problem for Canadian manufacturing. And Marc Lee calls for a green industrial revolution as a better path toward economic development and environmental responsibility than the Cons' focus on resource extraction alone.

- Andrew Coyne sees the ongoing opposition resistance to the Cons' omnibus anti-environment bill as a battle for the very soul of democracy:
This is how it happens. This is how it has happened: the more powers government acquires at the expense of Parliament, the harder it is for Parliament to resist still further encroachments, or even to recall why it might. And if somebody doesn't stop it, somewhere, this is how it will continue.
So this is just a start. As gratifying as it is to find, notwithstanding an earlier column, that Parliament still has some fight in it, it can't end here. The opposition must be prepared to bloody the government's nose again, and again, and go on doing so, for as long as these abuses continue. It must be prepared to do so, what is more, in the face of public indifference or even hostility. It cannot count on appealing to public sentiment. It has to teach the public to care. It has to teach them why it matters.
It's an oddly appropriate way to protest: by voting, repeatedly, futilely, endlessly. It has become a somewhat degrading ritual — could there be a better symbol of how ruthlessly all parties, not just the Conservatives, whip nearly every vote than the sight of MPs in obedient little rows, standing up and sitting down when they are told? But it can mean something real again.
- I haven't posted yet about Dean Del Mastro's personal election financing scandal, largely because it seems like a relative trifle in comparison to the electoral fraud carried out across the country. But Saskboy points out there may be a connection between the pollster which received $21,000 in unexplained cheques and the Cons' wider efforts to use public resources for partisan gain.

- Finally, Jennifer Britton makes the case for Saskatchewan to actually build on its strength in the Crown sector, rather than settling for having our Crowns left to wither or used as ATMs for private-sector operators. And Linda Cuell shares many of my concerns with the Sask Party's plans to attack the province's workers yet again. [Edit: fixed link.]

New column day

Here, on what we should learn from the recent spate of Alberta oil spills.

For further reading...
- Stephen Hume finds that Alberta's pipelines have spilled roughly 28 million litres of oil in thousands of leaks and ruptures just since 2006, and puts the results in perspective:
(C)onsider the campaign by the B.C. Used Oil Management Association to educate citizens here regarding the environmental threat posed by small quantities of oil.
A single litre of spilled oil, the campaign points out, can contaminate a million litres of groundwater.
So, consider the impact of 28 million litres of spilled oil on water resources - at a time when your Vancouver Sun's front page headline reports that conservation of water is becoming crucial. Multiply 28 million litres of oil by a million. I get 28 trillion litres of contaminated water.
- Coverage of the three most recent spills can be found here, here and here among other sources. Meanwhile, Mike de Souza reports on the latest news about mercury contamination, while Dave Dormer highlights the damage done to Alberta ranches.
- And Graham Thomson comments that even Alberta and its oil sector have plenty to lose if they keep on minimizing the significance of what are obviously major spills.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Michael Harris lists ten things the Harper Cons want Canadians to forget before the 2015 election. But it's worth keeping in mind that their expectations for mind-wiping are surely shaped by their own willingness to completely forget what they were repeating incessantly before a change in talking points: just look how quickly they switched from pointing to a supposed plan to respond to the Auditor General's criticism of the F-35 procurement process to claiming nobody could possibly have taken seriously the promise they'd make numbers public.

- But as Nathan Cullen noted in his point of privilege related to the omnibus budget bill, there isn't much apparent reason for the Cons' efforts to withhold any inconvenient facts about the budget until after it passes into law other than gratuitous secrecy and contempt for democracy.

- Frances Russell points out how the Cons have continued to go out of their way to exacerbate inequality even in the face of growing research on its harmful effects. And Ed Broadbent discusses how radical the Cons' attacks on public services are compared to Canadians' expectations.

- Pat Atkinson comments on how both the Harper and Wall governments utterly miss the point when it comes to the value of arts and culture.

- Finally, Alice offers up plenty of lessons which the Libs should be able to draw from the NDP's leadership campaign.

[Edit: corrected nature of Cullen's point.]

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Slumbering cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Plenty of commentators are rightly speaking out against the Cons' anti-democratic omnibus bill, including Tim Harper and the Star-Phoenix and Vancouver Sun editorial boards. And even John Ivison can't muster much more than "but the Libs did it too!" in defence of the Harper government's abuses.

- Rachel Mendleson reports on new research confirming the connection between inequality and worse health outcomes.

- Nobody should be particularly surprised that the Cons listed PR as one of the main reasons to suppress dissent when holding G8 and G20 meetings. But is "embarrassment" the right word to describe a government that's been training for ages to be incapable of shame or self-awareness?

- Finally, Hassan Arif nicely describes the need for long-term thinking that takes environmental concerns into account (rather than the Cons' "drill baby drill" level of economic planning):

Properly accounting for the ecological side of the equation can bring great monetary and quality of life benefits. An example that is relevant, even though not directly related to the tar sands, is the Greenbelt in Ontario where urban and suburban development is restricted in the greenbelt zone around Greater Toronto and the urbanized "Golden Horseshoe" along the western shores of Lake Ontario.
The purpose of this greenbelt is to protect forests, natural areas, and farm land from suburban sprawl. A report by the David Suzuki Foundation has estimated the monetary benefits of this green belt as being at $1-billion per year. In particular, watersheds protected by the greenbelt absorb and filter pollutants from waterways and drinking water sources as well as control the flow of water during storms.
Additionally, in curbing sprawl, the greenbelt promotes more sustainable urban development where there is less strain on infrastructure such as hydro and transportation where costs can become prohibitive with more spread out developments.
There needs to be a proper debate around economic development, and overall an approach to economic development that factors in ecological, public health, and quality of life aspects. However, this approach does not conform to the narrow and myopic world view of the Harper Conservatives. That they would not only ignore dissenting voices in this regard, but demonize and even suppress them, is especially worrying for our country as a whole.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Parliament in Review - May 9, 2012

Wednesday, May 9 saw the first Committee of the Whole discussion of the Cons' budget bill - with the opportunity for hours of direct questions about military spending giving rise to little more than even more tedious repetition of F-35s talking points in place of responses.

The Big Issue

Jack Harris opened the committee of the whole by asking a simple question as to which other planes had been considered aside from F-35s as specifically referenced in the Auditor General's report. And Julian Fantino set the tone for the discussion to come by refusing to offer even those basic facts in response to direct questions.

What followed was a continued recitation of F-35-related talking points in response to all kinds of different issues - ranging from the maintenance and operating costs of our current F-18s, to the source of any requirement for first strike capability. The NDP was able to get the Cons to admit that they were "aware" of a number for possible industrial contracts (though they immediately disclaimed any interest in discussing its accuracy), and (with some effort) to confirm the number of staff members assigned to a joint strike fighter office in Washington which had been producing costing reports since 2001. And perhaps unintentionally, Peter MacKay stuck his neck out more than we're used to seeing in volunteering that the only reason the Cons favour the F-35 is stealth capability.

Meanwhile, Matthew Kellway fleshed out some of the Auditor General's more scathing comments which the Cons effectively conceded to be accurate. But the Cons wouldn't even admit that their own F-35 photo op actually happened. Bob Rae then followed suit with a few choice passages from the Auditor General. And Christine Moore wondered whether the Cons were slashing the jobs of epidemiologists working largely on veterans' mental health, only to be told that Peter MacKay has no clue who (if anybody) might be cut.

In Brief

Fin Donnelly highlighted Food Banks Canada's challenge to parliamentarians to experience just a day of hunger, while Marie-Claude Morin invited MPs to join the international campaign to stop the use of rape as a weapon in war. Rodger Cuzner and Peter Stoffer commemorated the Westray mine disaster by calling for action to protect worker safety, while Scott Armstrong and Lisa Raitt made clear that the Cons have no interest in responding with anything more than platitudes. Megan Leslie criticized the Cons' short-sightedness when it comes to the environment, as well as their refusal to allow the environment commissioner to do his job by talking about contaminated sites. Peter Julian contrasted the Cons' own Code of Silence award for secrecy against the national transparency and good governance honours won by Tides Canada. Marc Garneau questioned cuts to the Canadian Space Agency, while Libby Davies followed up on the complete lack of funding to match the Cons' supposed interest in mental health. Ralph Goodale wondered whether Glencore's sketchy international operations would be taken into account as part of the Cons' assessment of the Viterra takeover. Donnelly and Yvon Godin spoke to a report from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, only to have the Cons who apparently had no problem with the report as written end the debate since the committee's call for responsible fishery practices had been trumped by the Cons' anti-environment budget. Rejean Genest's housing motion passed unanimously, while Patrick Brown's breast screening awareness bill won the support of everybody but the Bloc. Hedy Fry and Anne-Marie Day slammed the vindictiveness of the Cons' bill to deny EI benefits to incarcerated workers. And Rosane Dore Lefebvre raised questions about the conditions in immigration holding centres which the Cons are so eager to stuff with more immigrants, while Carol Hughes questioned why the Cons are cutting health services for First Nations rather than doing anything to address drug addiction as a public health issue.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Trish Hennessy reminds us that a system of taxes and social spending is ultimately the most valuable means of pooling our resources for everybody's benefit. And E.J. Dionne highlights the need for progressives to speak up for the principle of collective public action.

- Head Tale posts an interview with Ryan Meili, featuring this discussion of Saskatchewan's defining values:
Do you think there is such a thing as “Saskatchewan values”? If so, how would you define this?
Like any place, Saskatchewan has good and bad parts of its history. The finer parts, those that reflect the best side of our province, are when we have faced hardship through collective action. In many ways, this has defined our view of ourselves. And that’s something in which we rightfully take pride. I have seen similar actions, and self-concepts, in communities around the world, however, and so I don’t think this is a uniquely Sask phenomenon. I also see these values being challenged as during boom times we lose some sight of what it’s like to struggle and take on more of an “every man for himself” mentality. It would be dangerous to assume that because we have the history we do that our Sask values will resurface to combat this. Values and beliefs are like muscles. If they aren’t exercised and put into practice, they can atrophy.
- In analyzing the voting patterns of different age groups I'm not sure many people recognize the cumulative impact of political outreach over time - and conversely the difficulty in motivating younger citizens to vote for the first time if they haven't received much attention before. But Michael Lightstone reports that the NDP isn't wasting any time in reaching out to voters who will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2015:
Mulcair said federal New Democrats will hit Canada’s post-secondary campuses this fall, as well as schools where most pupils would be too young to vote if an election were held now.

 “I met a young man at an event in my riding (Friday) night who told me he was turning 15 in July. I said: ‘You know, you’re allowed to vote in the next federal election.’ He was all happy; he hadn’t thought about it.

“But believe me, we’re thinking about it,” Mulcair told delegates to the Nova Scotia NDP provincial convention at an area resort. “We’re going to be in the high schools as well. We’re going to be talking to them.”

Mulcair, 57, said his generation of politicians “has to take part of the blame” for voter apathy. Later, he told reporters that counteracting such lack of interest is no easy task.

“It’s a vexing problem,” Mulcair acknowledged. “Especially when you look at the statistics among young people. And when young people don’t vote, the right wing wins and democracy loses."
- Finally, Michael Geist worries that we're seeing the most extreme anti-consumer stance yet on the part of corporate media lobbyists.