Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your long weekend reading.

- Jim Stanford highlights how anti-labour "right to work" policy is spreading from the U.S. into multiple Canadian provinces:
It’s clear we’re going to have to gear up our arguments on right-to-work laws, dues check-off, the Rand Formula, etc. In the last year three mainstream parties have introduced proposals for right-to-work style legal changes in Canada (Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party, the Wild Rose Alliance, and now yesterday Tim Hudak’s Ontario PCs).  This used to be terrain solely inhabited by the Fraser Institute and similar extremist camps, but no longer.  Clearly the postwar mainstream consensus that unionization was something to be at least tolerated (or, initially, actively supported) as a mechanism for managing income distribution and workplace relations is long defunct. 
Some of the obvious conceptual points to counter Hudak and Co. would include:
* There’s a strong anology to taxes: citizens make democratic majority decisions in elections for their government, which then levies taxes to pay for agreed programs.  If taxes were “voluntary” then we’d have no schools, hospitals, or roads, and society would collapse.  The true goal of right-to-work advocates is precisely that: to cause unions to collapse.
* The link between declining unionization and growing inequality is strong and well-documented.  If we are concerned with inequality, then we should be working to strengthen collective bargaining relationships (as Newfoundland is doing, for example, with last week’s modest labour law reforms), not to destroy them.
- And Andrew Jackson notes that the most inclusive and democratic unions are also the most socially active.

- But kirbycairo points out that the "let's make things worse to make them better!" line of reasoning is a regular staple of apologists for an insular upper class - especially at the moment where their overreach becomes most obvious:
What conservatives consistently fail to understand are the basic social and economic relations of capitalism. Corporations seek to maximize profit and they do so primarily by reducing the cost of labor. Therefore capitalist enterprise seeks to minimize the number of people they employ while at the same time maximizing the number of products they sell. One needn't be an expert in algebraic equations to understand that there is a problem here. They are simultaneously reducing the very consumers that they need to have. Now, in a non-globalized context this process of capitalism can work moderately effectively for quite a while. But in a globalized context it is increasingly problematic. Furthermore, in a context of high levels of technology in which entrance to production can be exceptionally expensive, this problem deepens considerably.

As I have said before, as the revolution in France neared, the aristocracy attempted to entrench their power, to extract more wealth from the peasants, and it became fashionable to build ever larger, more elaborate carriages to show off their wealth. The results were predictable to anyone who had any sense. Today the results are equally predictable. Take away people's hope in the future, make them work evermore unstable and miserable jobs, while in the meantime the elite have ever greater amounts of wealth - and you'd have to be stupid not to be able to see what is coming.
- Finally, Dean Del Mastro is facing both photographic evidence and a growing number of witnesses refuting his claim to have had no idea about illegal campaign contributions and expenses.

On truth in advertising

It's been quite some time since I did anything new with Photoshop - and lately, that's been more out of a lack of time than a lack of readily available material. But now that we're into a quiet political season, let's start working on some images to define the Cons' plans for Canada - starting with a slight revision to the party's logo based on their commitment to environmental devastation in the name of oil exports:

Friday, June 29, 2012

Musical interlude

Matt Darey feat. Marcia Juell - Beautiful Day


Ah, the memories of Stephen Harper and his bestest international buddy deciding what to do about the economic pain they've inflicted on the world:
Mr. Cameron, hailing Canada as a model of fiscal probity and pointing to his own deep spending cuts, argued that debt cutting is the only way to fix a disturbing pattern, with economic growth in Europe and the United States stalled. He said the problem is high debts of governments and individuals, and that the fear that they won’t be repaid will spark a loss of confidence and a rise in interest rates.
Mr. Harper said markets’ fears are at “dangerous” levels, and this situation is far worse than austerity measures would be. “This is the most immediate and pressing problem facing the globe, and it is at a perilous point, and it does have to be dealt with.”
So how's that joint commitment to making a bad situation worse through austerity measures working out?
The UK has fallen deeper into recession than previously thought, confirming that the country has officially entered a double-dip. Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that the economy shrank faster than previously estimated between October and December last year, with a decline of 0.4%.

The economy also contracted for a second quarter between January and March this year, with the unchanged -0.3% estimate confirming that we are in recession for the second time in four years.
 (h/t to Atrios.)

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Dan Gardner rightly notes that we should be encouraging more public advocacy from charities and other groups with useful input to offer into policy debates - not shutting it down as the Cons are doing:
“Many charities have acquired a wealth of knowledge about how government policies affect people’s lives. Charities are well-placed to study, assess, and comment on those government policies. ... It is therefore essential that charities continue to offer their direct knowledge of social issues to public policy debates.”
That’s the government talking. More specifically, that’s the government’s principle policy statement on the involvement of charities in political activities. It came into effect in 2003. It’s still in force.
And who could disagree? We’re not talking about partisan politics, which charities aren’t permitted to get involved in. Here, “political activity” means debates about whether some law or policy should be changed in some way (or retained, if change is being discussed). Charities develop specialized knowledge about the fields they work in and if they get involved they add an informed perspective. Whether I or anyone else agrees with their views, or whether the government ultimately acts on them, does not matter. They enrich the discussion. And that can make public policy better.
(L)leading Conservatives are now using incredibly bellicose language to attack charities involved in what they consider to be inappropriate political activity. Senator Eaton has even suggested that churches — a big part of the charitable sector — have no business getting involved in political activity at all. “I don’t think churches should take political stands,” Senator Eaton said in a recent interview. “I think they should be more about helping people and giving people succour.” 
Of course Eaton’s statement is gibberish, since politics can be an effective way to help people. But this isn’t about logic. It’s about sending a message. And the Senator’s message to charities couldn’t be clearer: Shut up and stay away from politics.
You can bet charities are hearing that loud and clear.
- Erika Shaker exposes a few of the myths behind the reactionary response to Quebec's tuition and civil liberties protests.

- Paul Dechene points out that a list of Canada's most endangered heritage sites includes Regina's Connaught School.

- No, I don't expect that many respondents were actually hugely familiar with the Cons' move to close the Lake of the Woods Experimental Lakes Area until Forum polled about it. But it still seems noteworthy how many of those polled recognized the problem once they were informed about it.

- Finally, shorter Preston Manning, speaking strictly as a neutral and nonpartisan citizen with no interest whatsoever in shilling for the Cons or the tar sands:
WAAAAH! No fair pricing carbon to take into account the costs of pollution unless we also charge more for hydro! And the sun! And the wind! And energy conservation! And...

Pre-Season 'Rider Blogging

I haven't blogged the Saskatchewan Roughriders' offseason quite as closely as in past years. But in advance of tonight's season opener against Hamilton, let's take a quick look at what's changed since the team's 2011 flop - and what remains to be improved.

To start off with, the team should have bought itself at least some time simply based on the sheer amount of new personnel it's brought in since the previous season. The gap between a team that's mostly working on refining a well-established system with a group of holdovers and one which is starting from scratch in evaluating and training players was obvious in the 'Riders' first pre-season game against the Lions. And a more respectable second effort shouldn't be taken to suggest the 'Riders aren't starting from somewhat of a disadvantage against many teams.

But that gap is bound to close over time as the 'Riders' new players get more familiar with the CFL, with each other and with the team's system. And the payoff for bringing in new blood is the prospect of far greater upside for this season and beyond as younger, higher-upside players settle into the league. (The 'Riders aren't lacking for players fitting that description at least on offence, as the likes of Justin Harper, Kory Sheets and Drew Willy have hinted at in the pre-season.)

On the defensive side of the ball, I'm a bit less convinced that the long-term growth the 'Riders need will be found near the top of the current depth chart. That's due in part to the team's apparent inclination to rely on older defensive linemen rather than giving much of an opportunity to younger players, and in part to what strikes me as a surprising focus on importing linebackers rather than following the path of converting defensive backs which previously gave the 'Riders stellar performances from the likes of Jackie Mitchell, Reggie Hunt and Sean Lucas. But in both cases, there's at least some additional talent further down the roster which may be worth developing.

Of course, we'd ideally prefer to see the 'Riders' new additions dominate from day one. And there's at least some precedent for that happening: take for example the 2008 Stamps, who went from a distant third to first in the West and a Grey Cup win while adjusting to a brand-new coach and integrating three rookies into their offensive line.

But more likely, we'll need to be patient - both within the 2012 season, and in the Riders' efforts to build a talent base for the longer term. And we shouldn't let some growing pains - nor indeed a few early-season losses - cloud our judgment of where the team might end up if it invests in developing the players now on the roster.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Michael Harris slams the Cons for their attacks on science:
How far has the government been prepared to go to smother the facts surrounding the ELA? For starters, DFO declined all requests from the media to speak with scientists. Being an equal lack-of-opportunity employer, DFO also turned down all requests from its scientists to speak about their work to Canadians. Remember, these are the same people who sent “minders” with scientists to a recent scientific conference in Montreal, lest they stray from the government line in public. I am beginning to suspect that the government line is based on believing that 10,000 years ago Brontosaurs were cropping grass in the back forty.

You will be comforted to know that DFO extended the ban on ELA information to federal MPs. The department turned down NDP MP Bruce Hyer’s request to visit ELA with an ELA scientist. When an outraged university scientist conducting research there offered to take Hyer on a tour of the facility, DFO threatened to cancel his research privileges. Any wonder that acclaimed international scientist Ragnar Elmgren said that this was the kind of thing you would expect from the Taliban, not the government of a western democracy?
If you are going to wipe out 44 years of work, spark a scientific diaspora from the federal government, and create a white elephant out in the wilderness that will cost untold millions to “remediate”, do the intelligent thing and conduct an audit this summer to see if the facts support that course of action.

The government won’t do that because it is all about putting independent voices out of business, voices that if heard might persuade the public that Harper doesn’t necessarily know best. The PM believes in strategic communication – the amassing of friendly facts and pseudo facts and big fat lies that advance a chosen agenda. His approach to governance is like a bad PhD thesis. Science is about applying empirical tests in controlled situations with predictive validity aimed at finding the facts. The two schools are natural enemies, as antithetical as William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

Stephen Harper does not believe in funding any organization that might become a critic, even inadvertently, in pursuit of the facts.
 - Meanwhile, Colin Kenny discusses how the Cons have eliminated exactly the disaster-response capability that's most important in the case of tragic disasters like the Elliot Lake mall collapse:
These cuts fit nicely into the Harper government’s belief that the provinces’ constitutional responsibilities should be funded by the provinces alone. Why that mantra applies to emergency relief when it doesn’t apply in areas like education and justice is a question Canadians should be asking. When a person who matters to you is lying under a heap of rubble, waiting for rescue, you need help from whomever can best provide it. In most cases, the best response is a well co-ordinated effort with every possible level of government involved.

Elliot Lake is not an isolated incident. Think about 1987 (Edmonton tornado), 1996 (Saguenay River floods), 1997 (Red River floods), 1998 (ice storms in Eastern Canada), 2003 (SARS epidemic in Toronto, power blackout in Ontario and Hurricane Juan in Nova Scotia). The list goes on.

The HUSAR squad’s arrival in Elliot Lake on Monday may well not end up saving a single life. But how reckless is Ottawa’s gamble that federal support won’t be crucial in all the disasters to come?
- And in case anybody thought shifting disaster response to the private sector was a viable alternative, think again: in fact, even Enbridge is in the dark as to how cuts to federal environmental staff will affect its own oil spill response plans.

- Which makes for all the more reason to be wary of the Cons' petro-state. And it shouldn't be much surprise - as noted by Andrew Jackson - that the Cons are blacking out the reality of overreliance on resource extraction as part of their attempt to tar-wash Canada's economy.

New column day

Here, on how CETA and especially the TPP are serving as ever more glaring examples of the Cons' willingness to give away everything Canadians value as part of ideologically-driven trade negotiations for no real economic gain.

For further reading...
- Scott Sinclair and Michael Geist have recently commented on the TPP as well, while OpenMedia has launched a campaign against it.
- For more about the Cons' sad negotiating history, see my previous posts here, here and here.
- And Jim Stanford highlights the gap between the Cons' model for trade agreements and anything which might actually encourage economic development.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Derrick O'Keefe calls for a mass movement to stop the Harper Cons in their tracks now, rather than waiting for 2015:
Thoughts of ousting Harper in 2015 are well and good, but not nearly sufficient at this perilous moment for democracy and social justice in Canada. Given Bill C-38 and the events of the past few months - think about the "robocalls" scandal and the F-35 cost fiasco, for starters - nothing less than an unprecedented mass movement in the streets will suffice to push back and change the correlation of forces in political life in this country.
The rapid spread of protest actions - both with the Occupy encampments last fall, and the Casseroles in solidarity in Quebec these past weeks - illustrates, I think, a yearning for unity and mobilization amongst everyone opposed to Harper and the corporate agenda. It's been incredibly inspiring to watch, for example, how quickly the idea of 'Casseroles Night in Canada' spread. These moments are signs that there is a hunger for real, substantive change. 
The experiences of Occupy and the Casseroles, however, have also revealed the limits of our capacities at present. Mobilizations spread quickly, but participation is fickle and large protests fleeting - this is inevitable without the backing and active support of big organizations, and without widespread politicization in general. 
The strength of Quebec's student and social movements has been built up over years of base-building, and exist in the context of a much more developed progressive political culture than the rest of Canada. To admit this is not to give up, but rather to take a longer-term perspective to the task at hand - it's a war of position, not an insurrection.
- Meanwhile, Jason Fekete confirms that the Cons' push for resource extraction at all costs bears no resemblance at all to what Canadians want to see. And John Geddes points out that the list of radical environmentalists who expect carbon pricing to play a part in the global economy includes the likes of the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell.

- In the "just behind the curve" department, Chris Selley speculates that a political party might be able to succeed in Quebec while challenging the sacred cow that is the asbestos industry. This surely comes as news to all concerned.

- Finally, Steve V rightly wonders how the influence of corporate advertising dollars may affect media coverage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cats with company.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Dr. Dawg highlights Peter Russell's take on the Cons' 2008 efforts to prevent a Parliamentary majority from actually exercising its right to vote down a government which had lost the confidence of the House of Commons. And Steven Chase follows up by noting the role that the Cons' smear machine may have played in subverting Canadian democracy.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Cox discusses how a longstanding democratic crisis has led us to the verge of environmental disaster. And as Scott points out, there's plenty of room for matters to get worse when our federal government is actively looking for ways to encourage and facilitate pollution - to which I'll add that the Cons' deliberate steps to avoid telling the truth about hazardous substances aren't hugely promising either.

- Nobel laureate Paul Krugman's blog and columns are among my must-reads - so I often presume that readers will be familiar with his take on economics. But for anybody looking for a handy starting point on Krugman's recent work, Heather Mallick provides it while reviewing End This Depression Now.

- Finally, Erin agrees with the take that we shouldn't let anybody siphon resource wealth out of Saskatchewan - but points out that it's the Saskatchewan Party's low-royalty, multi-loophole system that's actually draining money out of our province.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On importance

There's been plenty of debate about the protest which caused Joe Oliver to move a funding announcement. But I'd think there's a more fundamental question we should ask about the event, particularly when the indignant response of the event host was to the effect that "this is an important announcement!".

To wit: how exactly is it important for the Cons to be able to dictate that a public venue serve as a resistance-free backdrop for their PR efforts?

To be clear, there may be circumstances where the announcement of a policy may have a significant effect on its implementation. If the public needs to know about a service to make use of it, then by all means there's a need for unimpeded communication in some form to reach the target audience.

But in this case, the announcement itself was of zero importance to the effectiveness of the funding: money for medical isotopes research is presumably well-known within the hospital involved and among the research community without a need for anybody to play to the cameras. And so the main goal of Oliver's press conference involved a bare grab for media attention on the public dime, rather than serving any substantive purpose.

Of course, we've all too often come to accept that it's the divine right of Cons to assemble a compliant media and no dissenters wherever they please (and at our expense) to deliver talking points. And I'm sure the lesson they'll take from Oliver's press conference is that they should crack down even further on anybody who might disagree with any of their policies.

But there's a more basic question worth asking as to how publicly-funded political propaganda fits with the need for genuinely free speech. And the answer may be that we shouldn't be so ready to see our money and civil service co-opted to PR stunts in the first place.

Insider tradeoffs

Postmedia and CTV have both reported on how this weekend's #skndp12 convention may shape the Saskatchewan NDP's 2013 leadership race. But it's worth noting how the major split among prospective candidates may affect the party in the months to come.

Here's CTV's juxtaposition of a couple of the putative candidates' views as to whether the NDP's next leader needs to be an MLA:
Weir doesn't think the fact that he is not in caucus puts him at a disadvantage.

"There is a big challenge ahead of re-building the NDP and that's work that has to be done outside of the legislative building, so I think it's advantageous to have someone outside of caucus," says Weir.

But some potential candidates think otherwise. MLA Cam Broten is the NDP Health Critic. He says experience on the floor of the legislature is something the membership will look for in a leader. "It's up to the party membership, but I think it's important to pick someone who has experience and can plug into what people in the province care about." 
At the same time, one of the weekend's more noteworthy presentations discussed the challenges facing the nine current MLAs in trying to hold the government to account. And if a third or more of the caucus winds up entering the leadership race, that task may only become more difficult while the leadership race is in progress.

Under most circumstances, we'd expect to see leadership contenders leave their critic roles during a campaign. But when all of the current NDP MLAs are already juggling daunting sets of issue responsibilities, it may not be realistic to expect a half-dozen who don't run for the leadership to see their own workloads bumped up by another 50% during a six-month campaign period.

Mind you, I'd argue there's a ready answer to that problem if it arises. In fact, the party needs to be building a set of high-profile critics and potential cabinet members wider than the current caucus alone - and that might involve assigning responsibility to some individuals who don't currently hold seats in the legislature. But such a move by John Nilson on an interim basis would hardly fit the message that there's a radical difference between MLAs and non-MLAs in a person's ability to reach and consult with Saskatchewan's citizens.

Finally, there's always the possibility that the current MLAs might hold onto their critic responsibilities while running for the leadership - which would be the outcome that best fits the theory espoused by Broten. But that would significantly limit the ability of MLA leadership candidates to chart their own course during the portion of the leadership campaign when the legislature is sitting.

Of course, once the campaign begins in earnest we'll surely see far more important debates than the exact significance of time spent as an MLA. But it's well worth keeping in mind that the jockeying for position among leadership candidates isn't taking place in a vacuum - and members will have every reason to watch which contenders' plans and messages best fit the resources and realities of today's Saskatchewan NDP.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for a sunny Sunday.

- Paul Wells offers some theories as to why the Cons haven't yet launched attack ads against Thomas Mulcair. But I'd think the more important aberration is the fact that they did do so against Bob Rae before he ever became the Libs' permanent leader: the purpose of the Cons' attacks has otherwise always been fairly focused on softening up Lib leaders in advance of potentially imminent elections, and I'd fully expect the Cons to test out as many possibilities as they can through less expensive means before launching their usual saturated-airwave attacks against Mulcair in advance of 2015.

- Meanwhile, I find it striking that Susan Riley seems surprised that Mulcair has been effective as the NDP's leader, particularly on the environment where his leadership campaign focused largely on exactly the experience and principles we've seen in practice:
(A)s a former Liberal environment minister in Quebec, Mulcair “gets” the issue, he means it, and he has the intellectual acuity and debating skills to fend off inevitable accusations that he is anti-jobs, anti-Alberta. 
Although he must avoid needlessly inflaming western sensitivities, the environment is one issue where an “uncompromising” approach from a federal leader — politicians are charged with safeguarding the public interest, after all, not running interference for the oil industry — is long overdue.
- Dr. Dawg spots the latest example of the Cons breaking both promises and the law - this time in withholding publicly-funded polling numbers.

- Finally, Michael Geist explores the real reason the Cons are so determined to push the TPP and other corporate trade agreements:
The price of admission was very steep – Canada appears to have agreed to conditions that grant it second-tier status – and the economic benefits from improved access to TPP economies are likely to be relatively minor since we already have free-trade agreements with four of the ten participants.

Given those conditions, why aggressively pursue entry into the negotiations? The reason stems less from gaining barrier-free access to a handful of relatively small economies and far more about using the TPP as a backdoor mechanism to promote regulatory changes in Canada.

Given Canada’s late entry into the TPP process, the U.S. was able to extract two onerous conditions that Prime Minister Stephen Harper downplayed as the “accession process.” First, Canada will not be able to reopen any chapters where agreement has already been reached among the current nine TPP partners. This means Canada has already agreed to be bound by TPP terms without having had any input. Since the TPP remains secret, the government can’t even tell us what has been agreed upon.
With Canada already surrendering negotiation leverage and few important markets at stake, our participation is less about other TPP countries and much more about us. Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded Canada’s entry into the TPP, expressing the hope that it would force further changes to Canadian intellectual property laws less than 24 hours after Bill C-11 passed in the House of Commons.

For the Canadian government, the TPP offers cover for major reforms to supply management, the combination of tariffs, quotas and price supports that increase costs for dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey and broiler hatching eggs. The system has been politically untouchable for decades, but using a backdoor approach of mandating change through trade agreement might provide the mechanism to garner the necessary popular support.

While backers maintain that the TPP will open up new markets to Canadian companies, the reality is that the agreement’s biggest impact is likely to come from major domestic legislative reforms that would otherwise face considerable opposition and serious political risk.
 [Edit: added link.]

On timeless recipes

Alice offers a thorough discussion of the ingredients behind the NDP's Quebec gains in 2011. But the most important part of the story may be that one of the key factors had in fact been in place all along - and may only help the NDP all the more in election cycles to come:
Worth as much as the values and leadership questions combined, however, were Quebeckers' positions on three key policy issues that matched up well with the NDP. According to CES researchers, issue positions rarely turn out to be the explanations of vote choice – usually it's values, partisanship and leadership. But this time was different, and three key issues drove support to the NDP in Québec in 2011 (in order of influence)
  • support for increased healthcare spending
  • support for increased spending on the environment
  • support for higher corporate taxes
Because these were all popular positions with Quebeckers, it was a big pond for the NDP to be able to fish in, and most of the gains again came at the expense of the Bloc Québécois, especially in the first two cases.
What's only hinted at in the above explanation is that the difference between 2011 and previous elections when it came to the NDP's policies was their place as a deciding factor in voting decisions - not any apparent change in underlying support for the policies themselves. In effect, 2011 served as compelling proof of the fit between the NDP's policy agenda  and Quebec's electorate that party supporters have mused about for decades - just as long as voters actually decide based on policy in the face of far too much coverage based on other factors.

And there looks to be plenty of potential for a virtuous cycle as the party looks to consolidate its gains. The more we discuss policies which are already popular and suggest that voting decisions should be based on those rather than personality or leadership, the better the chance of both building a party policy brand that can't be dislodged by opponents, and firmly entrenching Quebec support for the NDP for a long time to come.