Saturday, December 01, 2012

#skndpldr - Humboldt Debate Notes

Scott has already pointed out that the Saskatchewan NDP is making its leadership debate videos available online, and commented somewhat on the second debate in Humboldt. But having had a chance to view it for the first time today, I'll add a few observations.

While there were plenty of consistent themes between the Humboldt debate and the previous Regina debate, the main difference was found in the first opportunity for candidates to ask questions of each other. And that led to a few noteworthy developments.

First, the candidate question-and-answer format provided a test for Trent Wotherspoon in what's been identified as a possible weakness from the outset of the campaign. And while he held his own in most of his exchanges, he also had significant difficulty dealing with what should have been a relatively simple set of queries from Erin Weir - questioning why his platform includes a study into lowering the voting age to 16 (rather than simply proposing that the age be lowered), as well as what information he'd consider relevant in assessing the outcome of such a study.

Facing a request only that he explain his own policy proposal, Wotherspoon wasn't comfortable discussing either why the study would be required (with a reference to the NDP's party development processes serving as a non sequitur in explaining a study would take place outside that structure), or what findings might lead him to question whether a lower voting age is in fact a good idea. And with the degree of difficulty and the scrutiny from fellow candidates and the media alike figuring to increase as the debates develop, Wotherspoon looks to have some ways yet to go in addressing unanticipated questions.

In another exchange, Cam Broten offered a similarly surprising challenge to Ryan Meili on his first-debate suggestion that MLAs be seated alphabetically rather than by party in the legislature. There, however, Meili followed a halting start as to the value of discussing a wide range of ideas in a leadership campaign with a reasonable explanation both as to where the proposal has been applied elsewhere, and how it might fit into an effort to make the legislature more collegial and productive.

Finally, the questions also offered a hint as to who the other candidates wanted to test. And while Broten, Meili and Wotherspoon were each on the receiving end of several questions, Weir didn't answer a single one - a point that he noted slightly peevishly in posing the last question of the debate.

That said, it's not hard to see how that pattern might repeat itself regularly unless the format mandates who will be on the receiving end of questions. After all, the other candidates might quite logically figure both that there are more soft supporters and later-ballot votes to be persuaded by challenging the other candidates, and that Weir's sharp responses might make them more likely to lose face in directing questions his way.

Other than the candidate questions, I'll largely concur with Scott's observation that there wasn't a lot of change from the first debate. All of the candidates were broadly effective both in delivering their own prepared speeches and dealing with audience questions - meaning that the decision facing actual and potential NDP members only figures to be getting more difficult as the campaign progresses.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Chrystia Freeland discusses the developing view that inequality can serve to stifle growth and development, while more equitable tax systems and social supports can encourage them:
Set aside any moral or political concerns you may have about rising income inequality – worries about poverty, justice, undue political influence or even social mobility. According to Mr. Dervis, a growing number of economists suspect that once inequality passes a certain point, it may jeopardize economic stability and economic growth.

As his book argues, “rebalancing of the distribution of income may play a role in unlocking the U.S. economy’s growth potential in a sustainable way.”

Now that is a truly radical thought, and it brings us back to Mr. Milanovic’s earlier view that income inequality was a forbidden subject in the United States.

Worrying about the poor is one thing. To contend that equality is necessary for growth is an altogether different and more radical idea. Three decades later, trickle-down economics has met its antithesis. We are set for one of the great battles of ideas of our time.
- And Paul Krugman rightly paints the U.S.' recent election as a well-defined class clash - and one where the public interest won out:
(T)he disappointed plutocrats weren’t wrong about who was on their side. This was very much an election pitting the interests of the very rich against those of the middle class and the poor.

 And the Obama campaign won largely by disregarding the warnings of squeamish “centrists” and embracing that reality, stressing the class-war aspect of the confrontation. This ensured not only that President Obama won by huge margins among lower-income voters, but that those voters turned out in large numbers, sealing his victory.

The important thing to understand now is that while the election is over, the class war isn’t. The same people who bet big on Mr. Romney, and lost, are now trying to win by stealth — in the name of fiscal responsibility — the ground they failed to gain in an open election.
- Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor dig into the details of Elections Canada's continued investigation into Robocon - including complaints in 56 separate ridings. And Sixth Estate puts the latest news into context, wondering why it's taken this long to start seeking even basic contact information for the parties responsible.

- Finally, the Star nicely sums up how the Cons' latest round of international belligerence (this time trying to bully the Palestinian Authority into withdrawing its since-approved application for observer state status at the UN) is only marginalizing Canada on the world stage.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Musical & Cinematic Interlude

Save the SFETC feat. the Sheepdogs - Last One to Leave

#skndpldr - Endorsement Notes

As I've noted before, I tend to see leadership endorsements as involving diminishing returns: once a candidate has enough support to be seen as a viable contender, additional names on a list of endorsers are unlikely to have any substantial impact unless they play significantly against some widely-known expectation. And since I see all of the candidates as having met that initial threshold, I haven't been tracking endorsements all that closely in the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership race.

But while the list of names may not be so important, the content of endorsements may be somewhat more worthy of discussion - particularly to the extent supporters may make points outside a candidate's own message track. So let's take a quick look at examples of each candidate's announced endorsements on that front.

Cam Broten's endorsements include this from Ken Crush, discussing the fact that Broten's interest and involvement in building the NDP's rural presence is far from new:
Cam has been our buddy MLA for the last 5 years and has consistently served our constituency well. He is well respected by the small town media and often sought after by the local papers for his input on various provincial issues. He has also been an influential leader in our party over the last few years chairing and co-chairing many committees, including our party's policy review process where members of our party and the public participated in policy development. Cam is interested in what matters to people. He has a unique ability to listen, understand and act on issues whether they are raised by seniors, students, farmers, immigrants, workers or business people.
While the latter portion of Crush's endorsement could be taken directly from a campaign bio, the first two sentences in particular draw a noteworthy link between Broten's work in Biggar and some of the most important roles of a leader.

In contrast to Broten's focus on the NDP as it stands, Ryan Meili's featured endorsements deal largely with the party as it might be - with U of S professor Alexander Irving's message of support particularly standing out as a strong statement of values which extend beyond party lines and provincial borders:
Ryan is the best chance, here, for us to return to the social democratic vision that the province, country, and world need so badly. There is no doubt that Ryan cares deeply about people, Mother Earth, and society – he has 'walked that walk' as a healer many times. He will work best with social movements not neo-liberal corporations.
Interestingly, Erin Weir's endorsements look to be the ones most patterned on his campaign messages - and indeed his "party activist" list is limited to names alone. But Dick Proctor's offering includes some addition insight into Weir's past experience and effectiveness as a candidate:
Erin and I shared a campaign office in Regina during the 2004 federal election, when he ran in Wascana against Ralph Goodale. Although that was a difficult election for New Democrats in Saskatchewan and Erin was up against the Minister of Finance, he put together an effective team and campaigned energetically. I have seen up close his work ethic and ability to collaborate with others. These qualities would serve him well as the next Saskatchewan NDP leader.
Finally, while a leadership campaign inevitably tests a candidate's presentation as a speaker, Trent Wotherspoon's personal endorsements largely focus on his listening ability - with Marion Hewitt Pollock's comment serving as an example:
When you're speaking, you know Trent is listening.  It doesn't matter how crowded the room, or busy the moment, he is engaging and thoughtful.  He is the kind of community-minded innovator that our province needs. I know Trent is going to include and value all of our voices in his leadership bid and beyond.
Overall, Meili's highlighted endorsements stand out as reflecting more personal statements than those of the other candidates - which allows for the possibility that a wider range of potential voters may find something in his endorsements as a basis for either agreement or disagreement. And it will bear watching whether the other candidates or (particularly) outside parties try to drive wedges between candidates and supporters by focusing on the latter.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Thomas Walkom discusses what the Cons' attack on unions through bill C-377 is ultimately designed to do:
Finance department figures show that the tax exemption for union and professional dues does indeed cost the federal treasury $795 million in lost revenue annually. How much is attributed to unionists and how much to others unaffected by this bill, such as doctors and lawyers, is not stated.

But the same figures show plenty of other revenue losses attributable to tax breaks. High rollers paid in stock options cost the treasury $725 million. Those claiming capital gains deductions cost $3.7 billion. So-called carrying-cost deductions reduce federal revenues by $1 billion.

Yet neither Hiebert nor any other Conservative is demanding a public accounting of how these taxpayer-subsidized moneys are spent.

Why focus on unions?...

The point of Hiebert’s bill is not just to strangle unions and their locals with red tape. Nor is it simply to limit their political activity. Beyond all of this, as REAL Women acknowledged, is compulsory check-off.

The unstated aim of this bill is to provide ammunition to politicians, like Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak, who would scrap the Rand formula and introduce U.S.-style right-to-work laws designed to sap unions.
- But Priya Sarin notes that the right's reactionary moves to attack labour rights through legislation can be answered at least in part by successful court challenges.

- Meanwhile, the latest in Con cartoon villainy saw the governing party vote down a bill to make drugs available to the developing world at no cost to the public - when even big pharma didn't have any concern with the bill. Which leads to Stephen Lewis' well-deserved response:
“It’s that they just don’t want to be seen to be supporting generics when they are spending so much time negotiating extended protection for pharmaceutical patents,” said Mr. Lewis. “So in the great choice in life, they have chosen patent protection over the lives of children. And that’s about as perfidious as you can get as a government.”
 - Which is particularly noteworthy since, as Andrew Coyne points out, drug patent giveaways look to be the biggest problem with the CETA in the form the Cons have chosen to develop it:
I said earlier the concessions we are asked to make at the negotiating table are “almost always” not concessions at all. But there is one exception that comes to mind: Europe’s demand that Canada accept longer patent protection for the pharmaceutical sector. That would make drugs more expensive in this country, at much cost to provincial drug plans. It might be worth standing firm on this one, then, or at least using it to extract concessions from the Europeans.

So it’s fascinating to learn the government’s actual strategy. “The leaked EU memo says Ottawa [is] preparing to at least partially concede on drug patents,” CP reports, “in order to protect supply management.”
- Finally, the CCPA has released an Environics poll showing broad-based support for upper-income and corporate tax increases, as well as significant public willingness to pay more personally in order to support a wide range of social priorities.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New column day

Here, giving credit to the Saskatchewan Party for eventually doing the right thing in funding refugee health expenses - but questioning their selective and PR-motivated claim to compassion.

For further reading...

The timeline on the issue of refugee health expenses which led to no response from Brad Wall and his government includes the Cons' initial announcement and subsequent excuses for letting refugee claimants fend for themselves; their partial backtrack on the initial announcement; Manitoba's decision to pick up the slack for refugee claimants; and Cam Broten's challenge to Kelly Block's anti-immigrant fund-raising. And in recent days, we've learned the Cons aren't done, but are instead looking to push the costs of refugee settlement onto non-profit organizations.

I'll also particularly highlight Carol Goar's examples already known as a matter of public record - and apparently ignored by the Saskatchewan Party in deciding on its own response to the Cons' cuts:
(R)eports already are coming in: a 7-year-old epileptic boy in Hamilton was hospitalized for a severe seizure because he could not get medicine; a woman who had endured multiple rapes after she was sold into the sex trade couldn’t get an ultrasound for the fetus she was carrying; a Colombian man is desperately fundraising to pay Toronto General Hospital for life-saving abdominal surgery; two refugee claimants in Ottawa — one Peruvian, the other El Salvadoran — have stopped taking their post-traumatic stress medications.
All of which would seem to cry out for explanation as to how it took this long to recognize the need for action - not merely a declaration that at least Wall isn't quite as stubborn as Stephen Harper in eliminating assistance for those in need.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- There's always been reason for skepticism about the pundit-class theory that the 2011 federal election should simply be deleted from the history books as an aberration. But Abacus provides a compelling example as to why the relative position of the NDP and Libs looks to be a longer-term phenomenon, as the NDP has broken the four-party impasse in support among younger voters which existed until the 2011 election.

- Of course, that leads nicely into Adam Radwanski's interview with Sasha Issenberg as to how to bring new voters into our democratic system:
Should we be looking at those as positive developments, in that they’re helping create a more engaged electorate?

There’s this instinct that people have when they see individuals reduced to data sets to think that it’s dehumanizing. In fact, the reality has been precisely the opposite. The reason turnout has gone up is that campaigns are making significant new investments in field work, often volunteer driven, that looks to talk to voters one-on-one.

We now have this body of experiments that shows person-to-person contact does something to turn a non-voter into a voter that no television ad can. Smart campaigns, and Barack Obama’s is the best example of this, are making the investments to create these types of interactions.
- Meanwhile, personal connections also figure to be the best antidote against high-volume misinformation campaigns - and the Cons' pollster of choice has been censured for contributing to just that against Irwin Cotler.

- Finally, Pat Atkinson comments on the Saskatchewan Party's moves toward privatizing nearly everything the province's Crown corporations actually do:
The most disconcerting part of this steady transfer of functions and assets away from these publicly owned companies is what is happening when it comes to disclosure to the legislature of the list of payees for each of the Crowns. For competitive reasons Crowns don't have to disclose contracts with private-sector businesses. These payee contracts are excluded from public reporting.
This brings me back to ISC. While it is true there hasn't been an outright sale of any of the Crowns referred to in the legislation, there has been a steady erosion of these publicly owned companies. A number of functions that were once performed by the Crown sector have been transferred to private companies and a good bit of "our money" is leaving the province. Privatization is indeed underway, despite what the Wall government says.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ed Broadbent comments on both the growing problem of inequality, and the one institution which can do something about it:
Canada is not doing better. From 1982 until 2004, almost all growth in family income went to the top 20 per cent, with much of that going to the top 1 per cent, while the bottom 60 per cent saw no growth at all. The increase in inequality in Canada since the mid-1990s has been the fourth highest in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But does this matter? Yes, the evidence is in, and the conclusion is clear: Inequality does matter. In terms of social outcomes, more equal societies do better for everyone, not just for the poor, in almost every respect: health outcomes, life expectancy, level of trust in society, equality of opportunity and upward social mobility. A recent study showed that if Americans want to experience the American Dream of upward mobility, they should pack up and move to Sweden. They would have to leave the most unequal democracy and move to the most equal.

Contrary to the mythology propagated by so many, the actual degree of inequality in advanced democracies has little to do with the so-called forces of globalization or shifts related to technological change. It’s largely the result of government action or inaction. Globalization affects all countries. But, from the mid-1970s, the share of income of the top 1 per cent in Canada, the U.S. and Britain rose rapidly, while there was little change in France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. As recently highlighted by the World Bank, Brazil and other Latin American countries have become significantly more equal over the past decade.

Once again, the evidence is clear: Whether countries become more or less equal depends largely on government policies. Government can reduce or exacerbate the market trends producing inequality.
- And there's at least some evidence that voters will choose the party which recognizes inequality as a problem, as Eric Boehlert discusses how the Republicans' closed information system and associated disdain for mere working Americans led to massive election losses:
Republicans won't because they're intimidated by the right-wing media's power. That's why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie quickly got on the phone  with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch after Murdoch tweeted that Christie, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and his bipartisan appearances with Obama, needed to re-endorse Romney or "take the blame" for the president's re-election.

Murdoch: Jump! Republicans: How high?

That unhealthy relationship is the reason why, when it comes to the simple question of whether America is divided between "makers and takers," and if the 62 million Americans who voted for Obama represent a decaying nation of moochers in search of handouts, there's a wide gulf within the conservative movement. The right-wing media consider the claim to be a central tenet, while Republican leaders think saying it out loud is completely batty and a prescription for an electoral losing streak.
So yes, those are conspicuous handcuffs the GOP is wearing: Fox News has hijacked the party's communications apparatus and is pushing the type of paranoid, blame-the-voter rhetoric that loses elections, and the type of rhetoric Romney's now being blamed for. But the GOP can't turn it off. In fact, most Republicans can't even work up enough courage to ask Fox News to turn down the volume.
- Of course, part of avoiding that type of destructive closed loop involves a willingness to look at policy on something other than a wholly tribal basis. And on that front, I'll note that while the Cons' announcement that they're following the U.S.' lead in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles is only a minor gain, it's certainly better than the alternative of Canada serving as a dumping ground for the least efficient vehicles being manufactured for the North American market - which would be the case if our standards dropped substantially below the U.S.'. And opponents of the Cons' general neglect for the environmental will do nothing but damage by echoing and reinforcing the still-farcical "tax on everything" message in response.

- Which isn't to say we should be anything but horrified by the Cons' economic strategy of "resource boom forever!". And Geoff Dembicki rightly points out just one more counterproductive result of that focus - as we're losing out on a rapidly-expanding global market for clean technology due to a government which insists on pushing dirty alternatives.

- Finally, while I'm skeptical of Chris Turner's take on future electoral cooperation schemes, I'll heartily endorse his argument as to why Calgary Centre is the last riding anybody should be pointing to in calling for them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Cuddled cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Paul Boothe discusses the dangers of giving in to resource-boom hype rather than planning for sustainable development:
The resource roller coaster and the crazy things it causes us to do are not new. Remember the federal government's 1980 National Energy Program? It grew out of a forecast that Alberta's oil royalties were likely to grow so large that they would fatally destabilize the Canadian federation. Remember Alberta's 1992 deficit that reached almost one-quarter of total revenues? It resulted from a forecast that natural gas prices would rise and bring on another royalty bonanza.

Resource economies grow faster on average, so what is wrong with riding the boom-and-bust roller coaster? Economists happily assume that workers can glide costlessly from one place to another in search of their next job. The reality is quite different.

Boom-and-bust economies are enormously disruptive to families and destructive of social capital. Travelling back and forth across the country searching for work means more children raised by single parents, fewer people checking in on the stay-at-home elderly, fewer minor hockey and soccer coaches. These things are the glue that binds our communities together.

Are there ways of avoiding repeating the boom-and-bust errors of the past? Yes. We can choose not to put all of our economic eggs in the natural resource basket. We can stop listening to those who proclaim the promise of the current boom and ignore the volatility that is part and parcel of staking our future primarily on natural resources. Developing our natural resources in an environmentally and socially sustainable way makes good sense. Betting the farm on them does not.
- Naturally, the obvious merit to a broader view explains why the Cons' strategy is to "lie and lie again" to distract from their reckless gamble on resource prices - and Craig McInnes is just the latest columnist to call them out on their deliberate and brazen dishonesty.

- Paul Wells summarizes the massive scope of the latest draft version of the CETA, while Heather Scoffield focuses on the EU's demand that investors take precedence over health, safety, the environment and all other considerations.

- Michael Wolfson takes aim at the lack of social mobility in Canada, along with the Fraser Institute's sad attempt to pretend there's no issues to be dealt with:
If the analysis had been done fairly, looking at relative mobility as it claims, it would have used income groups for the specific population being studied – younger earners. Then, for every person moving up a relative position on the income ladder (e.g. from the the bottom 20 per cent to the top 20 per cent, as in the Fraser analysis), someone else must have moved down, there being a fixed number of rungs (or 20 per cent income groups in this case).

Fortunately, there is an analysis of the question of income mobility in Canada based on a more careful methodology which I co-authored a few years ago, using exactly the same income tax data base. Our results lead to quite different conclusions.
(T)he top 1 per cent and even the top 0.01 per cent had incomes that bounced around less than the incomes of the 25 per cent at the poorest end of the income ladder. A major reason: low earnings are often the result of “precarious” jobs which not only pay low wages, but are unstable.

Life at the top may be risky, but the real risks in life lie at the bottom of the income spectrum..

This reality of precarious jobs amongst the poor, and current research standards for unbiased analysis of income mobility, are ignored by the Fraser Institute as it tries to perpetuate the Horatio Alger, ‘rags to riches’ myth.
 - Finally, Errol Mendes wonders whatever happened to the Stephen Harper who once fought against omnibus bills and top-down control.

On post-mortems

Alice offers up the definitive analysis of last night's federal by-elections, and I won't go over too much of the same territory. But I'll quickly add a few observations for each party - as everybody looks to have some reason for concern.

And yes, I include the Greens in that statement. They'll undoubtedly point to massive increases in vote share in Calgary Centre and Victoria as a key accomplishment. But a party with only one seat and a limited fund-raising base needs to take advantage of every opportunity to add to its resource base - and I have to wonder whether the Greens will be left asking what might have been if they'd focused on one riding alone, rather running campaigns which fell just short in two.

For the NDP, the major disappointment has to be Calgary Centre - where it lost ground despite a superb candidate due to a confused attempt at strategic voting. But given the common assumption that Ontario will largely determine which party forms government, I'm surprised there hasn't been more notice of the campaign and results in Durham. There, the NDP somewhat consolidated its second-place position thanks in large part to the type of candidate more easily recruited to an official opposition party - but still has some distance to go in catching up to the Cons.

Meanwhile, the Libs look to have lost the most on the night. While they put up a strong fight in Calgary Centre, the Libs dropped to fourth place in Victoria (which they held as recently as 2006) and lost ground in third place in Durham (which they held until 2004) despite ample promotion of fairly well-recognized candidates. And a fourth-place finish in the total vote only adds insult to injury for a party which still hasn't come to terms with its third-place standing in the House of Commons.

Finally, the Cons performed roughly to expectations other than the collapse of their support in Calgary Centre. While I'd like to think they'd learn some lessons from Joan Crockatt's near-loss in the heart of the Cons' home base, I'll leave it to them to prove they're actually willing to do so - and I'm not holding my breath.

In sum, last night's results serve first and foremost to confirm the dangers of taking anything for granted in Canadian politics. But we'll have to wait a few years to find out whether either that lesson or the support bases assembled for the by-election campaign result in any real change.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- The U.S.' budget negotiations are leading to some public lobbying as to whether wealthy Americans will make any contribution whatsoever to closing the country's deficit. On the plus side, Warren Buffett is renewing his call for a minimum tax for those who can afford it - but the usual suspects are also trying to push yet more freebies for the rich alongside service cuts for those who actually need public support.

- Mike de Souza reports on a much-needed response to the Cons' cuts to First Nations, while Stephanie Levitz notes that the Cons are likewise slashing support for refugees and demanding that private charities pick up the bill.

- Which looks like a rather opportune time to contrast the Cons' plans against Ian Welsh's eminently reasonable proposal as to the starting point we should apply in developing public policy:
If there is one policy point I’d like to make it isn’t a policy point, it’s an ethical one: default to kindness.
Or try kindness first.
In policy terms, the kind thing to do is usually the right thing to do.  I’d go so far as to say, almost always.
The first thing you should do, in any policy situation, is ask “what would the golden rule have me do?”  Most of the time, this will be the correct policy, which will produce the best results.  People who are treated with kindness, in general, reciprocate and are productive.  Yes, there are exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions.

Further, kindness is the default position even with the worst people.  If you allow rapists to be raped, you become a rapist.  If you torture torturers, you are now a torturer.  You do not, in the old phrase, sink to their level.  That doesn’t mean being a pushover, it doesn’t mean no justice, it does mean that the State has no business seeking revenge and that the rules, which should default to kindness, apply equally the worst people and the best.  This is not just the right thing to do, it is the only thing to do, because the State often decides the best people are the worst people, as even a cursory examination of history will attest, and it very often makes mistakes, as the many errors in capital cases have brought to light.  But, again, even if someone is the worst of the worst beyond even the shadow of a doubt, they must be treated with kindness even as they are incarcerated, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because doing anything else degrades those who do it.  Torturers are always corrupted by torturing, occupying armies always become weak, corrupt and brutal.  You cannot do evil and not be, yourself, scarred by it.

Be kind, and remember, what you insist on your government doing to others changes your government, and will effect (sic) its treatment of you.
- And there's still reason for optimism that most Canadians agree with that focus - despite the massive sums of money the Cons have spent to try to push their anti-social values.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

On sad traditions

I haven't commented much on the latest out of the federal Libs' camp. But I'll quickly expand on the similarities noted by Paul Wells between Justin Trudeau and some of his predecessors - who did so much to alienate progressive Canadians during their stay in power:
The other reason I think Pierre Trudeau would have recognized a familiar style in Justin Trudeau’s announcement is that the older man was hardly immune to taking stances that might alienate the drowsiest elements of his electoral base. He didn’t win three majorities on debating-club points. Take his decision in 1983 to allow Ronald Reagan to test cruise missiles over Canada. (If you take this walk down memory lane, stick around long enough to hear NDP foreign-affairs critic Pauline Jewett’s magnificent rant in rebuttal. “Isn’t this typical? Parliament’s not in session, six o’clock on a Friday afternoon they make the announcement hoping you’re not around either.” Plus ça change.)

Nor indeed does one need to make connections to Pierre Trudeau to see that Justin Trudeau’s stance has roots in solid, if lately undernourished, Liberal traditions. Winning Liberals have often been natural-resource Liberals. Here’s Chrétien this year at the world’s biggest mining conference in Toronto; he subsidized the oil sands up the wazoo and made an Edmontonian his natural-resources minister.
Of course, at the same time, Chretien paid lip service to fighting climate change without ever figuring out what he planned to do about it, pushed alarmist deficit-fighting and tax cuts ahead of any interest in social programs, and worked to slash the social safety net. And all this after rising to power on a relatively progressive platform - which of course went out the window after it had served its purpose of helping the Libs to win power.

Now, there's a case to be made that the Libs's most plausible path to put themselves into contention for government in 2015 involves digging the 1993 songbook out of the attic with Trudeau as the new frontman, while concurrently trying to make up a fund-raising gap by echoing the Cons' rhetoric in the hope that the resource sector will want to take them over as a hedge against Con losses.

But as is often the case, there's a massive difference between what's best for the Libs and what's best for progressive politics in Canada. And Trudeau's choice to push the idea that we should see ourselves as a "grocery store" eager to hand over whatever anybody will pay for might make for the most obvious conflict between the two yet.

If the Libs and their presumptive leader in fact plan to compete with the Cons for the title of the most resource-obsessed party while pulling in legacy voters in the process, they'll all too likely succeed only in muddying the waters of a choice between social and corporate values where the progressive side can win - while also raising the likelihood that the next non-Con government will follow the Cons' myopic focus on resource exploitation. And Canadian progressives should take care not to get trapped in that worst of all possible worlds - both in voting in tomorrow's by-elections, and in their choice of focus over the next few years.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Michael Geist notes that even as the Harper Cons have done nothing but hand more free money to big pharma through ever more generous patent giveaways, the Supreme Court of Canada has offered a reminder of the bargain underlying our patent system:
The Supreme Court was seemingly in no mood for such games as it reminded the parties that the patent system was based on a bargain that Pfizer had failed to meet. In a paragraph that is likely to be quoted for many years, the court stated:
"The patent system is based on a 'bargain,' or quid pro quo: the inventor is granted exclusive rights in a new and useful invention for a limited period in exchange for disclosure of the invention so that society can benefit from this knowledge. This is the basic policy rationale underlying the Act. The patent bargain encourages innovation and advances science and technology."
Disclosure is therefore a crucial part of the patent bargain. The court clarified that this involves not only a description of the invention and how it works, but rather a much more practical level of disclosure "to enable a person skilled in the art or the field of the invention to produce it using only the instructions contained in the disclosure."

In this case, the court found that Pfizer failed to provide sufficient disclosure, since the pharmaceutical giant "obscured the true invention." Pfizer argued that this should not result in invalidating the patent, but a unanimous court found no other alternative. The immediate effect is that the Viagra patent is therefore voided in Canada, which will allow for generic substitutes.
Innovation is a laudable goal, yet the court has reminded Canadians that it is only part of the patent equation. Pharmaceutical companies will undoubtedly continue to lobby for more extensive rights before Parliamentary committees and in trade agreements, but the policy focus from governments and courts should be on ensuring that the "patent bargain" remains intact.
- But then, Jesse McLaren writes that the Cons' priorities have nothing to do with the public-interest side of any bargain.

- And Jeffrey Simpson highlights just a few more examples of the Cons' choice to hide their anti-social decisions behind a wall of secrecy. [Update: Though PLG is right to note that Simpson is far too willing to declare there's nothing the media can do in the face of the Cons' obfuscation.]

- Finally, Dr. Dawg discusses how smart people wind up voting for anti-intelligence politicians:
This, too, is telling, and a perfect summing-up:
…Watching him being cross-examined by Messrs. Shiller and Caplan - who once used the word “lacuna” in his closing submission, then, for the rest of us not so smart as he is, added helpfully, “that gap” — was a brilliant reminder of why once upon a time, I marked an X by Rob Ford’s name.
Big city lawyers with their fancy words. They think we’re stupid. Yeah? By God, we’ll give them stupid.

#skndpldr Roundup

The Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign hasn't seen a lot of official news over the past week, as the candidates look to have directed most of their efforts toward the continued series of debates. (Among the more thorough coverage of the recent ones, see the live-tweets of the Humboldt debate from Brett Estey and Erica Spracklin, and Saskatoon live-tweeting from Aaron Genest - who followed up with a blog post on the level of acrimony in the leadership race.)

Meanwhile, Ryan Meili's campaign turned a headline typo into a discussion of what actually constitutes the #frontlineofdemocracy:
I found the list Mr Gormley presented of "frontline" elements of democracy very interesting. Autocratic states, totalitarian states, oligarchical communist regimes – these also have courts, soldiers, and their own version of the rule of law. They sometimes even have parliaments. Yes, the items he listed are important institutions in the protection of a democratic state. But are they elements of democracy itself? What about the autonomy and freedom to make our own choices, the power of the citizenry to direct its own destiny? Aren't these things the core of democracy? Isn't active engagement the true frontline?
Finally, while the Saskatoon debate mostly covered fairly similar ground to the previous ones, Erin Weir's position on uranium development managed to get some attention. But as with his push on political financing, the main effect looks to have been to identify an area of broad agreement - with the main difference being Weir's suggestion that it's worth having a debate within the NDP as to what to do about uranium mining, while Cam Broten and Trent Wotherspoon gave continued mining a thumbs-up.