Saturday, February 02, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Saturday reading.

- Hamida Ghafour writes about the effect of tax avoidance by the world's wealthy on the lives of the rest of the population - particularly when coupled with austerity pushed based on a lack of revenue:
The OECD is a fierce defender of free-market capitalism. But Saint-Amans says politicians are realizing that rules set up in the 1920s need reform because allowing corporations and the very rich to hang on to huge amounts of wealth is bad for the economy.

“When you have a political crisis, I am sad to say it, you have political support and political heat,” he says in an interview from OECD headquarters in Paris. “European countries are turning to corporations and saying, ‘You don’t want us to become bankrupt. Please, pay your taxes and let’s make the changes together, otherwise we collapse. And if we collapse so will you.’”

Last year, several G20 finance ministers asked him for a report on how big companies move vast profits around the globe to avoid being taxed. Saint-Amans will release the report on Feb. 12.

“I didn’t anticipate it would happen so fast,” he says. “The fiscal crisis has turned into a budget crisis. . . . The ministers from G20 cannot explain to their people that they should pay more tax but big, profitable companies will not pay more.”
- Doug Saunders notes that Canada's foreign policy has taken a colonial turn in Africa as the Cons work to promote resource interests rather than humanitarian issues.

- Paul Wells rightly argues that the Cons' attempts to silence Kevin Page only prove he's done his job properly. But that doesn't mean that, say, Canada's unemployed should be satisfied with being declared "bad guys" as a badge of honour when there's an opportunity to challenge the government that's attacking them.

- Meanwhile, Sarah Schmidt reports that the Cons are likewise slamming the conclusions of their own sodium working group, and instead insisting that Canadians shouldn't bother caring how much of a health risk is found in their food.

- Finally, the New Union Project offers an update on the merger between CEP and CAW.

On trade-offs

Dan Tan has put together a noteworthy series of posts comparing the NDP's actual position on trade to its portrayal in the media, then discussing the effect of the gap between the two on party members. But while Dan seems to show some sympathy for an attempt to cultivate a difference between media portrayals and actual policy, I'll suggest the NDP's goal should instead be to make sure that its real position is known and promoted to the greatest extent possible.

Of course, it will help to keep the party's policy book accessible and ensure easier access to the NDP's trade policy on its website. But the root of the current problem of perception seems has plenty to do with the fact that even people with a strong connection to the party are looking to the media for guidance about its positions - meaning that sending different messages through different channels won't particularly help other than with a narrow group of people who are monitoring the website religiously without looking at what MPs are saying about the topic at hand.

And indeed, any attempt to finesse the corporate media is almost sure to be too cute by half. There's no feasible means of sending a distinct message to supporters which will completely escape the media's notice - so while the stenography pool might be happy to eat up whatever message the NDP chooses to send in one-off interviews, the corporate apologists in the media will only find fodder to question the party's beliefs. And the only way to deal with the resulting questioning is to have a strong answer.

(Not to mention that a future NDP government could face far more pushback in actually giving effect to the party's values if those pushing the "NDP=Libs!" line blame the party for their own failures when the government tries to implement its agenda.)

With that in mind, the NDP should use the media exposure available to the Official Opposition as directly as possible in promoting the party's actual values - including the reason why they differ from those of the Libs and Cons. And when progressive Canadians hear the message that free trade is just one possible tool which carries significant risks and downsides (rather than the be-all and end-all as believed by the other parties) from the NDP through all available channels, that will ensure that everybody with an affinity for the NDP's views knows exactly which party to support.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ray Grigg explains how Idle No More and other decentralized social movements may make for a crucial counterweight to the Harper Cons and their command-and-control philosophy:
Systems are always bigger and more complex than the individuals who try to control them. So political systems, like ecological ones, can be influenced and guided for a while by the stringent and obsessive management of details, but the intricate convolutions within their countless interacting parts eventually expose the futility of such effort. This is now becoming apparent in the present Conservative government in Canada under the authoritative - some say autocratic - leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Prime Minister is known for his propensity to control, a predilection that includes his caucus, parliament and the research studies from every scientist in the employ of the federal government. All information is vetted through his office, the PMO, to be certain it conforms to the message and the image he wants to portray of himself as a rational and competent manager of the nation's business. But this strategy ultimately fails because even the most fastidious control can never match the complexity of systems. Like trying to prevent water from flowing downhill, pressures build, leaks occur, the ground saturates, and the whole containment effort finally collapses.
The Idle No More movement is so diverse and amorphous that it will be difficult to control by the Prime Minister and his powerful PMO. Such a vague and unfocused opponent will be an elusive target for Stephen Harper's vindictiveness. A restless and evolving movement with a wide range of demands will be impossible to manipulate with his secretive strategies. So Stephen Harper's suspicious nature will be forced to confront a dilemma of his own making. Charisma is not going to solve this problem. And if frustration should activate the morose streak in his character, he can stew in it until the end of First Nations' patience - which could be a very long time.
- Murray Mandryk criticizes David Marit's recitation of the Cons' message in his rare dissent from Saskatchewan's electoral boundaries commission report. But the more significant follow-up point looks to be the continued use of unsourced and misleading robocalls to push the Cons' talking points.

- CBC reports on the history of public spending on stadium projects - with the unsurprising conclusion being that the public generally doesn't gain anything from its massive expenditures.

- Straight Goods notes that a private surgery clinic which was supposed to be Alberta's health care panacea just a decade ago is now bankrupt - with the public picking up the bill to keep services running as the operators have no interest in treating patients under the terms of their existing contracts. [Update: a reader notes that SG's version of the story looks to be a reprint from 2010.]

- Finally, Trish Hennessy follows up on this week's Statistics Canada figures on inequality by running the numbers on Canada's privileged class.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Musical interlude

Signum feat. Julie Thompson - Never Be The Same (Extended Mix)

Friday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material to end your week.

- Lawrence Martin questions the media's obsession with fabricating stories out of imagined motivations and insignificant shifts in poll numbers:
In the year before an election, the media’s heavy focus on tiny political twists and turns is understandable. Here in Canada, a federal campaign is likely a long way off, the Conservatives’ numbers are stable and so are those of the NDP. But it doesn’t prevent the rash of pollster and media speculation about who is up and who is down and who might be headed in either direction.

A headline the other day announced that the Conservatives were benefitting from an NDP slide. The story went on to say that the Tories were at 35 per cent. This was a one per cent gain since last October. The NDP, meanwhile, was at 29 per cent — a decline of two percentage points. No matter. It was enough for a big headline making it sound like something significant was happening.

Yeah, right. A whopping one point gain for one, a catastrophic two point fall for another.

This relentless reading of the tea leaves is getting out of control. Maybe it’s time we declared a moratorium on political-impact stories. Just for a couple of days. What a refreshing change that would be.
- Meanwhile, Chris Selley rightly argues that no opposition party should be taking a coalition off the table as a possible outcome following the next federal election:
It’s not that a coalition is likely — though it’s far more likely than the plan Mr. Coyne proposes — or desirable. But why make this so complicated? We know from recent experience that when power is either offered or threatened, any party in the House of Commons will cooperate with just about any other. If any of their leaders denies that, he’s a liar or a fool. This is the way parliamentary democracies are supposed to work. I’m sticking with my own crazy plan: The Liberals, New Democrats try to win their own majorities, do not rule out cooperation should this not occur, and forge off bravely into the future.
- Iglika Ivanova and Seth Klein offer some progressive tax suggestions for British Columbia. And Toby Sanger answers the corporatist right's outrage that anybody might discuss perpetually-increasing income inequality:
The Globe also weighed in with an editorial urging us to “Hug the 1 per cent“ claiming they get a bad rap and that they are a net benefit to Canada because they pay more than their share in income taxes. The Globe editorialists forgot about the other taxes Canadians pay.  When all those other taxes (sales, payroll, property) are considered, the top 1 per cent actually pay a lower share of their income in taxes than all other income groups, including the poorest 10 per cent, as the CCPA’s comprehensive analysis demonstrated.

Another notable reaction was that the income of the top 1 per cent, with a median of $283,400, isn’t that high. (Of course, that raises the question: if $283K isn’t that high, how low does that mean the median of $28K for the 99% is?).  If anything Statistics Canada downplayed the incomes of the top 1 per cent and our growing income gap. For instance, the average mean (as opposed to median) income of the top 1 per cent was actually $429,600 in 2010. The real incomes of the top 1 per cent almost doubled (up by 96%) in the 25 years from $251,250 in 1982 to $492,900 in 2007 (in 2010$).
Meanwhile the average real income of the bottom 90% increased by only 5% over this quarter decade from $27,600 in 1982 to $29,300 in 2010.
The drop in average taxes paid by the top 1 per cent wasn’t because of a cut in the top federal marginal income tax rate, which has been 29% since 1988, but was caused both by an expansion of tax loopholes (with lower rates on capital gains and stock options) and by provincial cuts to top income tax rates, such as Alberta’s shift to a 10% flat tax rate.

And in these times of continuing fiscal concern, these are the some ways we can regain these revenues: by closing tax loopholes and raising provincial top income tax rates. And if the top 1 per cent paid their fair share of tax, they might get a little more love from the rest of us.
- And finally, Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explain why Canada's real economic issues have little to do with deficits, and everything to do with the complete lack of a sustainable economic vision from the Cons.

On disillusionment

John Warnock's response to last week's column (which focused on how anybody with an interest in Saskatchewan's future direction should be interested in acting on that interest through party involvement) is worth a read in its suggestions as to the policies the NDP should stand for. But Warnock looks to go thoroughly off the rails on at least two points.

First, there's his assertion about the content of the leadership debates so far:
The next election, like the last, will focus on the state of the economy, ownership and control of the resource industries, and general taxation policy. Brad Wall has made this clear. But these issues have been ignored in the NDP leadership debates.
To which I can only question: has Warnock actually watched a single one of the debates? Because they're fairly readily accessible - and I don't recall a single one where it would be accurate to describe Warnock's preferred slate of issues as being "ignored" past the end of any of Erin Weir's opening addresses. (And to be clear, Weir has been far from the only candidate raising such issues: some of the most noteworthy exchanges between all of the other candidates have also involved economic choices, tax policy and perspectives on public enterprise, with a range of choices including strong stances on Warnock's priorities along with more reserved positions.)

That wilful blindness leads into the other and more fundamental problem. By limiting his focus to perceived slights from past NDP governments (some fair, some not) instead of listening to what the leadership candidates are actually discussing, Warnock only sends the message that he has no interest in doing anything which might actually bring about the goals which he appears to share in common with many NDP members and leadership voters.

Fortunately, there isn't much evidence to suggest others are following Warnock down his path to nowhere. But it's well worth keeping in mind that even if they succeed in achieving their intended purpose, gratuitous demotivational rants serve only to limit the possibilities available to any political movement.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- In response to the Fraser Institute's latest attempt to foment panic (to be used as an excuse to attack public programs and hand yet more free money to corporations), Trish Hennessy explains the province's choices in terms anybody should be able to understand:
The austerity experiment has been waged in several European Union countries: Massive cuts in government spending for four years drove Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland into full-scale economic depression. Meanwhile, the U.K. is struggling to get off its austerity treadmill, despite the less than stellar results there.

Ontario could pretend that more of the same – cutbacks – will yield different results than it has already in Europe. But even the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Oliver Blanchard, has come out saying Europe went too far with austerity measures.

As for California, CCPA Economist Hugh Mackenzie says: “It’s suffering primarily from the kind of policies the Fraser Institute advocates: cutting and freezing taxes when it doesn’t make any sense to do so. Even the most superficial reading of the California experience points to the role that tax freezes, tax cuts and various propositions designed to limit the ability of California to meet its obligations.”

Austerity poses a similar threat in Ontario, where more government cutbacks could lead to higher unemployment – including youth unemployment, which is already unacceptably high in Ontario.

Yes, Ontario did incur a deficit during the worst of the global economic crisis – due in part to dropping tax revenues, which always occurs during a recession, and aided by stimulus spending that helped prevent even more job losses.

The province launched into spending cuts before the economy had fully recovered, which hasn’t helped matters.

That said, Ontario’s deficit is on the mend more rapidly than expected. The Finance Minister says it’s already almost $3 billion less than his Fall 2012 prediction. Barring another economic downturn, Ontario’s deficit will be balanced by 2017 – quite possibly earlier, without needing to lay off workers, axe services and dangle more tax cuts in front of corporations.
- Meanwhile, Miles Corak explains that the most privileged 1% wants to avoid any talk of inequality by pointing out how it's getting worse. And Andrew Jackson breaks that group down even further to find our wealthiest citizens are paying far less than they did a decade ago even as their incomes have skyrocketed:
The top 0.1 per cent paid income tax at an average effective rate of 35.4 per cent in 2010. While much higher than the effective tax rate paid by the bottom 99 per cent, that is only slightly higher than the effective income tax rate of 33.3 per cent, which was paid by the top 1 per cent as a whole.

The effective income tax rate paid by the top 0.1 per cent has fallen very sharply, from 41.6 per cent to 35.4 per cent since 2000. This compares to a fall in the effective rate from 39.4 per cent to 33.3 per cent for the top 1 per cent as a whole, and a fall from 18.0 per cent to 14.8 per cent for the bottom 99 per cent.

One has to question why federal and provincial governments have chosen to cut effective top tax rates by so much while the income share of the super-affluent has been rising so rapidly.
- It's better than nothing to see that the Cons have been forced to walk back their commitment to secret loans. But perhaps the more important evidence of warped priorities (which don't seem to have changed) can be found in the original story - where Glen McGregor notes that the Cons set up the system to ensure a steady flow of photo ops rather but not any public accountability whatsoever:
The loan agreements with the businesses that get the money requires them to accept public disclosure, but the contribution agreement between the government and the development organizations does not provide for public disclosure.

It does, however, require the development organization to “participate in and assist with the co-ordination of a public announcement by the minister in the form of an event,” and “co-ordinate a mutually agreement on venue, date and time in light of the availability of the minister for public media events outlining project achievements.”
- And the Cons are also pushing the envelope in trying to silence civil servants who have the ability to point out where political directions are leading them astray - with CIDA's loyalty oath serving as the latest example. And of course, that inclination toward perpetual cover-ups only figures to encourage waste and other harmful outcomes.

- Finally, and speaking of waste: yes, the Canadian public was billed $1 million to ship Stephen Harper's limousines across the Pacific. No wonder the Cons are trying to stop the opposition parties from asking order paper questions like the one that revealed that sad reality.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New column day

Here, updating the respective effects of smart investment and needless austerity in the economic laboratory provided by the 2008 financial meltdown - and noting we have all the more reason to be suspicious of our own austerity buffs at home.

For further background, see...
- Jason Kirby's 2011 proposal to compare the U.S. and U.K. as test cases.
- Philip Aldrick on the disastrous effects of austerity in the U.K.
- The U.S. Treasury's comparison (PDF) of growth among different countries up to early 2012.
- Reuters on Japan's sudden surge since its stimulus program was announced just a month ago.
- Bloomberg on Iceland's remarkable recovery - driven by a determination to prioritize citizens' interests over the lobbying of the financial sector.
- And finally, Paul Krugman passim - but especially his commentary on the IMF's recognition that governments thoroughly underestimated the value of stimulus.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Jeffrey Simpson rightly notes that Alberta (like other resource-heavy jurisdictions) should be trying to diversify its revenue sources and economic development instead of relying on the one-time sale of publicly-owned resources to pay the bills. And Robyn Allan points out why we shouldn't let oil barons pretend they need yet more concessions when it comes to pipeline construction:
U.S. consumers are not benefiting at our expense. A benefit from lower-priced Western Canadian crude oil at the refinery gate in the U.S. is not passed onto U.S. consumers in the form of lower prices for gasoline, jet fuel or diesel. U.S. consumers in the Midwest are price gouged.

It's the refining sector that sees the benefit of lower priced WCS in the form of windfall profits from low feedstock costs. To the extent U.S.-based refineries are owned by companies producing oil in Canada, there are no losses -- real or imaginary. Cenovus is one of those companies. After claiming a huge hit for the industry, and by implication, Cenovus, five minutes later Ferguson told his audience, "we are substantially benefiting (from the wide differentials) at our refinery in Wood River" where 130,000 barrels a day -- the majority of crude Cenovus produces -- is delivered.

So Ferguson's company is not suffering. And any other integrated oil company with refinery interests is not suffering.
- Michel Barnier, the EU's Internal Markets Commissioner, makes the case for a financial transactions tax as both a source of revenue and a check on rampant speculative trading:
"The financial crisis ... broke the back of growth and after all we helped out the financial sector, it's perfectly right and fair that it should give something back," he said.
The controversial tax on trading in stocks, bonds and derivatives came a step closer on Tuesday when European Union finance ministers allowed some member states to proceed with the plan, intended to reap billions of euros for struggling European nations.

Barnier said the tax was "perfectly bearable," and could be "applied fairly easily in technical terms."

Barnier acknowledged the fact the tax would be limited to Europe was a weakness.

"I would prefer it of course if this tax were a worldwide tax," he said. "I would prefer it if the UK and even the U.S. were on board."
- Mark Kennedy and Jason Fekete report that Stephen Harper doesn't consider Canada's First Nations to rate even a mention in his discussion with the Con caucus. But even the fact that's hardly the most hostile response the aboriginal movement has seen from Harper and his party just this week seems to fall short of capturing the Cons' wilful neglect of First Nations: instead, the Cons seem to have decided that they've heard more out of the Idle No More movement in the past few months than they expect to have to address in their entire stay in office, and are working to sever any remaining lines of communication so they can get back to their trained seal routine.

- Finally, the Star Phoenix weighs in on how Saskatchewan's new electoral boundaries finally bring us closer to nationally-recognized standards for communities of interest. But naturally, the Cons have laid the groundwork to preserve artificial divisions which serve their electoral purposes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Alison highlights the attempts of Sun TV to rally the most extreme reactionary movements in the country behind its bid for mandatory carriage. And the question of whether we want to publicly sanction a network beholden to such interest groups would seem to answer whether the application is justified.

- Paul Krugman comments that the Republicans' attacks on disabled workers are both thoroughly contrary to any sense of fairness, and utterly useless in practice:

(W)hen Reagan ranted about welfare queens driving Cadillacs, he was inventing a fake problem — but his rant resonated with angry white voters, who understood perfectly well who Reagan was targeting. But Americans on disability as moochers? That isn’t, as far as I can tell, an especially nonwhite group — and it’s a group that is surely as likely to elicit sympathy as disdain. There’s just no way it can serve the kind of political purpose the old welfare-kicking rhetoric used to perform.
The point, I think, is that right-wing intellectuals and politicians live in a bubble in which denunciations of those bums on disability and those greedy children getting free health care are greeted with shouts of approval — but now have to deal with a country where the same remarks come across as greedy and heartless (because they are).
- Justin Ling spins a rollicking yarn about Justin Trudeau's whiplash-inducing reversals on federalism.

- Nick Cohen notes that even the U.K.'s Conservatives are starting to come to terms with the failins of doctrinaire free-market dogma. And Seth Ackerman offers an interesting discussion as to how the benefits of markets can be decoupled from the tendency toward corporatism found in our current version:
What is needed is a structure that allows autonomous firms to produce and trade goods for the market, aiming to generate a surplus of output over input — while keeping those firms public and preventing their surplus from being appropriated by a narrow class of capitalists. Under this type of system, workers can assume any degree of control they like over the management of their firms, and any “profits” can be socialized– that is, they can truly function as a signal, rather than as a motive force. But the precondition of such a system is the socialization of the means of production — structured in a way that preserves the existence of a capital market. How can all this be done?

Start with the basics. Private control over society’s productive infrastructure is ultimately a financial phenomenon. It is by financing the means of production that capitalists exercise control, as a class or as individuals. What’s needed, then, is a socialization of finance  — that is, a system of common, collective financing of the means of production and credit.
At the end of the process, firms no longer have individual owners who seek to maximize profits. Instead, they are owned by society as a whole, along with any surplus (“profits”) they might generate. Since firms still buy and sell in the market, they can still generate a surplus (or deficit) that can be used to judge their efficacy. But no individual owner actually pockets these surpluses, meaning that no one has any particular interest in perpetuating or exploiting the profit-driven mis-valuation of goods that is endemic under capitalism. The “social democratic solution” that was once a contradiction – selectively frustrating the profit motive to uphold the common good, while systematically relying on it as the engine of the system – can now be reconciled.

To the same end, the accrual of interest to individuals’ bank deposits can be capped at a certain threshold of wealth, and beyond that level it could be limited to simply compensate for inflation. (Or the social surplus could be divided up equally among everyone and just paid out as a social dividend.) This would yield not exactly the euthanasia of the rentier, but of the rentier “interest” in society. And while individuals could still be free to start businesses, once their firms reached a certain size, age and importance, they would have to “go public”: to be sold by their owners into the socialized capital market.
But the basic point is clear enough: since these firms buy and sell in the market, their performance can be rationally judged. A firm could be controlled entirely by its workers, in which case they could simply collect its entire net income, after paying for the use of the capital. Or it could be “owned” by an entity in the socialized capital market, with a management selected by that entity and a strong system of worker co-determination to counterbalance it within the firm. Those managers and “owners” could be evaluated on the relative returns the firm generates, but they would have no private property rights over the absolute mass of profits. If expectations of future performance needed to be “objectively” judged in some way, that is something the socialized capital markets could do.

Such a program does not amount a utopia; it does not proclaim Year Zero or treat society as a blank slate. What it tries to do is sketch a rational economic mechanism that denies the pursuit of profit priority over the fulfillment of human needs.
- Which leads nicely to Simon Enoch's analysis as to how the Sask Party is following a traditional right-wing model in trying to undermine the successful publicly-owned institutions we already enjoy in Saskatchewan.

- Finally, Josh Eidelson discusses the "alt-labor" movement seeking to improve the lot of workers through means other than traditional certification.

On voter pools

Yesterday's announcement of the membership numbers for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race gives us some indication as to how the rest of the campaign will play out. But let's put the final membership number in context.

First of all, the oft-mentioned 35% increase over the party's 2012 numbers is bound to be at least slightly misleading. While last year did include a federal leadership race, the level of attention devoted to signing up new members in Saskatchewan figures to be higher in a vote limited to members within the province.

Instead, the more important precedent for the NDP's total membership numbers figures to be the number of eligible voters in 2009 - the most recent year when a provincial leadership race was similarly in progress. And in that comparison, the party has seen a modest drop from 13,000 members in 2009 to 11,160 in 2013 - but without a single campaign overwhelming the voter pool as Dwain Lingenfelter seemed to do in the previous race.

Meanwhile, the composition of the voter pool looks to be a clear plus for the NDP. A 350% increase in young members compared to last year offers a strong signal of renewal, particularly if the new voters stay involved beyond the leadership convention.

Naturally, the individual campaigns are each emphasizing different aspects of the new numbers: Ryan Meili focusing on the new numbers as evidence of renewal, Cam Broten highlighting the fact that his Saskatoon-Massey Place constituency features the greatest number of members in the province, and Trent Wotherspoon again using a general "hundreds" number to describe the new members signed up by his campaign.

But the ultimate takeaway looks to be a voter pool well within the range of expectations, but a bit younger and newer than the campaigns may have anticipated. And we'll see whether that shapes the candidates' appeals as the race approaches its home stretch - with online voting set to start on February 4.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Exhausted cats.

On priorities

In addition to its eminently sensible proposal to give effect to the rights of indigenous Canadians, the NDP also introduced another bill yesterday - and one which looks to raise a few more questions.

Lest there be any doubt, that question doesn't have to do with whether Craig Scott's bill setting ground rules for a future referendum is an improvement on current Canadian law. The "go ahead and hold the vote, then we'll tell you whether it counted" philosophy underlying the Clarity Act has always been bizarre at best, and the framework set out by the NDP replaces that indecision-as-policy approach with genuinely clear standards and processes.

But I do think it's worth asking whether Thomas Mulcair was closer to the mark in his initial response to the Bloc's usual crisis-mongering than in the announcement of the bill:
Monsieur le Président, j’aurais aimé me lever aujourd’hui pour parler d’économie, d’emploi, de pauvreté, à savoir des enjeux qui préoccupent vraiment les gens. Cependant, ce n’est pas ce dont le Bloc veut nous parler aujourd’hui. Pour le Bloc, il vaut mieux ranimer les vieux débats du passé.
Il faut croire que le Bloc n’a pas reçu le message envoyé par les Québécois lors de la dernière élection. C’est une élection où, je le rappelle, le NPD a reçu un appui record et un mandat historique à Ottawa. Le soir du 2 mai 2011, quatre millions et demi de Canadiens ont voté pour la vision rassembleuse mise en avant par mon ami, Jack Layton. C’est une vision d’un Canada plus inclusif, plus vert, plus prospère et qui respecte le Québec.
Now, I'm in full agreement that Quebec voters have consistently sent the message that they're long past tired of being badgered about hypothetical referenda rather than real issues - and that the NDP's success can be traced largely to its appreciation of that reality. But if Mulcair is right in recognizing that the only way to win a game of "Let's Bloviate About A Referendum!" is not to play - as I think he is - then it's worth wondering why he's choosing to take a turn at it.

Of course, there may be other strategic thoughts behind the introduction of Scott's bill. Maybe the hope is to lead the Libs' leadership candidates even further down the same path to allow Mulcair to frame them as remaining out of touch (in which case, mission accomplished). Or perhaps the intention is to present a single bill now as a marker to point to when the subject is raised later, while planning to turn attention back to more substantive issues at the first available opportunity.

Even if so, I'd still have some timing questions as to why that's being done right this minute, rather than after NDP members have had a chance to shape the party's direction under Mulcair. But more importantly, while the NDP certainly needs to think about how to position itself compared to its competitors, it also needs to keep its own priorities in order - meaning that the true test for Mulcair may be whether he keeps the NDP's focus on the issues he knows to be more important.

#skndpldr Candidate Rankings - January 29

At the best of times, what's visible and accessible to the public makes for only a relatively small part of a leadership campaign's work. But that goes doubly over the course of a week featuring a membership deadline with no corresponding announcement of the results.

With that in mind, we shouldn't be surprised to see little change in this week's candidate rankings.

1. Ryan Meili (1)

While I've ranked Meili at the top of the group of candidates since starting these rankings, I'm also mindful of the need to watch how trends in the campaign affect possible alternative interpretations. And while Meili's membership numbers fall short of making him a prohibitive favourite, they at least leave little room for doubt that he'll stay on the ballot for quite some time unless he somehow loses current supporters.

2. Cam Broten (2)

Broten once again did well for himself in the endorsement department, ensuring that he'd hold his current position. But the bigger question is whether a late membership push added any more supporters to the party rolls than Broten held before.

3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)

In addition to releasing respectable membership numbers of his own, Wotherspoon is also embracing the money bomb grassroots fund-raising philosophy by another name. And if nothing else, the effort should make for a fascinating test case as to whether Saskatchewan residents are more likely to be motivated or driven to inaction by a frigid winter.

4. Erin Weir (4)

Finally, Weir's campaign was quiet on the membership front, but did earn some positive press with a stop in Lloydminster.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The CCPA looks at Statistics Canada's latest income data and finds that inequality has been growing steadily across the country over the past few decades. The Canadian Labour Congress notes that corporate tax cuts have led to cash hoarding rather than increased jobs or productivity. Needless to say, the Village requests in all seriousness that observers not draw a connection between the two or any associated economic theory.

- Meanwhile, George Monbiot comments on how the removal of a privileged class from society at large serves to explain the disconnect between the wealthy and mere ordinary citizens:
In the Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt explains that the nobles of pre-revolutionary France "did not regard themselves as representative of the nation, but as a separate ruling caste which might have much more in common with a foreign people of the same society and condition than with its compatriots".

Last year the former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren wrote something very similar about the dominant classes of the US: "the rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens … the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it."

Secession from the concerns and norms of the rest of society characterises any well established elite. Our own ruling caste, schooled separately, brought up to believe in justifying fairytales, lives in a world of its own, from which it can project power without understanding or even noticing the consequences. A removal from the life of the rest of the nation is no barrier to the desire to dominate it. In fact, it appears to be associated with a powerful sense of entitlement.

So if you have wondered how the current government can blithely engage in the wholesale transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, how its frontbench can rock with laughter as it truncates the livelihoods of the poorest people of this country, why it commits troops to ever more pointless post-colonial wars, here, I think, is part of the answer. Many of those who govern us do not in their hearts belong here. They belong to a different culture, a different world, which knows as little of its own acts as it knows of those who suffer them.
- Wendy Stueck reports that HD Mining is withdrawing some of its temporary foreign workers after having been required to provide information about the Canadian workers it rejected for the same jobs. But it remains to be seen whether that's an admission of guilt, or a threat not to bother pursuing profit if it has to pay fair wages in the process.

- Finally, Saskatchewan's federal electoral boundaries commission has released its final report - featuring some changes from the first set of proposed ridings, but not from the principle of urban communities of interest.

Monday, January 28, 2013

It takes a Village

Shorter John Ivison:

I consider it a sign of profound unseriousness that Romeo Saganash and the NDP want to give effect to an international treaty which might result in indigenous people having some influence over policy. Veto power for multinational corporate conglomerates, that's fine. But *people*? Outrageous, says I.

[Update: John Ibbitson provides the source declaring that all Serious People must support all free trade agreements regardless of merit.]

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Maude Barlow offers some background to the Common Causes protests happening across Canada this week:
Over the last two years, we have witnessed amazing organizing and mobilizing in Canada -- from student movements in Québec, to the “Defend Our Coast” struggle against tar sands pipelines in British Columbia, to scientists speaking out against the “Death of Evidence,” to the environmental community standing together through the “Black Out Speak Out” campaign. Courageous doctors have stepped forward to challenge the attacks on refugee benefits, and librarians and archivists have marched to save our collective history. Workers are fighting for their rights. First Nations have taken direct action through the “Idle No More” movement, and Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation launched a hunger strike to protest unjust omnibus bills.

The time has come for Canada-wide coordinated action against the Harper government's agenda, which is fundamentally changing our society and our country. Common Causes will work to support the many mobilizations and campaigns that already exist, but also to create a strategic, coordinated plan to ensure that the Harper agenda is stopped at the next election and replaced with a progressive alternative. Common Causes will work cross-sectorally, locally, provincially and nationally to create an extended network for solidarity, resistance, action and change. Through this coordination, we will shape priorities for common action and maximum impact.
- And if we're looking for reasons to protest, the Cons have offered up a couple of noteworthy ones - including their suppression of details about oil spills caused by neglect in oversight, the presumably-related departure of an environment commissioner who found no apparent value in highlighting issues for a government which wouldn't listen, and their advertising to tell potential Roma refugees in Hungary they're not welcome in Canada.

- But while taking to the streets, we should make sure to focus on what we can plausibly accomplish. And Murray Dobbin seems to be headed in entirely the wrong direction - demanding a one-time electoral reform pact with little prospect of success, while ignoring the reality that a two-year gap in progressive work on substantive policy will only facilitate the rightward drift he takes as a given.

- Finally, it's good to see plenty of much-needed pushback against the City of Regina's plans to shut down the pool and recreation facilities which actually allow citizens to gather and keep fit while pouring millions upon millions of dollars into a new site for passive viewing purposes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On second choices

The next week should be a relatively quiet one for the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership candidates: the membership deadline has passed, while the finalized list of members won't necessarily be available until the end of the week ahead (per the leadership rules). But I'll use the opportunity to note one point to watch as the voting window approaches.

This weekend's Ontario Liberal leadership convention offered a stark example as to how candidates can direct their supporters' actions in a delegated vote. In contrast, the one member, one vote system used by the NDP limits the effectiveness of any late shows of support for another candidate - particularly as an increasing number of voters make use of the advance preferential voting option (with the encouragement of candidates who want to lock in their own support).

As a result, in order to maximize his influence in choosing the eventual leader, a candidate will need to make lower-ballot preferences known in advance as well. But most participants in similar races have chosen not to do so, based presumably on two risks: that a candidate's recognition that any outcome other than victory is acceptable might undermine his or her own support base, and that in naming a second choice a candidate might alienate potential down-ballot supporters who back other candidates.

Martin Singh's federal NDP leadership campaign serves as a rare exception where a candidate has offered a public show of second-choice support. But it also offers an example of the circumstances in which a lower-ranked candidate might see more advantage in making a preference known early.

With that background in mind, I'll be curious to see whether the coming weeks see any direct declarations (or indirect hints) as to how the candidates themselves see their fellow contestants. And given that few people will have gained as much insight into the candidates over the past few months as regularly as those who have shared the stage, it may well be worthwhile to push the question as to how the candidates see their competitors before it's time to start voting.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- James Galbraith compares the mindless drones carrying an increasing share of the U.S.' military load, and those serving to try to attack social programs in the name of illusory deficit reduction. But sadly, Galbraith misses one of the most important similarities: in both cases, the use of replaceable machines for the task makes it far too easy to keep launching attacks even when reason would dictate otherwise.

- Meanwhile, Ivan Semeniuk reports on how poverty can influence childhood development. And Rob Carrick reports that lenders are finding ways to extract more and more money out of those with the least - ensuring that the corrosive effective of poverty are all the more devastating.

- Andrew Coyne is on target in pointing out why there's little reason to consider a merger among Canada's opposition parties. But Aaron Wherry discusses why Coyne's single-election push for electoral reform isn't any more feasible:
Are enough voters so interested in electoral reform that they would support turning the next election into a referendum on that subject? Could enough voters be convinced to momentarily suspend their concerns about other issues? Could enough voters be convinced to ignore the other policy differences between the NDP, Liberals and Greens? Could enough voters be convinced to ignore the possible ramifications of all other policy debates between the parties to vote with the hope that a real election would then be run in short order?

I’ll try to answer those questions: No. Granted, I can’t predict the future with certainty (and have just finished arguing against making such predictions). Perhaps the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens could persuade voters to make this a singular focus. But this strikes me as implausible. I don’t think voters, in general, are so interested in electoral reform that they’d go along with this. At the very least, it seems like a remarkable gamble for the three parties to make. (And, keep in mind, the Conservatives would be keen to explain, loudly and repeatedly and prominently, why this was such a terrible idea.)
Fundamentally overhauling the electoral system would probably take more than a couple days. Legislation would conceivably have to be passed through the House. Legislation would conceivably have to be passed through the Senate (how would a Conservative majority in the Senate handle such legislation?).

Even if you imagine this proceeding as expeditiously as possible, this would take some period of time (A month? A few months? More?). Someone would have to be Prime Minister while this was happening. Someone would have to be governing. How would that work? Conceivably they would have no mandate beyond changing the electoral system. Would they promise to not touch anything else for as long as they were in government? Would they promise to just carry on with Conservative policy until another election could be held? (Would anyone believe them if they promised as much?) What if something bad happened? What if something came up that required government action?

This is not a rhetorical device. I’m not trying to bury the idea in questions. I honestly want to know how this would work because I honestly don’t understand how this is supposed to work. What kind of government would we have for however long it took to change the federal electoral system and what would be the ramifications of having such a government?
- Finally, the Western Producer notes that there's ample reason to think the NDP can turn the tide on its own - particularly in its historical prairie strongholds.