Saturday, February 09, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Tabatha Southey rightly turns Brad Trost into a poster boy for the Harper Cons' deliberate aversion to critical self-evaluation:
We shouldn’t be too quick to judge.

Let’s instead take a cue from Conservative MP Brad Trost, who, when questioned regarding the calls, said, “I don’t think there was anything wrong with the robo-call. I think it was good and accurate information and we should stand behind it.”

Then Canada’s Candide went on to add, “I didn’t hear it. I don’t know the script. Don’t know anything. … One of my colleagues had it at her residence and her husband got it and he said it was fine. I’ll take his word for it.”

We may have lost the penny this week, but I hope we coined the word “Trostful,” which I will define as “marked by a total belief in the reliability, truth and strength of anything your colleague tells you was said to her by her husband, or similar evidence.”
 - Meanwhile, Murray Mandryk is rather sharper in his depiction of the Cons:
That the Conservatives denied involvement in the anonymous robocalls until being caught, red-handed, by the PostMedia voice analysis makes this explanation a dubious one. But that they have kept repeating the deceit at every available opportunity pretty much shows how disingenuous their denials really are..

They offered nonsense briefs to the commission arguing Saskatchewan hadn't grown much in the past 10 years and rural and urban voters had identical interests anyway. They stacked the meetings with friendlies spewing similar nonsense. They exaggerated how many of their friend-lies actually attended the meetings or presented briefs and then they claimed these meetings represented 75-per-cent provincewide opposition to the new boundaries.

And even when caught with their little "miscommunication" of the truth - even when the Conservatives had to own up to the fact that they were the ones responsible for the phoney and misleading push polling - they remorselessly did it in a way in which they simply repeated every one of the above falsehoods all over again.

Remorse? You've got a better chance of finding it in most federal prisons.
- Charles Hamilton reports on the Sask Party's announcement that it won't countenance any public benefit from alcohol sales. Don Gunderson rightly responds that it's the citizens of the province who will lose out as a result of that corporate giveaway.

- Chantal Hebert and John Geddes both wonder whether the particularly egregious abuses of public trust and money from Stephen Harper's highest-profile Senate appointees will pave the way for the abolition of the unelected chamber.

- And finally, John Ibbitson concludes the Globe and Mail's series on making Parliament relevant again by writing that courage on the part of MPs is the most important ingredient in a democratic revival.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Musical interlude

Deftones - Tempest

#skndpldr Roundup

Not surprisingly, the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaigns look to be focused entirely on their efforts to get out the vote now that the voting window has opened. And so aside from a few additional endorsements all around and some jostling for position in the early voting, there hasn't been much new beyond the candidates' own activities.

On that front, the candidates appeared in Prince Albert yesterday and took part in both an unofficial a debate for MNB Northern Radio (documented in part by Max FineDay), and the official party forum (reported on by Matt Gardner, and live-tweeted by Erica Spracklin, Brett Estey and Nathaniel Cole). And they'll be participating in another Regina debate tomorrow afternoon.

Which is to say, there should be plenty more to talk about before long. And I'll be particularly interested to see whether a couple of developing trends in publicly-posted votes continue over the next little while.

[Update: Corrected to note that the MNB forum was party-organized as well.]

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- While we may sometimes lose track of the continuing differences between Canadian politics and those in the U.S., here's a reminder of how we're familiar with a far wider and more progressive range of public policy choices: while we've seen plenty of discussion about improving the standard for retirement benefits available under our national pension plan (even if public support for that expansion has been ignored by a right-wing government), Duncan Black's call to do the same for Social Security is being raised as a voice in the wilderness:
If the consensus is that we need policies in place to ensure that the vast majority of people have at least a comfortable retirement, then we need to adjust our current failing policies. Expecting people to save sufficiently for their retirement, even if those savings are subsidized by our tax code, is unrealistic.

The 401(k) experiment has been a disaster, a disaster which threatens to doom millions to economic misery during the later years of their lives. Proposals to improve our system of private retirement savings -- even good ones -- will offer little to no help for the baby boomers who are currently nearing retirement, and are also unlikely to be of sufficient help for current younger workers. We need to increase Social Security benefits, now and in the future. It's the only realistic way to provide people with guaranteed economic security and comfort post-retirement.
- Chris Selley sums up the cynicism behind the Cons' latest attempts to make Canadian citizenship revocable:
They’re rarely subtle, these Tories. And they’ve perfected a brand of politics so unashamedly coarse, and so transparently manipulative, that it boggles the mind that anyone could be won over by it.

Take C-245, Calgary MP Devinder Shory’s private member’s bill — titled An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (honouring the Canadian Armed Forces) — which would strip Canadian citizenship of anyone who “engage[s] in an act of war against the Canadian Armed Forces,” provided he holds another passport.
There is no doubt such a law would be challenged in the courts, and the Conservatives wouldn’t give a fig if it lived or died. Regardless, assuming the opposition parties opposed the bill (which they had better), the Conservatives would have yet another dumb-dumb talking point. (“Do you support the Liberal-NDP-Bloc Québécois coalition’s soft-on-terrorism agenda?”) It would all cost millions, but hey, it’s not their millions. If the law dies, they can shrug and move on.
(I)f you gain citizenship legitimately, it’s yours unless you give it up. You have rights in Canada, and responsibilities to Canada; and Canada has a responsibility to you, including dealing with you if you blow up a bus in a faraway land. That’s the way it is, and the way it should be. The rest is just fundraising bait.
- Meanwhile, Chris Hall discusses how the bill would be designed to create two-tiered citizenship, with new Canadians left in a permanent state of limbo:
Canada doesn't have [wide-ranging authority to revoke citizenship]. (Nor does the U.S., unless citizenship was acquired by fraud.) And opponents say there are important policy reasons for that.

One is that the Shory bill, should it pass, would create two tiers of citizenship and so provide greater protection to people born in this country than those who choose to come here and become citizens.

Another is that the proposed changes would recognize only the privileges of becoming a naturalized citizen (like travelling on a Canadian passport, and having the opportunity to vote), and would not be a right that no government could take away.

As well, opponents argue that the two-tier approach violates Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees that every Canadian is entitled to equal treatment under the law.
- Michael Harris discusses the Cons' latest attempt to stifle scientific research.

- And finally, I can only hope John Ibbitson and Tasha Kheiriddin are right in suggesting that Stephen Harper's Senate end game involves abolishing the house of patronage. But I still strongly suspect it's something else entirely.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

#skndpldr - The Endorsement

As I've mentioned before, we can expect the bulk of the votes cast in Saskatchewan's NDP leadership election to be cast before the convention next month - and over the past day, I've seen plenty of comments to the effect that members are receiving their mail-in ballots. So I'll take the opportunity to offer my endorsement - which for this campaign will include a full ranked ballot. (Note that this is entirely separate from my candidate rankings, which again are intended to reflect likelihood of victory rather than my own choice among the candidates.)

Before I get to the endorsement, though, I'll offer a reminder that this campaign offers a remarkably strong set of choices: there's obvious upside to each of the candidates, and none of the candidates has the type of fundamental flaw which would lead me to eliminate him from serious consideration. So a lower ranking shouldn't be taken to suggest that a candidate is anything less than well-suited for the NDP's leadership.

That said, I do think there's some room for differentiation based on a candidate's fit for the leadership responsibilities of managing a party (and eventually a government), and building and giving a voice to a progressive movement within Saskatchewan. So with that in mind, here's how I'll be ranking the candidates.

1. Ryan Meili

At the start of the campaign, I wondered whether Meili would look as strong in comparison to his competitors this time out  as he did in 2009. But if anything, Meili has exceeded my expectations, ranking at or near the top of the field in all the criteria I'd look for in the next Saskatchewan NDP leader.

Since the start of the campaign (and indeed the previous release of his book), Meili has had an edge in presenting the most principled and best-developed vision for Saskatchewan. But he's also taken a back seat to nobody in his ability to defend that vision when challenged. And he's assembled an impressive organization featuring plenty of new members since his earlier campaign - helped by a quiet but engaging personality which may be an ideal antidote to the over-the-top attacks the new leader is bound to face.

2. Erin Weir

The choices become more difficult through the rest of the ballot, as there are obvious trade-offs to be made between the advocacy, personality and strategic functions of a leader. But I'll rank Weir second based on his significant strength in the former area: he rates near the top of the field in both his established commitment to progressive causes, and his ability to defend them publicly.

Meanwhile, Weir's areas for improvement should be relatively easily addressed if he were to become leader. While his leadership campaign has looked a bit more like a one-man band than would be ideal, he'd have an opportunity to grow into the role of managing an organization. And while he may not match the social ease of Meili or Wotherspoon, he's been plenty comfortable applying his sense of humour as a means of engaging audiences throughout the leadership debates.

3. Trent Wotherspoon

Wotherspoon's obvious strength in connecting personally with a wide variety of people remains the strongest element of his candidacy - even if it didn't prove enough to allow him to establish himself as a prohibitive favourite as once seemed to be the plan.

But Wotherspoon has made enough progress on the advocacy front throughout a grueling debate schedule to raise the prospect that he'll be able to connect with Saskatchewan residents through the media as well as in person - and he's taken on some significant policy causes within the leadership campaign. And those pluses  place him ahead of his colleague in the legislature.

4. Cam Broten

Broten's understated but mostly effective campaign has been largely aimed toward avoiding exactly this type of ranking. But from my standpoint, his efforts to be seen as the safe candidate have backfired somewhat.

In a campaign where NDP members have every reason to discuss and set a new course, Broten has instead positioned himself as the standard-bearer for more of the same: policy proposals connected closely to the NDP's most recent policy book, a list of endorsers comparatively light on new faces, and most importantly Broten's inclination to portray other candidates' creative ideas as a negative while equivocating somewhat on policy himself. Those can be seen as strategic moves which are subject to reversal, or they can be taken as defining how Broten's leadership would look - but either way, Broten winds up at the back of the pack for now.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- John Studzinski describes how a sense of social responsibility and a country-wide commitment to making jobs available have placed Germany in a better economic position than its European neighbours:
Let me highlight some of the features unique to the Mittelstand model that I believe everyone should learn from – and imitate if they can. The first is what we might call the Mittelstand ethos – that business is a constructive enterprise that aims to be socially useful. Making a profit is not an end in itself: job creation, client satisfaction and product excellence are just as fundamental. Taking on debt is treated with suspicion. The objective of every business leader is to earn trust – from employees, customers, suppliers and society as a whole. This ethos chimes with the values of prudence and responsibility with which every schoolteacher hopes to imbue their pupils. Consequently, about half of all German high-school students move on to train in a trade. Business and education are natural bedfellows.

The second essential feature of the Mittelstand model is the collaborative spirit that generally exists between employer and employees. This can be dated back to the welfare state that Chancellor Otto von Bismarck established in the late 19th century to head off what he saw as the menace of socialism. Its modern-day equivalent is the system of works councils, which ensures that employees' interests are safeguarded, whether or not they belong to a trade union. German workers expect their employers to keep training them, enhancing their skills. In the post-reunification recession, it seemed only natural to German workers to offer flexibility on wages and hours in return for greater job security. More recently the government protected jobs by subsidising companies that cut hours rather than staff.

A third feature of the Mittelstand model is the determination of German companies to build for the long term. To this end, they tend to keep core functions such as engineering and project management in-house, while outsourcing production whenever this proves more efficient. Mittelstand companies are overwhelmingly privately owned, and thus largely free of pressure to provide shareholder returns. This makes them readier to innovate, and invest a larger proportion of their revenues in R&D. There are Mittelstand companies that file more patents in a year than do some entire European countries. It is one of the underlying reasons for their exporting success, even when their goods seem expensive.
(T)here is much that non-Germans could learn from. To close the gap between education and business, companies should take a greater interest in their local schools and colleges. If you haven't got spare cash for sponsoring gyms or computer equipment, go and talk to sixth-formers or degree students about what you do. Find out what graduates aspire to. It will help you to work out how to attract the next generation.

If you want to get more out of your employees and suppliers, consult them; invite them into your confidence. Don't complain: "We're not like the Germans. It won't work here." Think of a different way. Try harder.

The same applies to governments. Let me mention one simple legislative option. In German law, the owner of a family business who passes it on to the next generation can avoid paying inheritance tax if, during their tenure, they have increased employment and thereby benefited the economy. What better signal could a government give than by favouring those who create employment?
- Sixth Estate comments on the Cons' deceptive efforts to dictate Saskatchewan's electoral boundaries, while Lawrence Martin sees the lies as evidence that the Cons are rotting from the head down. Meanwhile, Alice thoroughly describes the independent boundary development process in Canada and notes that "gerrymandering" isn't the right term to describe the Cons' interventions.

- Chris Hannay discusses how our current governments are missing the point of social media - including with up to eight points of revision and control over every single Tweet.

- Finally, Duncan Cameron writes that the editorial boards and political adversaries criticizing the NDP's Unity Act should instead be recognizing the opportunity created by the party's success in bringing Quebec voters into a discussion as to how to make federalism work.

New column day

Here, on the difference between genuine accountability and the rather more barbaric version on offer from the Cons and the Sask Party.

While there are too many examples of the latter to list, I'll point out a few of the most recent ones - including the federal Cons' false denials and subsequent finger-pointing over their push-poll robocalls, Con MP Brent Rathgeber's declaration that he doesn't want the public having access to PBO research which doesn't serve a requesting MP's purposes, and the Sask Party's concerted attack on Saskatchewan's provincial auditor

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tim Harper writes about Scott Vaughan's final report as the federal environmental commissioner:
Scott Vaughan doesn’t have the profile of some of his contemporaries but as the environmental commissioner bowed out with a final report Tuesday, he reminded official Ottawa how much he will be missed.

Vaughan is leaving after five years of what he calls — in typical understatement — identifying “gaps” in the environmental policies of the Conservative government. More often than not, those gaps are more like chasms.

He also departs at a time when the environment and the economy has never been so intertwined in this country, a point he hammered home before taking his leave.


“We know that there’s a boom in natural resources in this country and I think what we need now, given the gaps, given the problems we found, is a boom in environmental protection in this country as well,” he said.
- Meanwhile, Aaron Wherry has some suggestions to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer more effective based on the U.S.' Congressional Budget Office. But I'm not sure there's much hope the Cons will accept "more resources" as an answer if it might cut into their advertising budget.

- The Star-Phoenix rightly called the Cons' robocall attacks against Saskatchewan's federal electoral boundaries commission "disgusting" - and just in time for the Cons to fess up only once the case had been proven against them.

- And Bill Tieleman is working on exposing the shadowy figures behind B.C.'s million-dollar corporatist media blitz.

- Finally, NDP MP Laurin Liu offers her ideas to make Parliament more effective and representative.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Upward cats.

On clarifications

Shorter Fred DeLorey:

Silly media, wasting its time asking whether we Cons were polling over gerrymandering Saskatchewan riding boundaries.  That would involve caring about respondents' opinions. The word you're looking for is "propagandizing".

#skndpldr Candidate Rankings - February 5

Once again, there's been relatively little to shift the respective rankings of Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates. So I'll use this post to point out a few points of interest which haven't yet made it into roundup posts.

1. Ryan Meili (1)

I haven't spent much time assessing the choice of image made by the leadership candidates so far. But the last couple of weeks have featured Meili simultaneously taking on two rather different personas: as the tech-savvy candidate who's introduced campaign apps to the party, and as the traditional candidate who's comfortable presenting himself and his policies with decidedly retro imagery. And so far he seems to have pulled off the feat.

2. Cam Broten (2)

Broten too has introduced at least one retro image which fits neatly into his overall theme. But Broten's campaign has otherwise remained fairly quiet - and it remains to be seen how much of a turnout machine he'll be able to get revved up once voting starts.

3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)

This may be a make-or-break week for Wotherspoon: the Sask Party's treatment of provincial auditor Bonnie Lysyk looks to be a lasting news item, and Wotherspoon is ideally positioned to respond to it as the chair of the Public Accounts Committee. But that opportunity comes with a risk as well: if he isn't able to maintain a clear advantage over a few government back-benchers on the story, then he may come under even closer scrutiny within the leadership campaign.

4. Erin Weir (4)

Finally, Weir has received a bit of criticism from Jason Hammond for pointing to commentary from bloggers and writers who haven't publicly endorsed him as part of a "Why We're with Weir" e-mail message. But while I've wondered at times about Weir's inclination to highlight what seems like purely neutral coverage, I don't particularly share Jason's concern with this particular set of quotes: each of the pieces of commentary posted helps to answer the question of "why" even if it doesn't necessarily come from a Weir supporter. (And indeed, I'd hope all of the candidates are able to take something useful from both the approval and criticism coming from outside voices.)

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The CP reports on the Canadian applicants rejected by HD Mining as it chose instead to staff its Murray River coal project solely with low-rights temporary immigrant workers:
The unions, which are more broadly seeking a judicial review of Ottawa's decision to issue permits to the workers in the first place, say their findings justify the legal challenge.

They filed documents to the Federal Court late Friday outlining some of the qualifications found within the tossed resumes.

One applicant had more than 30 years of wide-ranging and extensive experience in all aspects of underground mining, while another had 20 years of experience, including three as an underground operations supervisor, according to their submission.

Other sample applicants had six years experience, including three in an underground coal mine, while another had completed an "underground miner hard rock common core" certificate. At least three more had three years and experience installing ventilation, operating equipment and specializing in construction, diamond drilling and production.

"(There was) a full gamut of obviously qualified people," Cochrane argued.

But he said he's still unclear as to why the company would have found the applicants unemployable.

"That part is hard to determine from my perspective. It just looks like the Canadian applicants were discounted."
And it surely can't escape notice that it's taken a persistent effort by unions to bring the truth to light, even as HD Mining and the Harper Cons teamed up to keep Canadian workers out of the Murray River jobs.

- Errol Mendes wonders whether the Cons' omnibus environmental deregulation might be an attempt to escape the federal government's constitutional duty to consult with First Nations. And Bruce Cheadle reports that the Cons' advertising spending continues to balloon long after any actual productive stimulus has come to an end.

- Kim MacKrael discusses the effect of strict party discipline in the House of Commons, while Murray Mandryk notes that the Sask Party is following the Cons' pattern of having backbenchers do nothing but read a script prepared by the party's central command.

- Meanwhile, the Leader-Post offers its support to the new federal boundaries developed by Saskatchewan's boundary commission.

- Finally, the Broadbent Institute has unveiled a new introduction page for its Equality Project.

Monday, February 04, 2013

On predetermination

Shorter Brent Rathgeber:

What government backbencher would dare consider asking the Parliamentary Budget Officer for information if he can't suppress any inconvenient findings? I'd rather stay ignorant, thank you very much.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday morning reading.

- Sixth Estate is the latest to weigh in on Statistics Canada's findings about inequality:
Progressive taxes are based on the idea that the more money you earn, the more you spend on unnecessary luxuries. Poor people therefore have very low tax rates because the bulk of their income is (or should be) spent on absolutely necessary items: food, clothing, and shelter. Wealthy people have higher tax rates because the bulk of their income is available for discretionary spending. Losing 50% of $1 million per year isn’t remotely as painful as losing 50% of $10,000 per year.

Except that in Canada, the progressive taxation system has clearly been left behind. Over the past 30 years, the income of the top 1% nearly quadrupled, but their tax rate did not increase. The bottom 90% merely doubled, and their tax rate slightly decreased. The most explosive gains were won by the top 0.01% — an elite club which saw their income quintuple since 1982, even as their tax rate actually declined from a peak rate of 46% in 1994 to just 35% today. Some burden!
- And even the Conference Board of Canada can tell there's a problem with poverty and inequality that needs to be addressed:
Linked to inequality is Canada’s high poverty rate, which ranks among the worst of the 17 countries the report looks at.

Canada’s child poverty rate is 15.1 per cent, up from 12.8 per cent in the mid-1990s, earning a ‘C’ ranking – only the U.S. ranked lower. Working-age poverty was 11.1 per cent, up from 9.4 per cent in the late 1990s – the ‘D’ ranking Canada received was the same as the U.S. and Japan.

The Conference Board calls Canada’s rate of child poverty “unacceptable,” and says action needs to be taken.

“Poor children do not eat well, do not learn well and have low chances of escaping poverty when they grow up,” Lafleur said.
- Gaius Publius looks in detail at the evidence showing austerity helps nobody (except a few predatory elites who are more interested in distancing themselves from the masses than any social or personal good). And Paul Adams points out that it's long past time to move past Paul Martin's all-too-successful effort to claim that manageable deficits are a worse outcome than poverty and lost opportunity.

- Finally, Mike Duffy's sad attempt to create a Prince Edward Island paper trail in order to hang onto his Senate seat would be a damning blow to any chamber with a good name to preserve. But who wants to bet that his fellow Con patronage appointees will do anything but circle the wagons around him?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

#skndpldr - Battlefords Debate Notes

With Saskatchewan NDP's leadership candidates figuring to be thoroughly familiar with each other and the party's debate format, one might have expected little new to emerge from the Battlefords leadership debate. But instead, it offered some novel subject matter for the candidates to discuss - and the candidates' reactions to new (or even differently-worded) questions still look to have plenty to tell us as the voting window approaches.

So what was new compared to previous debates? To start with, the audience questions took a couple of turns not seen in previous debates - with varying results.

An early question asking candidates to explain public-private partnerships and assess the P3 development of a new mental health facility was met with strong responses all around. And a later offering about the federal democratic deficit let each of the candidates focus on a particular area of strength: Trent Wotherspoon was able to champion open government and proper accounting transparency, Ryan Meili to focus in on the need for democracy to be reflected in institutions as well as a single leader's philosophy, Cam Broten to discuss the legislative process in detail and Erin Weir to pitch his proposal to eliminate corporate and union contributions to parties.

But a query about genetically-modified organisms gave rise to two distinct sets of responses: Meili and Weir both presented detailed discussions about the possible merits and pitfalls of GMOs, while Broten and Wotherspoon largely demurred on the basis that they weren't particularly familiar with the details of the issue. And that contrast was particularly stark in light of the second round of candidate questions, where Broten challenged Meili on his willingness to talk beyond a script, only to be met with an effective defence of the value of being open to discussing new and creative ideas.

Meili didn't fare as well responding to a more detailed set of questions from Weir about his plan to facilitate crowd-funding of investments. But he wasn't alone in providing at least one less-than-thorough answer: Broten avoided Weir's question as to whether favourable small-business tax treatment should be available to professional corporations, while Broten's question to Wotherspoon about party-building was also met with few specifics (even though Broten has asked similar questions before).

Finally, the most significant development may have been Meili's second round of questions, where he called out Broten's campaign based on concerns about personal attacks by volunteer callers. In effect, Meili seems to have concluded (and not without justification) that the best way to counter whisper campaigns is to bring them out into the open - and I'll be curious to see whether the campaigns take note of Broten's disavowal of the practice.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- The Guardian discusses how the all-too-familiar trend of growing inequality and ever more precarious lives for all but the fabulously wealthy is unsustainable:
While the debate in the UK is mostly focused on growth and how best to engender it, Reich explains in chilling detail why growth alone may not be enough. For too many, he explains, social mobility has begun to slide backwards. A small but growing band of global pirates – billionaires all, without allegiance to community or country, devoid of civic responsibility – accrue wealth from the continued immiseration of the squeezed majority. These hugely rich are fawned over and subsidised by governments even as inequality widens to a chasm that may yet produce social unrest.

Reich's analysis is similar to that of the UK thinktank, the Resolution Foundation. It launches its definitive study of low- to middle-income families, Squeezed Britain, this week. Britain has more than 10 million adults living on between £12,000 and £30,000 gross, the majority in work. However, this squeezed middle is fast becoming the squeezed majority, with even those on £50,000 seeing their children's prospects decline. The cause, Reich points out, is that while wages have flattened for years, the cost of living has spiralled and the richest have accelerated away. In the US, in 2008, 400 billionaires were "worth" more than 150 million of the US population. British housing statistics published last week indicated a similar contemptible polarisation under way here. The 10 most expensive boroughs in London, packed with Russian oligarchs, have a combined property "value" of £552bn, identical to that of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined.

Over the past few decades, average families have coped by more women going into employment, by working longer hours and by credit. But since 70% of the US economy is based on consumer spending, a lack of surplus cash means the engine is running out of fuel. The rich are small in number and don't spend nearly as much as the majority. "Free" markets with the rules written by the richest result in a shrinking public sector, deregulation, unemployment, low taxes for the most affluent and the threat of globalisation, depressing wages still further. The sum impact isn't "bad" capitalism, it is modern-day capitalism. How it changes, and how rapidly, is a challenge to its own survival. Once, the advancement of the employee was a part of the social contract. Under Thatcher, the aspiration of the average citizen was central via shareholding and home ownership. Now, a more brutal set of priorities pushes the requirements of "the little man" aside, while those who have money buy the influence that unjustly shapes the world in which we live. So how do we forge again the link between morality and the markets?
- And speaking of the immorality of markets, Ben Goldacre discusses how big pharma uses selective reporting of test results to get new drugs approved and prescribed - whether or not they actually serve any purpose other than profit extraction.

- Meanwhile, James Bell reports on how a concerted attack on the beneficiaries of social programs - as we're currently seeing from the Cons - serves to distract from the much larger amounts lost to tax evasion. And Trish Hennessy suggests that we should use stronger wording than "tax havens" to describe those who facilitate tax evasion.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk discusses Herb Emery's economic advice for the Wall government:
Emery's report is a great reminder to Wall - and the rest of us, for that matter - that maybe we don't need to rush into arbitrary spending decisions and that delays may not be the worst thing in world. Similarly, Emery raises some good points that dashing out to hire Irish workers or temporary labour - especially unskilled labour - seems wrong. Perhaps getting people from Ontario is better, Emery suggested. Maybe more money for skills training of First Nations people - instead of pouring more into university educations that benefit more mobile workers - is smarter government expenditure.

And if Saskatchewan people are unwilling to work at Tim Horton's for wages offered, they are likely telling us wages are too low.

Emery offers some wisdom that perhaps Wall should pass along a wake-up call to favoured groups like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which constantly opposes minimum-wage increases. As Emery explains, if you can't pay workers a fair wage, maybe you're selling your coffee too cheaply. Bringing in unskilled workers from Mexico to pour coffee hardly seems a viable solution for anyone.

#skndpldr Roundup

As expected, the last week has been a relatively quiet one in the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership campaign - representing the break between membership recruitment and voter contact. But there have been a few developments worth noting.

Most obviously, the latest debate took place in Yorkton. Scott has already posted his thoughts, while Twitter coverage at the time was offered by Stephen Moore (with a particular focus on Trent Wotherspoon) and Paige Kezima.

But the development which figures to have the most impact on the balance of the campaign is Ryan Meili's 9 + 1 message: rather than allowing other candidates to take the lead in talking about what it means to elect a leader from outside the Legislature, he's making a highly visible pitch to the effect that the NDP should be looking to build strength beyond its MLAs. And the message looks like a fairly strong one on point - though there will be somewhat of a balancing act need to avoid distracting from Meili's broader vision and policy themes in responding to what's ultimately a relatively minor strategic consideration.

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon looked to answer some of the holiday musings about Cam Broten's relative success in influencing events in the Legislature by speaking out about the treatment of Provinicial Auditor Bonnie Lysyk by Sask Party MLAs. But I'd think that it's even more telling to see the response of the MLAs involved - who tried to excuse their disrespect for Lysyk by saying they don't know what her job actually is:
Scott Moe, one of the Sask. Party MLAs on the committee, said after the meeting members were acting on their own.

"The questions that I saw in there were more around the scope of the auditor's office and what exactly the office does and questions you might expect from fairly newly elected members in there."
As a bonus for Wotherspoon, he looks to enjoy an opportunity to follow up on the first new cycle as the Public Accounts Committee revisits the same terrain this week.

Finally, while Meili and Wotherspoon earned plenty of attention with their most recent public interventions, Erin Weir's latest should have received more. Obviously any news about PotashCorp's low royalties paid in 2012 fits with Weir's campaign message - but the minimal revenues coming in from the extraction of resources by a highly profitable private operator is also highly significant as a matter of provincial public policy.