Saturday, February 23, 2013

On divisions

Dan Tan has already provided one follow-up post on the sudden rash of commentary arising out of Erin Weir's decision to withdraw from the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race and endorse Ryan Meili. But I'll take my own look at how the Weir endorsement and the associated reaction from the Village (or should we call it the Hamlet for Saskatchewan?) may affect the leadership campaign.

As long as there were four leadership candidates in the race, there were several ways to try to draw dividing lines among them. And the message that's suddenly crystallized in the media wouldn't have registered as the most obvious classification schemes.
One could view the most important differences in the campaigns were geographical, with Meili/Broten and Wotherspoon/Weir largely representing Saskatoon and Regina members respectively while competing for other votes around the province. Or one could contrast the above-the-fray messages and statesmanship from Meili/Wotherspoon against the more conflict-oriented approaches of Broten/Weir.

Even for those wanting to divide the campaign into Meili/Weir and Broten/Wotherspoon groupings, there were other more sound grounds for doing so (insider vs. outsider, detailed policies vs. high-level platforms) aside from the ideological framework applied by Gormley and Mandryk. And that goes doubly since Weir's narrow focus on royalty loopholes and criticism of broader review processes could arguably be seen as less ambitious (if more certain to bring in some additional revenue) than the reviews favoured by the other candidates in establishing the fiscal basis for progressive policy.

Finally, the candidates themselves had conspicuously avoided dividing themselves into consistent groupings - as each wanted to preserve enough distinctions from potential challenges on any one set of criteria by pointing out the importance of others. Indeed, as I observed here, Wotherspoon declined what amounted to an offer from Broten to divide the race based on MLA experience.

But with the field down to three and with Meili all but cementing his place on any final ballot, most of the permutations and combinations have disappeared.

Instead, the most important question from here on in looks to be whether members vote based on the perception of three camps or two. Unless Broten and Wotherspoon's respective supporters link their interests together in a way the candidates haven't done, Meili looks to have a significant advantage. But it will be well worth watching whether the media intervention actually encourages that dynamic where it might not have developed otherwise.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Chrystia Freeland points out why productivity doesn't provide an accurate picture of economic development if it merely results in increased inequality rather than shared benefits:
Productivity and innovation, the focus of policy makers and business leaders, no longer guarantee widely shared prosperity. “Digital technologies are different in that they allow people with skills to replicate their talents to serve billions,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “There is really a drastic winner-take-all effect because every industry is becoming like the software industry.”

Classical economic theory isn’t entirely wrong. The danger isn’t — as it was easy to fear during the depths of the financial crisis — structural unemployment. The problem is what kind of jobs, at what kind of salaries, the shiny new technologically powered economy of the future will generate.

Lawrence H. Summers, the Harvard professor and former U.S. secretary of the Treasury, has a vivid way of describing the dystopian possibility. “As economists like to explain, the system will equilibrate at full employment,” Mr. Summers said in a public interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “But maybe the way it will equilibrate at full employment is there’ll be specialists at cleaning the shallow end and the deep end of rich people’s swimming pools. And that’s a problematic way for society to function.” 
- And Michael Harris comments on another obvious set of problems in developing a functional society, as the manipulation of interest rates by a financial sector left to nothing but an irrational honour system served to siphon massive amounts of wealth toward a privileged few:
The snakes in suits who think about sleazy ways of making money day and night couldn’t have dreamed up a better scam than manipulating the Libor. Anyone who pays a mortgage or struggles with a student loan feels their power. So do the people who get less of a dividend on their corporate bonds.

But for bankers and brokers with cash-register hearts, the possibilities of profit and benefit from fiddling the Libor were endless.

That’s because the rate was whatever they said it was. Setting it became a vast exercise in Scout’s Honour run amok. Floor traders who assisted in the scam increased their bonuses. The colluding banks made money by lending at a higher interest rate, knowing that they had the ability to artificially lower their costs when borrowing the same currency by driving down the Libor. Governments had the appearance of wisdom.
The thievery and deception went on for years. Finally, heads rolled and charges were laid. As usual, public and private regulators proved to be direct relatives of Rip Van Winkle. They bleated, lamb-like, claiming to be shocked that the world’s biggest banks had turned international banking into a private casino. In that gaming house, the cards were marked, the dice loaded, and everyone got fleeced but the guys who drove Ferraris.
The Libor scandal, you see, was actually aided and abetted by the government of the day and the Bank of England. No one was regulating the Wild West banking practices because they had opted for the so-called “light touch” approach to supervising banking.

People with the lightest touch usually turn out to be pickpockets. De-regulation of the banking industry unleashed 10,000 hyenas on an unsuspecting public.
Which is particularly worth noting as other areas of interest - such as, say, Saskatchewan's environment - are also shifted toward models where the specialized expertise of regulators gives way to a similar "light touch" to encourage innovative evasion tactics.
- Better Way Alberta emphatically refutes Alison Redford's claim that the province's budget problems are a matter of spending rather than revenue, pointing out that Alberta could raise tens of billions of dollars each year simply by applying a more reasonable royalty structure and a tax system consistent more with other Canadian provinces.

- Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher offer an overview of where Robocon stands, as well as the news that Elections Canada's review of the Cons' vote suppression is still in progress but running into limitations in its own investigative authority.

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson recognizes that the Cons' much-ballyhooed Office of Religious Freedom is intended purely for domestic political consumption rather than any plausible hope of influence around the world.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Musical interlude

Thornley - Make Believe

On responsibility

Leftdog has already weighed in on one key connection to be drawn based on the latest news about the siphoning of money from a supposed attempt to toward insiders with a sole-sourced deal to provide computers at inflated prices. But let's look at a couple more points arising out of the story.
All of this seems to contradict what Donna Harpauer, the government minister responsible, told the NDP Opposition last June.

"The contract cost was within the acceptable range for similar goods and services and the goods and services were necessary," Harpauer said at the time.

Now, Harpauer says she made that claim based on what she had been told by government members on the IPAC board.

Asked recently if it sounded like taxpayers got value for their money, she said no.
Now, the combination of public funding and government board representation would seem to make it obvious that Brad Wall can't escape direct responsibility for the misuse of public money. But the Sask Party is now pointing fingers at its own representatives for providing false information, while trying to pretend it doesn't bear responsibility for having appointed them in the first place. (Which should put to rest any pretense that the Sask Party's communications philosophy differs at all from the finger-pointing and distraction so favoured by the Harper Cons.)

That said, if the Wall regime had been particularly concerned about any long-term results from IPAC, it presumably would have put more thought into who it appointed and how it tracked IPAC's activities. Instead, the fact that IPAC was billed for millions of dollars for little of value without anybody noticing at the time suggests that this was simply another example of Wall wanting to be able to make an announcement tangentially connected to climate change, while being at best ambivalent as to whether or not it succeeded.

As a result, the IPAC/CVI debacle serves as a case in point as to the dangers of that model based on publicity rather than results. But it's hardly the only example of the Wall government's efforts to draw confusing lines between funding and responsibility. And the combination of incompetent administration and a lack of idea what funding is intended to accomplish offers an all-too-clear invitation for abuse - leaving us to wonder just how many of the Sask Party's "innovative" announcements are really only creating opportunities for growth in the fields of rent-seeking and scam artistry.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Michael Moss writes about the amount of time and money spent by corporate conglomerates to push consumers toward eating unhealthy food:
The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
- Thomas Walkom comments on a new CCPA study theorizing that the tar sands are just the latest example of Canada's history of "staple traps":
Vast quantities of money would be spent (usually by government) on infrastructure needed to extract whatever resource was in demand. And then, suddenly, things would change.
Maybe the commodity would fall out of fashion — as did felt hats made from Canadian beaver pelts. Or maybe technology would make the staple irrelevant, as the steamship did to masts made from Canadian white pine.
In all instances, Canadians would be left paying the costs.
The Bitumen Cliff applies this analysis to the tarsands. Again, vast quantities of money are required, not just to extract the heavy oil but to transport it by rail, pipeline or ship.
Again, other economic activities are given short shrift. In this case, the high dollar created by Canada’s soaring oil exports has eaten into the ability of manufacturers to compete abroad.
And again, the political system wraps itself around the staple, with Ottawa’s Conservative government gutting environmental laws for fear that they might interfere with pipelines and resource extraction.
Can this last? Unless tarsands oil is a very unusual staple it cannot. Prices rise; prices fall. Tastes change; things happen. We are beginning to see some of that now.
- Meanwhile, Michael den Tandt wonders whether the Cons' over-the-top anti-environment spin is one of the main reasons why Canada's shameful climate change record is attracting attention abroad:
Why then, Conservatives ask plaintively, would U.S. VIPs such as Ambassador David Jacobson, or Secretary of State John Kerry, doubt Canada’s climate bona fides?

Hint to Harper brain trust: It may have something to do with the daily, mind-numbing effluvium emanating from your backbenches, vis-a-vis a “$21.5-billion, job-killing carbon tax,” ostensibly planned by Mulcair’s New Democrats. The “carbon tax” was in fact a cap-and-trade plan, proposed by the NDP in the 2011 campaign, not materially different from one offered by the Conservatives themselves in 2008. Implicit in both plans, as well as Dion’s Green Shift, was that a price be set on carbon, something every economist acknowledges is necessary to change consumer behaviour.
In beating this drum so vehemently, therefore, the Conservatives have cast themselves as do-nothing, care-nothing laggards. Environmental provisions in their 2012 budget, which gutted protections for lakes and rivers, haven’t helped.
- Bruce Johnstone writes about Jim Farney's theory that the tendency toward top-down government has made outside lobbying ineffective and restricted policy influence to political staffers.

- And finally, speaking of ill-advised policies imposed without consultation or apparent thought, Paul Orlowski points out why the Sask Party's focus on standardized testing figures to do nothing but damage to Saskatchewan's education system.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

#skndpldr Roundup

Alongside yesterday's news of Erin Weir's withdrawal to support Ryan Meili in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race (also discussed by Scott and Brian) came a few other noteworthy developments - not the least of which was the reaction of the other two leadership candidates (discussed here by Jason).

Meanwhile, Meili released a seniors policy incorporating Weir's proposal to backfill against federal cuts to Old Age Security.

Finally, John Warnock offered up his latest thoughts - though I don't see his overwhelming negativity about either Meili's chances in the leadership race or the future of the NDP under Broten or Wotherspoon as bearing much resemblance to reality.

New column day

Here, on Brad Wall's off-key lobbying against action on climate change - and why we should see the bright side of having the Obama administration push us toward more sound environmental policy when far too many Canadian leaders have failed in their responsibilities.

For further reading...
- Wall's simultaneous lobbying for automatic pipeline approval and against any further Canadian action on climate change can be found here (see in particular the video clip to the right) and here.
- Jeffrey Simpson and Tzeporah Berman have made similar points about the value of the U.S.' message linking Canadian climate change policy to approvals for new pipelines.
- And on the subject of inaction at home, here's the Ministry of the Environment's climate change page - proudly left without updates since February 16, 2011. Here's the Ministry's list of press releases - with this announcement of an "equivalency agreement" presented as the only mention of climate change since the 2011 election.

On effective departures

Obviously Erin Weir's decision to withdraw from the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership race and endorse Ryan Meili looks to be one of the most important developments of the campaign. While there's still a wide range of possible outcomes among the remaining candidates, the movement of any substantial portion of Weir's support should nearly ensure that Meili appears on the final ballot - and also figures to boost Meili's odds of reaching 50% support on an earlier ballot.

But beyond the effect of Weir's endorsement, I'll also point out the shared policy statement which accompanies his support - which both highlights the importance of Weir's being involved in the campaign all along, and finds middle ground in some areas where Weir and Meili have sparred over the course of the leadership debates.

Throughout the campaign to date, all three other candidates have declined to commit to Weir's platform on resource royalies (even while often speaking of them as valuable contributions to a broader review). But Meili has agreed not only to close the loopholes identified by Weir, but also to support an overall review to shape the NDP's platform for 2015 - effectively avoiding the "blank slate" issue that Weir has highlighted throughout the leadership campaign.

Weir's other areas of obvious influence haven't been discussed in as much detail by the other candidates. But the concept of incorporating a universal child care program into existing school facilities and the idea of creating a provincial benefit to offset any federal cuts to Old Age Security have both been regular themes for Weir - and they've now been endorsed by Meili as well.

All of which means that beyond his impressive contributions to the debates, Weir's influence on the leadership campaign now also includes a significant shift in its anticipated voting outcomes along with a direct role in shaping another round of policy choices. And we'll find out before long what effect those contributions have on the final results.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

#skndpldr - Prince Albert Debate Notes

One of the dangers of trying to catch up to past leadership events is the possibility that any analysis might be overtaken by more recent developments. But before we find out what's involved in today's joint announcement from Ryan Meili and Erin Weir, let's take a look at one more of the leadership debates.

At the outset, the Prince Albert forum featured journeys into a bit more uncharted territory than most of the recent debates, including specific policy questions about forestry, mental health and reproductive rights. And on each point, the candidates more than held their own in addressing relatively new issues.

Perhaps most interestingly, a question about the importance and meaning of full employment allowed each candidate to discuss some of the problems with our current measures for economic development, and their plans for alternate benchmarks. And Trent Wotherspoon particularly took advantage of the topic by noting that the quality of employment matters at least as much as raw job numbers. 

Once again, though, most of the distinction between the candidates was found in their questions to each other. And as at the Yorkton debate, Cam Broten's stance on corporate tax rates came under heavy scrutiny: Weir noted in his follow-up that Broten's deference to some future study serves as a carbon copy of the path taken by the Romanow and Calvert governments as they cut revenue before it could be used for social benefits, while Wotherspoon again highlighted the futility of facilitating the flow of profits out of Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile, Meili also faced a new round of questions about one of his policy planks, as Weir challenged him on jurisdictional questions and logistics surrounding his Bank of Saskatchewan proposal. But Meili was able to stand his ground in pointing to Alberta Treasury Branch as a similar institution that's succeeded under Canada's division of powers, while noting that there's room to ensure a Saskatchewan equivalent cooperates with credit unions rather than pushing them aside.

Meili also contributed a couple of noteworthy exchanges to the debate: his first query about Broten's "big idea" was met with a standard response about NDP membership structures, while his second round of questions to Wotherspoon gave rise to a substantive two-way discussion about providing opportunities for disadvantaged children.

In sum, the Prince Albert debate looked to offer enough new issues and different angles to give us a better understanding of the leadership contenders - even if the end result wasn't a campaign-changing performance from any candidate. And with that, we'll have to wait and see just how much the candidates' latest plans end up reshaping the race.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Heat-seeking cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jim Stanford points out that any "bitumen bubble" will only get worse if the Cons and their provincial cousins get their way in shifting the Canadian economy even further toward immediate tar sands extraction:
(I)f the problem exists because we’re pumping out raw bitumen faster than markets can absorb it, will it really help to pump it out even faster? Few analysts believe the Keystone pipeline to the United States would solve the problem, even if it does get built; at best, it would displace downward price pressure from Oklahoma southward to Louisiana. Pipelines through British Columbia are unlikely to be built, for environmental reasons. And even if Canadian oil could reach Asia, remember that there are similar price risks there – including alternative supplies, conservation and environmental constraints. In sum, the inherent limitations of an economic strategy rooted in the extraction and export of raw resources cannot be overcome by simply finding another foreigner to sell to.

The sheer waste and irrationality of the Canadian discount should be addressed with alternative measures. Instead of extracting and exporting raw commodities, we should strive to add more value to our resources right here in Canada. Upstream, we could use far more Canadian-made equipment in resource projects. Downstream, we could upgrade and refine the resource instead of saturating export markets with raw output. Even better would be to use Canadian petroleum refined at home to displace the expensive crude currently imported from Britain and Algeria.

Yes, this would mean slowing the pace of bitumen expansion, since there’s not enough demand in Canada, to absorb all the new bitumen the industry wants to pump. But we would extract much more value from each barrel. And we’d stop cheapening the value of our own non-renewable resources with this mad rush to export.
- Meanwhile, Stephen Leahy takes note of the Cons' effort to brand environmentalists as terrorists in order to silence dissent from the oil-at-all-costs extraction policy. Saskboy reacts with due outrage here at home.

- And Heather Scoffield reports that the Cons' supposed commitment to monitoring the environmental impacts of the tar sands has led to precisely zero public reporting so far - while any future reporting will be based less on the neutral and accurate presentation of actual results than a concerted effort to fit any result into the party line:
The hope is to start releasing data through a publicly accessible portal soon — perhaps by the end of the month, although no date has been made final.

Some types of data would be streamed continuously as scientists produce it. Other data would be released at periodic intervals of three or six months. And other categories would be released more holistically, presented in a way that would prevent analysts from coming to spurious conclusions based on a partial picture, Dodds said.
- Finally, speaking of complete failures, Amy Minsky and Mike Le Couteur took the time to check on the Cons' spin about reviewing ministerial expenses - and found that eight out of nine departments who responded (including Bev Oda's) featured absolutely no effort to determine whether expenses claimed were actually legitimate.

#skndpldr Candidate Rankings - February 19

While there's been plenty of news in Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign over the past week, there's hasn't been much evidence to suggest the campaign's shape has changed to any great degree. So rather than explaining why this week's rankings stay the same, I'll include a comment on pluses for each candidate which haven't received much attention so far.

1. Ryan Meili (1)

While Meili has understandably focused on his apparent lead within the leadership race, he may also enjoy an advantage over his opponents when it comes to shifting gears once all the votes are in.

In particular, the "healthy society" theme used throughout the leadership campaign looks to be no less valuable as a matter of contrast against the Saskatchewan Party within the province's general political conversation. And so Meili will be able to build on his leadership campaign message from day one.

In contrast, each of the other candidates would have more work to do in transitioning from leadership campaign messages to themes intended to resonate with the general public. Neither Cam Broten's emphasis on experience and party-building nor Erin Weir's focus on presenting a plan figures to serve as a particularly useful point of distinction from the Saskatchewan Party in the eyes of the general public. And while Trent Wotherspoon's focus on well-being might offer the best alternative framework within the leadership campaign, he has some distance left to go in developing that message.

2. Cam Broten (2)

The extended set of Saskatchewan NDP leadership debates has not only allowed many different people to see the candidates in action, but has also enabled us to take a look at some skills and strategies which might not be obvious absent that regular interaction. And Broten has shown plenty of comfort with one of the key public roles of an opposition leader, using a "variations on a theme" questioning style to expand on preferred topics during the course of the debate schedule.

That's important due to the reality that stories often don't filter into the consciousness of the general public without first being subject to weeks of media discussion - even as the media is hesitant to discuss the same story for more than a news cycle or two (and normally has loads of distractions thanks to a constant flow of glossy government press releases).

As a result, an opposition party looking to get its message out needs to be able to find new angles on a basic story in order to turn it into a lasting issue. And while I haven't always agreed with Broten's choice of issues, he's been highly successful at building themes while asking questions even as he pushes respondents in unexpected directions.

3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)

I've talked somewhat before about Wotherspoon's ability to rise above the fray within the leadership campaign, but it deserves another mention here.

One of the iron laws of Canadian politics is that whoever auditions for the role of leader of the opposition in a general election tends to get it. And based on that theory, the relative combativeness of Broten or Weir in particular might limit the NDP's growth potential - at least until after another election cycle leads to a change in style and strategy.

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon has stood out from the pack in staying positive and friendly even while challenging his competitors in areas of disagreement. Which means that if there's any way of avoiding the trap set up by Wells' Rule #4, Wotherspoon may be the best positioned to find it.

4. Erin Weir (4)

Finally, while I've criticized Weir's campaign at times for being a bit too quick to promote his every media appearance, I'll acknowledge the flip side to that point.

While the other candidates have worked mostly to build within their own networks of supporters rather than focusing on media outreach, Weir has spent plenty of time (and applied plenty of media savvy) in making sure that NDP values get heard by a broader range of readers and viewers. And that figures to be a valuable contribution to the party's effort to reach the general public at a time when the Sask Party/corporate line all too often goes unopposed on key issues.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your Family Day.

- Gerald Caplan comments that it's long past time to put the Senate out of its misery:
Who knew that when well-known Canadians in 2011 begged old acquaintances now turned Conservative Senators to back a bill for cheap generic AIDS drugs for Africa, the senators would follow party orders instead? The bill had passed the House in the face of opposition by Stephen Harper's minority government. Even many Conservative MPs supported it. Yet the Conservative majority in the Senate made sure it failed.
(T)here they were deliberately thwarting the wishes of the democratically elected representatives of a majority of Canadians on a crucial humanitarian issue. Some wondered how they could look themselves in the mirror ever again. But those who accept appointment to the Chamber of Taskless Thanks are not easily given to shame.

After all, hadn't the same dependable gang already played the same unethical, anti-democratic card only a year before when they buried, without debate, a climate change bill that had similarly been passed by the House? Before that moment, the Senate had not killed a bill without a debate in 70 years. Maybe the poor dears were just too pooped to participate. Travel is so exhausting, doncha know.

But then, this has always been the Senate's role, as the late Christina McCall taught us in her brilliant book Grits. For decades the major responsibility of Hon. Senators was to be bagmen for the party that appointed them (hello Senators Zimmer and Gerstein) or its campaign director (take a bow, Senators Smith and Finley), and to defend corporate interests against mob rule, a.k.a. the House of Commons.
Little has changed. It's true there've always been a few of the Chosen who slipped in some good work while no one was looking. But when it comes to protecting Big Pharma from the depredations of generic drug companies, the PM knows perfectly well whom he can count on.
- Trish Hennessy nicely contrasts the ugly reality of tar sands exploitation against the Cons' publicly-funded oil industry propaganda.

- A group of political scientists from the University of Saskatchewan has responded to the Cons' attacks on Saskatchewan's federal electoral boundaries commission (PDF) by calling for them to respect the commission's findings. And while I have yet to see much reason for hope that the Harper Cons have any interest in correcting their regular diet of deceit, Larry Sanders is petitioning Stephen Harper to set the record straight on the views of Saskatchewan citizens and allow for more representative boundaries.

- Natalie Brender writes that there are obvious reasons why the Cons have having trouble finding anybody to take responsibility for their poorly-thought-out Office of Religious Freedom.

- Finally, Hamida Ghafour reports that the OECD is recognizing the effects of profit shifting as a form of multinational tax evasion and avoidance.

Compare and contrast

Alice's comparison between the federal Lib leadership race and that of Saskatchewan's NDP is well worth a look. But let's draw a somewhat more clear contrast between the depth of discussion within the two campaigns - even if based on somewhat incomplete data in both cases.

Again, here's Erin Weir's comparison chart of the policies proposed during the Saskatchewan NDP campaign.

And here's Justin Ling's effort to piece together what the federal Libs' candidates stand for - with more leadership contenders taking a public position on horse-sized ducks vs. duck-sized horses than such minor issues as, say, health care.

#skndpldr - Yorkton Debate Notes

While I've tried to stay as current as possible in discussing the Saskatchewan NDP leadership debates, there have been some limitations in my ability to do so based on both the party's capacity to upload past debates, and my own time in reviewing them. As a result, I'm still working on getting caught up on previous debates - and a few of the choices made by Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates later on make a lot more sense in light of the Yorkton debate:

Again, in discussing the Regina debate I was surprised to think anybody might have expected Cam Broten to stumble on issues he'd already heard before. But the above answers the question as to how that might have seemed possible.

Broten faced questions and follow-ups from both Erin Weir and Trent Wotherspoon about his position on the Sask Party's corporate tax slashing - answering both by refusing to say what he'd do with corporate taxes other than include them within a larger review. And this despite both competitors taking the opportunity to explain the problems in principle with indiscriminate rate slashing: Weir by contrasting across-the-board cuts against targeted incentives, and Wotherspoon by mentioning how the cuts serve to transfer wealth out of Saskatchewan.

Now, it's true that others read that sequence of questions and answers rather differently. But the fact that Broten changed his tune for the Regina debate seems to signal that he recognized some vulnerability in choosing this as a rare issue where he'd give the Sask Party's policy choices the benefit of any doubt.

Meanwhile, Broten's efforts to go on the offensive in Yorkton didn't go much better. In particular, his follow-up question to Wotherspoon about the importance of experience in the legislature served as an obvious fork in the road within the campaign: any agreement from Wotherspoon with the position that experience as an elected official should be considered a must might have created a clear split between the MLA and non-MLA candidates.

But Wotherspoon didn't take the bait: instead, he discussed the value of his own experience while making absolutely clear that voters shouldn't exclude candidates outside the legislature merely because they aren't elected officials. And the effect was to weaken one of Broten's key messages, as even the other candidate who could have been assisted by his line of argument declined to resort to it.

That said, Broten achieved at least a draw in the most important exchange of questions. Broten first questioned Ryan Meili about his plans in working with caucus - leading to the expected answer that Meili would look forward to treating the leadership candidates as a team. And that left Broten in an ideal position to answer Meili's subsequent query about fund-raising by noting that he'd be happy to incorporate Meili's successful strategies from the leadership campaign.

Otherwise, the main theme within the Yorkton debate was a massive amount of strategic agreement. Weir started the trend by answering a question about bullying with an approving reference to Wotherspoon's platform, and plenty more issues saw similar efforts to point to other candidates' platforms and messages (including Weir and Broten raising the social determinants of health, Wotherspoon volunteering a reference to SaskPharm in response to a Meili question which didn't actually mention it, and Wotherspoon noting how he adopted Weir's plan for the Bessie Ellis fund).

That may be explained by the fact the Yorkton debate came immediately after the membership cutoff, reminding candidates of the need to cultivate down-ballot support. Or it may have reflected an effort to beat fellow candidates to the punch, taking some of the power out of familiar messages by making sure the audience wouldn't see them as anything new. But either way, it made for an interesting (if short-lived) change from the usual focus on drawing contrasts and sticking to one's own message and platform.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellanous material for your Monday reading.

- Will Hutton recognizes that an unregulated market can lead to disastrous results for everybody concerned - and that conversely, effective regulation can help to ensure the success of businesses which best meet the long-term needs of their workers and customers:
What the Paterson worldview has never understood is that effective regulation is a source of competitive advantage. If Britain had a tough Food Standards Agency, it would become a gold standard for food quality, labelling and hygiene. British supermarkets and food companies could become known for their quality at home and abroad, rather as "over-regulated" German car companies are, rather than first suspects when something dodgy is going on. Capitalism does not organise itself to deliver best outcomes, whatever rightwing American thinktanks might claim. There has to be careful thought, law and regulation about the obligations that accompany incorporation and ownership, how supply chains are organised and how companies are managed and financed. Otherwise disaster awaits.
- Frances Russell notes that as a result of limited direct federal powers, equalization is the most important means to ensure that entire provinces aren't left behind - making it all the more insidious that the Canadian right is attacking equalization at every opportunity.

- Caroline Fairchild points out a Centre for Economic and Policy Research study on the minimum wage - showing that if it had kept pace with productivity, U.S. workers would make a minimum of $21.72 per hour. But perhaps more jarring is the fact that by at least some accounts, the average U.S. wage level is now lower than that productivity-adjusted minimum wage.

- Mike de Souza reports that Joe Oliver has been well aware for some time of dangerous contaminants spreading from the tar sands to Alberta groundwater. No word yet on Oliver's eagerness to take a tasty drink of the samples involved - but the fact he hasn't been interested enough to withdraw his claims that he'd happily encourage people to consume tar-sands byproducts speaks volumes about his government's lack of interest in healthy water.

- Finally, from the department of people I'd like to hear from more often...
The early surveys show as many as a quarter of those who remembered seeing the (Con's "Action Plan") ads in 2009 took some action, such as registering for a home renovation credit.

But that number steadily declined in 2010 and 2011, and by April 2012 only about seven per cent of people who said they saw the ads did something as a result.

One of the actions described by respondents in last year's survey included "expressed my disbelief."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

#skndpldr - Saskatoon Debate II Notes

The final official debate of Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign took place yesterday in Saskatoon - and since it was livestreamed, I'll offer some commentary on it for now, then link to the video when it's available.

In contrast to all of the debates since the Regina kick-off (the other debate which was live-streamed), yesterday's forum didn't feature any questions between the candidates. Instead, moderator Charles Smith was left to follow up each candidate's answer to audience questions - and while Smith took those in some interesting directions, he generally didn't challenge the candidates' initial answers or push for substantially deeper analysis of the issues involved.

That meant the candidates were able to stick to their chosen message tracks a bit more than usual. But the result wasn't a great change in their overall performances.

So what did manage to stand out during the course of the debate?

Cam Broten's most interesting contribution came in response to a follow-up question about the application of labour standards to small business. I've criticized Broten for equivocating in his answers to other questions earlier in the campaign, but his response to this particular challenge stood out as avoiding a similar danger: he noted that any employer will generally be more successful if it treats employees well, and thus made a case to ensure workers' rights are respected regardless of whether a small or large business is involved.

Another of Smith's more significant follow-up questions was to Ryan Meili as to how non-economic issues may affect the NDP in rural Saskatchewan. But Meili neatly answered by comparing the federal Cons' politics of division (particularly in trying to deny health care to refugees) to the opportunity available in recognizing common interests and looking to improve conditions for everybody, rather than seeking out minority groups for specific mistreatment.

Similarly, Erin Weir's response to the debate's first question about disabled residents and seniors living in poverty cut to the core of the right's political strategy. Weir noted that the Sask Party looks to divide the poor into "deserving" and "undeserving" categories while placing a higher priority on denying benefits to the latter rather than improving standards of living generally, and argued that the NDP's place should be to work on improving conditions for everybody before giving a couple of examples as to how to carry out that task. Unfortunately it may be a bit late in the leadership campaign to bring that distinction to the forefront as part of Weir's personal message - but I'll hope to hear plenty more from the party and the progressive community on point once the leadership campaign is over.

Finally, Trent Wotherspoon's response to a follow-up question on relationships with First Nations recognized the need to interact with grassroots members and leaders alike, and rejected Smith's effort to characterize First Nations relations as a rural issue rather than one which applies across the province.

Otherwise the debate followed fairly familiar lines - both in the areas of conflict (with Weir once again sparring with both Broten and Wotherspoon over the tax treatment of small business), and the many areas of broad agreement. And the final question asking candidates to identify points of distinction effectively offered an additional opportunity to reframe the contenders' scripted lines - but predictably didn't offer a lot of new material.

Of course, it's possible that the increasing crowd size meant there were enough new faces to make it worth the candidates' while to stick to what they perceive to be their strongest messages. But I wouldn't expect yesterday's debate to change a lot of minds among people who have followed the campaign throughout - and there may not be many more chances to do so among the pool of early voters which looks likely to determine at least the composition of the final ballot.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses how the combination of increasingly concentrated wealth and deteriorating has eliminated any pretense of equal opportunity within the U.S.:
It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of
Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia.

Another way of looking at equality of opportunity is to ask to what extent the life chances of a child are dependent on the education and income of his parents. Is it just as likely that a child of poor or poorly educated parents gets a good education and rises to the middle class as someone born to middle-class parents with college degrees? Even in a more egalitarian society, the answer would be no. But the life prospects of an American are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in almost any other advanced country for which there is data.
Young people from families of modest means face a Catch-22: without a college education, they are condemned to a life of poor prospects; with a college education, they may be condemned to a lifetime of living at the brink. And increasingly even a college degree isn’t enough; one needs either a graduate degree or a series of (often unpaid) internships. Those at the top have the connections and social capital to get those opportunities. Those in the middle and bottom don’t. The point is that no one makes it on his or her own. And those at the top get more help from their families than do those lower down on the ladder. Government should help to level the playing field.

Americans are coming to realize that their cherished narrative of social and economic mobility is a myth. Grand deceptions of this magnitude are hard to maintain for long — and the country has already been through a couple of decades of self-deception.
- Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson points to John Schmitt's paper (PDF) explaining the well-established reality that a higher minimum wage can help lower-earning workers without doing anything to damage the availability of jobs.

- 900ft Jesus highlights unmuzzledscience, a new blog detailing exactly how the Cons' crackdown on research is affecting federal scientists.

- David McLaren notes that Ontario is included among the list of provinces giving away natural resources for fire-sale prices - and in the process offers a reminder that mining giveaways don't do anything to ensure a province's prosperity.

- Finally, Stephen Elliott-Buckley reminds us to keep an eye out for people who may be able to contribute to public office if offered the chance - even if they haven't thought of the possibility yet.

Deep thought

Brad Wall's contrived outrage over foreign interference in domestic policy might be a bit less laughable if he didn't make so much of a show of trying to dictate the U.S.' own decisions.

[Edit: fixed wording.]