Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- David Olive writes that the dangerous effects of long-term unemployment (caused in no small part by gratuitous austerity) are just as much a problem in Canada as in the U.S.:
With our persistent high levels of long-term unemployment, Canada is at risk of creating a new permanent underclass. The world’s economic policymaking elite, Ottawa’s included, hasn’t grasped that its enslavement to the “austerity chic” of severe cutbacks in government’s contribution to the economy is retarding the recovery it claims to be promoting. It’s like watching a grainy newsreel of Herbert Hoover’s lectures on the paramount virtue of balanced budgets, while banks, farms and barber shops go bust and the jobless rate soars above 30 per cent.
Long-term unemployment is an affliction for more than a quarter million Canadians who have been out of work for longer than 27 weeks. A great many of these 250,000-plus Canadians have spouses, and children and elderly parents to care for. So the total number of Canadians suffering the hardship of long-term unemployment is far higher than a quarter-million people.
With a low debt-to-GDP ratio that is the envy of our G-7 peers, Canada can comfortably afford to rebuild the country and prevent the emergence of a new permanent economic underclass.
It needn’t be repeated that decisions on austerity and stimulus have consequences. Or perhaps it does, since by our silent assent to faddish government austerity we are accepting “unnecessary human misery,” not in some faraway land but in our very midst. 
- David Climenhaga traces Alberta's 2011 labour code rewrite directly to corporate influence. And while Bob Weber reports on the province finally laying charges related to an oil spill from the same year, he also notes that the PCs' first response was to try to suppress the truth:
The Greenpeace report outlines examples which it says demonstrates how officials were more concerned with protecting the image of a besieged industry than protecting the public.
It points out the board's own reviewers recommended on Sept. 13, 2011, that a public inquiry into the spill be held — a recommendation that was squelched by the board's chief operating officer three weeks later.

The environmental group also suggests that the board misrepresented air-quality data from the Little Buffalo school, quoting a board statement that "based on the current data, there is no evidence that the air quality poses risk of long-term health impact at this time."
Greenpeace also pointed out contradictions between the board's report and what Energy Minister Ken Hughes was told privately. While the board concluded "contaminated water was not migrating off site," a May 6, 2011, briefing note to Hughes said "there are some exceedances of hydrocarbons downstream from the wetlands."

Finally, Greenpeace quotes a May 31, 2011, briefing note to then-premier Ed Stelmach that the group says contradicts assurances given to the public: "Full restoration of the localized area is unlikely," the briefing note says.
- Meanwhile, Dave Sims points out that Saskatchewan's regulatory system is in rather rough shape too - with no information available as to what injuries and deaths have taken place at which rural and northern sites for employers with a head office in a city.

- Travis Lupick notes that Christy Clark's parting smash-and-grab of British Columbia includes the destruction of a pharmaceutical watchdog which ensured better prices and outcomes for the province's health care system (at the expense of allowing big pharma's marketing to go unquestioned).

- Finally, Erin Weir suggests that most Canadian provinces are arriving by consensus at a 12% floor for corporate tax rates.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Musical interlude

The Blizzard - Piercing the Fog

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sadly (if perhaps unsurprisingly), the Trudeau Libs' vote with the Harper Cons against civil rights has received relatively little notice compared to the two parties' attack ad posturing. But there's still plenty worth reading on the subject - including another post from pogge, a discussion led by David Ball, and Michael Harris' assessment as to the likely targets of Con-fueled hysteria in the years to come:
(W)ith S-7 the law of the land, some dark possibilities present themselves in this country.

The federal government already has established five Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams across Canada, most recently in Alberta. Those teams, made up of officers from the RCMP, CSIS and the Canada Border Services Agency, have identified Greenpeace as a group that might attack critical infrastructure.

Harper cabinet ministers have described environmentalists as radical extremists controlled by foreign elements. Add into the mix the fact that former First Nations chiefs like Terry Nelson and Dennis Pashe have appeared on Iranian television in a bid for closer relations with that country and a chance to describe their plight and ask yourself — what would happen if either group disrupted Canadian commerce in a peaceful protest?
When a prime minister’s favourite part of the justice system is the police, it is a proclivity that bears watching.
- But it should be obvious that anybody genuinely concerned about amoral actors interfering with a functional society should be focused elsewhere. For example, Matt Taibbi finds yet another example of jaw-dropping amounts of money being manipulated by bank insiders for their own personal advantage. Jason Fekete notes that the Cons’ perpetual cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency have allowed tax cheats to avoid paying tens of billions of dollars - while the "good news" in the story consists in part of debts being written off rather than collected. Terry Milewski exposes the latest effort by the Cons to turn the RCMP into a partisan political body, reporting to and protecting the governing party rather than the public. And Jason Markusoff reports on the Manning Centre’s attempts to strong-arm municipal representatives into serving as puppets for the developers who funded Manning in the first place.

- Meanwhile, Sheila Block proposes a public service budget (in contrast to the corporatist tomes we tend to see instead). And Tzeporah Berman and Steven Guilbeault point the way toward what we should be looking to develop as an alternative to market worship, noting that there’s plenty of room for agreement between the environmental and labour movements:
What we’ve realized is pretty simple – no one wins a race to the bottom, not workers, not wild species, and not communities. So cutting down every last tree, shipping out every last barrel of bitumen, catching every last fish in the ocean may fatten some offshore bank account, but it isn’t going to leave us with good jobs for our kids, healthy communities, or a productive environment.

Looking back, it may have all started in the woods, with a few furtive glances and a chance encounter or two, but unionists and environmentalists eventually came to understand that “environment” includes people too. So we sat down and broke bread (and a few other things) together and figured out a way forward in places like the Great Bear Rain Forest, northeast B.C. and the whole vast green boreal forest stretching across Canada. Despite our differences, we knew that the end result of successfully balancing ecosystem protection and economic development would be much more mutually satisfying than another photo op in a clearcut. 

Then another light went on. We looked at the colossal collective challenges facing our world -- like climate change -- and saw that this big black cloud could have a silver lining – if we were smart. Good jobs could be built out of new ways to make energy, new ways to conserve it, new ways to move people, and new ways to meet their need – in fact, all species’ need -- for clean air and clean water. Studies and real-world experience have shown that this approach has much stronger jobs potential than simply putting all our eggs in the export-raw-resources basket – in fact, as many as seven times more jobs for every dollar invested in things like developing renewable energy or improving energy efficiency instead of simply digging more sticky tar out of Alberta.

Together, we’ve been strategizing on how to put Canada out in front in developing and deploying these clean, green solutions. Some unions are investing directly in green solutions, such as through Cycle Capital Management, a venture capital firm supported in part by union dollars that is investing in cutting-edge products and services that help our environment. More broadly, we’re advancing a “jobs of the future are green” agenda through the Blue Green Alliance, which has become a powerful voice trumpeting the connection between action on a healthy environment and action on jobs. 

Now, to some folks in Ottawa, this may actually be seen as something of an unholy alliance. These folks haven’t quite got the message about where the world is heading when it comes to getting serious about sustainability. They hail more from the old “pillage and plunder” school and see anything that gets in the way of all-out exploitation of raw resources – and workers -- as weak-kneed. “You have to be tough,” they bark from the windows of their limos, “What’s a few caribou when jobs are at stake?” Except they don’t mean good pay-the-bills-and-buy-a-home-in-your-community jobs – they mean jobs at oil refineries in China and in bank executive suites in Toronto.

We’re on to them, though. We’ve seen how working wages – and working conditions -- fall where union membership declines. And we’ve seen how one environmental protection law after another is stripped away when governments decide that only the “invisible hand” of the market should pull the strings, leaving whole communities – human and natural – dangling by a thread. 
- And finally, Murray Mandryk writes that the profits flowing from Saskatchewan’s successful Crowns have forced even the Saskatchewan Party to acknowledge the useful contribution made by the public sector (even as try to sell off anything that isn’t tied down). But it would be all the better if Mandryk and others would recognize the obvious corollary of that reality: if our current Crowns are in fact serving the province well, then shouldn’t we be open to considering whether new ones might also serve a valuable purpose, rather than sneering at the mere mention of new proposals?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On regressive choices

Yesterday, I offered a quick, off-the-cuff response to the Sask Party's decision to restrict municipalities in applying property taxes to commercial and industrial land. But let's look in a bit more detail at the warped economic theory Jim Reiter is spouting in defence of the move:
"A very, very small minority of municipalities have been using mill rate factors to, in my view, excessively charge commercial and industrial properties," Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter told reporters at the legislature this week.
He noted that in some cases, such as with a pipeline, it would not be possible for a commercial or industrial property owner "to pick up and move" in response to high taxes.
"In rare instances - we prefer not to have to deal with this - but we need to ensure that there's equity out there," he remarked.
In a media release, the minister noted that most commercial and industrial property owners in the province pay higher municipal property taxes than those paid on agricultural and residential properties for delivery of many of the same municipal services.
"Setting this interim limit will be a first step toward fairer taxation among all municipal property tax classes going forward and focuses on the most extreme occurrences," Reiter said in the release.
Now, those of us who see some value in being able to collect taxes might see the fact that property taxes are easily enforced as a feature, not a bug. See for example Josh Barro:
Everybody hates property taxes because they are hard to avoid. But that's a good thing -- it means property taxes are relatively non-distorting. In fact, taxes on land are completely non-distorting: Raising them won't cause any reduction in the amount of land. Taxes on improvements do distort the economy (they discourage the construction of buildings) but not as much as some other taxes. After all, once a house exists, you can't easily move it in response to tax changes.
Local government can't be financed solely with property tax, but the choice of many states (especially California) to back away from property tax over the last four decades has been a mistake. Property taxes are an efficient and effective way to finance government, and we should learn to love them. 
But consistent with his party's anti-social philosophy, Reiter is actually making the argument that municipal property taxes should be limited through provincial intervention precisely because they're relatively difficult to avoid. (And never mind that in the case of, say, a pipeline, a property tax is probably the only way of recouping any social benefit whatsoever from land which mostly sits idle, fails to provide any local economic activity and creates a significant risk of environmental damage.)

Let's take Reiter's argument another step toward its logical conclusion though - applying the converse of his argument that barriers to tax avoidance are supposed to be a sign of a bad tax regime. By implication, that would suggest that taxes are to be paid by the suckers who can't shuffle assets across borders and corporate entities to avoid them - and that the Sask Party disapproves of any tax which doesn't allow for easy avoidance on the part of those who can afford it (while favouring only those taxes which can be evaded).

That in turn raises ample reason for concern about Reiter's declaration that the new limit on mill rates is only a "first step". The Sask Party has no qualms about giving more favourable treatment to (selected) businesses than it does to mere citizens. But Reiter is effectively threatening any municipality which applies the mirror image of that principle and looks to the businesses who see ongoing profits from a municipality's development to pay a dime more than the lowest mill rate charged to, say, a senior with a modest home and a fixed income.

In sum, Reiter is telling us that we may be in for some combination of provincially-mandated hikes to residential property taxes, cuts to business property taxes and/or cuts to municipal services, all in the interest of handing even more to the corporate sector at the hands of citizens. And we should be careful not to let the Sask Party drag the province down that road without a fight.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Simms and Stephen Reid note that the corporatist dogma that everything is done more efficiently in the private sector has no apparent basis in reality:
The myth of private sector superiority says that the private sector is efficient and dynamic, the public sector wasteful and slow; that the more we can get the private sector to run things the better. That the head of a massive public enterprise like the Olympics can so blithely discount what underpins it demonstrates its reach. In fact, while billboard adverts said we had commercial sponsors to thank for every minute of pulsating Olympic action, as little as 6% of costs were met from sponsorship.

The myth is effectively government policy. In 2010 David Cameron spelled out his priorities for government which were to use, "all available policy levers," to make it easier for the private sector to "create a new economic dynamism". The following year Cameron announced that he was "taking on the enemies of enterprise", which included the "bureaucrats in government departments" and the "town hall officials". The chancellor, George Osborne, claimed it wasn't just that the one sphere was generally better than the other. He argued that the public sector was "crowding out" the private sector and needed cutting back.

But, what of the evidence of private sector efficiency? Public subsidy to Britain's railways rose dramatically following privatisation. Famously, the failure of Metronet Rail's contract to work on the infrastructure of London Underground was estimated to have cost the public purse more than £400m. Meanwhile, it was recently revealed that the single remaining state-run mainline rail service requires less public subsidy than any of the 15 privately run rail franchises in Britain.

Healthcare is typically much more expensive in countries with heavily privatised systems. As the figure below demonstrates, in 2008, the United States, with predominantly private healthcare, spent around $7,000 per person on health. The NHS spent around half that sum per person, yet, judging by outcomes such as life expectancy at birth, the NHS did just as well.
Private sector dynamism versus public sector inefficiency has been the dominant political narrative of the last few decades. It has supplied the excuse for repeated, one-directional upheaval in many of the services that we rely on, and which are essential to our quality of life. At best, evidence of private sector superiority is missing. At worst, such lazy assumptions can cost lives as well as money. The public sphere in its broadest sense can be more efficient, more effective and better for human dignity. That is not to argue against innovation. On the contrary, innovation is desperately needed to reintroduce the human element to how things are run.
And lest there be any doubt, the anti-public-sector dogma is also the official public policy of both the Harper Cons and many provincial governments.

- Haroon Siddiqui continues his call for a moratorium on temporary foreign workers lest we end up with a two-tier society. Mark Carney issues his own warning about importing temporary workers for the purpose of driving down Canadian wages. And Karl Fiecker goes into detail about the Cons’ TFW pipeline:
The latest estimates suggest close to 500,000 people are in Canada with temporary work permits, the vast majority of whom have little prospect of becoming permanent residents. This is equivalent to the entire paid labour force of Nova Scotia.

Much attention has focused on the government’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which under the Harper government has doubled in size since 2006. This program alone accounts for the nearly 340,000 temporary workers present in the country at the end of 2012.

Most surprising has been the tremendous growth in the pipeline called the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa option, which is likely what RBC/iGate used in trying to displace Dave Moreau and his colleagues.

The ICT visa option allows employers to avoid the oversight of the Labour Market Opinion (LMO) process, which requires employers to meet just six rules. Two of the rules are to assess if the employer attempted to hire or train available workers within Canada and to require assurances any imported worker will receive substantially the same wages and benefits.

Since coming to power, the Harper government has boosted the use of these LMO-exempt visas from 70,000 in 2006 to 120,000 in 2011.

How did this happen and why did we know so little about it?

For one thing, the temporary worker pipeline is not mentioned in the government’s ubiquitous "Canada's Economic Action Plan" ads, even though it is clearly one of the cornerstones of a policy to drive down wages and working conditions and make the country an even "friendlier" place for business. In fact, 30 per cent of all net new jobs created in Canada between 2007 and 2011 were filled with temporary workers from outside the country.

Curiously, the day after CBC told Moreau's story to the country, detailed information on the number of approved passes granted to employers to import temporary workers was pulled off a government website. At a moment when the national media was paying attention to the issue, it was difficult to document the trends in the use of the program.

But make no mistake: the rise in the use of this program has relied on systematic changes to increase the pipeline of temporary workers into all areas of the economy, starting with the inclusion, in Budget 2007, of these few words: "Employers may recruit workers for any legally recognized occupation from any country."
- Dave Coles documents the regressive policy included in the Saskatchewan Party’s Bill 85.

- Finally, Kathleen Monk catches the Fraser Institute trying to set Canadian progress back 50 years, and reminds us just what that would entail:
(I)f you and I were to jump into the DeLorean piloted by Dr. Emmett Brown and travel back to 1961 Canada, here’s what we would find:
  • No Medicare
  • No Canada Pension Plan
  • Meagre Old Age Security benefits that gave us high levels of poverty for seniors
  • A post-secondary education system that was open only to the rich and the very, very, talented
  • And, significantly for my gender, the pay gap between men and women was wider than the James Bay.
On top of that, back in the Fraser Institute’s version of the good old days, the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter consumed 56.5% of the family budget compared to 36.9% today with most of the difference going to taxes.

Somehow the Fraser Institute have turned falling food and clothing prices (over time) into a bad thing.

New column day

Here, on how the one point of agreement about the environmental impact of the tar sands is that we still don't have enough information to so much as evaluate the effects of the industry at the core of the Harper Cons' economic strategy.

For further reading...
- The Canada-Alberta Oil Sands Environmental Monitoring Information Portal is here, with the disclaimer mentioned in the column here.
- CBC reports on the EPA response (PDF) to the State Department's current environmental assessment of Keystone XL.
- And Joe Oliver is doing what Joe Oliver does by publicly bashing climate science in the apparent belief that it will smooth a path for Keystone XL. (Though it is a bit unfair to describe him as Canada's ”oil minister” when the bulk of the federal cabinet - including the Prime Minister - is no less preoccupied with doing the bidding of the sector.)
- Finally, the latest on the Giant Mine cleanup bill is here. And as a reminder of the scale of cleanup we're going to be looking at with the tar sands...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On selective equity

Boy, it's reassuring to see the Sask Party lamenting the unfairness of a 15-fold difference in treatment between groups of landowners.

I'm sure they'll be getting to Saskatchewan's contribution to the 235-fold difference in salary between CEOs and the rest of us any day now.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- George Monbiot discusses the fallout from decades of corporate-controlled governments abdicating their responsibility to consider the public interest:
In other ages, states sought to seize as much power as they could. Today, the self-hating state renounces its powers. Governments anathematise governance. They declare their role redundant and illegitimate. They launch furious assaults on their own branches, seeking wherever possible to lop them off.

This self-mutilation is a response to the fact that power has shifted. States now operate at the behest of others. Deregulation, privatisation, the shrinking of the scope, scale and spending of the state: these are now seen as the only legitimate policies. The corporations and billionaires to whom governments defer will have it no other way.

Just as taxation tends to redistribute wealth, regulation tends to redistribute power. A democratic state controls and contains powerful interests on behalf of the powerless.
This is an example of what happens in a market-based system: any clash between generating profit and protecting the natural world is resolved in favour of business, often with the help of junk science. Only those components of the ecosystem that can be commodified and sold are defended. Nature is worthy of protection when it is profitable to business. The moment it ceases to be so, it loses its social value and can be trashed. As prices fluctuate or crash, so do the fortunes of the ecosystems they are supposed to protect. As financial markets move in, with the help of the environmental bonds and securitisations the taskforce champions, the defence of nature becomes ever more volatile and uncertain. The living planet is reduced to a subsidiary of the human economy.

When governments pretend they no longer need to govern, when they pretend that a world regulated by bankers, corporations and the profit motive is a better world than one regulated by voters and their representatives, nothing is safe. All systems of government are flawed. But few are as flawed as those controlled by private money.
- And Jonathan Bernstein rightly describes Republicans in particular as having left the very idea of public policy in the rear-view mirror.

- Mike de Souza reports on the attempts of the Harper Cons and the Redford PCs to claim that air and water pollution from the tar sands doesn't count because they'd rather people not think about it. And Frances Russell writes that Canadians are once again being left out of any say and any consideration in decisions about our publicly-owned resources.

- Pat Atkinson reviews the dangers of unduly relying on temporary foreign workers:
The temporary foreign worker program is supposed to allow employers to hire foreign workers only when Canadians or permanent residents aren't available to fill the job. In most cases employers can access the program only after they have obtained a Labour Market Opinion confirming the unavailability of Canadians to fill the vacant positions.

Currently the use of temporary foreign workers in some parts of Canada has nothing to do with a shortage of skilled workers, and everything to do with maximizing profits. Stephen Harper's Conservative government changed the rules a year ago, allowing employers to bring in overseas workers at wages that can be as much as 15 per cent below the average regional rate for a particular occupation.
(W)hat about those who are looking for work, such as unemployed Canadian miners who are being replaced by temporary workers from China? What about those information technology employees at RBC who are being replaced by temporary foreign workers?
Why did Finley's ministry give approval in the first place to HD Mining bringing in 200 workers from China, and to the outsourcer retained by RBC to bring in workers to replace 45 bank employees?

Outsourcing is about replacing middle-income domestic employees with lower wage workers abroad. Importing temporary workers to many sectors of the economy with a 15 per cent wage differential is about lowering wages and not having to pay benefits to Canadians.

We as Canadians need to think about how this will affect our young people and their future. If we are all a bunch of low wage earners, who will pay for important public services such as health care or education? As for the banks, who will be able to qualify for one of their mortgages?
- Finally, Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the CCPA's appalling finding that we're 228 years away from achieving gender equality in Canada.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Confined cats.

On distinctions

I've already pointed out the NDP's opportunity to differentiate itself from the Libs as a truly progressive party. And the Libs' corporatist votes against democratic decision-making and basic civil liberties will certainly help that cause.

But if it's possible to draw a clear distinction between Mulcair and Trudeau on basic knowledge of current events, then so much the better:
Mulcair told reporters after question period that the ruling did affirm that Page “had the right to demand those documents” (ie. the information from departments) in the first place.

He was referring to paragraph five of the ruling, which stated that, “neither on the basis of parliamentary privilege nor on the principles of statutory interpretation has Parliament reserved the right for itself to answer Mr. Page’s questions. That task falls upon this court.”

Mulcair told reporters that this effectively destroyed the Senate’s attempt to argue that the PBO’s mandate clarification had breached parliamentary privilege.

“The so-called privilege that existed of Parliament that the government was trying to set up as a barricade for him getting that information was false. That whole argument fell flat and the judge didn’t accept it,” he said.

Mulcair then looked to the future.

“I think that this decision is so solid and so categorical that the Conservatives can’t play their game of continuing to try to shut down the Parliamentary Budget Officer, that any future (PBO) will be able to use that judgment to demand the documents and everything will be fine with that,” he said. “I don’t think that any further litigation is required. I think that the judgment is crystal clear in that regard.”
A few minutes after Mulcair left the microphone in the Foyer of the House of Commons, almost two hours after the Court delivered its ruling, Trudeau stepped forward. Asked for a comment on matter, Trudeau simply said, “I’m not aware of the court’s decision yet.”

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The Broadbent Institute's "Union Communities, Healthy Communities" report discusses the significance of the labour movement in achieving positive social outcomes. And Rick Smith concurrently writes that the right's attacks on unions represent a solution in search of a problem:
(W)hen unions are strong, the gains that they make for their members in terms of decent wages and benefits spill over into non-union workplaces. In the face of Canadian conservatives trying to portray unions as some kind of impediment to economic growth and productivity, actually examining this empirical evidence is instructive.

Economists agree that the rapidly rising share of all income going to the top 1% in the US and Canada since the early 1980s is explained in significant part by declining unionization. US-style de-unionization would clearly make Canada a much more unequal society than is already the case.

And calculations by respected international organizations such as the OECD and the World Bank also show that countries with strong labour movements are more equal and inclusive, and often have very successful economies. Unions recognize that high productivity is the key to decent wages and good jobs, and many successful companies recognize that good labour relations benefit both parties to the agreement.
- But then, it's probably true that the most fervent union-bashers are among those who see democracy itself as a problem. In that vein, Doug Vaessen and Tamara Elliott report on one developer's explicit plan to take over Calgary's city council with pawns who won't "(forget) to vote the right way". And there looks to be an obvious connection between the corporate takeover of a city council, and the tens of millions of corporate dollars funnelled to the likes of the B.C. Libs.

- Meanwhile, the Star reveals another example of the illusion of participatory democracy - finding that the Cons' goals in dealing with First Nations consist primarily of ensuring that the corporate sector gets what it wants, while responsibility for any social issues gets downloaded onto the same chiefs who are supposed to forfeit any control over resources.

- Finally, Scott Stelmaschuk nicely analyzes the Saskatchewan Party's inability to accept LGBT2Q students:
We need to break down this idea that there is anything wrong or 'sinful' about homosexual behaviour; and more importantly, we need to let LGBT2Q youth know that there are people out there who care for them and support them exactly as they are. These kids need to know that they are 'normal', and that there is nothing wrong with them, and GSAs provide the best venue to create such a system.

We have a Premier who seems to be unable to even say the word 'gay', and was evasive on the question of whether he believed homosexuality was a choice. (He did hem and haw, though he did eventually concede that from what he 'knew' of it from people that it wasn't....though it still left quite a bit of doubt over whether or not he actually sees it as a choice as he never actually gave his opinion...)

We don't need to let another generation grow up where 'gay' is muttered as an insult; or worse, where people can't even mutter the word at all. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Paul Adams rightly points out that there's no inherent value in centrism merely for the sake of centrism - especially when the spectrum of choices is itself shaped by decades of distorted assumptions:
(T)he reality of modern politics is that the muddled middle is no answer at all to the issues facing us. On economic and social policy, what divides Canadians is their attitude towards three decades of market-liberating policies that have weakened our middle class, increased inequality, corroded social programs, undermined the ability of working people to negotiate a living wage, and left us all more vulnerable and insecure.

There is certainly a discussion to be had about how quickly and by what means these policies should be moderated, revised or reversed — and issues of priority, pace and technique may divide the Liberals and the NDP.

But first, both parties need to decide whether they really stand for a change in direction or not.

This is even more starkly true on the issue of climate change. The last time they were in office, the Liberals talked a great deal about it but did absolutely nothing. This is one issue on which finding a middle ground between action and inaction probably means not doing enough and condemning our children to an uncertain future.
- And contrary to some poorly-defined complaints, there's a clear choice between the NDP and the Libs when it comes to the FIPA - with the NDP actually challenging the deal absent some explanation as to how it's supposed to improve matters for Canadians, while the Libs hew to the line that any criticism of a free trade agreement is heresy.

- Meanwhile, Matt McClure reports on Alberta's willingness to let $120 million in corporate taxes get funnelled offshore. And Ramsey Hart and John Jacobs highlight the fact that Ontario is giving away its resources at fire-sale prices - even as the Lib government there slashes corporate taxes and services in the face of an eleven-figure deficit.

- Finally, Paul Krugman discusses how a similar focus on prioritizing corporate interests and financial markets over workers has turned out for the unemployed in the U.S.:
Mr. Ghayad then did an experiment, sending out résumés describing the qualifications and employment history of 4,800 fictitious workers. Who got called back? The answer was that workers who reported having been unemployed for six months or more got very few callbacks, even when all their other qualifications were better than those of workers who did attract employer interest.

So we are indeed creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.

And let’s be clear: this is a policy decision. The main reason our economic recovery has been so weak is that, spooked by fear-mongering over debt, we’ve been doing exactly what basic macroeconomics says you shouldn’t do — cutting government spending in the face of a depressed economy.

It’s hard to overstate how self-destructive this policy is. Indeed, the shadow of long-term unemployment means that austerity policies are counterproductive even in purely fiscal terms. Workers, after all, are taxpayers too; if our debt obsession exiles millions of Americans from productive employment, it will cut into future revenues and raise future deficits.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- I wouldn't go as far as Haroon Siddiqui in suggesting that all temporary foreign worker programs be shut down entirely (at least absent some concurrent change to encourage a flow of new workers who are able to set down roots in Canada). But he's dead on in his scathing assessment of the Cons' current version:
Now Canada is flooded with temporary workers — 338,189 as of December 2012. In fact, there may be more. Ottawa has no way of knowing how many stayed behind at the end of their temporary visas. Canada has no exit controls.
They were all brought in ostensibly because of extensive skilled labour shortages.
But with 1.33 million jobless, there’s no shortage of labour for the 250,000 job vacancies. That’s nearly six jobless Canadians for every available job.
As for skills shortages, there are certainly some. But look at where the temporary workers landed, as the Globe and Mail has done.
Its sector-by-sector breakdown shows that only 9,300 of the 338,000 workers ended up in scientific and technical services. Less than 17,000 are in the manufacturing sector, and only 19,000 in construction. The highest number, 44,745, are in accommodation and food services.
That’s your foreign worker pouring coffee at Tim Hortons, baking pizzas at Boston Pizza, making beds at some motel and tending to a senior citizen somewhere.
...The real issue is that Canadians don’t want those jobs, certainly not at the wages on offer. So the skills shortages mantra is a bit of a scam.
- Meanwhile, Marc Zwelling notes that RBC's version of offshoring may have hit closer to home for some citizens since it reflected a loss of white-collar work - while hinting at the fact that we should be equally concerned about deliberate attempts to attack wages throughout Canada's economy. And Frank Graves looks at Canadians' attitudes toward immigration - predictably finding far more anti-immigrant animus among the Cons than among other parties' supporters (which might explain the Cons' preference for shuffling new imports out of the country again once employers are done with them).

- Allan Gregg writes about the effects of attack ads on public perceptions of government. But he glosses over one rather important point: the Cons and other right-wing parties may well see it as a plus to discredit both their political opponents, and the idea of accomplishing anything worthwhile through democratic action.

- Finally, for those who haven't yet seen PSAC's ad on the Cons' environmental destruction, it's well worth a look: