Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Coyne highlights the ultimate issue in the Cons' Senate patronage, scandals and cover-ups:
(I)f the prime minister sets the standard, then we are entitled to ask: Why has this standard been so inconsistent? On essentially the same set of facts, the senators in question have been held to three entirely distinct standards: total indulgence, in the first stages of their tenure, when they were viewed as assets to the party; total ostracism, since the scandal broke, when they had become political liabilities; and in between that strange interlude, at least with regard to Duffy, when he was both being punished — pay back your expenses! — and indulged: play along, keep quiet and Nigel will pay.

So if the prime minister seeks to be congratulated for cracking the whip now, he must also accept responsibility for doing nothing before, when the same senators were touring the country attending Tory fundraisers and speaking at campaign events on the public dime. Can he pretend this was a secret? Indeed, he must earnestly hope the auditor general, in the course of his investigations, does not find others of the senators at his command have done the same — as of course must they. For then the hypocrisy would be total.

This is why the Watergate question — what did the prime minster know when — while important, is not the issue. Whether he specifically approved the decision to bail out Duffy, he was the author of the climate of expediency in which it was made. He is responsible, because he is the standard.
- Meanwhile, Thomas Walkom wonders whether an undue focus on the interests of Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau might help Harper to avoid accountability himself. But Susan Delacourt recognizes the real conflict between the entire Con cabal - still including Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau in their belief that they're above the rules which apply to everybody else - and the Canadian public:
(T)his is a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword world — it has the ring of truth.

Over the past eight years, Harper and his PMO have repeatedly gambled that Canadians — not just the Conservative base — can be made to believe in spin over the truth.
Leave aside what all this week’s drama says about the state of Parliament and politics in general for now. Look for a moment at how the Canadian voters are being portrayed by their politicians.
It is not a flattering picture that’s being painted of the Canadian public throughout this Senate scandal — an apathetic lot, gullible to spin, villagers with torches when they get whipped up about perceived elites misusing their taxpayer dollars.
A little more than a decade ago, I was talking to Harper on the phone, around about the time that he was considering a return to politics after swearing off it a few years before.
I joked that one of the job requirements is liking people. He had an excellent comeback: “Oh, I like people. I just don’t like the people you like.”
That witty rejoinder has kept coming back to me this week. How do you like a public you see as an apathetic, “don’t care” kind of crowd, more persuaded by the ring of truth than truth itself?
This past week has made many politicians look bad. But it hasn’t been a great week for the public either. That “mob” they’ve all been talking about is the Canadian electorate — you, in other words.
- And Kathleen Blanchard helps to explain where that attitude of contempt for mere citizens comes from, writing about yet more research showing that a sense of power tends to suppress empathy.

- Amy MacPherson neatly details Kellie Leitch's dubious combination of conflicting interests and selective disclosure which resulted in her sitting in cabinet for five months while also holding a paid director position with a real estate income trust which leases multiple properties to the federal government.

- The CP confirms that the Cons are ending any environmental assessment of the in situ tar sand production which figures to be used to access 80% of all tar sands crude. And Jessica McDiarmid notes that while applying to have its Line 9 pipeline reversed and turned into a conduit for diluted bitumen, Enbridge is refusing even basic testing to ensure a four-decade-old pipeline designed for another type of product can operate safely.

- Finally, pogge weighs in on the routine overcollection of Canadians' personal financial information by FINTRAC, and wonders what role it might play in the wider surveillance state.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Musical interlude

Sophie Sugar feat. Rebecca Emely - Beside You

Friday Morning 'Rider Blogging

Halfway through the first quarter of last weekend's contest against B.C., nobody would have been surprised to learn that the game would be decided by a team giving the ball away repeatedly until it dug a hole too deep to escape. But the ultimate outcome would have been rather more unexpected.

After a couple of early fumbles, the 'Riders' offence largely managed to hang onto the ball for the rest of the game - even if Durant, Sheets and company didn't do much more than that. And the 'Riders' defence once again raised the bar in controlling a game on its own.

Typically, we'd expect to see a tradeoff between turnovers and big plays. But in its second matchup against Thomas DeMarco, the 'Riders' defence achieved the best of both worlds: it was consistently in position to defend passes and make tackles, while creating tons of opportunities to go after the ball. And the result was a spectacular 8 turnovers on paper (which would have been even more impressive if a pick-six hadn't been called back on an unrelated penalty).

And the 'Riders also completely contained the most dangerous unknown within the game. While Stefan Logan showed he hasn't lost any of his speed or elusiveness in his return to the CFL, those well-established skills weren't enough for him to break any big plays on offence or special teams.

Having clinched at least second place in the West with the win, the 'Riders' only possible mobility is upward. And while the combination of multiple skilled quarterbacks and Jon Cornish's power running attack will offer an even tougher test for a team hoping to dominate the game defensively, the 'Riders chances of corralling even the CFL's best offence are looking better by the week.

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Tom Bergin reports on a predictable corporate attack on the very idea of government sovereignty - as tax evaders are insisting that their own demand for "certainty" in the availability of tax havens should trump the ability of tax authorities to assess where revenue should be taxed:
The companies said the existing practice of recognizing inter-company transactions gave business greater certainty and encouraged trade by helping ensure the same profits were not taxed more than once.

Business groups were also cool on a proposal tabled in June by the Group of Eight (G8) leading developed economies, that companies should provide information to tax authorities on their earnings and tax payments on a country-by-country basis.
- And we can probably count on the Cons for one being highly sympathetic to the view that institutional cover-ups are more important than factual and fair policy - as the firing of EI whistleblower Sylvie Therrien confirms.

- Karl Nerenberg points out Thomas Mulcair's neat skewering of Stephen Harper when it comes to Harper's loud proclamation that he personally reviewed and approved Pamela Wallin's expenses. Andrew Coyne wonders why the Cons dedicated a shady, party-wide cover-up operation to something as mundane as Senate expenses, while Lawrence Martin documents Harper's relationship (or lack thereof) with the truth.And Tim Harper observes that the Senate has made an airtight case for its own abolition.

- Kathryn May reports on the latest anti-worker legislation slipped into the Cons' omnibus budget bill. And Thomas Walkom sees the union-bashing as a distraction from the Cons' Senate corruption.

- Finally, Fraser Harland and Mark Dance discuss how the Cons have harmed Canada's federal government for decades to come:
Could there be a more politically awkward and unpopular case for a future finance minister to try to make than that deficits are not always bad and that one’s own government need not be kept on such a short leash?

This is not the first time that the Harper Conservatives have set out to pin their successors to the wall.

The death of the long-form census undermines the ability of future governments to pursue smart and informed social policy, the equivalent to covering up the eyes and ears of the public service. Broken threads of data have guaranteed the illegibility of long-term trends, enfeebling the capacity of governments to make smart choices for future generations.

The same strategy is at play on the government’s fiscal flank. The cuts to the GST were roundly criticized by policy experts for blowing a hole in government coffers while doing little to alleviate the financial burden of individual Canadians. Once again, though, reversing this policy decision would require a serious expenditure of political capital by a future government from which it could be difficult to recover.
Taken together though, these measures show themselves to be more than just short-term vote grabs. Rather, they are political and legislative ropes around the wrists of future governments as well as blindfolds over their eyes. To the extent that reversal of these measures is possible, it would in many cases involve complex and counterintuitive policy explanations to voters, likely to devastate their champions in the polls.

Calling Harper a visionless incrementalist is currently a popular trope for the opposition parties and liberal pundits. However, they should not lose sight of the fact that Harper’s goal could be to handcuff and constrain government far beyond his own tenure. In that respect, he may turn out to be a visionary after all.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Frances Russell rightly asks whose freedom is supposed to be protected by free trade agreements such as CETA:
Once Canada signs CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) with Europe, federal, provincial and municipal governments will suddenly find their hands and feet tied. Suddenly, they will experience real push-back from foreign multinationals should they try to use their historic right to maintain civic, provincial and national autonomy in governmental decision making.

Simultaneously, Canada’s sub-national governments will suddenly discover they have lost the ability to protect the environment, create well-paying, long-term jobs and assist their marginalized citizens unless they are prepared to pay a hefty profit to some private corporation through what is now known as public-private partnerships.
CETA — and indeed all “free” trade deals being crafted in this era of global corporate rule, neo-conservatism and privatization — are, in the famous words of Canada’s leading humanitarian thinker, Sen Eugene Forsey “the greatest ever romp of the rich to skin the poor in history.”

As the details of what Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed off on last week start to trickle out, Canadians should be appalled and angry.
- And William Amos and Carissa Wong discuss the importance of putting the public interest ahead of the profit motive when it comes to Canadian water.

- CBC reports that Alberta isn't interested in applying its own law to allow First Nations to speak about tar sands developments which may contaminate their traditional land and water. And Martin Lukacs takes note of the Elsipogtog fracking protests as the front line of a growing movement, while Daniel Wilson looks at the roots of the protest.

- Of course, your corporate overlords aren't taking too kindly to First Nations' efforts to assert their rights. Which is why the Cons are siding with abusers to sweep aside records detailing the horrific mistreatment of First Nations children and ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation commission can't achieve either of its nominal purposes - while the Sask Party ignores continued calls to stop their racist attack ads.

- But in an all-too-rare piece of good news, Lori Culbert reports that B.C.' Therapeutics Initiative will survive the corporate tag team of Christy Clark and big pharma - at least for now.

- Finally, Klint Finley discusses the Madison Project's effort to move away from the opaque, top-down governance style epitomized by the Cons and Sask Party through open, participatory drafting of legislation.

New column day

Here, on the tendency of both the Saskatchewan Party and the federal Cons to pretend a problem doesn't exist for years on end, then suddenly proclaim there's no time to do anything other than force through the most regressive "solution" possible.

In shorter terms, the Shock Doctrine has evolved into the Schmuck Doctrine. And we shouldn't be accepting a government's own incompetence as reason to accept its rushed decisions.

For further reading...
- CBC reports on the Sask Party's sudden hurry to lock the province into P3 school construction contracts. And the NDP caucus responds to the announcement.
- Meanwhile, Bruce Cheadle reports on the Cons' strategic choice to slap a declaration of constitutional principle into a 300-page omnibus budget bill because it'll pass faster than way than if it's considered on its own. And Aaron Wherry is just scratching the surface as to what else has been lumped into the bill.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Duncan Cameron writes that Stephen Harper's CETA triumphalism may result in serious long-term damage to Canada for the sake of a temporary political reprieve:
Promoting the big bamboozle means Harper is gambling with Canada's economic future. The PM is touting a deal not yet finished. Making himself its chief sales agent encourages the Europeans to get tough in negotiating the hard parts to come, knowing Harper has overplayed his hand, just like Mulroney did before Canada signed a bad deal in 1988.

Harper has made himself politically vulnerable by his penchant for secrecy and conspiracy against potential adversaries. The draft CETA accord is unknown to cabinet, let alone parliament, and every aspect of the negotiation has been kept hidden from Canadians, including provincial leaders, who are as much in the dark as anyone else.

Harper came back from Brussels with an interim trade agreement, what the Europeans called a "political" understanding.

Following four years of secret negotiations not one page of official text has been released. Unlike with the Canada-U.S. negotiation, no serious public consultations have been undertaken by parliamentary committees. The Conservatives must believe the more the public learns about commercial accords, the less they will find to like...
- But plenty of commentators have declined to let the Cons set the agenda - with John Ivison, Andrew Coyne, Aaron Wherry, Michael Den Tandt and others noting that Mike Duffy's revelations of Harper and the Cons' involvement in his expense scandal figure to offer a lead story for plenty of time to come.

- PIPSC's poll results quantify just how far the Cons have gone in suppressing independent and accurate commentary on their actions in government by the people charged with guarding the public interest.

- Keith Banting and John Myles discuss why we need a new politics to address inequality. And Patrick Cain and Anna Mehler Paperny highlight how the Cons have trashed the data needed to help people on social assistance - adding yet another layer of public expense to the task of trying to alleviate poverty:
“Unless a policy-maker knows how those poor families live, how can he or she know how to reach them, or what those families need?” said Carleton University economist Frances Woolley. “How can the policy-maker prevent poverty, unless he or she knows what causes people to fall into poverty?”

Public health agencies and other groups who’d normally rely on census data are now wondering what they’ll do without it. Many may try to collect it themselves – paying for data collection by cutting the very services they’re trying to provide.

“It means that I have to take some of the funding that’s available for programmatic activity and redirect it into information collection,” said Paul Van Buynder, Chief Medical Officer for Fraser Health in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
- Finally, David Doorey thoroughly rebuts the claim that right-to-work-for-less laws will do anything but further squeeze workers in Ontario (or anywhere else).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Close cats.

On core products

It may not come as much surprise that I thoroughly disagree with Murray Mandryk's paean to corporate protection agreements. But his take on the CETA does signal one point worth highlighting.

Last week, my column dealt with the shift toward seeing politics as a matter of marketing and microtargeting, rather than the development of (and advocacy for) broad ideas as to how society ought to function. Using Susan Delacourt's terminology, the most obvious move is toward MOP rather than SOP-style politics.

But while Stephen Harper's Cons may have won over swing voters by focusing on the former, they've certainly maintained some policy areas where they're in the business of selling a particular political philosophy rather than listening and responding to public demand. (Which is true however much one disagrees with that philosophy, which involves using every lever of state authority available to elevate corporate interests above mere citizens - and is probably best evidence by the twin focus on anti-environment lobbying and free trade promotion.)

In contrast, one can see the Libs' endorsements of substantially the same policies as a matter of marketing rather than principle. (Would anybody think it out of place for Justin Trudeau to reverse course and question pipeline development and resource exploitation just as fervently as he's actually supported them if that's the way the political winds directed him?) And the list of issues where the Libs wouldn't suppress principles in favour of marketing strategies doesn't figure to be a long one.

That leaves the NDP as the more plausible source of a genuine clash of ideas which allows for people to be heard in contrast to the desire for perpetual corporate growth. But there's still a significant gap in clarity and enthusiasm as against the Cons: while it's clear the NDP party apparatus at both levels of government is working feverishly on marketing itself to build political capital, would anybody want to make any predictions as to the causes which would take priority when there's an opportunity to use it?

That lack of clarity is obviously worrisome for those of us who see the political system as an important means of collective action. But it can cause problems even on the marketing side. After all, the Cons' most effective tactic so far has been in defining their opponents - and that task is far easier when a party is reluctant to talk about core principles which form the basis for a distinct choice.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Marc Lee writes that British Columbia has learned nothing about the dangers of staple economics. But Christy Clark has certainly learned something from her predecessor's playbook: one term after Gordon Campbell's promise not to impose an HST fell by the wayside immediately after he'd secured another four years in office, Clark is abandoning her supposed concern for the environment in order to facilitate wholesale shipment of oil products by pipeline, rail and tanker.

- Meanwhile, Dallas MacQuarrie discusses the heavy-handed RCMP response to peaceful protestors challenging fracking on First Nations land in Rexton, New Brunswick.

-Bea Vongdouangchanh reports on the Cons' continued delays in presenting election legislation. But while Craig Scott is concerned about the possibility the Cons won't present anything that can be implemented in time for 2015, I'd be even more worried about the risk they'll offer up yet another agenda of three parts voter suppression and one part Senate posturing (with precisely zero extra authority or resources for Elections Canada) - then ram it through without debate or amendments by claiming it's too late for thoughtful discussion.

- Scott Sinclair asks and answers ten key questions about the CETA.

- Finally, Marina Adshade observes that a lack of child care combined with a need for two breadwinners per family results in limited choice for actual and potential parents - and that in the absence of that choice, more and more middle-class women are rationally deciding to have fewer and fewer children:
The relationship between family size and the cost of child care is now starting to show up in the data in another, surprising way.

In recent history, family size was negatively correlated with income. The lowest-earning households had the most children and the highest-earning household had the fewest.

But today, specifically among women in the cohort now in their early 40s, those living in households with income above $150,000 had an average of 2.1 children. That’s more children than women in any other income group, and significantly more than women in middle-income households, who raised an average of 1.8 children.

To me, this is the long-run implication of not having access to affordable daycare. In this economic environment, having large families is a luxury to be afforded only by high-income households, which either can afford childcare or don’t require two parents in the workforce, and low-income households, which are more likely to include family members who aren’t working.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Martin Regg Cohn discusses EllisDon's ability to dictate political choices by the Ontario Libs and PCs as a prime example of corporate manipulation of the political system:
What Wynne didn’t say was that EllisDon, its subsidiaries and executives, have been shockingly generous donors to her party: more than $125,000 to the Liberals in 2012 and more than $40,000 so far in 2013, thanks to Ontario’s scandalously weak campaign financing laws (corporate contributions are banned at the federal level).
And what the Tories didn’t say publicly was that EllisDon had given them a still-generous $32,000 last year and some $14,000 so far in 2013. Now, they were hoping for even bigger contributions if they went to bat for the company.
That quiet calculation became a public embarrassment when the Toronto Star published a leaked email from Tory labour critic Randy Hillier. The maverick MPP admonished his fellow Tories against what struck him as a crass political calculation — counting on a windfall from an EllisDon fundraiser for Tory Leader Tim Hudak after helpfully advancing the legislation.
The party was “walking on thin ice,” Hillier cautioned in the email. “In caucus, it was stated quite explicitly that following a successful EllisDon fundraiser for Tim, our party would continue to benefit financially with the advancement of this legislation.”
A skeptical Hillier noted that EllisDon had given the Liberals more than $250,000 from 2004-2011, compared to $60,000 for the Tories. In any case, he warned MPPs, they might be violating rules against buying votes. EllisDon denied there was any such arrangement, as did Hudak, who later stripped Hillier of his labour responsibilities.
But the damage was done. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had a field day lumping the labour-friendly Liberals with the union-busting Tories, both of them getting big money from EllisDon. The optics were awful.
The question is why the company didn’t stick to the law courts in arguing its case, rather than trying to influence lawmakers in the legislature with its special pleading, well-heeled lobbyists and well-financed campaign donations.

The bigger question: How much longer will Ontario allow corporations (and unions) to make such outsized contributions that pervert the political process and/or distort our perception of it? Anyone who made or accepted such enormous contributions in Ottawa would be breaking federal law. Why must Ontario remain a free-for-all open to the highest bidder?
- Meanwhile, Daniel Tencer highlights the amount of public money going to SNC-Lavalin despite its status at the top of global corruption lists. Peter Raaymakers rightly questions the use of RCMP resources to prevent Mikmaq First Nations from having any say in fracking on their traditonal land. And Max Paris reports that three years after a massive oil spill, Enbridge is just now (and only due to the insistence of the EPA) getting around to cleaning up some of the 684,000 litres of bitumen spilled at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

- The Broadbent Institute offers a reminder as to what the Cons really think of Canadian consumers. And Geoff Dembicki interviews a conflict-resolution specialist who see the Cons' consistent obstruction against global progress on climate change as more intractable than the forces behind some wars.

- Finally, Andrew Rawnsley writes about the dangers of allowing any social ladders (and other connectors) to disintegrate:
We already knew that social mobility was freezing up. And nearly everyone agreed that this is a bad thing. Bad for those trapped by the circumstances of their birth because it denies them the opportunity to flourish and fulfil their potential. Bad for society because disadvantage is perpetuated from parent to child, deepening inequality that, in a negative feedback loop, then makes it even harder for people to better themselves. As the report puts it: "Disadvantage and advantage cascade down the generations." Bad for the economy because untapped talent is left to waste. It is not only unjust. It is stupid.

The Milburn commission tells us that things are even more dismal than we thought. Social mobility is not just frozen, it is going into reverse. For the first time in a century, the squeeze on incomes means that the children of some of the middle class are threatened with a worse standard of living when they grow up than their parents.
(T)hose who have attained a privileged position will do all they can to preserve their gains for their children. There is some obvious truth in this. A rich parent can buy an expensive house in the catchment area of a successful school. A poor parent can't. A rich parent has access to social and cultural networks that are closed to a poor parent. A rich parent will know someone who knows someone who can help their child into the internship that will launch them into a well-remunerated career. A poor parent can't do that for their children. My family's progress, an example of lively social mobility in the 20th century, can be advanced as an explanation for why it has died in the 21st. I may be a well-meaning, liberal-minded, caring, meritocratic sort of person. But when it comes to the crunch, my first priority will be maximising the life chances of my daughters. It is contended that those families who have climbed up the ladder will stamp on the fingers of anyone trying to rise after them. In this dark view, everyone says they believe in equality of opportunity, but no one in a position of any privilege actually wants to see it practised.

Phil Collins, a former adviser to Mr Milburn, has argued that this is why politicians are never really serious when they claim to want to see more social mobility. If they were, they would have to be brave enough to admit: "In the competition for the best jobs, my children's victory means the defeat of yours." This is the "snakes and ladders" or "zero-sum" take on social mobility. I like Mr Collins but I don't like his grim, self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell the prosperous that social mobility is their enemy and they are going to be all the more determined to entrench the advantages of their children. Tell them that social immobility threatens their own affluence in the long term and they may come to a different conclusion.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds don't fall behind at school. They start behind. If birth is too often destiny, the best place to start tackling inequalities is the very earliest years of children's lives. It is no guarantee of closing the gap, but it can narrow it. There's an innovative American programme called Learning Dreams. Its insight is that the most effective way to encourage children to thrive in schools is to focus first on the parents. When parents are motivated to love learning as the route to attaining life goals, they are much more likely to pass that on to their children and inspire them to engage with education.

Behind it all is a giant question about the economy. We've seen a dramatic polarisation between highly rewarding work for those with the right skills and connections and badly paid work and little chance of social advancement for those without. Whether we can re-energise social mobility depends hugely on how Britain is going to earn its living in the future and what sort of jobs we are going to create. Living standards are not just about the size of energy bills. That is a trivial, passing spat between politicians compared with the question that really matters. Britain and the United States come bottom of the league table for social fluidity among developed nations. They are also the countries with the starkest inequalities. The best engine of social mobility is a high-value economy that creates many quality jobs across diverse sectors, spreading prosperity and opportunity more evenly. The alternative is the nightmarish future projected by the Milburn report, one in which even in economic recovery only the top slice of society prospers, the middle and bottom stagnate or fall even more behind and the rungs of the social ladder grow even further apart.