Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Roderick Benns reports on Ryan Meili's argument for a basic income:
Dr. Ryan Meili was in Kingston, Ontario, recently to talk to more than 100 people about the importance of the social determinants of health in an event that was hosted by Basic Income Kingston. The social determinants of health influence health outcomes for people and include many components that work together, including income and income distribution, education, unemployment and job security, among others.

Meili described a basic income guarantee as “an exciting opportunity” and a kind of “social investment to counter inequality,” pointing out that getting people out of poverty is the first social determinant of health on the list for good reason. While there are many models for implementing a basic income guarantee, he says the most important thing is to begin the process and invest in society.
Tackling the common question of whether or not a basic income would create a work disincentive, Meili says most people want to be productive members of society.

“But when we give people just barely enough to get by,” he says, citing social assistance models, it doesn’t have the same kind of positive impact, either for that person or for society. He points out that in a bare bones welfare model, someone might not have enough money left over each month to be able to take a train ride to explore new employment opportunities, as an example.

One audience member pointed out that a parent may need to quit their job to obtain the social assistance benefit of getting their child reading glasses, calling the choices that need to be made “dehumanizing.”
- And Nick Hanauer and David Rolf discuss how the loss of economic security is resulting in wider damage to the U.S.' working class, while proposing another set of intriguing policy ideas to reverse the trend:
Economic security is what frees us from the fear that one job loss, one illness—one economic downturn amidst a business cycle guaranteed to produce economic downturns—could cost us our home, our car, our family, and our social status. It’s what grants us permission to invest in ourselves and in our children, and to purchase the non-subsistence goods and experiences that make our lives healthier, happier, and more fulfilling. It gives us the confidence to live our lives with the realistic expectation of a more prosperous and stable economic future, and to take the entrepreneurial risks that are the lifeblood of a vibrant market economy. A secure middle class is the cause of growth, not its effect; in fact, our economy cannot reach its full potential without it. And a middle class that lives in constant fear of falling out of the middle class isn’t truly middle class at all.
We believe that seeing growth as a consequence of including more people in a secure middle class not only accurately describes the real economy; it can unite progressives in a new and important way. Across the broader progressive agenda—on immigration, on education, on civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality, health care, pay equity, the minimum wage, and on many other issues—the one thing that our policies all have in common is that they are fundamentally inclusive. For decades, we have promoted this agenda largely as a matter of fairness, but middle-out economics explains why our policies are also inherently pro-growth. It is through this theory of economic inclusion, this message that growth and fairness go hand in hand, that the various elements of the broad progressive coalition—social justice and labor, along with Silicon Valley and business interests—can unite behind a single, coherent, pro-growth economic narrative that puts us squarely on the side of the middle class. And crucially, this narrative will appeal to voters beyond the progressive coalition—independent and swing voters, many of whom value the promise of growth and employment over the ideal of economic fairness.

We must do more than just offer voters a new economic theory—we must draw a sharp contrast with conservatives by proposing bold new policies predicated on the economic primacy of the middle class. The Shared Security System is one such proposal. But more than just demonstrating an innovative solution to providing economic security that is adapted to the sharing economy, a bold new proposal like the Shared Security System would demonstrate progressives’ unwavering and unequivocal commitment to the middle class—to the proposition that growth and prosperity come not from tax cuts for the rich, but from inclusive policies focused on creating a secure middle class.
- DIW Berlin finds that in Germany like elsewhere, a job is no guarantee of escaping poverty. And Josh Hoxie reports on Ecuador's creative plan to turn large estates into a social benefit for everybody.

- John Perry discusses how needed investments in social housing can reduce the cost of offering other social supports. But the ONS points out that the current trend is in the opposite direction, as the increasing cost of home ownership is forcing more and more people into overcrowded private rental units.

- Seumas Milne writes that there's no reason for the people who stand to suffer to meekly accept decrees of austerity from out-of-touch governments. And Sarah Lazare reports on a growing movement of UK citizens who agree entirely and are taking to the streets.

- Finally, Ethan Cox interviews Bill McKibben about the Cons' obsession with enriching the dirty oil industry at the expense of our economy and our planet alike. And Lizzie Dearden writes about Pope Francis' call for a change from a culture of di

Friday, June 19, 2015

Musical interlude

Electrostatic - Eliminate Me

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Sam Becker discusses the economic harm done by growing inequality, while Alexandra Zeevalkink previews Katharine Round's upcoming documentary on the issue. And Carol Goar argues that Canadians are eager for leadership to ensure that everybody shares in our country's wealth.

- Meanwhile, Laura Cattari points out the importance of giving people living in poverty a voice in policy decisions. And Erik Loomis highlights the consequences of failing to do so, as an imbalance in political influence has resulted in U.S. corporations being able to use poor areas both domestic and foreign as dumping grounds for toxic substances.

- Karri Munn-Venn reminds us of the high cost of tax slashing:
Tax cuts in recent decades have been sold to the public under the false pretense that lower taxes benefit everyone.  The truth is, cutting government spending has a detrimental impact in terms of lost programs and investments that will impact us all – both now and in the future.

Provincial and federal governments have made significant changes to Canada’s tax system over the past two decades, reducing the level of taxation on corporations and high income individuals.  Deep tax cuts have reduced the amount of revenue available to governments.  They also make the tax system itself less progressive, shifting the responsibility for financing public services onto middle and lower income families.

Canadians deserve to be told what spending cuts will cost them.  Reducing taxes without an open and honest debate about consequences does not meet the criteria of transparent and accountable decision-making.  And it hurts us all.

When government tells citizens that it can’t afford to invest in the programs and services that people in Canada need and rely on, we must remember that the tax policies of these same governments have put us in this predicament in the first place.  Every year since 2006, a range of tax cuts have resulted in foregone revenues of $45 billion.

And yet, millions of people in Canada continue to live in poverty, climate change and growing greenhouse gas emissions take a toll on our environment, and refugees are being turned away and denied essential healthcare.  So while some of us may have a few more dollars in our pockets, those on the margins of society pay with their well-being.
- Thomas Walkom discusses why Canadian federal politicians (outside the NDP) are so rarely inclined to talk about health care even when it's a top-of-mind issue for a large number of voters. And Kathleen O'Grady and Noralou Roos comment that the media also does far too little to highlight health policy issues for the public.

- Finally, Michael Harris sees C-51 as remaking Canada in Stephen Harper's own paranoid and controlling image, while Michael Geist argues that the Libs' excuses for falling in line behind Harper's power grab are no more plausible now than they've ever been. And Karl Nerenberg rightly slams the Cons for crying terrorism every time anybody questions their abuses of power.


Sure, it might be tempting to say there's no difference at all between this...
The federal government touted a number of initiatives Wednesday for improving First Nations’ well-being but could not explain why a new report showed the prosperity gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people was widening in some cases.

The report, released by the federally appointed National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, found that First Nations living on reserves had shown the least improvement.

Relying on 2006 and 2011 census data, the report found the non-aboriginal employment rate went from 62.7 per cent to 61.2 per cent. For First Nations living on reserves, it dropped from 39 per cent to 35.4 per cent.

Large disparities in income levels remained. In 2010, average income was $18,586 among aboriginals on reserves and $30,266 off reserves. For non-aboriginals, the average was $41,052.
...and this:
China’s president, Xi Jinping, has told villagers in one of the most deprived areas of the country, where four children killed themselves last week by swallowing pesticide, that poverty is nothing to fear.

He made the comments in Huamao, a village in the south-western province of Guizhou, according to China’s official news agency.
Speaking to Caixin, a current affairs magazine, in the wake of the children’s deaths, Ye Jingzhong, a scholar from the China Agricultural University in Beijing, said: “Rural society is withering.”

Xi’s trip to Guizhou appeared partly designed to address such concerns. The ruling Communist party of China “cares a lot about farmers, particularly those in poverty, and has enacted various policies to boost rural development”, the president reportedly told villagers.
But there's certainly one distinction worth drawing. Unlike Stephen Harper, China's leaders at least deigned to show up in the general vicinity of the people they're telling to keep suffering through avoidable poverty.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Daniel Tencer discusses the latest evidence that trickle-down economics are a fraud, while David Roberts and Javier Zarracina write about how the elite seems to get its own way even when the results are worse for everybody. And Heather Stewart reports on the IMF's findings as to the connection between financialization, inequality and stagnation as the extraction of wealth comes to be valued more than the production of anything useful.

- Meanwhile, Simon Enoch and Cheryl Stadnichuk observe that Saskatchewan is headed down a well-worn path to ruin based on the Wall government's obsession with P3s. And PressProgress exposes Con MP John Williamson as the latest example of how anti-government astroturfers never seem to have a problem having the public fund their own frivolous junkets.

- The Washington Post writes about NASA's studies showing that fresh water aquifers are being depleted around the globe.

- Gloria Galloway reports on the Aboriginal Progress Report which shows that Canada's First Nations are falling even further behind the rest of the country in both relative and absolute terms. Douglas Quan notes that the Cons' telling response is to have no interest in addressing the gap. And Joshua Davidson writes that the Cons' contempt for the people left out of the broader economy by design extends to having the likes of Leona Aglukkaq vote down any attempt to ensure that her constituents can afford the necessities of life.

- Finally, Steve Sullivan is rightly appalled (if perhaps a bit too surprised) about Stephen Harper's utter contempt for the law. And Jeremy Nuttall points out that Canadians have reason to be skeptical about Justin Trudeau's new set of policy promises when it's paired with his willingness to give a Harper-directed secret police force free rein.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

New column day

Here, on how Alberta's strengthened political financing rules under Rachel Notley's NDP only highlight how far Saskatchewan has fallen behind.

For further reading...
- Bill 1 is here (PDF), while Alberta's legislation which it amends to prohibit organizational donations is the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, RSA 2000, c E-2 found here. And by way of comparison, the closest Saskatchewan has to the current or amended versions of sections 16 and 17 of that legislation is section 242 of the Election Act, 1996, SS 1996, c E-6.01 here.
- I'll point again to Barret Weber's study of the state of Alberta's law, along with David Climenhaga's column. For reaction from the political parties to Bill 1, see Emily Mertz' report. And Elise Stolte reports that Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson is also looking to bar corporate contributions on the municipal scene in Alberta.
- Finally, for those interested in digging into Saskatchewan's past political contributions, Elections Saskatchewan's annual returns page is here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Elias Isquith talks to David Madland about the connection between increasing inequality and the breakdown of trust in the U.S. political system. CBC and Larry Elliott follow up on the IMF's findings about the economic damage done by income and wealth disparities. And Philip Longman thoroughly examines the cross-generational inequality which is putting every generation after the Baby Boomers at a severe disadvantage:
Start, for example, with the twentysomethings of 1979. They had a lower real income in 1979 than twentysomethings did in 1969. And as fiftysomethings now, they not only make less money than they did when they were fortysomething, they are also far worse off as a whole than were the fiftysomethings of 2005. This generalization applies to white members of this cohort and even more so to those who are African American or Hispanic.

Today’s fiftysomethings may be part of the first generation in American history to experience this kind of lifetime downward mobility, in which at every stage of adult life, they have had less income and less net wealth than did people who were their age ten years before. Yet these mid-wave Baby Boomers shouldn’t feel too sorry for themselves. That’s because, as we shall see, they were far better off as twentysomethings than were subsequent cohorts of Generation X twentysomethings, and especially better off than today’s Millennials.

These vastly different economic trajectories experienced by today’s living generations are basically unprecedented. Throughout most of our history, inequality between generations was large and usually increasing, to be sure, but for the happy reason that most members of each new generation far surpassed their parents’ material standard of living. Today, inequality between generations is increasing for the opposite reason. Though much more productive and generally better educated, most of today’s workers are falling farther and farther behind their parents’ generation in most measures of economic well-being.

If it were just a matter of the old getting richer while the young get poorer, it would not necessarily be so bad. Under that scenario, most of us might struggle financially until we grew old, but we could at least look forward to realizing a variant of the American Dream in retirement. But that’s not how these trends are playing out. The downward mobility of today’s younger Americans leads to the downward mobility of tomorrow’s older Americans, making the problem of growing generational inequality truly dire. It’s time to get clear about just what’s been going on and what we can do about it.
- Meanwhile, Adnan Al-Daini comments on the futility of pretending that government budgeting is comparable to that of a household.

- Ryan Meili interviews Harry Leslie Smith about the realities of life without a universal health care system, and the importance of preserving and improving the one we now enjoy.

- Katie Valentine looks at research showing a connection between environmental consciousness by legislators and cleaner air. And Geoff Dembicki notes that the Cons' environmental negligence is leading Canadian civil society to start taking action.

- Finally, Frances Russell writes that the Cons are looking to block Canadians' votes in the upcoming federal election. And Evan Leeson makes the case for voting for what we want, rather than allowing "strategic" arguments to push us toward the world of all possible worlds:
In the Canadian context strategic voting is anachronistic because it seeks to STOP HARPER. Again, we didn’t. You can’t stop a train after it has left the station and arrived at the destination. The opportunity is gone and strategic voting in this sense is living in the past and refusing to come to terms with where we have arrived.

Strategic voting creates a negative frame because it takes the seed of positive creative energy in people who want change and plants it in negativity and fear. It says: “If we don’t vote together to stop Harper he will do bad stuff”. That’s negative and fearful. Plus, he already did.

In fact, the Unstoppable One has now turned his attention to making sure that he can stop us. He wants to ensure the things he did cannot be undone aka retroactively stopped. Bill C-51 is a big part of that. C-51 is about locking it in.
Here’s the thing about strategic voting. Things are different now. We can’t stop Harper. We can’t stop him because he’s accomplished his goals. Stick a fork in us. He’s done.

So, enough with defining our future in the negative. What we need now is a new Prime Minister and new governing party with a plan and a mandate to build Canada anew.

So what is the new approach?

It’s simple, really. I believe hope is better than fear. I’m voting from the heart. I’m voting for what I believe in. I’m voting for the Canada I want. I hope you will too.

Pop quiz

Michael Den Tandt and John Geddes are convinced that Tom Mulcair's speech to the Economic Club of Canada yesterday represents both a massive sea change in Canadian politics, and a response to the NDP's newfound lead in the polls. So let's offer a pop quiz to see if that theory holds up to scrutiny.

The following passages are from speeches Mulcair delivered:
(a) to the Economic Club of Canada in April 2012;
(b) to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce in February 2013;
(c) to the Economic Club of Canada in January 2015; and
(d) to the Economic Club of Canada in June 2015.

Can you match the date with the passage to determine which speeches represented the unremarkable status quo ante, and which "willy-nilly upset the apple cart" and represented a new " forestall a worried reaction to his emergence as a serious challenger"?

As New Democrats, we believe in a vision for sustainable, long-term growth that will create wealth and prosperity here...

Not just for today, but for generations to come.

That means building a diversified economy that includes value-added jobs and thriving export industries.

It means upgrading and refining our own natural resources...instead of building pipelines to ship raw bitumen overseas.

It means making polluters pay for the pollution they create rather than leaving that cleanup to future generations.

And it means developing a coherent and strategic vision that creates the right environment for foreign investment… while ensuring a well-defined “net benefit” to Canada.

Industry has also begun to realize that we can no longer disconnect principles like these from the bottom line.
I don't believe budgets balance themselves, nor do I believe they become balanced just because you pass a law – zap (you're) balanced.
But I do believe that it is fundamentally important that the federal government live within its means.
In the NDP, that idea goes back to the beginning.
I come from the school of Tommy Douglas who balanced 17 budgets in a row while he ushered in Medicare.
Or Roy Romanow, who rescued Saskatchewan from bankruptcy with prudent fiscal management.
Or Manitoba’s Gary Doer, who has the best track record of any Premier in the modern era for balanced budgets.

And you don't have to take our word for it.

The federal Department of Finance’s own reports show that NDP governments are the best at balancing the books when in office.
Our first task, therefore, must be to convince Canadians that New Democrats will be competent public administrators.

Not the most exciting campaign slogan, I know, but with nearly 35 years in public service, when it comes to public administration, I have a record to run on.

Beyond restoring basic competence, we must also conduct ourselves with a genuine respect for the role of government.

Government can’t do everything. But while maintaining a healthy respect for its limitations, we should also acknowledge that government is the place we come together to build the better, fairer Canada we all want.
I believe in growing the economy through prudent, strategic investments and sound fiscal policy. Policies that attract investment and stimulate the creation of stable, full-time jobs.

For example, the New Democratic Party has an open and progressive approach to international trade. We support the free trade agreement with South Korea, and the agreement in principle with Europe.

The goal is to put the emphasis back on sustainable economic growth. Growth that will help not only today’s middle class, but our children and grandchildren. This means building a diversified economy that focuses on the creation of value-added jobs.

When we consider recent events – the job losses, the closures, the withdrawing of investment, and skyrocketing of household debt I believe that the focus of our response must be on the hard-working families who feel the effects of these events day-in and day-out.

Their struggles will always guide my priorities.

With strategic investments and a concrete plan, we can provide the squeezed middle class with a stronger economy and better shock absorbers to ensure they weather the storm in the coming months and years ahead.
The correct answers are : (a)-3, (b)-1, (c)-4, (d)-2.

Feel free to peruse the speeches as a whole to see if there's some difference missed in the above passages. But it's certainly worth asking: is there any truth to the claim that there's a radical difference in the NDP's economic message? Or is that simply a matter of pundits changing their own emphasis to suit a narrative or outright ignoring what Mulcair has said before, even as Mulcair (possibly unlike some of his opponents) stays broadly consistent?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Playtime cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- PressProgress points out that neither the public nor a group of the world's leading economists sees the slightest value in balanced-budget gimmicks which override sound public decision-making. And Paul Krugman observes that the entire conservative economic strategy is based on overinflating bubbles, then letting somebody else clean up the resulting mess.

- Matthew Weaver highlights the use of "poshness tests" to screen out working-class applicants seeking work with key UK employers as a particularly stark example of how prestige and wealth have less and less to do with individual achievement. And Anna Mehler Paperny reports on the spread of precarious work which has made so many other jobs into traps for the unwary.

- Meanwhile, Molly McCracken rightly slams Manitoba's PCs for trying to privatize child care and other social services when that only produces worse working conditions as a means to create a profit stream. And Warren Bell examines the far-reaching implications of the Doctors of B.C. run-off election due to the presence of corporate-health zealot Brian Day.

- Mike Blanchfield reports on a new study from Voices-Voix documenting the Cons' stifling of dissenting voices. Kim Covert writes about the Cons' decision to create lower tiers of citizenship. And Errol Mendes argues that we need a Magna Carta moment to ensure that our federal government uses its power in the public interest, rather than using public resources solely to increase its own power.

- Finally, the Parkland Institute makes the case to end corporate and union donations to political parties in Alberta.


Susan Delacourt's point that Canadian politics have seen a shift toward a permanent campaign is generally well taken. But it's worth keeping in mind what it means when parties have the opportunity to plan for years in advance of a fixed election date:
Political advertising, once only a feature of the official campaigns, now runs in between elections so that parties don’t have to waste precious time “introducing” their leader, including character and values, to the voting public. The between-election ads also give parties a chance to build a storyline around rivals, which will only be hinted at during the big election show. In-house pollsters perpetually merge political strategy with micro-targeting at selected, focus-grouped segments of the electorate.
I have my doubts about Delacourt's subsequent view that ideology and policy debates are doomed to fall by the wayside. But I don't think there's much doubt that a party's plans for an election cycle should be based on the longer-term goal of positioning itself for election day and beyond.

Just four months ago, an opposition party was running a distant third in the opinion polls, with another opponent looking like the primary magnet for voters seeking change. Instead of panicking, the NDP made relatively subtle changes to its deployment of resources and took a well-thought-out position on a major issue which demanded it. And now, Tom Mulcair and the NDP hold the lead in the polls.

Unfortunately, the Libs' track record when trying to make up ground is rather less positive. And while I don't have a problem with some of the party's latest moves (particularly those which involve somewhat more worthwhile policy than we expect from the Libs), a shift toward sudden, high-risk maneuvers may ultimately have serious consequences for all parties - particularly if the Libs echo Con messages which reduce the likelihood of anybody being in position to offer an alternative government.

With that in mind, a couple of reminders are in order. First, we can't stop Harper without making the case for progressive change. Second, there's still plenty of time to go before election day.

And if the NDP has managed to emerge as the first choice of Canadians by making a consistent case for its vision rather than flailing wildly every time a poll doesn't look good, the Libs might be well served to learn from that example.

Update: Warren Kinsella thinks the Libs are due for a round of firings based on the latest polls. Readers can determine for themselves whether this militates for or against my point.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- David Cay Johnston looks into new research showing just how much distance the U.S.' highest-income .001% has put between itself and the rest of the country's citizens:
(F)or the first time ever, the IRS offers a close look at the top .001 percent of taxpayers. It shows that incomes in this rarefied air — the top 1,361 households — are soaring while their tax burdens are falling.

The differences in income-growth rates from 2003 to 2012 between the top .001 percent and the rest of the top 1 percent are akin to watching a race to the skies between a helium balloon and a rocket.

I analyzed the report to compare the 99.9 percent in the top 1 percent to the one in a thousand above them. Adjusted for inflation, average incomes for 99.9 percent of those prosperous households rose to almost $1.3 million in 2012, up  $424,000 over 2003.

As big as those numbers are, they pale next to the income growth among the one-in-a-thousand households above them on the income ladder. Those 1,361 households enjoyed an average income of $161 million, an increase of $84.6 million.
The new report is the latest proof that our income tax system is no longer progressive. Instead of tax burdens rising with income, and thus with the ability to pay, burdens fall off as incomes rise into the stratosphere. That doesn’t make sense.

Congress has lavished so much tax relief on the very richest Americans, in fact, that their burdens are falling even though overall income tax burdens are rising, especially for the middle class. And those with the very highest incomes have such abundant resources that they can neither consume much of their income nor find profitable places to invest their wealth.
- Sheila Block studies the growth of law-wage and precarious work in Ontario, along with the desperate need for a strong public policy response. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh follows up by putting Block's analysis in context.

- Tom McIntosh argues that we should push Canada's province to take the lead on a national pharmacare program rather than relying on the federal government. But I'm skeptical as to how much that will accomplish: after all, much of the problem with the state of pharmacare already comes from the fact that rare examples of localized leadership haven't been followed elsewhere, and indeed right-wing provincial governments have seldom hesitated to retrench on previously-existing coverage in the absence of federal standards.

- Meanwhile, Jeff Reading points out that the elimination of gross iniquities in First Nations health compared to the rest of Canada's population would go a long way toward the pursuit of reconciliation. But Lee Berthiaume reports that the Cons have no intention of lifting a finger to improve social conditions for First Nations even as it agrees to international action.

- Finally, David Climenhaga opines that eliminating corporate and union money from Alberta elections will be a winner for Rachel Notley's government from both a policy and political standpoint.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Guy Standing discusses the political and social importance of Canada's growing precariat, as well as the broader definition of inequality needed to address its needs:
The assets most unequally distributed are fourfold.

First, socio-economic security is more unequally distributed than income. If in the precariat, you have none. How will politicians ensure that everybody has enough security to give them reasonable control over their lives?

Second, there is inequality of control of time. If in the precariat, you have no control, and must do this and that all the time, under stress, being ready to take low-paid jobs, retraining, networking, multitasking and so on. We need a politics of time.

Third, access to quality space is growing more unequal. The elite salariat have second homes, spacious gardens and holidays in exotic places. The precariat is squeezed into compressed and polluted space, deprived of the commons. We need to reverse the shrinking commons, the public amenities and spaces. The precariat is intuitively green.

Fourth, the precariat has no access to income generated by capital. Real wages for the precariat will continue their long stagnation. New mechanisms are needed to reduce inequality. Canada has debated a basic income. Without moving in that direction, the nascent anger over insecurity and income inequality will become explosive. The precariat will lead that anger. Politicians, trade unions and others must reinvent themselves, or be swept aside.
- Cliff writes that while the Cons' terror bill might have made for classic shock doctrine politics, it was doomed to become a liability as people gained knowledge and perspective. And Lana Payne writes that the NDP's principled response to C-51 has helped to position it as the progressive alternative to the Harper Cons.

- Murray Dobbin points out that we have reason to worry about the future of Canada's universal public health care system due to plenty of vultures waiting for it to die:
The big five vultures anticipating the joys of feeding off Medicare's carcass include a B.C. medical privateer's legal challenge, a major trade deal, the public-private partnerships fleecing health budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars in excess costs in virtually every province, a new domestic services treaty, and lastly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new, imposed health "accord" that will decrease federal contributions to the provinces by $36 billion over 10 years.

Dr. Brian Day's challenge, based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is perhaps the most frightening, because if he wins it will effectively constitutionalize the right of health care corporations to compete with Medicare. Researcher Colleen Fuller's CCPA study, "The Legal Assault on Universal Health Care," details how "Day wants the B.C. Supreme Court to legalize extra-billing, user fees and private insurance, creating an American-style health care system here in Canada." In the U.S., in 2004, "health care regulation cost up to $340 billion out of a total health expenditure of $1.7 trillion. In spite of such high expenditures, fraud costs the U.S. health system $75 billion annually."

The flurry of corporate rights agreements being pursued by the Harper government are also a threat to the viability of Medicare. The Canada-EU deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, will immediately add at least $2 billion to drug costs in this country. The international Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) now being negotiated in secret threatens to apply the deregulatory imperative of investment agreements explicitly to services, including health care. As Public Services International has pointed out, TiSA "would restrict governments' ability to regulate, purchase and provide services. This would essentially change the regulation of many public services from serving the public interest to serving the profit interests of private, foreign corporations."

But by far the most dangerous threat to Medicare is our prime minister, who loathes Medicare more than any other aspect of Canadian governance and democracy. Harper actually quit politics in the late 1990s to become the head of the viciously right-wing National Citizens Coalition -- an organization founded in the early 1970s explicitly to fight Medicare.
Harper has abandoned all federal oversight or guardianship. There are no strings attached to the money. And the equalization aspect of the former accord is also gone, meaning increasingly unequal health care across the country and an erosion of the principle of universality. Lastly, the current funding formula not only brings the funding contribution of Ottawa to a record low 19 per cent, but it is not legally binding. If Harper wins the election, he could unilaterally chop billions from Medicare any time he chooses.
- Taylor Bendig studies the lack of accountability and effectiveness in Saskatchewan's privatized highway construction.

- Finally, Karl Nerenberg looks at the menu of unappealing options we face in dealing with the Senate. But if we needed another indication of how ridiculously out of touch the Senate is with the reality of most Canadians, Jordan Press reports that its incumbents seem prepared to stick the public with a $24.5 million bill for their refusal to walk an additional block to temporary office space.