Saturday, July 18, 2015


The current Liberal leader, who apparently saw no reason to think his actions in the present might result in the loss of his party's self-proclaimed brand:

Trudeau said he finds Canadians he talks with when he travels are open to the idea of balancing security and rights. But he conceded that he may have underestimated the backlash, partly because he thought that as a Liberal he wasn’t vulnerable to being seen as lax on defending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (The Charter was, of course, introduced as part of the constitutional reforms ushered in by his late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, in 1982.)

“I quite frankly—and this is maybe where I made a strategic or a calculation error—I didn’t think that people would be so divisive and so aggressive as to somehow make it seem like the Liberal party doesn’t care about the Charter,” he said.
The fate of the previous Liberal leader, in whose caucus that current leader served (via Paul Wells, The Longer I'm Prime Minister at p. 253-254):
(T)he truly striking gap was on the response to the question about which leader respondents regarded as "a patriotic Canadian". Harper's advantage there was thirty-four points, nearly double his next-widest margin.

Shortly before EKOS released that poll, I received an e-mail from a Harper advisor:
The simple fact that we are debating the "Canadianness" of the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is a victory for Conservatives. Iggy is now playing defence on the #1 brand attribute of the Liberal Party of Canada. Even after the sponsorship scandal the Liberals still owned being the "Canada Party." The party with the pan-Canadian vision. The party best able to keep the country together...Attacks on Iggy related to "arrogance and elitism" (e.g. the "arrogance spot") and/or "tax and spend" (e.g. the "economy" spot) are standard operating procedure - the personalization of negative brand attributes associated with the party itself. But the attacks on Ignatieff's long-term commitment to the country are much deeper and much more problematic for a Liberal.

How to create warped incentives

Shorter John Ibbitson:
The NDP is being entirely responsible in preparing for the possible outcomes of the next federal election, and must be punished for it.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Barbara Tasch writes about the IMF's latest research on growing inequality in developing and developed countries alike. And Michael Krassa and Benjamin Radcliff study the impact an improved minimum wage can have on economic well-being:
Simply stated, as the minimum wage increases, the economic wellbeing of the national population rises. Statistically speaking this relationship is a strong one, significant at the .001 level.
Here’s the bottom line: Regardless of the size of a country's economy, its current economic situation, or the time frame chosen, people lead better lives as the minimum wage increases.

Although correlation does not prove causation, the evidence we have assembled strongly suggests that higher minimum wages do indeed work to the financial betterment of society as a whole. Even if some low-wage jobs disappear as minimum wages rise, the end result is greater economic security and prosperity overall for people who live and work in countries with the higher minimums.
- Daniel Angster points out Barack Obama's efforts to make sure that big money in U.S. politics can be traced back to its origins. But David Cay Johnston discusses how Koch-funded judges are going out of their way to prevent any investigation into Scott Walker's illegal coordination with corporate actors. And the CP reports that corporations which made illegal donations to Con Peter Penashue are being let off without meaningful consequences.

- Meanwhile, Matt McClure exposes the massive amounts of corporate taxes left uncollected in Alberta before the business-dominated PCs finally lost power.

- Stephanie Levitz reports that the Cons' cuts have resulted in Canada breaking its promises to accept refugees. And Antonia Zerbisias writes that neither newly-arrived immigrants nor life-long Canadians can feel safe in due to the introduction of two-tiered citizenship.

- Finally, Paul Mason offers an intriguing look at how our economy may shift away from our current model of corporate-dominated capitalism to a model where shared information and abundance serves as a platform for increased individual freedom.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Musical interlude

Jamie xx feat. Romy - Loud Places

Friday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Friday reading.

- Matthew Melmed examines how poverty early in life is both disturbingly widespread, and likely to severely affect a child's future prospects.

- Lawrence Mishel and Alyssa Davis track the extreme gap in wage growth for CEOs as opposed to workers. Robert Skidelsky argues that we can't rely on employment relationships to fully address poverty and inequality given the number of current jobs that will be mechanized out of existence before long. But on the bright side, Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on Unifor's success in achieving significant improvements in wages and schedule predictability for retail workers.

- Robyn Benson discusses the need to put an end to the Cons' plan of cutting public services merely for the sake of cutting, no matter how much social and economic damage results. But Bill Curry reports on the Cons' refusal to even cooperate with provinces trying to ensure some basic level of security and dignity for their citizens, while Evan Webster discusses Harry Leslie Smith's observation that the corporate right is challenging and threatening the underpinnings of civilized society.

- Faces of Health Care offers a look at just a few of the stories as to how one of our most treasured social programs - which is of course under attack by the Cons and the corporate sector - can make all the difference in a patient's life. And Kenneth Davis points out how improved social services can ease the burden on health care providers.

- Finally, CBC reports on just the latest Alberta oil spill. And Warren Bell discusses the connection between Christy Clark's wild promises about natural gas production and its questionable deal with Petronas.

Before the fall

Shorter Brad Wall:
The whole concept of "From many peoples, strength" doesn't do much for me. But "From many dinosaur remains, climate devastation", now that gets me - and any right-thinking Westerner - all tingly with pride.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Carol Goar rightly criticizes Stephen Harper's plan to deal with an apparent recession by making Canada's economy even worse off through yet more cuts. Andrew Jackson writes that denying or ignoring an economic downturn won't make it go away, while Louis-Philippe Rochon traces its origins to the Cons' own ill-fated choices. And Michal Rozworski makes the case for stimulus which would both boost our economy in the short term, and better position it for the longer term:
(T)here is a space and an opening here in which to push for alternatives. The coming election is an opportunity to push the debate towards more than fumbling the ball better or worse. Far beyond that, however, there is room to orgainize around and popularize economic alternatives. The mainstream of the environmental movement is calling for jobs alongside climate justice. And here is a list of demands that was just released by the heads of the provincial labour federations:
  • $15/hour minimum wage across the country;
  • doubling of the Canada Pension Plan;
  • creation of an affordable national childcare program;
  • the revival of the Canada Health Accord;
  • comprehensive immigration strategy with a pathway to citizenship; and
  • establishment of a Green Jobs agenda for Canada.
Just these measures speak loudly in a desert of popular alternatives and they are but some examples. And the question of how to fund any of these demands will raise the question of who pays and how much: difficult, necessary questions that have their mirror in those about who has gained over the past two decades of growth.
- Larry Schwartz offers a jarring list of facts about the U.S.' gross level of inequality.

- Patrick Krueger, Melanie Tran, Robert Hummer and Virginia Chang find a direct relationship between one major dimension of inequality (variance in education) and mortality rates. And Kate McInturff examines gender inequality within and between Canadian cities.

- Finally, Patrick Wintour reports on the UK Cons' latest set of attacks on workers. And Zoe Williams writes that the move should only serve as a reminder of the vital role of labour in ensuring that increased wealth isn't concentrated only among the lucky few.

New column day

Here, expanding on this post as to the Harper Cons' choice between short-term tactics and long-term viability.

For further reading, Jamey Heath argues that the Libs are serving only split voters who have a common interest in change, and that the progressive vote should coalesce behind the NDP. But in contrast, Don Lenihan theorizes that the content-free brokerage model long associated with the Libs is set for a comeback dressed up as "open government".

That said, it seems that there's one possible outcome of this fall's election and its aftermath which fits all of the above pieces together. It may be that the NDP can both form government immediately, and position itself as the long-term progressive contender for government. Yet at the same time, if the Cons' brand is repudiated thoroughly enough by voters, the Libs may well offer a more promising right-wing vehicle for all but the most fervent of Con partisans.

So Stephen Harper's goal of Westernizing federal politics might take the NDP/Lib dichotomy which is already the default in British Columbia.

On acceptable surprises

When Alice Funke first identified the effect of an extended writ period under the Cons' well-hidden revisions to the Canada Elections Act, I mused the effect was less problematic than it appeared at first glance. But now that the possibility of an extra-long campaign looks fairly real and the issue is drawing more discussion, let's highlight exactly what it means - and why it shouldn't be a huge problem for Canada's opposition parties.

Let's start by keeping in mind where matters stand before the writ period.

At the moment (and until the election writ drops), there are effectively no limits on political advertising in any format.

As we well know, the federal government is able to engage in massive, publicly-funded ad campaigns which have plainly been designed to further the Cons' interests. But at the same time, anybody else interested in the results of this fall's election also has the ability to spend money on pre-campaign ads and other activity (though without any reimbursement for the cost of doing so). And parties and outside actors alike are taking up the opportunity.

Once the election writ drops, the situation changes as follows.

First, outside advertising is severely curtailed. Typically, government advertising comes to a halt, while the Canada Elections Act imposes registration requirements and spending limits on outside actors engaging in election advertising.

Meanwhile, political parties and candidates face a couple of changes in circumstance. On the one hand, parties and candidates face spending limits of their own - meaning that the start of the writ period limits a single party's financial advantage rather than enhancing it. But on the other hand, those campaign activities are subject to public rebates which both lower the effective cost of activity and incentivize borrowing to reach the limit.

To the extent there's reason for concern about an extended writ period based on the timing of an election all, it's that the party holding power may be able to time the campaign to match exactly how much money it has on hand, while also having better knowledge than its opponents as to exactly when it needs to shift from pre-election into election mode. But the primary effect of any change on that basis is to maximize the governing party's resulting rebate - not to make a substantial difference in how much it's able to spend.

If the Cons have tens of millions of extra dollars on hand which they're willing to burn on ads in August, they can do so whether or not the writ period has started. And conversely, nothing about an extended campaign period forces any opposition party or candidate to spend more than it planned to otherwise.

Of course, practically speaking the major parties will put at least some campaign in motion as soon as possible. But it should be feasible to keep costs down during the earlier part of an extended campaign - as there's no reason in particular why any other party has to play along with the Cons' intention that the first month be advertising-heavy.

And the start of the writ period also figures to call public attention to the election itself - with that greater awareness likely making it easier to attract donations over a longer time period to cover any increased costs.

Moreover, the drop of the writ would offer some valuable certainty of its own. I've pointed out (and Kady has picked up on) the possibility that Stephen Harper could choose not to call an election at all this fall, which would surely disrupt the opposition's plans more than a slightly earlier start to the expected campaign. But once the writ drops, the Cons lose any further ability to play around with the campaign period and election date.

If anybody should be especially concerned about an early election call, it's third parties who may have plans for summer ad buys which would become illegal within a campaign period. But for the opposition parties, it should only take a reasonable amount of contingency planning to minimize any damage from an extended writ period. And while it may be cynical for Harper to mess around with our expectations as to the length of an election campaign, it's far from an inescapable trap.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Covering for Recession Stephen

Shorter Stephen Poloz:
Economic reality has a well-known anti-Conservative bias. So in the interest of neutrality, I refuse to apply common terminology to reality.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- tcnorris highlights how the Cons' gratuitous cuts are undermining their hopes of staying in power. And Eric Pineault discusses the costs of austerity for Quebec in particular and Canada as a whole:
(C)utting into spending slows down growth and keeps the economy in a stagnation trap. The resulting underemployment equilibrium puts a lot pressure on household revenues just as those same households are getting into debt. We are thus faced with a second paradox: in a stagnating economy, trying to use austerity to reduce public debt also translates into an increased burden of private debt.

Conversely, a credible and efficient economic stimulation policy grounded in strategic public investments, the maintenance —or possibly the expansion— of public spending, and the modernization of taxation so that it efficiently retains the necessary revenues to validate those expenses and investments (revenues which currently accrue as unproductive savings, notably in businesses) would have a huge impact on growth that would translate into an increase in both denominators, i.e. the GDP and the income of a majority of households. Our current government has decided against promoting such an economic policy, which would incidentally enable us to initiate an ecological shift.
When an economy is stuck in a stagnationist trajectory, choosing austerity is very costly. This cost —in lost economic growth, in weakened households burdened with debt, in under-equipped productive businesses, in uncreated quality jobs, and in disorganized public services— is not the temporary burden of a generation that has to tighten its belt for the sake of the future. Actually, austerity will leave permanent marks on our society. This is a cost with which Quebec’s economy will have to reckon for years to come. The longer we engage in this economic experiment, the longer the effects will last, and the more the inheritance left to future generations will be measly and poor.
- Meanwhile, Peter Geoghegan makes the case for a basic income.

- Angus Reid examines the need for a national pharmacare program to ensure that Canadians can afford the medications they've been prescribed. And Jane Taber notes that pharmacare is popular with voters in addition to being needed from a policy perspective.

- Evgeny Morozov writes that personal privacy is just the latest right to be trampled in the name of corporate control and free trade. And Marc Lee examines how much B.C. has given away in order to try to induce Petronas to extract its natural resources merely in order to be able to claim to have made a deal of some kind.

- Finally, Leilani Farha comments on Canada's deteriorating human rights record. But we shouldn't be surprised to see right eroding when we're governed by a party which (as Michael Harris points out) is focused on dehumanizing anybody who doesn't fall within its list of priority supporters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Playtime cats.

On teasers

Yes, this will do nicely as the trailer for the long-awaited film The Fall of the Harper Conservatives:

But let's make sure people know where to find the full screenplay. (And putting some more of it in front of the camera may not hurt as we approach the election campaign won't hurt either.)

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jim Stanford highlights how the Cons are focused on exactly the wrong priority in pushing for cuts at a time when Canada's economy is in dire need of a jump-start:
In the grand economic scheme, a deficit incurred as the economy slows is neither surprising nor undesirable.  But the Tories’ commitment to deficit elimination, no matter what, is all about politics.  First, it justified the big “social engineering” tax cuts (income splitting, so-called child support, etc.) that they announced last year as the centrepiece of their re-election campaign.  (Recall, in 2011 they promised those would go ahead only if the deficit were eliminated; that core promise is now on very thin ice.)  And now it is the most important remaining evidence for their traditional claim to be the “best economic managers.”  The government’s elevation of deficit elimination to all-encompassing priority, and its damaging but inconsistent pursuit of that objective (with unnecessary and damaging cutbacks imposed just as the economy was slowing) should be forcefully critiqued — not the existence of a deficit in itself.

Most curious of all is the government’s implicit and sometimes explicit assumption that merely eliminating the deficit itself will spur macroeconomic recovery.  This, of course, goes against everything we all learned in Macroeconomics 101.  How does not having a deficit do anything to strengthen economic growth?  And if getting to zero deficit means big cuts in public spending and employment, then it will obviously harm growth.
- Meanwhile, Simon Doyle examines the growing evidence that the Cons' economic mismanagement has pushed Canada into a recession.  And Jim Bronskill reports on the billions of dollars being written off by the federal government due to the Cons' lack of interest in maintaining an effective revenue collection system.

- Joe Cressy makes the case for requiring new developments to include desperately-needed affordable housing, while Jordon Cooper makes clear that affordability involves liveability as well as price. And Anna Mehler Paperny points out that we're all less healthy when our health care system is set up to refuse service to refugees.

- Robyn Benson explains why environmental protection is an essential goal for Canada's labour movement.

- Finally, LOLGOP highlights Jeb Bush's gall in demanding that workers put in longer hours to exacerbate the inequality which allowed him to be handed everything he could want for free. And Paul Krugman writes about the Republicans' preposterous laziness dogma in the face of an overworked populace:
It all adds up to a vision of the world in which the biggest problem facing America is that we’re too nice to fellow citizens facing hardship. And the appeal of this vision to conservatives is obvious: it gives them another reason to do what they want to do anyway, namely slash aid to the less fortunate while cutting taxes on the rich.

Given how attractive the right finds the image of laziness run wild, you wouldn’t expect contrary evidence to make much, if any, dent in the dogma. Federal spending on “income security” — food stamps, unemployment benefits, and pretty much everything else you might call “welfare” except Medicaid — has shown no upward trend as a share of G.D.P.; it surged during the Great Recession and aftermath but quickly dropped back to historical levels. Mr. Paul’s numbers are all wrong, and more broadly disability claims have risen no more than you would expect, given the aging of the population. But no matter, an epidemic of laziness is their story and they’re sticking with it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Paul Rosenberg documents how Bernie Sanders is tapping into widespread public desire and support for more socially progressive policies:
Sanders is right to think that Scandanavian socialism would be popular here in the U.S., if only people knew more about it. And he’s right to make spreading that awareness a goal of his campaign. In fact, on a wide range of issue specifics Sanders lines up with strong majorities of public opinion—and has for decades.

You can get a strong sense of this from the results of the “Big Ideas” poll commissioned by the Progressive Change Institute in January, which has thus far gotten far less attention than it deserves. (Full disclosure: I’m a former blogmate with Adam Green, co-founder of PCI’s affiliate, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.) PCI first solicited ideas online through an open submission process (more than 2,600 specific proposals were submitted) and then let people vote on them (more than a million votes were cast). This bottom-up process was then tested out in a national poll. The following all received 70% support or more:
Allow Government to Negotiate Drug Prices (79%)
Give Students the Same Low Interest Rates as Big Banks (78%)
Universal Pre-Kindergarten (77%)
Fair Trade that Protect Workers, the Environment, and Jobs (75%)
End Tax Loopholes for Corporations that Ship Jobs Overseas (74%)
End Gerrymandering (73%)
Let Homeowners Pay Down Mortgage With 401k (72%)
Debt-Free College at All Public Universities (Message A) (71%)
Infrastructure Jobs Program — $400 Billion / Year (71%)
Require NSA to Get Warrants (71%)
Disclose Corporate Spending on Politics/Lobbying (71%)
Medicare Buy-In for All (71%)
Close Offshore Corporate Tax Loopholes (70%)
Green New Deal — Millions Of Clean-Energy Jobs (70%)
Full Employment Act (70%)
Expand Social Security Benefits (70%)
...Sanders is not simply cherry-picking a few popular ideas here and there. He’s tapping into a broadly shared set of inter-related attitudes and ideas about closely related issues Although these views and ideas are usually sidelined in most political discourse, the convergence of attitudes into a coherent policy texture is remarkably consistent. And this gets to a primary problem with America’s political system: liberal policy views form a coherent whole, every bit as much as conservative ones do, but they are far less publicly recognized, articulated, discussed and explored—despite the fact that they are wildly popular!
- Iglika Ivanova discusses how British Columbia can easily afford $10 per day child care (particularly since it effectively pays for itself). And some wise investments along those lines might be especially important for a province which continues to give away essential natural resources for virtually nothing.

- Dylan Matthews charts the connection between poverty, inquality and mental health. And Ryan Meili interviews Michael Marmot about the first steps toward turning awareness of the social determinants of health into policy gains.

- Alex Boutilier reports that past bluster that a requirement to seek warrants for the disclosure of personal information by telecoms would meaningfully affect its ability to work has proven false by the RCMP's own account. And with the unsupported arguments for a secretive and unaccountable security state falling apart at the seams, it's no wonder the Libs are paying the price for meekly parroting them.

- Finally, it's hardly possible to do more than scratch the surface of the must-read commentary on the Troika's overthrow of democracy in Greece. But Christopher Majka, Suzanne Moore, Paul Krugman, Daniel Altman, Chris Hedges, Matthew Yglesias, Yves Smith and Michael Babad offer some useful places to start.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On succession plans

Over the past few days, I've finally made it around to reading Paul Wells' The Longer I'm Prime Minister. And there are a few points raised by Wells' account of Stephen Harper's stay in office which call for plenty more discussion.

Let's start with the conflict between Harper's long-term plans and his short-term tactics.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that Harper's ultimate goal is to build a lasting party which serves as the default federal government in a polarized political system. And in theory, the political systems of Alberta and B.C. are supposed to provide templates for that goal.

But there's another reality of Western political life which runs directly contrary to Harper's seeming plans.

It's true that in Alberta and B.C., right-wing parties have often been able to maintain power for long stretches of time exceeding those of left-wing alternatives. And part of that may be explained by the same tactics applied by Harper - the strict suppression of dissent and scandal which allow a party to cling to power longer than it might otherwise.

That strategy isn't without its costs, though: it tends to result in the factors which topple a government boiling over all at once rather than emerging gradually with time, permanently tarring a party as unfit for office. And I doubt that anybody's betting on the Alberta PCs breaking the trend of their predecessors in ceasing to be a viable governing alternative once they've finally been toppled.

Under systems which allow for unlimited corporate donations, that hasn't often been a problem for right-wing movements. The same backers who support one government tend to have little trouble coordinating their efforts choosing a new party brand once one has become tarnished beyond saving. And to the extent there are any hangers-on from a previous government, they tend to go away or shed their own skin over a period of a few election cycles.

But that option may not be so easily available under our federal financing rules which prohibit corporate donations. It's far from clear how one would go about transferring the Cons' base of financial and organizational support to another party - and likely to take far longer to do so than would be the case for a provincial party which merely needs to designate the magnet for funding from a small corporate elite.

So I'll raise the question: is there any realistic prospect of right-wing support jumping from party to party federally as tends to be the case in Alberta and B.C.? And if not, might Harper and his party need to start planning fairly shortly for the aftermath of having their actions in office exposed?

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Adrian Morrow reports on Al Gore's explanation as to how the fight against climate change can be economically as well as environmentally beneficial, while CTV points out a new Nanos poll showing that Canadians largely agree with the view that cleaner technology can and should replace dirty fossil fuels. And Gary Mason argues that a summer of drought and wildfires should lead us to pay particularly close attention to climate change in this fall's election.

- But as per usual, the people making obscene amounts of money from environmental degradation aren't going to relinquish their publicly-subsidized profits without a fight. On that front, Justin Mikulka reports that the oil industry is now shipping even more dangerous fuels by train than the ones which blew up Lac-Megantic. And David Ball discusses the imminent reopening of the Mount Polley mine whose tailings pond failure destroyed water sources for a large surrounding area.

- Alana Semuels writes about the U.S.' first large-scale study as to how to combat homelessness - and finds that unconditional subsidies for housing tend to produce far better social outcomes than traditional and limited interventions. And Semuels also points out how community ownership can offer a needed alternative to both decay and unaffordability in urban housing.

- David Walker is the latest to highlight how hard work is no guarantee of escaping from poverty. But Rob Evans exposes how the UK has engaged in domestic espionage against the unions working to improve living conditions, rather than doing anything to fight poverty itself.

- Finally, Andrew Jackson discusses how corporate tax slashing has done little other than to ensure that rent-seekers keep more of what they were already extracting from Canada's economy:
The case for a much lower CIT rate was that higher after tax profits would boost business investment. But that has turned out to be a mirage.

Investment in machinery and equipment and in intellectual property combined is below the 2006 level in real dollar terms, and has fallen from 7.2% to 6.2% of GDP. Sluggish investment is recognized by the Bank of Canada, the IMF and the OECD to be one of Canada's key economic problems, but tax cuts have had little or no impact.
(A) cut in the tax rate is irrelevant to companies earning so-called rents or above average profits. During the resource boom, companies would have invested in the tar sands and new mines even if the CIT rate had been higher. The financial sector is also highly profitable.

Tax expert Robin Boadway, Professor Emeritus of economics at Queen's University, notes that, "to the extent that corporate taxable income constitutes rents, the need to maintain internationally competitive rates of return on capital is unaffected."

And a lot of business investment would not leave for other countries simply due to a somewhat higher corporate tax rate. Canadian banks, utilities, airlines, railways, retailers and cultural industries among others all have to operate mainly in Canada to serve the Canadian market and could not just up and pull stakes to the US or elsewhere.