Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Emily Dugan writes about the Equality and Human Rights Commission's finding that young UK adults are facing the worst economic prospects of the last several generations. And Betty Ann Adam reports on Charles Plante's work on the value of a living wage, both for employers and society at large.

- Sutton Eaves wonders why climate change wasn't a defining issue in Canada's federal election. And Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis highlight the urgent need for an activist push for progress now.

- Lindsay Hines and Cindy Karnett report on the B.C. Libs' culture of secrecy, including their either destroying or falsely denying the existence of documents surrounding their unfair firing of eight researchers. And Ashley Csanady points out the Wynne government's breach of confidentiality on the first report ever delivered by Ontario's Financial Accountability Office.

- Speaking of which, that report is far from the only source rightly slamming the Wynne Liberals for refusing to listen to reason when it comes to their foolish selloff of Hydro One, with Thomas Walkom and the Star's editorial board both speaking out on that front as well.

- Finally, Patrick McGuire reveals that expectations as to confidentiality are rather different when it comes to information being demanding by the government - as the federal government not only demanded that Vice's protected journalistic material be handed over, but slapped a gag order on Vice to prevent it from reporting what had happened. And Ian MacLeod reports that it isn't just journalists who have reason to worry, as the Libs are making noises about using the secret CSIS disruption powers passed under C-51.

On decision points

I've previously challenged any attempt to pressure Thomas Mulcair to abandon the NDP's leadership. And I'll take a moment do so the same in response to Scott Gilmore's admonition to Elizabeth May.

As in the case of every party, the Greens should have every reason to evaluate whether they're achieving their goals. But there's no reason why getting rid of a current leader should be seen as either necessary or sufficient as a means of improving a party's standing.

And as the Greens decide what to do, May's track record is one which offers plenty of fodder for discussion on either side.

My personal impression is that May and her party spend an inordinate amount of time lobbying other parties and the media for debate positions and other attention, rather than building the type of broader popular support which would make exclusion impossible. And there's reason for question about results as well as strategy given the Greens' fading vote shares.

But the reality is that May is the only Green candidate to manage to get elected to Parliament (providing the party with resources it never would have had otherwise), and has done important work while she's been there. And more importantly, the upcoming Parliament offers her first chance to try to advocate for issues like environmental action and proportional representation before a government which isn't actively hostile to them.

In sum, there's a strong case to be made that May deserves the opportunity to show what she can do in a political climate which isn't defined by Stephen Harper. And it should be for her and her party to decide whether she's achieving more than a potential replacement could - not for outsiders to try to push her away.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Musical interlude

Hooverphonic - Inhaler

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Lars Osberg discusses the positive effects of raising taxes on Canada's wealthiest few. And Avram Denburg argues for a speedy end to income splitting due to both its unfairness,and its impact on the public revenue needed to fund a healthier society:
(I)ncome splitting primarily benefits middle- and upper-income families, provides relatively little tax relief for low-income families, and skirts single parents altogether. Just as importantly, it acts to deter both parents from equal engagement in the workforce and devalues family policies that promote dual engagement.

From the point of view of child health, evidence suggests we should be doing just the opposite. Family policies that favour dual-earner households—universal childcare, enhanced parental leave and robust early childhood education—are associated with gains in child survival.

The more generous a country’s policies toward dual-earner families, the lower its infant mortality rate: remarkably, among OECD countries, every increase of one percentage point in dual-earner support correlates with 0.04 less infant deaths per 1,000 births.
(P)romises to roll back this policy represent a very small step toward confronting disparities in child health and well-being in Canada. Income splitting is one manifestation of a broader set of social values that has come to pervade our political institutions and discourse.

Going forward, Canadians should continue to press for values and policies that buoy all our country’s children, rather than leave those most vulnerable among us to be buffeted by rough market seas. 
- Meanwhile, Marc Lavoie discusses how the Cons' balanced budget legislation is designed to suppress public-sector wages by forcing workers to pay the price for a government's ill-advised choices. And Marc Lee writes that the health care system - which had previously been about the only public function not slashed to the bone by the B.C. Libs - is now under attack.

- Derek Gatopoulos and Nicholas Paphitis remind us that the humanitarian crisis of Middle East refugees is still crying out for international action, as 22 more people seeking to find a better life died in the effort today. And George Monbiot writes about the environmental disaster of out-of-control fires in Indonesia which is somehow getting virtually no attention.

- Finally, Rick Salutin argues that it's time to dispose of first-past-the-post electoral politics for once and for all:
This election was mainly about negating Stephen Harper, and only secondarily, who’d replace him. The first thing we do: kill first-past-the-post.

This democratic abomination is an insult to Canadians and a humiliation before the world, most of which doesn’t use it. It means winner take all, but what does that mean? You can win big with a tiny number of votes as long as everyone else gets even fewer. You can win with 10 votes out of 100 cast, if 10 others got nine votes each. Real 50-per-cent majorities don’t matter. It’s staggering that we’ve put up with it so long — as if the magic of casting a ballot blinded us to how it gets nullified and devalued at the same moment.
Personally, and this is where it gets sticky, I’d favour shoving anything — as long as it throttles FPTP forever — through. Once gone it’ll never rise again. No Canadian ever had a chance to vote on our constitution, either in 1867 or 1982. That’s a shame, but why get fastidious at this point? There was no debate, much less a referendum, on the wretched voting system we got. The sole legitimate use I can imagine for using a phoney parliamentary majority, would be to kill forever the possibility of having phoney majorities. After that, the process could continue — why not — toward a more perfect electoral system.

If there is a referendum I’ll cheerily join the debate and I’ll vote. But I’d happily forego it for the joyous certainty of never seeing FPTP again. That feels like a democratic inconsistency on my part and it embarrasses me. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New column day

Here (via PressReader), on how Canada's attendance at the Paris climate change conference may prove to be utterly useless if Justin Trudeau isn't prepared to override Brad Wall's obstruction.

For further reading...
- Trudeau's show of inclusion is discussed here - and there's certainly reason to think he's less directly hostile to climate action than his predecessor.
- But we've seen what happens when Wall gets to nix any agreement which even mentions - let alone sets - any emission reduction targets.
- And Wall's "defensive posture" to prioritize resource profits over the planet makes it clear nothing's about to change now - while Murray Mandryk notes that Wall looks to be playing Trudeau like a fiddle.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Amy Goodman interviews Joseph Stiglitz about the corporate abuses the Trans-Pacific Partnership will allow to take priority over the public interest. And Stuart Trew and Scott Sinclair offer some suggestions to at least ensure that Canadians have an opportunity for meaningful review and discussion before being stuck with the TPP.

- Robert Benzie reports on a financial accountability officer's review finding that like so many other privatization schemes, the Ontario Libs' Hydro One selloff will only end up costing the public money.

- Jeff Sallot wonders whether the Trudeau Libs have the political will to keep their promise of electoral reform. And Chantal Hebert writes that the NDP has every reason to press the issue, particularly if the Libs show signs of reneging on their commitments.

- Finally, Andrew Mitrovica says good riddance to Stephen Harper, but also reminds us of the need to be wary of the Libs' incoming regime:
Lest we forget, Trudeau and the people around and behind him are the same Liberals who worship his father, helped get Chr├ętien elected and got Paul Martin anointed prime minister in what amounted to an insider-engineered coup d’├ętat. That means they’re card-carrying members of the Liberal party establishment, not rabble-rousing outsiders inclined to upset or tinker with the status quo. So spare me the delusions that Trudeau Jr. is his “own man” who will do politics in a “new way.”

For goodness sake, Trudeau wasn’t even elected before his campaign co-chair, Dan Gagnier, quit after it was revealed that his was secretly telling his pals in the pipeline industry who to lobby — nudge wink — in the new Liberal government to shape national energy policy. These guys aren’t exactly tie-dye T-shirt-wearing radicals, OK?
...I take Trudeau at his self-serving word when he told us many times that he and the  Liberal party supported C-51 — with a few minor caveats — principally because he didn’t want to damage his chances of getting elected, even though the bill has unquestionably damaged the country.

Peter Pan isn’t going to get rid of C-51 as he should. He will make cosmetic changes to the law and call it “reform.” He’ll trot out the trope that he’s “balancing” our rights in the name of “security.” Indeed, his people are already leaking word to friendly reporters in Ottawa that he plans to “overhaul” C-51 not by ditching it, but by resurrecting old ideas about how to keep an eye on the spooks now armed with it.

You see: new crowd, same old story.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Comfortable cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Mike Barber highlights how Canada's federal election campaign was dominated by messages pushed from the top down rather than citizens' concerns. Erna Paris recognizes that we can't afford to be complacent about the place of outright bigotry in shaping voters' decisions. And Christopher Flavelle writes that the ensuing election result represents a major test for progressives to see whether an ambivalent Liberal government can be pushed toward positive change:
If Canadians accept a few new tax breaks for the middle class, vague pledges on climate change and some symbolic shifts — letting in more Syrian refugees, perhaps, and dropping the previous government’s efforts to ban niqabs in citizenship ceremonies — as the fulfillment of the Liberals’ promise of change, then the complaint that Harper was holding the country back will look hollow.

If, however, the Liberals feel compelled by public opinion to tackle, early on, the more controversial issues they ran on — achieving a meaningful price on carbon, rolling back Harper’s tough-on-crime policies, reforming drug and prostitution laws, changing the way members of Parliament are elected — then the argument that Canada is a progressive country at heart, long thwarted by a prime minister who wasn’t, will acquire some meaning.

The country’s big problems haven’t been solved. We’re about to see how much Liberals, and Canadians in general, want to try.
- Open Canada offers a noteworthy list of foreign policy hopes for the new federal government. And Mike Blanchfield observes that even Stephen Harper's seeming ideological allies in Germany are joining other countries in relief that the Cons are no longer around to obstruct climate change talks and other international actions.

- Peter Henderson reports on the potentially alarming effects the TPP's copyright rules could have on Canadians.

- Melissa Dahl discusses the dangerous effects of excessive work - including its tendency to make people perform worse at the tasks they're overdoing.

- Finally, Delphine Nakache and Leanne Dixon-Perera examine the lives of Canada's temporary foreign workers, with particular emphasis on the dangers of abuse when workers know their legal stay in Canada is limited. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

On missed opportunities

As mentioned here, I'll be adding over the next little while to an already-substantial set of views on the NDP's choices which led to last week's federal election results. But I'll start by expanding on a point which I made briefly earlier in the campaign (at a time when it was far from clear how the choice would play out).

I noted then the dangers of playing it "safe" by limiting the number and type of debates early in the campaign - particularly for a party with a well-liked leader, but relatively few mouthpieces in the media to carry its message. And as the actual campaign played out, the lack of any debate at all in the two weeks before election day left no opportunity for Tom Mulcair to challenge Justin Trudeau from the same stage or otherwise test his message when it mattered most.

Of course, it's possible that a different campaign might have produced different results - particularly if the NDP had remained the main target for all other parties by the time it came around.

But even then, I'd rather have seen the NDP rely on Mulcair's ability to defend himself as the main target among the opposition leaders (a factor which may not have applied in the usual comparison to UK Labour), rather than giving away what could have been a platform to set the message for the end of the campaign. And that goes doubly when one of Mulcair's most prominent - and hardest-earned - titles was that of being willing to engage with anybody anywhere.

With that in mind, hopefully one of the NDP's main takeaways will involve recognizing the need to preserve and enhance its opportunities to reach Canadians during a campaign period.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Steven Klees notes that there's no reason at all to think that corporatist policies labeled as "pro-growth" will do anything to help the poor - and indeed ample reason for doubt they actually encourage growth anywhere other than for the already-wealthy. And the Economist finds that GDP growth in Africa has been almost entirely top-heavy, leaving many of the world's poorest people behind.

- Ehab Lotayek makes the case for a proportional electoral system where voters' actual preferences lead to representation, rather than one designed to spit out artificial majorities.

- Carol Goar points out that at least a modest version of a national pharmacare plan is both well within reach, and consistent with the Libs' election promises. And Reka Szekely reports on Oshawa's support for a pharmacare program.

- Emma Lui and Kaitlyn Mitchell write that the right to water and the protection of our environment should be top priorities for a new federal government.

- Jim Bronskill reports on the lack of accountability for CSIS' new foreign operations under Bill C-51. And David Christopher argues that the Libs need to repeal C-51 in its entirety, not merely tinker with the fine print.

- Finally, Sally Mahood highlights how the Wall government's plan to push private MRIs figures to encourage pay-for-play health care while restricting access for the people who need it most.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Les Leopold takes a look at the underpinnings of Bernie Sanders' unexpectedly strong run for the Democratic presidential nomination. And Sean McElwee discusses the type of politics U.S. voters are rightly motivated to change, as big donors have been successful in dictating policy to both major parties.

- The Edmonton Journal comments on the unfairness of first-past-the-post electoral politics both in allocating power across a political system, and in determining regional representation within it.

- Murray Mandryk calls out the Wall government for its contempt for public money when it comes to handing over billions of dollars to P3 operators.

- Finally, Stuart Trew offers his take on the meaning of Canada's federal election. And Doug Saunders offers his take as to how the Libs are likely to exercise authority through new "delivery units" - which serves as a warning as to the need to identify and advocate to non-traditional power structures:
Members of Mr. Trudeau’s staff say they are drawing on a set of ideas that emerged in Britain more than a decade ago under Tony Blair’s prime ministership and applied in a different version in Ontario under the Dalton McGuinty government, with results that pleased insiders but have left a questionable legacy. (It is no coincidence that Mr. Trudeau’s two top aides, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, were products of the top-level machinery of that Ontario government.)

It is a system which, in its most complete form, uses high-level “delivery units” to push key goals across the entire public service, sometimes bypassing the hierarchy of cabinets, departments and administrations, putting multiple government departments under the watchful eye (and sometimes forceful hand) of new organizations that report straight to the prime minister and impose their own goals and measures on the workings of government.

Their plans are likely to disappoint officials hoping to see a return to the sort of cabinet-driven government of the Lester B. Pearson years, where powerful ministers were given the autonomy and trust to shape their departments and legacies on their own. It is also likely to disappoint those who wish for a complete turn away from the top-down, prime minister-centred approach of Stephen Harper. 
(T)he delivery approach has its skeptics. They include Prof. Savoie, who sees them as yet another level of complication for public servants who already have far too many layers of oversight.

On ticking clocks

Governing inevitably involves a combination of setting the agenda to the extent possible, and responding to events to the extent necessary. And while there's a great deal of doubt as to where the Libs' priorities will lie, it's possible to identify the areas where they'll have little choice but to make decisions very quickly.

To be clear, we shouldn't confuse urgency with importance - and in later posts I'll discuss the issues which deserve the most sustained action over a four-year term. But let's start by quickly surveying a few of the policy areas where the Libs will face external deadlines from the moment they take power.

Climate change

Most obviously, the Paris climate change conference in November will require the new government to take a seat at the international table to deal with the most important issue facing our planet (where the Harper Cons did nothing but obstruct any progress during their time in office). And the voters looking for meaningful change will surely want to see Canada become a leader rather than a fossil.

Unfortunately, the odds of this one resulting in anything positive based on any Canadian contribution look rather low. So far, Trudeau is using the conference as an opportunity to showcase process over substance - crowing about who else he's inviting, while taking no steps to actually bring targets or plans to the table. And that means Harper's pattern of denial and delay stands to win out barring some major change in course. 

Long form census

While there's likely no official end date to decide what to do with next year's census, this week's news suggests that time is running out to administer anything but the Cons' more costly, less effective version. And there have been at least some rumblings about using a different mechanism to collect public data.

In the longer term, we should absolutely expect a review as to how best to collect the information needed to make policy choices for Canadians. But if there's just enough time to implement a functional long-form census if a decision is made immediately - and not enough time to sort through other a myriad of other possibilities first - then we should expect a new government to go down the former road and resume illuminating as much as possible.

Union rights

The Libs have promised to undo some of the Cons' attacks on Canadian trade unions, including the draconian (and probably unconstitutional) reporting requirements under Bill C-377. But they haven't yet signalled that the promise is going to be a priority - which could cause serious problems for Canadian unions.

After all, Bill C-377 requires unions to be able to report on its activities in for the time period starting on January 1, 2016, and to start making that information available for public dissemination six months after that. So if there's any doubt at all whether the Libs will follow through immediately on their promise (including pushing legislation through a Conservative-dominated Senate), unions will face plenty of cost in the meantime developing internal processes to comply with a law which the Libs themselves recognize as undesirable.

Assisted suicide

It was on February 6, 2015 that the Supreme Court of Canada declared the existing Criminal Code provisions on assisted suicide to be unconstitutional, while suspending the effect of that declaration for 12 months to allow the federal government to develop alternative legislation. Which means that once again, there's a legislative timeline looming.

But in this case, the Libs could buy themselves some time by relying on the terms of the Supreme Court's decision. The existing provisions have been struck down only to the extent a patient consents to assisted death based on intolerable suffering - and that standard could be applied as a stopgap until such time as the issue is considered in more detail by Parliament.

Of course, there are plenty of other areas where there are immediate imperatives to act which aren't so clearly tied to specific dates - from the humanitarian crisis giving rise to the need for refugee settlement, to the long-overdue nature of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, to the potential for widespread civil rights abuses by a secret police force under C-51, to the numerous areas where the Cons' cuts to regulations and services have put Canadians at risk. And in that context, the Libs' apparent focus on tax tinkering and political symbolism looks like a questionable place to start.

But we should pay particularly close attention to the Libs' inclination (or lack thereof) to act in the areas where they're facing timelines which have been well known in advance.