Saturday, April 08, 2017

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Ethan Cox reports on new polling showing that Canadians are highly concerned about inequality - even if our governments aren't doing anywhere meaningful to address it:
Of Canadians surveyed, 73 per cent said their and their family’s economic situation had stayed the same or gotten worse over the past two years, while 68 per cent did not expect it to improve over the next two years.The poll, conducted by Strategic Communications, was made public at the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit in Ottawa.

Asked who benefits from today’s economy, 67 per cent fingered the wealthiest Canadians. Despite the Trudeau government’s rhetorical focus on the middle class, only 11 per cent of respondents identified the middle class as benefiting from today’s economy.

Eighty-two per cent of Canadians think the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, and 84 per cent think that’s a problem.
Large majorities supported closing tax loopholes and tax havens, a new tax bracket for high-income earners, a more progressive income tax system and restoration of corporate taxes to pre-Harper levels. Over two-thirds of Canadians also backed a $15 per hour minimum wage.

“Canadians are feeling the impacts of increasing inequality and want to see the government address the cost of living and the growing gap between the rich and everyone else,” said Stratcom president and CEO Bob Penner in a release. “They are worried about Trump, and how good a job the government will do standing up to him. While Trudeau remains popular, our polling shows there are chinks in that armour, and growing income inequality and how the government deals with the U.S. President are two of them.”
- Sarah Mojtehedzadeh reports on the CCPA's research showing that the gig economy is built around young workers who lack better options. Mike McCarthy and Micah Uetricht point out how the precarious state of the U.S.' pension system is undermining workers of all ages. And Theophilos Argitis observes that increased job numbers in Canada aren't doing anything to improve wages.

- Kate McInturff discusses how the beneficiaries of the wage gap between men and women stand in the way of closing it. And Agence France-Presse reports on Iceland's worthwhile step to make pay equity the norm required of all employers. 

- Gordon McIntyre interviews Jean Swanson about the growing problem of homelessness in British Columbia - and the political choices which have needlessly made it worse.

- Meanwhile, Laurie Monsebraaten reports on a worthy effort by Ontario to stop imposing destructive reviews on people receiving welfare benefits due to disabilities.

- Finally, Amina Zafar examines the cost of unnecessary health testing and treatment across Canada both in dollars, and in stress on our health care system.

The race to nowhere

Following up on in the Saskatchewan Party's budget plan to benefit the rich with tax cuts (with the explicit aim of making corporate taxes lower than any other province) while soaking everybody else, it's worth offering a reminder what happened to the last Canadian province to try the exact same gambit.

New Brunswick's 2009 budget included both severe cuts to the public sector, and a much-trumpeted intention to undercut other provinces on corporate taxes. And of course, the latter were supposedly justified by the claim that lower corporate taxes would lead to more growth and jobs.

So how did that work out?

Well, neither the offer of immediate tax slashing nor the promise of more to come actually did anything to improve the province's economy. In fact, within a few years, even the New Brunswick Business Council - a group consisting effectively of the corporations who gained the most from the cuts - publicly admonished the province to raise corporate taxes back to a more sensible level. (That's exactly what it eventually did.)

And that wasn't even the worst-case scenario. At least the fact that nobody else followed New Brunswick's reckless lead meant that there was no particular fallout when the province went back to a more typical rate. But if other provinces had felt compelled to implement the same cuts, the result would have been less revenue for all of the affected provinces in perpetuity.

Of course, providing less for people and more for corporate donors seems to be the primary goal of the Wall government. And we shouldn't believe for a second that slashing corporate taxes will have any other effect.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Musical interlude

Pale - Too Much

On bodily integrity

It was bad enough when the Saskatchewan Party declared its intention to put as many barriers as possible in the way of access to social services, particularly by making excuses about whether people are "able-bodied".

But it's even worse that the responsibility for applying that standard lies with a minister who apparently doesn't know the difference between a budget surplus and a capital asset - resulting in her impliedly suggesting that libraries sell, say, their books in response to the Sask Party's budget cuts.

Which raises the question: under Tina Beaudry-Mellor's philosophy, will Saskatchewan people be required to auction off their organs before being able to count on any public assistance?

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- In advance of this year's Progress Summit, Ed Broadbent writes that burgeoning inequality threatens our democracy:
Inequality matters. Promises must be kept. It’s not enough for our government to celebrate the diversity of our country but not enact policies that head off growing inequality. Mr. Trudeau, it’s time to deliver.

The underlying causes that produced the harsh politics of resentment and exclusion in the United Kingdom before Brexit, and in the recent U.S. election, are stirring here at home. According to a recent EKOS poll, the percentage of Canadians who identify themselves as middle class has dropped from 67 per cent to 46 per cent. And 70 per cent of Canadians believe – quite accurately – that almost all recent economic growth has gone to the top one per cent. Almost 60 per cent of Canadians said that they would not be surprised if violence broke out unless inequality was addressed.

This accurate perception of unfairness, that some make great gains but most do not, undermines democracy. As the statistics suggest, many Canadians feel the sense of alienation from the political process and from the economic system, which has fuelled the rise of the nationalist and intolerant political right around the world: Donald Trump in the U.S., UKIP in the UK, and the Front National in France.
A country’s true worth is not measured by how it enables the few but by how it provides for the many. Our country needs all the restless, creative energy we can bring to bear to create a brighter future.
- Meanwhile, George Monbiot warns against accepting a definition of "freedom" which is limited to allowing the wealthy and well-connected to exploit the public. And Matt Stoller discusses Simcha Barkai's research showing how bigger corporations are making workers poorer.

- Jessica Vomiero looks at the Conference Board of Canada's research showing that residents of Atlantic provinces are significantly happier than people elsewhere in Canada - based in large part on a stronger sense of community and greater affordability. And discussing the same study, Peter Zimonjic reports that Canada ranks fairly highly among comparable countries in overall life satisfaction, but near the bottom in terms of gender equality.

- Armine Yalnizyan discusses the importance of focusing on gender equality in developing and analyzing budgets. And Heather Cleland explains why the Libs' plan to extend maternal leave benefits only for those who have money to spare doesn't answer the real disparities which need addressing.

- Finally, Michal Rozworski interviews Charles Smith and Ian Hussey about the contrast between Brad Wall's destructive austerity and Rachel Notley's maintenance of needed services.

New column day

Here, following up on this post as to the Libs' cynical repudiation of the very concept of ideas and values in politics.

For further reading...
- Fair Vote Canada's list of National Advisory Board members is here - and as noted, it hardly reflects the spin of being "anti-Liberal". And FVC's statement as to the importance of being involved in electoral politics is here.
- I've covered most of the policy points mentioned in the column before, but will add David Hulchanski's post on the Libs' illusory housing spending.
- Joanna Smith reports on the Libs' attempt to strip opposition parties of their ability to hold a government to account (as well as the necessary response). Paul Wells discusses Justin Trudeau's contempt for question period - which is as obvious when he's failing to answer every question posed as when he's choosing not to bother showing up. And Andrew Coyne points out how the unaccountable concentration of power in the PMO is only undermining any perception of legitimacy in federal decision-making.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Wednesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Owen Jones writes that excessive reliance on corporate profiteers is the reason why the UK's trains don't run on time. And Nora Loreto argues that postal banking is needed (among other reasons) to rein in abuses by Canada's biggest banks.

- Shannon Daub examines what British Columbia's voters want going into their provincial election next month - including a more progressive tax system and improved public services. Carol Linnitt points out that the Christy Clark Libs are instead running a slate of corporate lobbyists to further leech off the province. And Derrick O'Keefe discusses the desperate need for a change in government.

- Stefan Stern highlights the strong positive impact of an increased minimum wage on both general economic growth, and personal security for workers. And Josh Eidelson notes that U.S. voters have done their utmost to approve of higher minimum wages through direct ballot initiatives - only to have (mostly Republican) legislators try to undermine them at every turn.

- Meanwhile, Elise Gould and Celine McNicholas discuss the role unions play in ameliorating the gender wage gap.

- Finally, Samantha Craggs reports on the Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team's efforts to provide health services to vulnerable populations, which pointing out how much more work needs to be done in taking into account the social determinants of health.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Decorated cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Mark Holmgren writes that there's no reason why we should allow poverty to continue in a country which has plenty of wealth to reduce it, while Patrick Butler notes that the conservative view of poverty as being solely the result of personal (lack of) merit is oblivious to the real obstacles facing people. Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on an effort to bring employers together to provide fair wages and a stable living based on both business and social benefits. And Daily Bread Food Bank offers a reminder that the need to navigate the tax system may result in people receiving far less than the benefits they need (and are entitled to).

- Richard Denniss points out the rank hypocrisy of big businesses demanding $48 billion in tax cuts in Australia while also complaining about public deficits. Andrew Coyne highlights how Bombardier is paying out millions of bonuses on a business model of taking in public money. And John Michael McGrath discusses how small towns suffer from corporate benefit-chasing - particularly as the promise of tax revenue from chain retailers proves illusory.

- Regan Boychuk raises a question as to who should be liable to clean up the mess made by Alberta's oil industry. And Geoffrey Morgan reports on the example of Lexin Resources as a model for how large companies have tried to offload costs onto smaller operators which can't possible afford them.

- Finally, Duncan Cameron takes note of the Libs' broken promises when it comes to openness and accountability. And Meghan Sali writes that secrecy and a lack of public inclusion are among the key warning signs for trade deals and other insider-based policy choices.

On incentive programs

Let's add a couple more points to Brad Wall's attempt to hand out freebies to corporations in which he owns shares while the rest of Saskatchewan faces grinding austerity.

First, the Saskatchewan Party's spin (claiming there's no conflict of interest under current rules) is based entirely on an opinion from the conflict of interest commissioner that merely standing to profit from shareholdings doesn't mean one actually shares an interest with a corporation.

On that front, let's note that the conflict of interest commissioner's statement itself seems to be based on his rejecting without explanation some well-established theory as to the effect of stock holdings by employees:
Employers hope that by making employees shareholders through participation in ESPPs, the interests of employees will be more aligned with the interests of shareholders. Consequently, employees who are also shareholders will think and act more like owners.
At best, the conflict of interest commissioner's opinion seems to be based on the assumption that an office move wouldn't actually result in an increase to the value of any company. Which seems like a massive leap to make when part of Wall's pitch involves a willingness to hand over whatever the company thinks to request from the province.

That said, based on the public statement from Whitecap's CEO, Wall's plan to poach corporations is ethically permissible only to the extent it's doomed to fail:
Whitecap CEO Grant Fagerheim said he would move only if it benefited his company's shareholders.
So if Wall's giveaway scheme doesn't meaningfully affect shareholder value, it won't attract anybody. And it if does meaningfully affect shareholder value, then he's in a conflict of interest. 

For the second point worth noting, let's compare Wall's disclosure statements from 2011 (PDF) (the earliest one turning up in search results - note that the linked statements through the Legislative Assembly website only go back to 2012) to 2015 (PDF).

In the past few years, even as Saskatchewan has been suffering through a resource bust and the world has been agreeing on the need to move away from fossil fuels, Wall seems to have been adding a number of oil companies to his own personal portfolio. And Wall's stake in the companies caught up in the corporate giveaway looks to be entirely new: Whitecap Resources and Crescent Point Energy are among the new additions to his list of shareholdings, while CNRL doesn't seem to appear on either of the disclosure statements.

Meanwhile, as Progress Alberta has charted, the Saskatchewan Party has received donations of $118,091.67 from Crescent Point Energy, $13,588 from CNRL, and $8,354.01 from Whitecap Resources in recent years. And over the same time period, Wall himself was taking in a $40,000 per year party top-up funded from its donations.

So it's possible that Wall's shareholdings in the companies he now wants to give a privileged position have effectively been funded by the companies involved.

That might mean that for the oil operators, Wall has turned into the perfect shareholding-motivated employee. But Saskatchewan's citizens have ample reason for concern that their interests rank well down their premier's priority list.

Update: See also Murray Mandryk's column, as well as Geoff Leo's report

Monday, April 03, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Ed Finn reminds us how the economy as a whole - including the private sector - suffers when austerity is inflicted on public services:
The public and private sectors have become so interdependent that one cannot be attacked or diminished without hurting the other. Public expenditures often stimulate private sector activities. Many industries could not get started or keep going without government services and infrastructure. And of course governments need a robust economy to boost employment and generate the revenue they need to provide social services.

Public funds spent on making workers healthier and better educated provide the private sector with a more efficient work force. Public funds spent on roads, airports, and other utilities are essential to the operation of private industry.
That’s the absurdity of the neoliberal assault on the public sector. Somehow, more private industrial development is supposed to flow from less public education and research. More private X-ray machines, MRIs, and other hardware is supposed to be made for fewer public hospitals. More private cars and trucks are supposed to be driven on fewer public highways. A smaller public police force is supposed to guard larger private fortunes.

What is more likely to happen – and what in fact has happened in recent years – is that restraints on growth in the public sector cause overall national production to be slowed down, rather than causing a shift in growth from the public to the private sector.

You would think that, by this time, our political leaders would realize just how illogical, inequitable, and impracticable this anti-government dogma really is. 

Instead, they submissively continue to aid and abet the corporate kingpins in their deranged attacks on the public sector and public employees.
- Meanwhile, Tom Parkin points out how the Libs' plan to turn federal infrastructure into a corporate profit centre stands to hurt Canada's middle class. 

- The Tamarack Institute discusses the theoretical role of businesses in reducing poverty by providing jobs at living wages. But Jeff Spross proposes to cut out the middle man and ensure that public-sector work is available for people who want it.

- Adam Radwanski notes that the Trump administration offers yet another stark warning as to the dangers of trying to run a government like a business. And Robin Sears' takeaway is that governing isn't for amateurs.

- Finally, PressProgress documents how Kellie Leitch's "anti-elite" message is being bankrolled by exactly the wealthy and entitled people she claims to want to fight.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

On anti-Liberalism

Last night, I responded on Twitter to David Akin's Lib-fueled attack on citizen engagement in the Ottawa-Vanier by-election:
Let's follow up however by noting that the problem doesn't figure to be limited to electoral reform.

Activists across Canada are rightly working for the change the Libs promised, including on issues ranging from reconciliation with indigenous people to preserving a clean environment to ensuring that CEOs pay their fair share of taxes. And plenty more people care enough about other items on the Libs' long list of broken promises to want to hold Justin Trudeau to them.

A government which didn't view the very concept of opposition as a nuisance would at least acknowledge that it's legitimate for people to take action on the same issues it highlighted to get elected. But in a party built around the single principle of saying anything to take power, anybody who questions whether the Libs are living up to their promises is apparently being dumped onto a common enemies list. 

That said, if the Libs see anybody who cares about policy choices - or even the concept of honesty in government - as "anti-Liberal", then it's worth treating that phrase that as a badge of honour rather than a criticism. And anybody wanting to hold Trudeau to any of his promises had best send the message that there are electoral consequences both for breaking promises, and for trying to delegitimize issue activism.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Andrew Jackson writes about the opportunities missed when governments restrict their economic policy to propping up the corporate sector, rather than seeking to innovate directly in the public interest:
The received wisdom among economists used to be that governments should just set broad “framework” policies such as low taxes, less regulation, and fewer barriers to trade. It was up to the private sector to decide what and where to invest. Anything smacking of hands-on “industrial policy” was to be avoided.

Rejecting this dogma, the influential UK economist Mariana Mazzucato argues that government leadership and public investments are critical to building innovative economies. She has shown that publicly funded research well in advance of immediate commercial opportunities as well as direct support for strategic corporate investments have been central to the growth of innovative capacity.

Here in Canada, traditional hands-off policies have signally failed to boost our weak record of innovation. In that context, an expert business panel appointed by the Harper government called for more public investment in venture capital, and a shift in emphasis from tax measures to direct government support for strategic private sector investments.
The government may have listened to Mazzucato on the pivotal role of public investment in boosting innovation, but they have not heeded her advice to consider long term public equity stakes so as to reward taxpayers when these investments pay off, and to anchor footloose investments.

While the federal government is indirectly taking a stake in some new venture capital investments through BDC, the intent is very much to exit early in the game once a company goes public rather than to remain for the long haul. So the government shoulders the risk but does not benefit from the long-term payoff.

To conclude, the innovation agenda marks another incremental turn away from “framework” economic development policies. But the shift is unlikely to be transformational unless it is scaled up and accompanied by a greater role for long-term public investment in the knowledge-based economy.
- Meanwhile, Matt Bruenig examines the alarming level of wealth inequality within the boomer generation - particularly when home equity is set aside. And the Economist discusses how automation is restricting the availability of employment while exacerbating inequality.

- And that represents a problem in multiple policy areas, as Lana Payne highlights the connection between happiness, equality and social trust.

- Chantal Hebert points out how the Trudeau Libs are showing nothing but disdain for the concept of Parliamentary accountability. And the Globe and Mail criticizes Trudeau's plan to eliminate any chance for MPs to respond meaningfully to a majority government's whims.

- Finally, Roy Romanow discusses the how our health care system can be both more efficient and more compassionate by focusing on prevention, rather than responding only to diseases and injuries once they've already arisen.