Saturday, October 14, 2017

Leadership 2018 Candidate Profile: Trent Wotherspoon

As with Ryan Meili, I'll start my look at Trent Wotherspoon's new run for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership by pointing back to his previous candidate profile and campaign review. And despite all that's changed in the meantime, this campaign starts with an even stronger sense of deja vu for Wotherspoon's candidacy than for Meili's.

Wotherspoon's 2013 run began with the largest and showiest launch of any of the candidates. But any hope that a shock and awe approach would give him an aura of inevitability soon gave way to the realities of the campaign - and he wound up finishing a relatively distant third in the vote count, despite doing better in other metrics such as endorsements, fund-raising and personal favourability.

Since then, Wotherspoon's most obvious opportunity to build his profile has been his tenure as the NDP's interim leader - which certainly worked wonders in allowing members to see him as the face of the party and ensuring that they'd be exposed to his retail political skills. His time in that role saw the NDP gain strength (thanks in no small part to the Saskatchewan Party's abomination of a 2017 budget), and seems to have cemented his place as the leading candidate of the party establishment.

But then, Wotherspoon likely had that title at the start of the 2013 race as well before Cam Broten managed to wrest it away. And some of the same issues which hurt Wotherspoon's cause then look likely to resurface again in the new campaign.

Wotherspoon's policy offerings are again on the light side so far in the current race. And while there's time to fix that in part by releasing more platform planks, the hesitation to engage on all but the most friendly terrain also reflects the relative difficulty he had in responding to challenges in the previous leadership race.

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon's place as the insider candidate itself has come at a cost. A party which has been burned twice in a row voting for an establishment choice may be prepared to look for something new - particularly as less-conventional strategies have succeeded in other jurisdictions. And Wotherspoon's reversal of his one-time assurance that he wouldn't seek the permanent leadership may create a trust gap which will be difficult to navigate.

In sum, Wotherspoon has a ways to go in establishing that he can build on his personal appeal and base of support to earn the leadership. And while he's likely a slight favourite at this stage, it's entirely foreseeable that the campaign may again erode whatever advantage Wotherspoon now holds.

Leadership 2018 Candidate Profile: Ryan Meili

As I've noted before, Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign will involve some very familiar candidates. And so my starting point in analyzing the race will be to review the previous leadership campaign run by both Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon - with a particular focus on anything that's changed since 2013.

With that in mind, here are Meili's candidate profile and campaign review from the 2013 race - which mostly hold up for now. And in particular, Meili's policy focus only seems to be getting stronger with time, as he's started this campaign with both a strong set of core principles and a plan to fund them.

The main differences for Meili since the last leadership campaign of course involve his development of political organizations: first in founding Upstream, then in getting elected as an MLA. And those should offer some comfort to voters who may have previously perceived Meili as lacking political experience. (That said, anybody treating a track record in elected office as the main factor in selecting a candidate will figure to be more interested in Wotherspoon's longer tenure in the Legislature - not to mention his time as the NDP's interim leader).

But the central reality surrounding Meili's campaign is this factoid from the previous two leadership campaigns:
Notwithstanding an entirely different type of leadership campaign and plenty of new participants within his own camp, Meili's final vote total of 4,120 was a jump of exactly 18 votes from his second-ballot total in 2009.
Meili thus has a well-established level of support he can likely match again. But where can he gain ground in order to change the final outcome?

There's some possibility Meili could win simply by holding his past vote count if the absence of Cam Broten as a competing candidate results in less organization and votes against him. But it doesn't seem likely that the membership rolls will wind up substantially smaller at a point when the public desire for an alternative government is much stronger than it was during the last campaign in particular.

If Meili is going to add to his vote totals, he'll need to find support beyond what he's been able to achieve already. Among current members, that will likely involve a combination of establishing that he's been able to improve in areas which have previously been perceived as weaknesses, and making the case that there's a need for more change internally than Wotherspoon will offer. And beyond partisan lines, it figures to involve reaching out to people who have been disillusioned in the past - with Meili's pledge to practice what he preaches about campaign finance serving as an important starting point.

Of course, while Meili will be looking to win over supporters from beyond past party lines, he'll also have to deal with the effect of forces outside the party on the leadership campaign. Much of Saskatchewan's media still seems determined to dismiss Meili, even while grudgingly recognizing that he's the only candidate in either leadership race doing much to advance any policy discussion. And the Saskatchewan Party began putting a target on Meili's back even while Wotherspoon was still the interim leader.

All of which means that Meili's past leadership campaign success probably isn't enough to make him a clear favourite to win at the start of the new campaign. And he'll likely need to aim substantially higher than he's been able to reach before in order to finally win the opportunity to lead Saskatchewan's NDP.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Paul Wells writes about Justin Trudeau's natural affinity for the rich and privileged, while the Star remains unduly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to fulfilling promises of Indigenous reconciliation and tax fairness. And Chantal Hebert discusses Bill Morneau's role at the centre of the Libs' broken progressive promises, while Elizabeth Thompson exposes Morneau's shell-corporation-owned French villa which apparently slipped his mind on previous ethics disclosures.

- Larry Cohen offers some policy suggestions to aim higher to protect workers in the U.S. - including sectoral bargaining and wage structures.

- Geoff Leo reports on the Wall government's deliberate actions to avoid both rights of access to information and fair hiring practices in the public sector. And Murray Mandryk connects that secrecy to the Saskatchewan Party's contempt for public servants.

- Carolyn Jarvis discusses the latest in-depth collaborative investigation across journalism schools and media, this time documenting the health costs of poorly-regulated and never-reported chemical spills in the Sarnia area.

- Finally, Lana Payne highlights the importance of empowering girls - and the reality that there are still far too many barriers to equal opportunity based on gender.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Musical interlude

Avicii - X You

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Matt Bruenig explores the U.S.' wealth inequality and finds a similarly skewed distribution of wealth among all kinds of demographic subgroups. And Robert Reich discusses why the attempt to sell a tax cut for billionaires as doing anything but making that problem worse is nothing short of laughable.

- Meanwhile, Richard Partington reports on a study proposing a "basic services" model for the UK to alleviate precarity in multiple facets of life:
Free housing, food, transport and access to the internet should be given to British citizens in a massive expansion of the welfare state, according to a report warning the rapid advance of technology will lead to job losses.

Former senior government official Jonathan Portes and Professor Henrietta Moore, director of University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity make the call for a raft of new “universal basic services” using the same principles as the NHS. They estimate it would cost about £42bn, which could be funded by changes to the tax system.

The recommendations include doubling Britain’s existing social housing stock with funding to build 1.5m new homes, which would be offered for free to those in most need. A food service would provide one third of meals for 2.2m households deemed to experience food insecurity each year, while free bus passes would be made available to everyone, rather than just the over-60s.

The proposals also include access to basic phone services, the internet, and the cost of the BBC licence fee being paid for by the state.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said the recommendations would “help inform Labour’s thinking”.

“This report offers bold new thinking on how we can overcome those challenges and create an economy that is radically fairer and offers opportunities for all,” he added.
- Citizens for Public Justice has released its annual report on poverty in Canada. And Jeremy Nuttall writes that people living with disabilities are all too often caught in poverty traps.

- Meg Sears, Richard van der Jagt and Warren Bell discuss how more effective environmental policies can lead to massive improvements in public health. 

- Finally, Thomas Walkom points out that Canada has plenty of options if the U.S. makes good on its threat to walk away from NAFTA

Thursday, October 12, 2017

New column day

Here, on the growing gap between the Trudeau Libs' "middle class" messaging and the self-perception of a growing working class in Canada.

For further reading...
- Ekos' polling is discussed here, with detailed tables here (PDF).
- The Libs' 2015 platform is again here (PDF). And again, PressProgress discussed Bill Morneau's message that Canadian workers should accept precarity as the new normal here.
- For information on a few of the barriers being placed in the way of younger workers, see Statistics Canada's summary of the trajectory of tuition fees, Daniel Tencer's discussion of ballooning housing prices, and Patricia Kozicka's reporting on the trend of childbirth being pushed later into life.
- Finally, I wrote about the Libs' failure to close tax loopholes for the wealthy here. And John Paul Tasker and Karina Roman reported on the sudden move to crack down on employee benefits, while Tencer reviewed its effect on lower-income workers before the Libs hastily retreated.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Nathaniel Lewis and Matt Bruenig discuss the relationship between massive inheritances and ongoing wealth inequality. Nick Hanauer makes the case for much higher taxes on the wealthy as part of a plan for improved economic development, while a new Ipsos poll finds that three-quarters of Americans are in favour of that possibility. And Larry Elliott reports on a new IMF study which concludes that a more progressive tax system will reduce inequality without affecting growth:
The Washington-based IMF used its influential half-yearly fiscal monitor to demolish the argument that economic growth would suffer if governments in advanced Western countries forced the top 1% of earners to pay more tax.

The IMF said tax theory suggested there should be “significantly higher” tax rates for those on higher incomes but the argument against doing so was that hitting the rich would be bad for growth.

But the influential global institution said: “Empirical results do not support this argument, at least for levels of progressivity that are not excessive.” The IMF added that different types of wealth taxes might also be considered.
IMF research found that between 1985 and 1995, redistribution through the tax system had offset 60% of the increase in inequality caused by market forces. But between 1995 and 2010, income tax systems failed to respond to the continuing increase in inequality.

It also said inequality should be tackled by giving a more pro-poor slant to public spending.

“Despite progress, gaps in access to quality education and healthcare services between different income groups in the population remain in many countries,” Gaspar and Garcia-Escribano said, adding that in rich countries men with university education lived up to 14 years longer than those with secondary education or less.

“Better public spending can help, for instance, by reallocating education or health spending from the rich to the poor while keeping total public education or health spending unchanged,” they added.
- Michael Nienaber reports on a push by German trade unions to translate productivity gains into reduced hours of work. And Martin Regg Cohn argues that corporate fearmongering isn't a valid reason to avoid ensuring that workers make a living wage.

- Meanwhile, the Mowat Centre and Smart Prosperity Institute study (PDF) how decent work fits into a green economy. And George Monbiot theorizes that a combination of private sufficiency and public luxury could represent the economic model which allows us to reconcile higher standards of living with environmental sustainability.

- Finally, Geoff Leo reports that the Wall government has ordered public servants to use private e-mail accounts to deal with sensitive issues in order to avoid any public record of their actions. And Alex MacPherson notes that the Sask Party has refused (or neglected) to provide information to allow the Auditor General to even assess the effects of its destruction of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Stephanie Levitz reports on new polling showing an increasing number of Canadians self-identifying as part of the working class or poor, while also seeing little room for optimism about their futures. And Jared Bernstein offers his analysis as to why wages are remaining stagnant south of the border.

- Randy Shore writes about the growing gap between the cost of living and the wages employers are willing to pay - though it's hard to have much sympathy for businesses on the latter point. And Amelia Gentleman notes that more than half of London's poor are in working families - signalling that a job is no assurance of a reasonable standard of living.

- Thomas Piketty offers a warning about the end of France's wealth tax - which is equally applicable to jurisdictions which lack it to begin with:
 Confronted with the rise in inequality, awareness is gaining momentum. Those who advocate withdrawal into some form of cultural identity are, of course, attempting to exploit the feeling of abandonment experienced by the working classes, at times successfully. But concomitantly we see the rise of a new demand for democracy, equality and redistribution. The United Kingdom might swing distinctly to the left in the years to come – and perhaps also the United States if the democrat candidates who are preparing to stand are anything to judge by.

In this type of context, the abolition of the wealth tax today in France, almost 40 years after the arrival in power of Reagan and Thatcher, has totally missed the plot. There is absolutely no sense in making tax gifts to groups who are old and wealthy and have already done very well in recent decades. All the more so as the loss in revenue is anything but symbolic. If we add the gifts made to dividends and interests ( which will in future be taxed at a maximum rate of 30%, as opposed to 55% for salaries and incomes from non-waged activities), we come to a total cost of over 5 billion Euros. This is the equivalent of 40% of the total budget allocated to the universities and higher education which will remain static at 13.4 billion Euros in 2018, whereas the numbers of students rise steadily and preference should be given to investment in training. I would like to bet that the students will remind the government of this when it endeavours to add selection to austerity in the coming months.
The political strategy which consists in transforming the wealth tax into a property tax (impôt sur la fortune immobilière), to avoid a complete suppression of the wealth tax, quite frankly leaves me speechless. There is no logical reason to levy a higher tax on a person who invests their fortune in a house or a property rather than in a financial portfolio, a yacht or any other type of good. We can only hope that elected members remember that they were not elected to be part of this kind of farce.
- James Wood reports on the Alberta Federation of Labour's push to ensure that legalized marijuana results in decent work through publicly-owned cannabis stores. 

- Jino Distasio points out how funding for Housing First initiatives can go much further than other attempts to address homelessness.

- Finally, Monia Mazigh points out that the Canadian Museum of Human Rights is conspicuously missing the most recent violations which show how much work there is yet to be done.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline coverage.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Asad Abbasi reviews a new book following up on Thomas Piketty's work on the causes of inequality.

- Peter Goodman and Jonathan Soble point out that the combination of tight job markets and stagnant wages has become a consistent reality in the developed world - and that a combination of precarious work and attacks on unions is responsible. And Hank Danizsewski notes that precarious jobs are now the norm for half of London workers.

- David Olive sets out a few basic facts about closing tax loopholes currently exploited by Canadian corporations. And Josh Bivens and Hunter Blair point out why tax giveaways for the wealthy don't help anybody but the lucky few, while Marcus Ryu notes the particular implausibility of any claim that free money for rich people will create desirable jobs. 

- Owen Jones discusses how the UK's press has largely become a tool of the wealthy and powerful rather than a provider of needed information for the public. David North interviews Chris Hedges about the hold of corporations over the U.S.' political system and media. And Kevin Taft comments on the oil industry's "deep state" which has captured public institutions in Canada.

- Finally, Justin Wolfers reports on new research showing how racism manifests itself in responses to basic questions about the U.S.' public services.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Christopher Thompson highlights how the use of monetary policy to fuel economic growth rather than a progressive fiscal policy alternative has served largely to enrich the already-wealthy. Rachelle Younglai and Murat Yukselir report on Canada's growing income gap, while Andrew Jackson points out how increased inequality has been paired with stagnant or worsening poverty levels.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses the UK's choice between continuing with a rerun of '80s neoliberalism, or pursuing shared development. And John Quiggin offers some suggestions as to what the next socialist alternative might look like:
The middle of the 20th century was a unique period of sustained economic growth and broadly shared prosperity in developed market economies. The crucial feature underpinning this success was full employment, guaranteed by Keynesian macroeconomic management. In an economy with full employment, workers are no longer dependent on the goodwill of individual employers or the confidence of business as a whole. If one job does not suit, there is always another.

In these circumstances, the distribution of market income between wages and profits, and among wage-earners, tends naturally towards greater equality. Conversely, as we’ve seen since the 70s, when governments are driven by the need to please financial markets, ever-growing inequality is the inevitable result. The most striking evidence is the rising share of income going to the top 1%, as documented by Piketty and others.

The success of Keynesian stimulus in the immediate aftermath of the GFC and the disastrous outcomes from the shift to austerity after 2010 show that Keynesian economic management is as vital as ever. Going beyond crisis management, socialist governments would reinstate the commitment to full employment, and solidify it through policies such as a jobs guarantee, ensuring the availability of a full-time job for anyone who has been unemployed for some minimum period.

However, the technological and social changes that have taken place over the past 60 years mean that the traditional notion of full employment, focused on full-time jobs for male breadwinners, is no longer adequate. We need a more flexible approach, accommodating the more diverse patterns of life and work of the 21st century.

In this context, the idea of a universal basic income set at a level comparable to the age pension has considerable appeal. The ultimate goal would be to provide an unconditional payment lower than the return from working but sufficient to sustain decent living standards.
A socialist program would allocate much less economic activity to big business, and more to other forms of organisation. In deciding what kind of economic activity belongs where, a range of considerations are relevant. These include the scale of the activity, the extent to which it is possible and appropriate to charge market prices, the scope for competition and the relative importance of economic and non-economic motives.

In part this would imply reversing the neoliberal program of privatisation and marketisation. Large-scale capital intensive activities with limited scope for competition, such as the provision of infrastructure, would be returned to public ownership.
There is also much more room for voluntary and non-government activity. The neoliberal state, through contracting, competitive tendering and the audit culture, has sought to turn voluntary work and non-government organisations into low-cost providers of government services. In the process, much of the creative potential of civil society has been lost. Expanding the scope for voluntary social initiatives would fit naturally with a socialist program, and this is already beginning with the rise of social enterprises.
The idea of a socialist economy with unconditional access to basic incomes and greatly expanded provision of free services might seem utopian. But in the aftermath of neoliberal failure, utopian vision is what is needed. To re-engage people with democratic politics, we need to move beyond culture wars and arguments over marginal adjustments to tax rates and budget allocations, necessary as these may be in the short term.

Socialists have always seen short-term political struggles as part of a long-term project of transforming society for the better. It is this fact which explains why conservatives have always used the term “socialist” as a bogeyman. It’s also why the term has retained its appeal through decades of neoliberal retrenchment. Social democratic and liberal parties, compromised by their acquiescence in, or embrace of, neoliberalism, need to make a decisive break with the recent past. An explicit embrace of socialism would make that break clear.
- Jonathan Ford highlights how rentiers are making a killing from the UK's push toward privatization while putting public services at risk. Laura Glowacki reports that the Manitoba PCs are pushing consultants' reports trying to shift essentials of life such as housing even further into corporate hands. And Lynne Fernandez responds by pointing out the faulty assumptions behind that message.

- Jim Rankin exposes how employers are able to trap migrant workers to Canada in debt bondage. Yves Engler suggests that the absolute least Canada could do for people migrating from countries exploited by our resource sector is to accept them when they arrive. And Nicholas Keung reports on how our immigration detention system is instead oriented toward punishing people who make the effort to pursue a better life.

- Jean Swanson suggests a "mansion tax" to ensure that money is available to fund basic social needs in Vancouver. And Emily Lazatin reports on the growing number of homeless elderly people there as the cost of living soars out of reach.

- Finally, the Star's editorial board calls for a smarter approach to drug policy based on legalization and harm reduction.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Reuters examines how well-being improves when people live in urban areas rather than suburban ones. But Tannara Yelland reminds us that we can't pretend for a second that people will have the opportunity to do so when there's more immediate money to be made pricing housing out of the reach of most residents.

- Brian Dijkema takes note of Ontario's work on providing an alternative to payday lending by allowing credit unions to off short-term lending (without the disregard for the borrower which results in exploitation by the commercial financial sector).

- Tristin Hopper reports on Russia's dumping of toxic rocket fuel in Canada's Arctic region, while the Canadian Press follows up on the concerns of the communities facing the danger. And Victor Ferreira reports on the U.S.' secret testing of carcinogens on Winnipeg, Medicine Hat and Suffield.

- Gabriela Novotna and Tom McIntoch argue that we shouldn't be treating drug addictions as crimes when we know the human cost of doing so.

- Finally, Michael Harris discusses how Justin Trudeau has let down the voters who hoped for change after 2015 - though he's rather too generous in assuming the "real Justin Trudeau" is what he campaigned on, rather than who he's been in power. And Brent Patterson comments on the Libs' shameful stand against universal pharmacare which would both save lives and improve the state of public finances.