Saturday, August 17, 2019

On selloffs and sellouts

So far, there hasn't been much follow-up since the revelation that the Saskatchewan Party set up (PDF) a committee, and arranged for sensitive operational details to be handed over to bidders in the process. But while there's plenty left to be investigated about how both the secret committee and the Crowns themselves tried to sell off public resources behind closed doors, we can already identify some glaring dishonesty from the Saskatchewan Party government.

Here's what was revealed as a result of SaskTel's submissions to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner about information never before revealed to the public. See para. 97:
In its submission, SaskTel indicated the following:
  • the Cabinet Committee on Crown Structure had been set up to oversee the potential sale of up to 50% of crown corporations. It was created by the Premier at the March 1, 2017 Cabinet meeting.
  • the Vice-Chairperson of the Cabinet Committee on Crown Structure (Vice-Chairperson), who was also the Minister Responsible for SaskTel and SaskTel Holding Corporation (SaskTel Minister), verbally asked SaskTel’s President and CEO to prepare the slide decks (records 10 and 11).
  • SaskTel’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) prepared the slide deck to allow the Vice-Chairperson/SaskTel Minister to review the progress that had been made and to ultimately make decisions and determine next steps, if any, to achieve a partial sale of SaskTel.
  • SaskTel’s President and CEO was advised that the slide deck would be shared with the Cabinet Committee on Crown Structure where further decisions would be made.
  • The content of records 10 and 11 would clearly be so important that Cabinet and its committees would had to have been involved in a decision.
So how forthcoming was the Saskatchewan Party about its having taken the time which could have been spent consulting on tragic budget decisions to work on handing over equity stakes in the Crowns? For the answer, let's go to the March 6, 2017 Hansard (PDF) - in the first question period after Brad Wall secretly set up his selloff committee:
Mr. McCall: — Mr. Speaker, it’s cold comfort to the 40,000 Saskatchewan people that are out of work on this government’s watch. The Sask Party’s callous cuts are putting thousands of jobs at risk, more jobs, Mr. Speaker. And their plan to sell off up to 49 per cent of our Crowns without a referendum puts even more jobs at risk along with hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends that help to pay for health care and education.

The Sask Party’s plan to sell our Crowns to pay for their mismanagement was given a resounding no in the Meewasin by-election, Mr. Speaker, and the Sask Party should listen to that message. Will the Premier honour his promise from the last election? Will he stop the attempted sell-off? Will he scrap Bill 40 today?

Hon. Mr. Wall: With respect to the Crown corporations, Mr. Speaker, let me say this: what we said in the wake of the MTS [Manitoba Telephone System] takeover, Mr. Speaker, is that were we, as the representatives of the shareholder, to get an offer with respect to SaskTel to buy SaskTel in its entirety, were we to get an offer that checked off a number of boxes including better coverage and jobs here in Regina and across the province and a good price, that we would take that deal to the people in a referendum.

What has become abundantly clear to members on this side of the House, what has become abundantly clear to me — yes, and including what we heard in the Meewasin by-election but not limited to that — is that the people of the province aren’t interested in it. They’re not interested in a referendum. They oppose the sale of SaskTel, Mr. Speaker. That is what we campaigned on.

So, Mr. Speaker, I will just confirm for members of the House that notwithstanding if there ever is an offer to purchase SaskTel, we’re not going to take it forward. It’s not for sale.
Of course, it took two and a half years and a change in the Premier's office for the public to find out that only five days before providing his assurance - in a forum where it constitutes contempt to make misleading statements - that SaskTel was "not for sale", Wall had himself put a process in motion to sell it. And the OIPC's report confirms that the process continued long after the above answer.

So when Moe - who was of course in Cabinet at the time - now tries to claim there's no reason to doubt any assurances about the future of the Crowns even as SaskTel explicitly argues that it's leaving the door open for future takeovers, he needs to be met with some sharp questioning as to when he'll disavow his predecessor for misleading the province. And if Moe actually expects voters to trust him no matter how often his government lies and gaslights about its intentions, then the only reasonable response is to prove him wrong.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Nicholas Kristof writes about Donald Trump's choice to put the most virulent anti-worker cronies imaginable in charge of U.S. labour policy. David Climenhaga weighs in on the UPC's laughably biased committee charged with the task of driving down wages for service workers. And Joel French comments on the need to be wary of the panel intended to provide political cover for public-sector austerity.

- Sarath Pereis discusses how Scott Moe is treating Saskatchewan's citizens as pawns in an effort to influence the federal election.

- Jacquie Miller writes about the effect of private money in creating inequality within Ottawa's education system. And Jennifer Francis reports on one teacher's attempt to coordinate wholesale fundraising to patch over the holes in Saskatchewan's funding for schools.

- Meanwhile, Paul Willcocks points out the desperately reality-averse response of Lib mouthpieces to the finding that Justin Trudeau's efforts to put the thumb on the scales of justice on behalf of SNC Lavalin breached his ethical obligations.

- Finally, Robert Skidelsky makes the case for a guaranteed job program - though it's worth questioning his focus on "want of work" as a matter of greater urgency than the ability to afford the necessities of life.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Musical interlude

Glass Animals - Gooey

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Richard Cannings comments on the need for governments to collect a fair share of revenue from wealthy individuals and corporations. And Erin Weir argues that Canada's federal government shouldn't subsidize Jason Kenney's corporate tax giveaway with abatements on federal taxes.

- Meanwhile, Paul Krugman discusses the damage being done by the U.S.' plutocrats who are happily accepting the destruction of their country's social and economic infrastructure in exchange for short-term tax handouts.

- Jennifer Szalai reviews Christopher Leonard's Kochland, including a look at how the Koch brothers have manipulated governments and employees alike to wring out every possible dollar with no regard for any community interests. And David Olive notes that a reckoning is coming for the pharmaceutical corporations which have created North America's opioid crisis - while also observing that government acquiescence has played a role in an issue which hasn't similarly taken hold elsewhere. 

- Karl Nerenberg discusses the role Canada's successful but incomplete public health care system is playing in elections on both sides of the border. And A Montgomery et al study the consequences of widespread burnout among health care workers facing increasing demands and decreasing resources to fund them.

- Finally, Mary O'Hara writes about the connections between poverty and mental health - and the need for public policy which properly invests in ameliorating both. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ben Parfitt comments on the dangers of captured regulators such as B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission who end up serving corporate "clients" rather than the public interest. And Bryan Walsh discusses the discounting effect which makes it all too frequent for people to avoid seriously considering the long-term effects of a climate breakdown (among other policy choices).

- But if we needed an example as to how pollution affects people every day, Allison Aubrey discusses new research showing that smog and other air pollution can be as harmful to a person's lungs as being a heavy smoker. Pheobe Weston reports on the spread of microplastics to the most remote areas of the globe. And Jillian Ambrose reports on new research showing how fracking results in the emission of large quantities of methane with severe climate consequences.

- Meanwhile, Michael Salmato points out that plenty of coal workers (among other people currently tied to fossil fuels) recognize the need for a just transition to more sustainable energy sources.

- In the wake of the Ethics Commissioner's report finding Justin Trudeau to have broken the law by pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould in SNC Lavalin's interests, Paul Wells highlights the reminder that a government's decisions and actions have consequences beyond immediate public relations effects. And Andrew Coyne notes that the problems with Trudeau's actions also extend beyond a conflict of interest alone.

- Finally, Paul Karp and Ben Butler take note of the attempt by Australian corporate giants to avoid any use of the Panama Papers which revealed their tax evasion - along with the rejection of that argument by the courts.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Andrew Jackson writes that bland centrism is no response to right-wing populism:
Right-wing populism is a complex phenomenon which varies a lot by country. But most analysts agree that it is deeply rooted in material circumstances: rising economic inequality to often obscene levels, the stagnation of middle and lower class incomes both before and after the global economic crisis, increased low wage and precarious employment, rising economic insecurity and, in much of Europe, continued very high unemployment. Many working-class voters feel, with good reason, that the system is rigged against them, and that centrist politicians have done nothing to help them weather tough economic times.
(E)mbracing discredited liberal centrist politics is the worst possible way to fight right-wing populism. Far better, argue US political voices like Robert Kuttner, Robert Frank, Jacobin magazine and the newly invigorated Democratic Socialists of America, to combat right-wing populism not just by identifying the enemy in class terms, but to identify the enemy correctly as the top 0.1% of the billionaire class who have pocketed almost all of the gains of economic expansion and wield the levers of political power in their own interests. Far better to speak to the need to rebuild a mass labour movement, including both white and racialized workers who have far more in common than what divides them. Far better to put forward a strong social democratic agenda to increase security and rebuild equality through vital public programs like health care and education, paid for from fair tax reforms, and tough labour standards.
The same broad principles apply in Canada. The populist right, which is growing in influence, similarly feeds off the growth in inequality and insecurity and the lack of an attractive and compelling vision of our collective future. 

The best antidote to right-wing populism is not centrist liberal policies which make little difference in people's lives, but a bold and self-confident social democratic party which embraces the need to seriously deal with climate change, precarious jobs and rising inequality.
- David Sessions highlights how plutocrats try to set up other groups of "elites" for abuse in order to be allowed to plunder the populace without objection. Aaron Saad comments on the campaign by the oil industry and its political puppets to dehumanize anybody who dares to point out the need to transition away from fossil fuels. And Jim Bronskill reports that the RCMP is apparently delaying the release of a report into its spying on environmental protesters by refusing to provide a response.
- Frances Bula notes that the Libs' election-year housing announcements fall far short of both their promises, and the steps needed to make a meaningful dent in the shortage of affordable homes.

- Finally, Jenna Price writes that workplaces in Australia are falling far short of accounting for the needs of employees (and primarily women) trying to fit in both work and caregiving responsibilities.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Napping cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Seth Klein summarizes new polling showing that Canadians are eager for far stronger action to fight climate change than the Libs or Cons will even consider. And Andrew Leach points out that the Cons' excuse for a climate plan is a study in vagueness whose few discernable elements are contrary to Andrew Scheer's apparent goals.

- Meanwhile, Jason Warick reports on the potential for severe water shortages caused by a climate breakdown - including in much of Saskatchewan.

- Ann Carlson discusses why oil companies are trying desperately to avoid answering for their deception about the dangers of carbon emissions. And Sam Levin exposes how Monsanto has tried to attack and smear anybody who dares to share factual information about the connections between its products and health risks including cancer.

- Alex Drummond reports on the safety risks of Ontario's underresourced emergency rooms.

- Finally, Will Hutton is optimistic that the exclusionary right-wing world order is approaching its expiry date. But Stephen Maher writes about Quebec's Bill 21 as a vivid example of the cost of bigotry as long as it's allowed to reign supreme.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Larry Elliott writes that a corporate-centred model of globalization is unlikely to survive the Trump regime. And Jeff Spross proposes an alternative which allows for people to be free and capital to be controlled, rather than the other way around.

- But Jo Becker notes that large amounts of money and disinformation are pushing for nationalism and xenophobia around the globe, rather than any recognition of our shared interests in a fair and connected system of international relations.

- Benjamin Fearnow reports on the FBI's insistence on treating peaceful activists for minority rights as a larger threat than violent white supremacists. And Robin Ttess discusses how Canada's security state has been used at the behest of the oil industry to spy on and stifle Indigenous peoples and environmental activists.

- Andy Blatchford reports on the Trudeau Libs' delays and obfuscations about supplying armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

- Finally, Alan Freeman debunks the Fraser Institute's regularly-scheduled attempt to gaslight Canadians about taxes by refusing to acknowledge what individuals actually pay as well as what public revenue funds.