Saturday, August 08, 2020

On temporary measures

It should never be a surprise to see the Libs talking about big progressive plans - particularly in the context of a mooted election - while making no effort to follow through on them. But it's worth noting how it's the Libs who have chosen to avoid making any plans lasting more than a couple of months - with the result of creating uncertainty for the people who need it most.

Faced with an income support system which was woefully inadequate (both in covering far too few people and in being too clunky to process a rush of applications), the Libs eventually got around to implementing the CERB, providing a source of income for the people who needed it most. But they've refused to maintain it for a period of more than a couple of months at a time - meaning that people without alternative income lined up have never been far from an impending cliff.

At the beginning, it might have been justifiable to set the CERB up for speed, and worry later about what came next. But as the time frame for the pandemic has extended to a period of years, any responsible government should be expected to ensure that workers have a new normal other than constantly staring down the barrel of impending doom.

And it's not as if the Libs would have to look far for models of policies designed to last the duration of the pandemic. The Libs' current plan is to make a wage subsidy available to businesses until at least the end of 2020. And for a Saskatchewan example, the Moe government's suspension of pay in lieu of notice is set to last for the period of the public health emergency, plus another two weeks.

It would take little effort to tell Canadians that the CERB will be available for a similar time period (subject to transitioning to a different income format if that proves appropriate). But when it comes to individual income supports, Trudeau has preferred to keep people who have lost their income from knowing they'll have support for more than a month or two at a time.

For the moment, that means people have to count on some unspecified EI reform being developed and implemented by the end of August. And if that weren't bad enough on its own, the fact that the Libs are relying on a system built to limit the availability of benefits offers a worrisome signal that what gets developed next will keep people dangling at the edge of the abyss.

In sum, while Trudeau's insiders may be trying to burnish his progressive credentials, their choice to leave Canadians in as precarious a position as possible says far more than the political message they've laundered through the press. And the fact the Libs can't even commit to a sound safety net for a full season offers every reason to doubt their longer-term commitment to basic personal security and income equality.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Andrew Nikiforuk writes about the public's lack of familiarity with exponential growth which is proving lethal in its application to both COVID-19 and climate change. Jillian Horton points out the importance of continuing to treat the coronavirus as the emergency that it is rather than letting our guard down. And Sophie Black writes about the fear hanging over Melbourne as a second wave hits what had previously been a relatively lightly-affected country.

- Doyle McManus discusses his experience with Canada's quarantine rules and enforcement to curb the spread of COVID-19.

- Rob Breakenridge writes that universal masking is essential to any hope of avoiding another COVID-19 lockdown. But Don Braid notes that masking is merely necessary, but not sufficient, to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in schools. Megan Ogilvie and Rachel Mendelson report on the school safety recommendations of the Hospital for Sick Children - which include control over class sizes as an essential element. And Leyla Asadi points out that a responsible plan to reopen schools should include careful consideration as to what other means of community transmission can be minimized.

- Pete Evans reports on the effects of the pandemic on large businesses which are seeking creditor protection to try to weather the storm. And Don Pittis writes that we shouldn't mistake consumer spending supported by relief efforts for a full economic recovery - though we should be even more careful about thinking we can afford to turn off the tap.  

- Finally, Rick Smith sets out a path toward recovery which includes a needed transition to a green economy.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Musical interlude

William Prince - The Spark

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Carla Holinaty highlights how Saskatchewan's teachers and students deserve a well-thought-out plan for their return to school - rather than the most negligent one in the country.

- David Giles reports on the Saskatchewan NDP's call for a continued rental eviction moratorium. But in case there was any doubt where the Saskatchewan Party stands on throwing people off of land, Mickey Djuric reports on the Moe government's order that "Walking With Our Angels" movement abandon Wascana Park.

- Meanwhile, Adam Hunter reports that private-sector management hasn't been able to push interest in the Global Transportation Hub about zero - leaving the province with yet more debt and nothing to show for it. 

- Zeke Hausfather and Richard Betts write about the need to stay on the path between doom and optimism in discussing how we can avert a climate breakdown. And Bob Berwyn warns that the worst-case scenario from past climate modeling matches our current greenhouse gas emission levels. 

- Finally, The Globe and Mail's editorial board comments on the worthy goal of building cities where people can reach all basic services within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Chuck Collins asks why the billionaires who have seen their fortunes continue to grow during a pandemic aren't giving anything back to their communities. And thwap points out that to the contrary, it's been a non-negotiable demand that even the slightest bit of relief for everybody else needs to be more than matched with giveaways to the rich.

- Joel Lexchin examines the likely effect of a pharmacare program - which if it merely reduced Canadian drug prices to the OECD average would save billions of dollars while still leaving room for massive profits for big pharma. (Of course, that continued set of gratuitous profits would also hint at the further benefits of a public drug manufacturer.)

- Ryan Patrick Jones reports on Theresa Tam's entirely justified warnings that we'll need to keep carrying out precautions against COVID-19 for a period of years even if a successful vaccine is developed - making for a stark contrast against the determination of so many governments to impose business as usual before there's anything of the sort.

- Peter Beaumont and Rosie Scammell report on the growing body of evidence showing how superspreading events can happen in schools. But PressProgress reports that the Moe government's austerity and neglect are forcing already-stretched school divisions to further cut back on cleaning.

- Finally, Rae Cooper examines the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on women from an Australian perspective, while offering some suggestions for the questions we should be asking to reverse the trend.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Ed Yong examines how the coronavirus has been allowed to run rampant in the U.S. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board warns that we can't have much confidence that Canada is prepared to deal with pandemics either.

- Paul Krugman discusses how Republicans are deliberately refusing to acknowledge the ugly economic reality facing unemployed workers, while Doug Henwood laments the consequences of being governed by callous morons.

- Michael Bloomberg makes the case for making fossil fuel site remediation as a core priority in rebuilding.

- But Andrew Nikiforuk writes about the decades of responsible resource management policy scrapped by Jason Kenney in order to make a coal mining push. And Bob Weber reports on the agreement between Kenney and Jason Trudeau to actually reduce the already-insufficient monitoring of the environmental effects of the tar sands.

- Finally, Terry Boehm offers a reminder of the disastrous effects of the Harper Cons' selloff of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Anything but normal

Plenty of people are rightly wondering how the Saskatchewan Party could possibly have hyped up an announcement about what we'll see as students return to fall, then unveiled what remains the least substantive excuse for a plan in the country. And while there's no doubt that the lack of concern for students, teachers and their families is a matter of political calculation rather than reasonable governance, there are a few noteworthy theories about how a pitiful excuse for an education plan now fits into the prelude to a fall election.

One of the theories being floated is that Scott Moe and company never planned to be quite as negligent as they made themselves sound yesterday - but that they think offering nothing to begin with will allow them to seem reasonable by then making minimal concessions in the face of public outcry.

But if that theory was remotely plausible on its face, it seems an unlikely one given what happened the last time the same party used that exact line of reasoning.

Remember that the 2017 budget included all kinds of sudden and unexplained austerity measures - including attacks on everything from libraries to funerals for the poor to parks to spiritual care. And the result was a massive wave of protests - which resulted not only in the Sask Party reversing course on many of the cuts, but also in Brad Wall having to flee the political scene as his association with such callousness permanently tarnished his reputation.

To be sure, some of the worst elements of the budget were still rammed through, particularly the destruction of the STC. But even if the tradeoff of a leader's public image for a few austerian policy objectives was seen as worthwhile just after a provincial election, surely it would be seen as far too dangerous immediately before one.

That leads to the question of whether there's some political interest being fed by the non-plan. In particular there's been some speculation that any mandatory masking policy or limitation on full school operations will be seen as a betrayal by Moe's core voters.

But the problem with that view is that it doesn't seem to fit with the evidence as to how most Canadians actually see the pandemic. For the region covering Saskatchewan, significantly more voters see provincial governments as moving too quickly rather than too slowly in reopening.

Moreover, roughly half the population outright supports mandatory mask requirements, with another third being willing to go along with it. And while Conservative voters are the least enthusiastic about masking, they're not all that far off of their fellow citizens even with their political leaders failing to make much of a case for joining in the collective cause.

And there's also an additional option beyond (or in addition to) masking which the Sask Party has refused to consider, being investments in school facilities and staff to reduce the risk of community spread. That would avoid the conspiracy theories of any anti-maskers, and wouldn't face any obvious constituency in opposition other than extreme anti-government cranks.

So let's turn to what seems like the most plausible explanation: that the issue is one of the Saskatchewan Party's aversion to both treating COVID-19 with any sense of importance, and acknowledging the role the government can play in responding to it.

Among the other observations from yesterday's announcement was that the Sask Party's spin includes a large dose of "normal" language. And that looks to foreshadow the mood of complacency Moe wants to set for the election period: sit back, watch our attack ads, and let us take care of business as usual.

But if Moe's spinmeisters thought that Saskatchewan's residents were prepared to accept "move along, nothing to see here" as a response to a continuing pandemic, the rapid public response would seem to offer a compelling refutation of that theory. And the more it becomes clear that Moe is still minimizing both the threat of COVID-19 and the need for government leadership in response, the more likely Saskatchewan's voters are to turn to a party which is actually willing to do the work to  answer essential social concerns.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Feline hangouts.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Vaughn Palmer discusses how British Columbia's Site C megaproject had gone awry long before the coronavirus pandemic hit. And CBC News reports on new research showing that thousands of earthquakes can be traced to the province's push toward fracking with no regard for the environmental consequences.

- Meanwhile, Robert Halliday warns that Scott Moe's multibillion dollar irrigation scheme projects to be a giant white elephant.

- Marc Tyndall and Zoe Dodd examine how puritanism and structural violence have prevented the development of appropriate harm reduction measures in response to the opioid crisis. And Mohy-Dean Tabbara comments on the social determinants of justice - and how racial and economic inequality lead to disproportionately large numbers of Indigenous people and people of colour being trapped in a cycle of incarceration.

- Curtis Fric discusses how fair and proportional electoral systems tend to lead to party relationships based on cooperation rather than combat.

- Luke Savage highlights how the WE scandal represents a perfect metaphor for the Trudeau government. Tyler Glavine explores how WE's PR machine is no longer deflecting from important questions around its organization. And Paul Waldie discusses the understandable response of the partners who hadn't been aware of the problems.

- Finally, Kim Kelly writes about the new forms of union-busting through misdirection with a polished exterior, rather than outright hostility.

Monday, August 03, 2020

On ongoing failings

Andrew Leach has pointed out how Alberta's economy has been the worst in the country since Jason Kenney took power. But it's also worth noting which provinces have seen similar results:

In other words, leaving aside the problems with Moe's non-response to the COVID crisis, Saskatchewan's GDP and employment situations already ranked among the worst in Canada for the previous two years. And it already projected to be third-worst in both categories for 2020, in each case as one of only three provinces set to face negative economic development across the board.

Of course, it can hardly escape mention that in both cases, the other provinces with poor performance and projections were the other two most dependent on fossil fuel exports.

And that's in addition to the reality that a government trying to pitch itself as fiscally prudent (as an excuse to be stingy with workers) was piling up debt even before COVID-19 hit. 

Now, it's always fair to question which metrics we should use to evaluate our progress. And by all means we should be looking to improve on the reality of a province where poverty, inequality, and all kinds of indicators of ill health are festering at unacceptable and exceptionally high levels.

But when a government's core appeal is supposed to be based on jobs, the economy and the budget, it's entirely damning that Moe's leadership has seen nothing but woeful underperformance even on those fronts.

Monday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Christopher Cheung examines the privilege involved in being able to stay home during the course of the coronavirus pandemic. And Kate Allen, Jennifer Yang, Rachel Mendleson and Andrew Bailey report on the stark gap between wealthier Toronto families who were able to avoid COVID-19 during a lockdown, and poorer ones who saw their exposure continue to increase.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on one migrant worker who was threatened with deportation for daring to report that his roommate died of COVID-19 - and the reality that many more workers are being intimidated into silence without receiving the reprieve he eventually secured. Chinenye Anokwuru reports that as a result of the pandemic, the Regina Food Bank is seeing an alarming increase from its already-worrisome usage rates. And Conor Dougherty examines the particularly devastating effect of COVID-19 where people are making do with overly cramped housing.

- Eystein Jansen et al. study the reality that climate breakdown is likely to occur through abrupt events rather than incremental differences - and that the Arctic is undergoing just that. And Tim Flannery writes about the damage done by a single year of Australian wildfires exacerbated by man-made climate change.

- Finally, Oliver Milman highlights how the U.S.' presidential election may represent a point of no return if we're to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Mary Robinson writes that Canada can become a climate leader - but that we first need to start ensuring that our actions match our words, rather than subsidizing the continued use of dirty energy while claiming to be concerned about the climate. And Jennifer Ann Brown and Aimée Bouka point out how Alberta (like other jurisdictions) can position itself for the future by focusing on clean energy as its core investment in rebuilding from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

On preemptive action

Others have rightly pointed out Norlaine Thomas' thread about the threat Stephen Harper and his acolytes pose to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But I'll take the opportunity to expand on the prospect of stopping that crusade in its tracks in Saskatchewan's provincial election (which, to be clear, is scheduled for October 26).

First, there's more than just an outside chance of a vote for change.

While the Saskatchewan Party has generally remained ahead in the polls (other than after the 2017 budget which resulted in Brad Wall fleeing the scene), this fall's election will feature new leaders on all sides, as well as a vote being conducted under unprecedented circumstances. And that's without going into the strengths of Ryan Meili and the NDP's team of candidates - who I'd argue offer the strongest prospect for change in the public interest seen in Saskatchewan in half a century.

Second, there's no reason for Canadians to be fatalistic about the outcome rather than taking an active role.

As I've mentioned before, Saskatchewan's lax electoral financing laws allow people (and corporations) outside the province to make donations. And so far, the result has mostly been a pipeline of corporate money helping the Saskatchewan Party to run attack ads.

But people who recognize that the provincial election has constitutional ramifications for the whole country can do something about it. 
Anybody preferring to contribute their time can volunteer to help in a campaign where phone and social media contact matter more than ever. And people able to pitch in financially can donate to the Saskatchewan NDP and its candidates - to make sure the election is decided based on what's best for people, rather than what serves the provincial interests of corporate contributors, and the destructive national plans of Harper and his heirs. 

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Jen Gerson rightly argues that we should be closing bars - and otherwise limiting dangerous contacts within our communities - in order to ensure safer school environments for students this fall. And Jana Pruden discusses how the coronavirus pandemic has forced people to rethink what's most important - even as corporations and governments try to push us back toward a profit-focused status quo ante.

- Doug Nesbitt highlights how WE fits into a pattern of charities which substitute upper-class noblesse oblige for solidarity, while Shree Paradkar calls out its white saviourism complex. And PressProgress looks into the connections between WE, Scott Moe, and one of the Saskatchewan Party's largest donors.

- Meanwhile, Paul Wells and Marie-Danielle Smith discuss how WE fits into the Libs' culture - including both a restrictive inner circle, and a focus on showmanship over substance. And the Globe and Mail's editorial board argues that if Justin Trudeau was actually told he had no other options but to let WE handle a student volunteer program, he should have insisted on testing that implausible claim.

- Meanwhile, Jolson Lim reports that the Libs' other most prominent attempt to outsource COVID operations has met a similar end, as the much-questioned deal with Amazon to distribute supplies has fallen apart due to its inability to do the job.

- Finally, Tom Blackburn writes that neoliberalism has no answers for an increasingly unequal economic system which can only be fixed through structural change. And Ian Welsh writes that we can't understand the U.S.' elites without recognizing their predatory nature.