Saturday, March 20, 2021

On plausible alternatives

One of the perennial frustrations in following federal politics is the tendency of media coverage to default toward a Lib-Con duopoly. That pattern typically manifests itself when polling data and other circumstances create an obvious opening for an alternative, and is particularly striking when one of those parties is still treated as the primary alternative even while trailing the NDP and votes in seats. (See: federal politics from 2011-2015 and Ontario politics today.)

Of course, there are reasons for that: most notably, two-party horse race coverage is far easier to generate than discussion of the nuances of multi-party democracy. And particularly in the case of the Cons being propped up as the primary alternative to the Libs, there are some explanations which hold at least a modicum of validity (such as what figures to be a fairly firm floor based on the Cons' prairie base), and some which are rather less justifiable (such as media outlets' systematic backing of the Cons no matter how inept or destructive they are). 

But while we can count on conventional media to ignore the prospect of a new contender emerging, there seem to be plenty of forces coming together to raise the possibility of the NDP becoming the primary alternative to the Libs in an election this year.

We're seeing endless election speculation based on the Cons' pitiful performance. And it's true that in a two-party campaign, the Libs would figure to be well positioned to improve their position compared to a party with an unpopular leader, and with no obvious direction other than to keep running well-worn actions from an increasingly outdated Harper playbook.

But the NDP has been creeping up in the party standings, while Jagmeet Singh's approval rating has regularly ranked at the top of the pack (due in no small part to his party's work ensuring people have what they need through a pandemic, rather than looking to undercut support like the Cons have done). 

And this weekend may have seen the Cons' membership firmly reject the very possibility of making up ground.

Just before the Cons' national convention, David Colletto offered a snapshot of the types of voters who aren't currently in their camp, but might be willing to consider them. And the convention proceedings could hardly have been scripted better to repudiate the interests of young people, who recognize the need for racial justice and view climate change as a serious issue.

None of the above means that Erin O'Toole won't put on the usual mask of fake moderation. And indeed, he's spent much of his time since winning the Cons' leadership trying to pose as a worker-friendly populist, while begging people not to look at the track record of himself or his party. 

But that pitch always relied on people actually finding him believable - which doesn't appear to be working.

Which means that we're at least into a position where there's a plausible path toward the NDP pushing ahead of the Cons as the social democratic alternative to a Lib government which has done plenty to cater to the corporate class. (Consider this the British Columbia model transposed onto the federal scene.) And we may soon reach the point where anybody looking for the most likely party to overtake the Libs - and the most plausible narrative for change - will have to look to the NDP.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- David Macdonald and Martha Friendly examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more strain on a Canadian child care system which was already under severe stress. And the Broadbent Institute offers a look at how a COVID recovery plan can help remediate some of Canada's long-standing social and economic needs. 

- Meanwhile, Tavia Grant points out what transparency looks like in the few workplaces where we've been able to see the effects of an outbreak - while noting that we're still in the dark in most cases.

- Jeremy Appel discusses the challenges facing progressive entrants into Calgary's municipal scene. And Tanya Nayler notes that a substantial number of elected representatives are also landlords (with predictable effects on policy supporting the commodification of housing, including soaring prices benefiting those wealth enough to own property already). 

- Farhad Manjoo writes that an investment in long-neglected bus systems would improve the lives of millions of Americans.

- Finally, Elizabeth Renzetti discusses the dangers facing women behind the closed doors of their own homes. And Amanda Short reports on Saskatchewan's unconscionably high number of killings of women and girls even compared to other Canadian provinces.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Musical interlude

 Psychedelic Furs - You'll Be Mine

Friday Afternoon Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Noah Ivers writes that people need to take the first COVID-19 vaccine available in support of everybody's health, rather than assuming that consumerist philosophy applies to vaccinations. Arthur White-Crummey reports on new modelling showing how Saskatchewan is at grave risk of seeing our infection and intensive care rates spiral out of control before mass vaccinations are possible. And Murray Mandryk points out the folly of gambling with people's health and lives in the face of new and more dangerous variants.

- Andrew Jackson highlights how right-wing actors are trying to use the remote threat of inflation to undermine any discussion about meeting people's needs in providing relief and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. And Armine Yalnizyan notes that the care economy needs to be central to our recovery plans, while Iglika Ivanova and Lynell Anderson comment on the need to go beyond B.C.'s first steps in making child care available to everybody.

- Liz Walker and Shanice Regis-Wilkins discuss how organizing workers is more important than ever when they're facing new risks to health and welfare in the workplace. And Daniel Karasik talks to activists about building mass resistance to government neglect of human needs.

- Mitchell Beer writes that while the Libs insist on trying to have it both ways, we face a stark choice between responsible environmental policy and ongoing handouts to the fossil fuel sector. And in case there was any doubt which side to choose, Oliver Milman reports on the latest revelations as to how oil and gas companies suppressed their own knowledge about the harm done by air pollution in order to avoid regulation which would have protected public health, while Andrew MacLeod discusses the cleanup costs foisted on the public after oil and gas companies have skimmed of their profits then abandoned their environmental responsibilities. 

- Finally, Chauncey Devega discusses how the right's culture war messaging - most recently in the form of complaints about "cancel culture" - serves primarily as an excuse to try to negate the equal rights of minority groups in order to exclude them from democratic decision-making.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Steven Lewis writes that the Saskatchewan Party's mealy-mouthed messaging around the coronavirus looks to be a calculated political choice which is having devastating public health consequences:

There has been a pattern in Saskatchewan's communication about COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. The language is deliberately elastic. It is long on encouragement and exhortation and short on directive. It is more like a public health campaign to reduce smoking rates or encourage physical activity than a mass mobilization in the face of an emergency. 

The subtext is almost therapeutic: you might want to think about this or that, I'm not going to tell you what to do, you have to want to change. You can imagine the fingers crossed behind the back or the permissive wink.

Is this mere bumbling and ignorance of the evidence on how to succeed and how to fail at pandemic control? It's possible but unlikely. The approach is too consistent. No one is winging the messaging after a year of practice. 

Nor is it plausible that the public servants, the public health leadership and the cabinet are unaware of which jurisdictions did what, and the impact of those policies and practices. Yet Saskatchewan consistently drops the ball.


(T)he people more inclined to take the pandemic seriously, examine the evidence and listen to public health experts will do the heavy lifting. The gamble is that there are enough of them to give the skeptics and die-hard libertarians a free pass from the consequences of their own choices. 

When the majority takes adequate precautions, the recalcitrant minority also benefits, its safety subsidized by the sacrifices of others. A few hundred cases spread in bars or churches are, on this logic, the price worth paying for keeping the base happy while counting the days until the vaccine cavalry charges to the rescue.

I could well be wrong. Maybe politics has nothing to do with it. The alternative explanation — refusal to learn and adapt, disdain for expertise, bewildering obfuscation — is less flattering to the government. So in the spirit of charity, I cling to the hope that the premier's persistent dodge is artful, the handiwork of a clever strategist rather than one woefully out of his depth.

- Meanwhile, Chuck Collins points out that the U.S. could fund the majority of its COVID-19 relief by taxing back the wealth accumulated by billionaires as the rest of the population has suffered. And Oxfam notes that the Trudeau Libs have decided not to take steps to make Canada's revenue collection more consistent with a feminist recovery.

- Alastair Gee writes about the danger that our climate breakdown may mean the end of forests as they've existed for thousands of years. And Jonathan Porritt warns against the hype that we can avert climate change through nuclear and hydrogen power which will ultimately serve mostly to ensure that an exploitative resource extraction model remains profitable. 

- Regan Boychuk reports on Alberta's belated suspension of SanLing Energy for ignoring obligations to put up $67 million to fund massive end-of-life obligations for its oil facilities. And Sammy Hudes reports on a similar order against Mojek Resources Inc. 

- Finally, Nicole Abbott offers a personal account as to why Canada needs pharmacare for all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Bruce Arthur discusses how Doug Ford could prevent a third wave of COVID-19 in Ontario, but is choosing not to. John Michael McGrath writes that we need to stay vigilant in doing everything we can to limit the spread of the coronavirus even when our politicians are sending mixed or conflicting messages. David Rider reports on the warning from infectious disease experts not to relax public health restrictions in Toronto, while Colin Ruloff offers a reminder as to which experts deserve to be taken seriously. And Emily Pasiuk interviews Alex Wong about the likelihood that Regina's new COVID cases consist almost entirely of variants of concern.

- Sandra Martin writes that we should be ashamed of how we've treated seniors over the course of the pandemic. Stephanie Levitz reports on the Libs' willingness to endanger public health in order to put temporary workers to work faster. And Rank and File publishes a diary from a Shoppers' Drug Mart worker who has simultaneously been treated as essential and disposable.

- Jim Stanford and Daniel Poon examine how everybody benefits when workers have more of a voice - and greater control - in determining how their workplaces operate. But PressProgress reports on the efforts of Uber (and so many other precarity brokers) to entrench a new underclass of workers who lack normal protections.

- Michael Baker, Derek Messacar and Mark Stabile study (PDF) the effects of child tax benefits in Canada, concluding that they've succeeded in reducing poverty without affecting workforce participation by recipients. And Brendan Kennedy reports on the NDP's call for CERB amnesty for people with low incomes. 

- Finally, Luke Savage interviews UK Labour MP Jon Trickett about the need to focus political action on class relations rather than culture war distractions. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

 Contented cats.

On priorities

For all the commentary Marco Rubio has managed to generate with his threat that Republicans may hate Amazon more than the workers seeking to organize it, nothing reflects the warped priorities of his party (and their Canadian cousins) than this passage:

It is no fault of Amazon’s workers if they feel the only option available to protect themselves against bad faith is to form a union. Today it might be workplace conditions, but tomorrow it might be a requirement that the workers embrace management’s latest “woke” human resources fad.

That's right: the Republican idea of motivating workers is to say that if they don't respond to the imminent risk of injury, disease or even death at the hands of a notoriously callous employer, they could someday face the apparently far more compelling danger of...being held to account for racism.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Kendall Latimer reports that epidemiologists are calling for far stronger public health measures as COVID variants have become the dominant strain - and spread to an alarmingly high number of people already - in Regina. German Lopez discusses the value of a harm reduction approach which asks people to be careful rather than perfect. And Andre Picard examines some of the the facts and fictions around the vaccination process.

- Ashifa Kassam reports on Spain's decision to join the ranks of countries offering a four-day work week. And Jeff Stein reports on the Biden administration's much-needed plan to stop the international race to the bottom on corporate taxes by applying a global minimum tax on profits.

- Owen Schalk points out the Trudeau Libs' willingness to support unelected right-wing governments - and approve of political the jailing of progressive leaders - where it serves the interest of Canadian mining corporations in exploiting the countries involved. And Jon Horler exposes how the federal government lobbying about an arms export permit to Turkey which resulted in the sale of drone technology to be used in war.

- Angie Schmitt discusses how the design of pickup trucks is increasingly oriented toward hypermasculine impunity and disregard for pedestrians and other drivers, rather than any reasonable measure of functionality. And CBC News reports on the rightfully dubious response to the UCP's plans to make Alberta's roads more polluted and less safe by raising highway speed limits.

- Finally, David Kirkpatrick and Alan Feuer report on the refusal of U.S. law enforcement to respond at all to the Proud Boys until they participated in the Trump-induced attack on the Capitol.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Rita Trichur writes that an attempt to boost the economy solely through monetary policy will predictably lead to even worse inequality - meaning it's necessary for governments to instead intervene through fiscal policy to ensure that growth is shaped to be fair and inclusive.

- Gabriela Schulte reports that a majority of Americans support a wealth tax to rein in existing inequality. And Joseph Choi reports on the Biden administration's plans for at least some tax increases on the people and corporations who can most afford to pay them.

- Jim Stanford calls out Uber for attempting to gut existing employment standards by permitting a far lesser set of protections to apply to its workers compared to people in more traditional employment relationships. 

- Max Fawcett writes about the dangers posed by a housing market which is pulling in massive amounts of investment wholly out of proportion to any rational explanation. And Amin Barnea discusses the need for regulation of the financial markets to ensure they don't function as casinos which always return money to the house.

- Finally, Taslim Jaffer highlights how we all have privilege of some sort - and need to use it to ensure that others don't face injustice.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Rachel Aiello reports on Dr. Theresa Tam's observation that Canada has failed its most vulnerable residents in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. And David Moscrop discusses the danger of losing trust in the institutions needed to respond to collective problems - though as noted by Robert Hiltz, the loss of faith in many right-wing provincial governments in particular is entirely justified based on their failure to act for the public good. 

- But on the bright side, Peter Kujawinski writes about the success of the Northest Territories in protecting its population.

- Naomi Buck writes that the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on women's employment highlights the desperate need for universal child care.

- Zak Vescera reports on Saskatchewan's increasing use of privately-operated group homes who have neglected children in the province's care.

- Finally, Duncan Kinney reports on the likelihood that the Lethbridge police officers who placed NDP MLA Shannon Phillips under politically-motivated surveillance won't face meaningful consequences for doing so.