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Imagine The Damage

Northern Reflections - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 08:38

When Mike Harris became premier of Ontario, he appointed John Snoblen as his first Minister of Education. Ironically, Snoblen had dropped out of high school in grade 11 and never returned. His record not withstanding, he proclaimed that he was going to "reform" education. And the best way to do that, he said, was to "create a crisis."  He proceeded to do just that.

When Stephen Harper came to Ottawa, Scott Clark and Peter Devries write, he followed in Snoblen's footsteps, even though he inherited a very healthy economy:

In 2006, the Conservative government inherited a structural surplus of $13.8 billion, just under one per cent of GDP. This represented a major correction from the $39.0 billion deficit (5.5 per cent of GDP) Ottawa was carrying in 1992-93. The debt-to-GDP ratio had dropped steadily from a high of 67.1 per cent in 1995-96 to 28.2 per cent in 2008-09. Program spending had fallen to a record low of 11.9 per cent of GDP in 1999-00, down from a high of 17.0 per cent in 1992-93.

In other words, the heavy lifting was done already. Never before in Canada had a newly elected government inherited a sustainable fiscal structure — a structure that had produced 11 years of surpluses and a declining debt burden. The fiscal situation could not have been better for the Conservatives.
Harper, however, was obsessed with the idea that he was a better student of economics than his predecessors:

He had to prove his own budget bona fides. For that he would have to find a ‘fiscal problem’ that he could fix with tough spending cuts and public service layoffs — even if he had to manufacture one. If he could do this, he could make ‘sound fiscal management’ his political brand. All he’d need would be a good ad campaign.

The first step was for Harper to adopt an approach that had been used (unsuccessfully) by President Ronald Reagan in the U.S. — the ‘starve the beast’ strategy. The idea — which, on paper, seemed very simple and appealing — was to starve the government of revenue and then claim that, because the resulting deficits were bad for the economy, government programs and services would have to be cut to keep the debt in check. In doing so (according to the theory), the ‘beast’ would shrink in size and the private sector would become so deliriously happy as a result that it would immediately ramp up investment and spur growth.

So much for theory. It wasn’t hard for the newly-elected Conservative government to find a way to close the revenue taps in 2006. During the election campaign they had promised to cut the GST by two points. Say one thing for the Conservatives: They usually follow through on their election promises — especially the bad ones. Had Mr. Harper targeted income taxes instead of the GST, he could have claimed that he was undertaking good tax policy by reducing a disincentive to work and make money.

 But good policy seldom wins out over good politics. The GST was the riper political target, so the Conservative government cut the GST by one point in 2006 and one point in 2007. That cost the government $14 billion annually. As a result of the GST cuts, the government recorded a “structural deficit” of $5.8 billion in 2008-09 — down from a “structural surplus” of $9.6 billion in the previous rear, a single-year change of $15.4 billion. And that was before the 2008-09 recession had even started.
And then the recession hit -- something both Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, said would not happen. But consider what would have happened if Harper and Flaherty had not cut the GST:

Without that loss of $14 billion in GST revenue, the deficit would have been much smaller. Simply adding back the $14 billion would have given us a deficit of $41.6 billion in 2009-10, $19.4 billion in 2010-11, $12.3 billion in 2011-12 and $4.4 billion in 2012-13. There could even have been a $9.2 billion surplus in in 2013-14 — two years before the government’s deadline. Net debt would have increased by less than $80 billion by 2015-16 — just over half the $150 billion increase we’re expecting now.
John Snoblen knew nothing about education and Ontario is still trying to repair the damage he did. Imagine how much more damage Stephen Harper can do if he is re--elected.

Tuesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 04:49
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- The OECD reports on the relationship between equality and growth, and concludes that rising inequality is as toxic for economic development as it is for our social fabric. And David Rider discusses how increasing inequality is manifesting itself in several Toronto neighbourhoods.

- Meanwhile, Daniel Tancer finds finds that Canada' workers receive a significantly lower share of income than in other developed countries:
Our modern economy is anything but egalitarian, and labour’s share of income has been shrinking for decades as business profits soar while wages stagnate.

On this measure, Canada is actually more unequal than the U.S.

According to the ILO's global wage report, released last week, Americans — by a small margin — take home more of the country’s national income than Canadians do.

Labour’s share of income in the U.S. was 56.4 per cent in 2013, compared to 56 per cent for Canada.

A small difference, but unexpected, given that most other measures (such as income distribution) show Canada is considerably more equal than the U.S. when it comes to wealth.

In fact Canadian labour's share of income is among the lowest of the developed G20 countries, with only Italian and Australian workers taking home a smaller share of the income pie.
labor share of income
Most developed countries have been seeing that number slide for years. The ILO’s chart going back to 1991 shows all of the developed G20 economies seeing labour’s share of the income pie shrinking over the years.- But unfortunately, the trend is instead toward workers' efforts instead being siphoned off to further enrich our corporate overlords - as in the case of pension funds which are being handed over to the financial sector with no accountability whatsoever.

- Mike De Souza exposes the Cons' failure to bother hiring staff to ensure rail safety.

- Finally, Shawn McCarthy reports on Environment Canada's conclusion that Canada will miss by far even the new and modest targets set by the Cons after they took power. And Isaac Tamblyn proposes that it's time to start ignoring climate change deniers in making policy - though removing them from far too many seats of government would seem to be a necessary first step.

Stephen Harper's Sinister Plan to Jail Pipeline Protesters

Montreal Simon - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 03:48

You think Stephen Harper might have learned his lesson. You think a tiny sliver of light might have penetrated even into his dark world.

You think he might have finally realized that his oily obsession is leading us to economic disaster. 

Declining crude oil prices are taking a brutal toll on the Canadian stock market, as investors take a dim view of the country’s economic prospects in an era of cheap, plentiful energy.

But no, no he hasn't. He's sharpening his greasy fangs, and giving himself the power to jail pipeline protesters. 
Read more »

Erin O'Toole and "an insurance company like Veterans Affairs"

Creekside - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 03:37
Evan Solomon spent much of Power and Politics two days ago trying to get Con MP Erin O-Toole to respond to recently revealed records showing nearly 900 job positions eliminated across Veterans Affairs with the biggest cuts going to the Disability Awards branch. 

60 senior VA managers were paid $360K in bonuses for making the cuts, spun by Harper in the House last Wednesday as "taking resources out of backroom administration and putting them into services".

"How are these backroom cuts", asked Solomon, "when some people might call them front line services?"O'Toole didn't answer the question directly, you'll be shocked to hear, instead opting for various bizarre defences like this one at the 5:17 mark:"The Veterans Independence Program was notoriously cumbersome. I think all MPs heard about the bills for snow removal, lawn maintenance, house cleaning. We're pre-approving now and so some of these changes have led to less paperwork."What's he on about? More troops have taken their own lives since than were killed in action in Afghanistan and he's going on about lawn maintenance and paperwork.But ok, let's go with that.The Veterans Independence Program awards eligible veterans with health needs money to pay for housekeeping, grounds maintenance, personal care and other services. In April 2012, over two and a half years agoVeterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney announced veterans would no longer have to pay for the services upfront and then submit individual receipts for services to the federal government for reimbursement. Instead they would receive the payments upfront."It's all about cutting red tape," said Blaney.Sounds good. But here's what Major Mark Campbell, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan in 2008 and is one of six vets taking the government to court in BC, had to say about the changes to that very VIP program four days prior to O'Toole's remarks [10:00 mark]:"What the government says on the one hand with the spin and denials, and what I see on the other hand as a recipient, a client of Veterans Affairs, are two very different things. And this is the problem - there is a fundamental disconnect between what the government is saying and what we veterans, especially the new veterans under the new Veterans Charter, are actually experiencing on the ground. I mean we're seeing reductions in the Veterans Independence Program for lawn care and house care. Under the new grant program they didn't bother to tell us that under the new needs matrix by and large results in about a 50% reduction in the previous benefit. There's things like that go on left, right, and centre and it boggles the mind what you experience dealing with an insurance company called Veterans Affairs."Jesus, O'Toole, even the responses you give to avoid answering questions are crap.  Veterans Affairs underspent its budget by $133 million in 2013-14 and your bunch are dicking veterans around about things like house and lawn care and then bs-ing about it?Un-friggin-believable.
Major Mark Campbell, as Boris has already pointed out, is a powerful advocate for the Equitas-backed court case. If you're curious about what it's like for new veterans to deal with "an insurance company like Veterans Affairs" when their injuries exceed the allowed financial payout limits, here ya go ... Also an excellent summation of the whole debacle..

Stephen Harper's Empty Words and the Betrayal of the Veterans

Montreal Simon - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 20:36

I have no idea why Stephen Harper lies all the time. I don't know whether it's compulsive, and he just can't help himself.

Or whether that grubby little man simply thinks that we're all fools.

But he does lie all the time, like he did last Wednesday. 

Only to be shown to be twisting the truth. Again.
Read more »

The Harperium's next move

Dawg's Blawg - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:52
Jailing peaceful pipeline protesters. Full marks to, uh, Justin Ling for busting this one wide open. Another “Private Member’s Bill” that isn’t is backed by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice, and could put environmentalists behind bars for ten years. Water... Dr.Dawg

We Hear from Hinton

Dammit Janet - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:01
Kathy Dawson got a response to her open letter to the Mayor of Hinton, Alberta. Kathy wanted to know why the town gave $10K of its photo radar bonanza (total available: $100K) to a fake pregnancy clinic.

[via email from:] Lil Wallace, Executive Assistant - Office of the Mayor; Office of the Town Manager

Dear Ms. Dawson:
Thank you for your enquiry respecting the Quality of Life grant program that Hinton offers.  Hinton is a diverse community that works and builds together.  This includes improving several aspects of the quality of life for our citizens through grants such as the Quality of Life.

The West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre indicates they provide unconditional, non judgmental and long-term support to all individuals regardless of what choice they make.  One of their support programs includes a “clothing closet” where items like diapers, blankets, clothes, cribs, car seats and formula are provided to residents who are in need.  The Grant Funding Advisory Committee felt this “clothing closet” is a program worthy of supporting and council agreed with their recommendation.

Once again, thank you for your enquiry.

Rob Mackin
Town of Hinton | Gateway to the Rockies
Pretty good eh? For double-speak babblegab, it really doesn't get any better than: "This includes improving several aspects of the quality of life for our citizens through grants such as the Quality of Life." Improving the quality of life through quality of life.


And $10K for a "clothing closet"? That's a lotta diapers for a town of fewer than ten thousand souls.

And I guess "diversity" in the Gateway to the Rockies does not include reproductive rights. Because crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) not only exist to scare the shit out of pregnant people seeking abortions, they also refuse to counsel on or offer contraception. Hinton's diversity includes abstinence-only birth control.

We did some research on West Yellowhead Fake Clinic here.

Its revenues and expenses run about $100K a year, which for a town the size of Hinton is pretty lavish.

We took a closer look at its CRA charitable filing for 2013. We wanted to see how much it was spending on its clothing closet before the generous people of Hinton stepped in.

There's only one paid employee, making $42K a year. The only non-financial revenue was donated rental space, value $21,600.

Let's have a look at that space, shall we?

Unless they have other premises, this is it. *

I have no idea what retail space costs are in Hinton, but do you think $21.6K covers the whole deal there? Or only part of the rent?

Because from Schedule 6 of the CRA filing, we find they report an "occupancy cost" of $25K.

So is that space worth $46.6K a year? Partly donated, partly paid? Or is there something odd going on here?

Other expenses: the employee, whose $42K gets up to $49K with perqs I imagine. Some other bits and bobs for a vehicle and professional services. Office expenses were just under $5K, "purchased supplies and assets" cost $5.5K, and "other expenditures" were $3.5K.

And that's it.

While adding the purchased supplies and other expenditures together we get close to $10K, there is nothing specifically for "clothes, diapers, car seats" etc.

So, it looks to me like the "clothing closet" is a fantasy and the $10K from the photo-radar scam is pure windfall.

Unless, of course, there was no existing "clothing closet" program and the generous folks at West Yellowhead Lies and Fantasies plan on providing a layette from Holt Renfrew to every child born to its clients starting this year.

At the very least, we can say that officials of the town of Hinton are pretty easily satisfied.

Because even a cursory look at the books would raise all kinds of questions.

But hey, maybe "due diligence" means something different out there.

*That image comes from Google Maps. Here are two more. Note handy proximity to booze store. Also its location on the Harley Street of Hinton, sandwiched between real health care providers of the dental and medical variety.

Note too the weird fuzzing out of the CPC's name. What's up with that? Especially since it's perfectly clear in the front-on shot.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 07:43
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Will Hutton compares the alternative goals of either shrinking government to the point where it does nothing or harnessing it to meet everybody's basic needs, and explains why we should demand the latter:
A financial crisis has been allowed to morph into a crisis of public provision because the government of the day will not lift a finger to compensate for the haemorrhaging of the UK tax base. What the state does is not the subject of a collective decision with concerned weighing of options. Instead, it’s an afterthought, with the greater priorities a reduction in public borrowing and freezing or lowering tax rates.

All the state can spend is what is left after those two greater priorities are met, and if it has to shrink to pre-modern levels then so be it. The market will provide: charity will alleviate suffering; people will get by; the roof will not fall in. Lifting taxation can never be considered to close the gap. It is, it is alleged, both economically self-defeating and immoral.
(T)here is never a weighing up of the benefits of raising taxes against a particular use for public spending, nor any strategic long-term programme of investment.

This is bad enough in ordinary times, but when a chancellor refuses to consider raising taxes as the tax base collapses it is a recipe for disaster. It results in a minimal state, with implications for prisons, schools, courts, policing, legal aid, care, security and defence that are profound. Some of this could be avoided if, as both Labour and the LibDems propose, capital investment was not lumped in with current spending so that virtuous borrowing could be separated out. The country may also get lucky: wages stop stagnating and income tax receipts rise.

But the bigger truth is that if Britain wants the scale of public activity congruent with a civilised society, it has to be paid for.
There is a different future, and our politicians of the centre and left have to argue for it, but they must accept it has to be paid for. This has become an existential divide. Politics and political argument have never mattered more. - Meanwhile, Bill Curry notes that the Harper Cons are matching their UK cousins by "balancing" a budget only based on unexplained and implausible assumptions which make it all too likely that we'll end up losing important public assets at fire-sale prices.

- Linda Tirado offers her observations on the high cost of being poor. And Adam Walsh discusses the difficulties faced by the people left behind in boom times.

- Tony Burke writes about the need for both more fair taxation and stronger collective bargaining to ensure that workers benefit from economic gains.

- Finally, Michael Harris highlights the Cons' cynical attempt to cling to power by replacing any expectation of effective government with a non-stop spin cycle.

Firing Up The Base

Northern Reflections - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 05:46


It's interesting to consider the titles of bills that the Harper government steamrolls through parliament. Consider a few: The "Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.” Or the "“Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.” That's the new prostitution law. Or "The Black April Day Act." If you missed that one, Michael Harris reminds you that it:

created April 30 as the day to commemorate the diaspora of Vietnamese citizens after Saigon fell to the Viet Cong in 1975. Thousands of those refugees from South Vietnam came to Canada.

There is only one problem with dissing Vietnam with the Black April Day Act. That country is now an important trading partner and a key ally in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Vietnam’s ambassador didn’t care much for the name of the private member’s bill or its intent. So he decided to act. He asked to appear before the Senate committee to air his concerns.

As reported by CP, he was turned down. The ambassador was then invited to make a written submission. He complied. But while it was being translated into French, the committee completed its “study” of the bill and his objections were never formally considered. Nor were the objections of any other witness who opposed the legislation.
Obviously, the act had nothing to do with the Vietnamese. It was all about firing up Harper's base:

Harper is merely driving in the wedges. He knows that the base doesn’t like the idea of prostitution, so they will approve of the moralistic bent of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act – and send in $5. He knows that his Christian base also abhors polygamy, so they will also send in $5 to support the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. And they will also send in $5 to support the Black April Day Act because it is a reminder of the horrors of godless Communism.

And, as long as he can fire up his base -- and keep the opposition fighting about sexual harassment -- he'll continue to be prime minister.

Help Stop (or at least embarrass) CPC Cheaters

Dammit Janet - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 05:15
Remember the 2010 Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament movement? Then, before Twitter was as omnipresent as it is now, the CAPP Facebook group built more than 200,000 followers.

Now that the CONs have their majority and have had 4+ years to fuck the country -- and doing an excellent job at it -- we have a chance next year to get rid of the bastards.

But. They're going to do everything they can to stop us.

Including of course cheating. In each of the past three elections, CONservatives have been caught cheating.

With the absolute minimum cost or penalty.

You think they won't do it again? What or who can stop them?


Here's the petition.

It was started on December 5. When I signed about 5 p.m. yesterday (Sunday, Dec. 7), it had about 660 signatures. By 11 p.m., it had over 800.

This morning it has over 900.

These things are maddeningly slow at the beginning. But they soon start to snowball.

Let's get this Big Canadian Snowball rolling.

It's a delicious win-win for us. If it gets a respectable number of signatures, questions will be asked and the issue of election fraud(s) gets re-aired.

If it gets an impressive number of signatures, it will make CONs squirm as more questions are lobbed at them.

If it goes, as they say, viral, it will make international news. Mockery and finger-pointing will ensue. More squirming by CONs.

And Harper wins too! He gets to add to his Enemies List. :)

Well, 'tis the season. You wanna be on a List, don't you?

Stephen Harper and the Jihadi From Hell or Ottawa

Montreal Simon - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 01:48

When I first heard the news that another Canadian jihadi had surfaced on YouTube, and was making wild threats against us, at first I was naturally terrified.

Could Great Closet Leader really have found another warrior wannabe like himself, to scare the cowardly into voting for his foul Con regime?

And try to justify turning us into a police state.

But then I saw it was only this loser. 
Read more »


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