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More Warnings About Bill C-51

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 06:18

H/t The Globe and Mail

Increasingly disenchanted Globe readers weigh in with their thoughts:
Re Kenney Spurns Calls To Increase Security Oversight (Feb. 23):

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) only reviews security-agency operations after the fact. Defence Minister Jason Kenney and the Prime Minister maintain that we don’t need oversight of the agencies’ day-to-day operations. That’s like saying we don’t need referees in professional hockey, it’s sufficient for someone to review the tape after the fact and penalize the players if they broke the rules. Does anyone seriously think the players wouldn’t behave differently without referees?

The PM says judges will provide the necessary oversight, but that’s only required if the security agencies plan something illegal. Continuing the analogy, it’s like expecting the players to check in with the referee before the hit.

National security shouldn’t be a self-policing game of shinny. This is serious.

Jason Scott, Ottawa


Once lost, freedom is hard to regain. As Canadians, we must demand that our politicians protect our society – not just from the threats of the few, but most importantly from the threat we impose on ourselves when we give too much power to too few people, with too little oversight and too little accountability.

John Rudan, Kingston


Stephen Harper wanted to run on his economic record, but the economy is heading south. So the new anti-terror legislation will have to do. He just has to convince enough people he can protect them. Then they’ll not only accept giving up their Charter rights, but will vote for his party.

Almost anything can qualify as terrorism under Bill C-51, especially now that the RCMP has set its sights on environmentalists (RCMP Express Alarm Over ‘Anti-Petroleum’ Ideologists – Feb. 17).

I’m scared, but it’s not terrorism in Canada that scares me.

Tia Leschke, Sooke, B.C.Recommend this Post

Tuesday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 05:53
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Nora Loreto rightly challenges the instinct to respond to tragedy with blame in the name of "responsibility", rather than compassion in the interest of making matters better:
Blame is the projection of grief, sadness or fear. It is the projection of our own inadequacies; of our own feelings of, "oh god, that could be my kid" wrapped up in "thank god I'm a better parent than that." It pretends that all things are equal, that all family situations are equal and all children are essentially the same.

But it’s malicious. Blame, when targeted towards individuals, shifts the focus to their perceived personal failings. It starts from a place that believes that some parents just don’t love their children as much as others.

When applied to the proper structures, the process of applying blame changes entirely. Why are Indigenous children on reserve ten times more likely to die in a fire? Is it because a single First Nation stopped paying for fire services (because those fire services weren't being delivered)? Or is it because Canada still refuses to fund First Nations communities properly leaving local leadership to be in a perpetual state of balance, ready to collapse at any moment?

And how could household debt ballooning, good jobs disappearing and social services evaporating not have an effect on the already precarious lives of many parents?

Personal blame is a function of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism tells individuals that there is no such thing as community and that you are wholly responsible for your own decisions. It ignores broader social forces, like what happens when parents can’t make ends meet and are forced to work longer just to get by. It erases the fact that we are not equal and society demands minimal effort from some and maximum effort from others.

It also tells us that there is no one left to help you: not the state, not your neighbours. It places enormous strain on grandparents, aunts and uncles or close friends and other family. It erases the thousands of people who are ready to help regardless of the circumstances.- Paul Krugman eviscerates the myth that decades of declining wages as a share of income are the result of skill mismatches and education issues rather than a choice to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few:
(W)hile the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s.

So what is really going on? Corporate profits have soared as a share of national income, but there is no sign of a rise in the rate of return on investment. How is that possible? Well, it’s what you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital.
As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.
Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.
But given the determination of one major party to move policy in exactly the opposite direction, advocating such an effort makes you sound partisan. Hence the desire to see the whole thing as an education problem instead. But we should recognize that popular evasion for what it is: a deeply unserious fantasy.- Meanwhile, as Krugman notes, the solutions to inequality are far from complicated (even if we know they won't be implemented without a fight from a privileged few who consider themselves above the rest of us). On that front, Scott Santens looks at new evidence that cash transfers to the people who need it most produce massive social and economic gains. Lawrence Mishel writes that wage increases can have much the same effect. And Justin Worland reports on polling showing massive U.S. support for a more progressive tax system.

- Tom Sandborn reports on a few cases of employers being held to account for workplace deaths. But Lydia DePillis notes that in other areas, employers are severely restricting workers' ability to chart their own futures by attaching non-compete conditions to a wide range of jobs.

- Carol Linnitt highlights some good scientific advice from our federal civil service that's managed to find its way into the public eye, as officials have thoroughly rejected Kinder Morgan's failure to account for the impact of oil tankers on whales. And in a similar vein, Paola Loriggio reports on the Transportation Safety Board's observation that the Cons have done nowhere near enough to ensure rail safety after the Lac-Megantic disaster.

- Finally, Michael Harris discusses how Stephen Harper is playing Canadians for suckers in trying to scare us into keeping him in power. And Kent Roach comments on the need for an adult conversation about security, in stark contrast to the Cons' fearmongering talking points.

Look Somewhere Else

Northern Reflections - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 05:49


Stephen Harper talks tough. But when things get tough, Harper hides. Andrew Mitrovica writes:

The prime minister, simply put, is a nasty piece of work. His every act and statement is a product of a petty, parochial political calculus; the quaint notion of ‘nation-building’ isn’t part of his lexicon. And like any unrepentant bully, Harper prefers adversaries who can’t fight back — hence his venomous attack on Radio-Canada journalists.
When people fight back, he heads for cover:

You probably saw this iPolitics report — about how the PM quietly invoked parliamentary privilege to escape being grilled by lawyers representing the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Not exactly the stuff of profiles-in-courage, is it?The NCCM sued Harper and his freshly departed PR guy, Jason MacDonald, for libel after MacDonald appeared on Sun News Network to slime the NCCM by insisting it “has documented ties to a terrorist organization … Hamas.”

Anyway, the NCCM argues that MacDonald’s attack had his boss’s implicit, if not explicit, approval. Make no mistake, the explicit intent of that slur – based on laughable, discredited information culled from an obscure court case heard in the backwoods of the Lone Star state – was to malign all the loyal, hard-working Muslim-Canadians working at NCCM as Hamas sympathizers or worse. When Harper and company refused to retract and apologize, the NCCM sued the pair last May.

The overall effect, of course, is a blot on Harper’s carefully cultivated tough-guy image. A bad hombre wouldn’t hide behind his lawyer’s pinstriped pants. No sir. He would waive parliamentary privilege, agree to appear at discovery with his former spokesman — who, by the way, is still being represented by a government-hired lawyer — put his hand on a Bible and say: Fire away.
If you're looking for heated rhetoric about Muslims or Russians, Harper's your man. But, if you're looking for courage, look somewhere else.

Stephen Harper and the Days of Drums and Dummies

Montreal Simon - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 01:02

He's rushing his dangerously flawed anti-terrorist bill through the House of Commons, to the machine gun beat of a fascist drum.

Bill C-51, the government's proposed anti-terror law, has passed second reading in the House of Commons with a vote of 176-87 and will now be sent to committee.

He didn't bother to show up for the debate, he cut it off after a few hours. He says he needs the bill NOW to protect us from the terrorists and the niqabs that are EVERYWHERE.

Even though the bill threatens our freedoms more than the terrorists do, and he's just playing politics. 
Read more »

Did Crossroads Clinic Cross Its Fingers?

Dammit Janet - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 17:00
I'm confused. Is Crossroads Clinic pro-choice or anti-choice?

Or maybe, just, um, flexible.

Here they are trumpeting their involvement in The Sexual Assault Response Network.

The Sexual Assault Response Network (SARN) is a collaboration of seven partners including the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC), Crossroads Clinic, Cantara Safe House, RCMP, Southern Alberta Child & Family Services (Brooks Office), Victim Service Unit, and Alberta Health Services (AHS) Emergency, Sexual Health Unit, and Social Worker Unit. These agencies have banded together to address an overwhelming need of support for an estimated 3,400 victims of sexual assault in the City of Brooks alone.

Crossroads Clinic, the lead partner, was awarded a grant by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Alberta. This grant allows them to provide training for those working with the program from the various agencies, as well as purchasing a phone and phone plan for the Support Line. Crossroads Clinic staff mans the support line during the day and Cantara Safe House operates the phone during non-business hours.
I checked at the Community Foundation of Southeastern Alberta and found that yes, indeed, Crossroads Clinic Association (Brooks Pregnancy Care Centre) got a grant in Fall 2013 of $6,048 ($1,639 for Crisis Line Phone and $4,409 for Training for Crisis Line).

Since it is the standard of care to provide emergency contraception (EC, or Plan B) after rape/sexual assault, it seemed that this disclaimer sorted rather badly with Crossroads' new role as sexual abuse counsellor.
Note: Crossroads Clinic provides limited medical services. We provide free medical confirmation of pregnancy and Sexual Transmitted Infections screening and limited treatment for women. We do not provide ongoing prenatal care, abortions, birth control or contraceptives.
Kathy Dawson asked the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services on Twitter if Crossroads were a member. Nope.

@fernhilldammit @blueskies366 TY for the tweets. #CrossroadsClinic not an @aasasmembership service under our umbrella

— AASAS (@aasasmembership) February 23, 2015

I emailed two of the legit-looking organizations in the "network," Cantara Safe House and the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC) of Medicine Hat, to ask a) is it true that Crossroads is a partner and b) WTF -- do they know that Crossroads is an anti-choice crisis pregnancy centre?

Then I found that SARC has a twitter account. So I asked.

@fernhilldammit SARC is prochoice all of our partners have agreed to refer to AHS Sexual Health for

— Sarcmedicinehat (@SARCmedicinehat) February 23, 2015

@fernhilldammit for options counselling, plan B and medical care

— Sarcmedicinehat (@SARCmedicinehat) February 23, 2015

They call it "options counselling," do they? And EC/Plan B too?

But but but, Plan B is an ABORTIFACIENT!!!!!! Well, according to fetus freaks it is. (Sane people understand how EC actually works.)

So, now we're wondering. If, for the purposes of reaching out to a new group of potential "patients" and/or the six thousand bucks, Crossroads has agreed to act as if it's prochoice, do its fetus-freak donors know? More importantly, does the Canadian (formerly Christian) Association of Pregnancy Support Services know?

If they crossed their fingers behind their backs when agreeing to the prochoice protocols, do the other organizations in the network know and how are they keeping tabs on them?

Crossroads, crossed fingers. . . what's the diff?

To So-Called Liberals Who Slam Trudeau Over His ISIS Policy

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 09:27
Sometimes even I have to stand up for Justin Trudeau.  He has been attacked recently for his less than bloodthirsty views on ISIS.  Some of these attacks come from self-identified Liberals who apparently can't get a paid gig from Team Trudeau but are they fair?  MSNBC's Chris Hayes helps make Justin's point.

These days it's becoming harder to tell some Liberals from redneck Conservatives.  That, perhaps, is Ignatieff's lasting Liberal legacy - the unquestioning pro-Israel stance, the "muscular foreign policy" that just keeps falling on its face, the neoliberal contagion that has sent many progressive Liberals packing.

Canadian Political Reporting Suffers Another Blow

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 08:41
But this time, the blow comes from within.

Thanks to Ed Tanas for bringing the following to my attention:
Ottawa reporters, photographers and cameramen face expulsion from Parliament Hill on the complaint of any politician or federal employee, with grievances to be heard at closed-door disciplinary hearings. The unprecedented measures are proposed by the Parliamentary Press Gallery, a volunteer group representing media.

“We thought we’d bring the proposal,” said Laura Payton, Gallery president, a CBC writer; “We’re leaving it quite open because the executive needs some discretion.”On first blush, the proposals might seem reasonable, given the prevalence of harassment claims these past many months:
Under proposed amendments, members may be expelled for a range of new offences including:

•“personal harassment”;
•“sexual harassment”;
•“threats of violence”;
•“a criminal offence that was or could have been tried by way of indictment and for which the member has been found guilty”.But, as the hackneyed saying goes, the devil is in the details. Perhaps the most telling detail:
The Gallery proposed to amend its own constitution, with the approval of Industry Minister James Moore, [emphasis mine]to suspend or banish media from Parliament Hill for a range of new offences including “harassment” and “intimidation”.A reasonable person will immediately see that any involvement, let alone approval, of a politician cannot bode well for freedom of the press. Consider, for example, Herr Harper's recent inflammatory remarks about Radio Canada employees hating conservative values. Consider his government's egregious contempt for the media and the fact that the only time Harper seems even remotely accessible is when he is outside the country. Consider the fact that we are groaning under the most vindictive and paranoid prime minister this country has ever known.

So what do the experts think of these proposed amendments?
“The press should be held to account, but is this the instrument?” said Prof. Sean Holman, of Mount Royal University’s school of journalism. “I think it’s open to abuse.” Holman, a former member of the British Columbia Press Gallery, said he was unaware of any Canadian gallery with such an enforcement code.

“Reporters covering legislatures are often treated like parasites and barely tolerated by the administration,” Holman said. “The administration has enormous power. We should really think about that. How is it that this space that is supposed to be a public space is so often treated as anything but? That is troubling.”Especially worrisome is the readiness with which the Press Gallery will cede authority to the politicians it is charged with covering:
The amendment also states the Gallery may defer to “House administration” if complaints against a journalist are deemed a “security concern”. The head of House administration is Conservative MP Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle), Speaker of the House of Commons.

In the past, parliamentary journalists never deferred to the Speaker and operated as a self-regulating association in a custom dating from 1867, noted Mark Bourrie, a 21-year gallery member and author of the bestseller Kill The Messenger: Stephen Harper’s Assault On Your Right To Know.I am completely dumbfounded by this development. The amendments go to a membership vote February 27. Let us hope that they will act accordingly against this unprecedented assault on their independence.
Recommend this Post

Screw Oversight! In HarperLand, We Watch YOU, You Don't Watch Us.

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 08:39
What's the point in having domestic spying if it means you're going to be, oh I don't know, "accountable?"

Canada's Closet Clausewitz, def min Jason Kenney, says there'll be no additional oversight of national security operatives after the Harper government rams through bill C-51.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney, who has functioned as the government’s lead spokesman for the legislation in recent days, rebuffed an appeal for more independent supervision of national-security agencies – one that came in the form of letter published in The Globe and Mail and signed by former prime ministers, ex–Supreme Court justices and others.

Mr. Kenney noted the letter’s key signatories, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Joe Clark and John Turner, did not change the oversight of Canada’s spy agency, which is currently supervised by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, while they were in power.

“We have the same system that has worked well in Canada for over 25 years,” the Defence Minister told CTV. “I would point out those four former prime ministers all had exactly the same system of an independent oversight committee for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.”

Yes, Jason, they had the same system only they didn't have the same domestic spying powers because C-51 is the Orwellian hellspawn of your government. You created it, not Chretien, Martin, Clark or Turner.  Those wimps didn't think Canada should be a police state.  What were they thinking?

Now all eyes should turn to Justin.  Will Trudeau the Lesser grow a pair and oppose this terrible law or, just like Ignatieff, will he bow on bended knee to Harper?

John Oliver Rips the Lid Off America's Corrupt Judiciary

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 07:44
America is the ultimate "transactional democracy."  A look at its "bought and paid for" Congress, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson or ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, shows that democracy is a commodity in the states.

But what about the country's judiciary, that other branch of government?  John Oliver ripped that apart on Last Week Tonight:


Remember this the next time you hear some rightwing yahoo rant about how we need to elect judges in Canada.

A Non-Liberal State

Northern Reflections - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 05:44


Last week, Ralph Nader declared that Stephen Harper was unsafe at any speed. Michael Harris writes:

According to the former U.S. presidential candidate and long-time consumer advocate, this prime minister is a combination of Chevrolet’s doomed Corvair and Dick Cheney: A lemon and a warmonger — all rolled up into a consumer dud begging for a recall.

With police state powers about to be handed to Canada’s spy agency based on a factitious threat, Nader pointed out that the PM’s talents run to hyperbole, not to truth-telling or accuracy. (Time allocation has once more killed sensible debate on major legislation, this time it’s Bill C-51.)

“When Prime Minister Harper says jihadi terrorism is one of the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced, one is entitled to say ‘oh really?’. What about Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin? It is just a wild exaggeration,” Nader said.
Speed is what Harper is all about. There was little debate. He declared closure and sent the bill off to committee. That's dictatorship, not democracy. There are interesting parallels, writes Harris, between Stephen Harper and Viktor Orban, the man who has sabotaged Hungary's newly won democracy. Orban recently told The Guardian:

We are parting ways with Western European dogmas, making ourselves independent from them. We have to abandon liberal methods and principles of organizing a society. The new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.”


On constitutional questions

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 05:42
Most of the analysis surrounding the Cons' terror bill so far has assumed that CSIS' powers will be interpreted based on a plain reading of the legislation. Under this reading of C-51, any action which could violate the Charter or other Canadian law would only be authorized by a warrant, meaning that deprivations of rights and freedoms would be subject to judicial oversight (however flawed the process itself may be). In contrast, CSIS' authority to act unilaterally would be limited to intrusions on property or other matters which don't affect Charter rights or legal entitlements.

But that assumption may grant the benefit of the doubt where none is warranted. And before C-51 is rammed through Parliament, we should take a close look at what might be authorized if the federal government chooses to interpret the standard of constitutionality and legality of CSIS' actions using exactly the same standard it actually applies to its own laws.

Thanks to Edgar Schmidt's whistleblowing, we already know what test past federal governments (Lib and Con alike) have applied in assessing the constitutionality of legislation. Legislation is generally subject to all three of the below standards (via Slaw):
  • s.3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights, SC 1960, c 44:
    . . . the Minister of Justice shall . . . examine every regulation . . . and every Bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown, in order to ascertain whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of this Part and he shall report any such inconsistency to the House of Commons
  • s.3(2), (3) of the Statutory Instruments Act, RSC 1985, c S-22, which require an examination of regulations to ensure they’re not ultra vires and:
    [do] not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and [are] not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights
  • s.3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Examination Regulations, SOR/85-781 (pursuant to the Department of Justice Act, RSC 1985, c J-2):
    the Minister shall . . . (a) examine the Bill in order to determine whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms . . .
A plain reading of each of those provisions would require the government to carry out an analysis as to whether laws are more likely than not compliant with the Charter and other laws on at least a balance of probabilities standard. But here's the standard that's been applied instead:
Since about 1993, with the knowledge and approval of the Deputy Minister, an interpretation of the statutory examination provisions has been adopted in the Department to the effect that what they require is the formation of an opinion as to whether any provision of the legislative text being examined is manifestIy or certainly inconsistent with the Bill of Rights or the Charter and, in the case of proposed regulations, whether any provision is manifestly or certainly not authorized by the Act under which the regulation is to be made. In other words, faced with multiple laws requiring an evaluation as to whether legislation is in fact compliant with the Charter, Lib and Con governments alike have instead limited themselves to asking whether the legislation is at most arguably compliant, having as little as a 5% chance of being found valid. And if the latter standard is met, Parliament and the public have been told that laws are in fact constitutional - at least, until courts predictably apply the proper standard which the government has chosen to overlook.

By way of comparison, here's the provision of C-51 which determines whether CSIS is required to seek a warrant to carry out a particular action:
(3) The Service shall not take measures to reduce a threat to the security of Canada if those measures will contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or will be contrary to other Canadian law, unless the Service is authorized to take them by a warrant issued under section 21.1.If anything, C-51 may be more slanted toward allowing Charter violations than the provisions which have been so blithely ignored in assessing past legislation. The no-warrant provisions can be read to allow CSIS to do whatever it wants in the absence of a warrant unless it is certain that the action will be contrary to the Charter or to other law.

As a further reason for concern, all of the rights and freedoms set out in the Charter are subject to section 1:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. By pointing to the Charter definition of rights, Bill C-51 then allows CSIS to consider the potential application of section 1 in determining whether a violation arises. That means it could approve of an action based solely on speculation that it could be justified under what's known as the Oakes test, even if the action plainly violates a Charter right or freedom on its face.

If that interpretation were applied, the warrant provisions of C-51 would effectively become superfluous except in cases where CSIS wanted authorization to breach the terms of the proposed section 12.2 dealing with wilful killings, obstruction of justice and violations of sexual integrity.

To put the above into perspective, let's consider a couple of familiar examples.

The Charter provides "everyone" with the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or security except in accordance with fundamental justice (section 7), the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned (section 9), and the right not to be subjected to cruel or unusual treatment or punishment (section 12). And those rights have been subject to enough analysis in past case law for us to be relatively sure that a black site detention program or torture program would represent violations of Charter rights (among other standards and obligations).

But the combination of the government's historical interpretation of Charter compliance, the wording of C-51 and the effect of section 1 of the Charter might point toward a radically different test. Applying those factors, I wouldn't want to bet against some Canadian equivalent of John Yoo twisting enough words to opine that black sites or torture could be found to be constitutional under some circumstances. And that analysis in turn could be taken under C-51 as a green light for CSIS to go ahead with them.

What's worse, there would be no ready means for anybody to test CSIS' interpretation.

Unlike in the case of non-compliant legislation, there would be no public record of what's been done to allow for a challenge in court.

While anybody actually having their constitutional rights infringed would want to be able to pursue legal action, that possibility might only be seen as reason to hold detainees incommunicado. In this respect, keep in mind that the non-warrant provisions of C-51 are subject to no time limits whatsoever, meaning that locking people away indefinitely rather than allowing them to argue for their rights would be an available option.

And we can safely figure that whatever "general description" CSIS provides of its own activity (the only reporting required for the non-warrant process) would gloss over any obvious abuses.

As a result, one of the most important questions to be asked about C-51 may revolve around the Cons' intentions in defining when the non-warrant provisions will apply. In principle, a relatively simple set of amendments could provide for a stronger version of individual rights to be taken into account, confirm that a warrant is required if there's any risk at all that an action might breach those rights, and require enough reporting to test whether that obligation is being met.

But if the Cons aren't willing to both accept those amendments and admit to having been wholly wrong in their constitutional analysis in the past, then there's real risk that C-51 could facilitate gross human rights abuses.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 05:25
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the work done by the Broadbent Institute and Mariana Mazzucato to highlight the importance of publicly-funded innovation:
According to a 2014 report by the International Monetary Fund, Canadian companies have been accumulating “dead money” at a faster rate than any other G7 country, rather than reinvesting profit into things like human capital or research capacity — suggesting that the rewards of innovative success are being captured by an increasingly narrow sliver of society, even when public money may well have been an early catalyst for achievement. 
But in taking a more active stake in innovative missions, the Institute suggests, the Canadian government could help better spread the benefits of success, by doing things like taking equity positions in companies it helps start, making loans contingent on local hiring, or asking for grants to be repaid when firms are successful.
“Government is always, in a sense, picking winners. It’s picking races,” says Sas. “And so the conversation we need to have is around making sure the public sees returns on those bets.”- Steven Greenhouse reports on the damage done to service-sector workers by "flexible" employment arrangements which result in employers being to insist on harmful schedules. And BJ Sikeirski writes that the Cons are attacking pensions across the federal Crown sector with no regard for contracts or employees.

- Joyce Nelson discusses how the latest set of ever-more-extreme trade agreements results in a corporate coup d'etat. And Brent Patterson highlights how those agreement threaten Canada's universal public health care system.

- Finally, Chris Hall reminds us that CSIS has been sorely lacking for oversight even before the massive expansion of its powers planned under the Cons' terror bill. Wes Regan warns that C-51 likely represents a dangerous game of bait and switch. And Thomas Walkom notes that politics aside, C-51 is utterly unjustified in principle.

Thomas Mulcair And Joe Clark On Bill C-51

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 04:53

H/t The Toronto Star

Yesterday, Tom Clark on The West Block asked both Mulcair and Clark for their thoughts on Harper's 'anti-terror' legislation. You will note that by the end of the interview, it would seem that Mulcair's 'principled' stand against the bill is perhaps less than what it seems as he hedges his political bets:

Recommend this Post

The Con Regime and the Latest Terrorist Menace

Montreal Simon - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 03:58

Well it was Sunday, so I'm pretty sure Stephen Harper must have thought his feverish prayers had been answered.

For there was some masked fanatic on YouTube, apparently on the other side of Africa, calling on wannabe Jihadis to attack the West Edmonton Mall. 

The RCMP says it’s investigating a reported video from the Al-Shabab group that appears to urge Muslims to attack shopping malls in western countries — including the West Edmonton Mall.

And sure enough it wasn't long before the hapless Con stooge Steve Blaney was out beating his tiny drum:
Read more »

Stephen Harper and the Big Chill

Montreal Simon - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 00:16

It's brutally cold out there, again. With the wind chill it could feel like minus 40 tonight. The Great Lakes are almost completely frozen.

I'm worried about the homeless and these young trumpeter swans in the harbour...

Who like all the other lake birds now have almost no open water in which to find food.

And as if that Big Chill isn't bad enough;

Then there's the chill you get when you check out Environment Canada's weather page, and come face to face with the icy horror of Harperland.
Read more »

#NoMoreGames… but what instead?

Terahertz - Mon, 02/23/2015 - 00:00

I passed a billboard today advertising the British Medical Association (BMA)’s new media campaign. It calls for all political parties to stop playing games with the NHS.

I’ll give them credit – it’s catchy and many people (myself included at times) think politicians too often use promises of reform to the healthcare system as a way to score cheap points. But what does #NoMoreGames actually mean?

We should want, and expect, politicians to lay out their plans for what they’d do differently if elected. It’d be one thing if the BMA were campaigning for specific pledges but instead they’re headline is a shallow complaint that politicians are campaigning too much.

Granted, the BMA expands a bit on their website about what they’d want to see, but overall the message is as shallow as they’re blaming politicians for.

I really don’t see what they’re hoping to accomplish.

But at least there’s already a good theme song for their campaign.

The Case for ‘Yes’ in Metro Vancouver’s Transit Referendum

Song of the Watermelon - Sun, 02/22/2015 - 23:11

Vancouver Transit.jpgWell, anybody could have called this one.

According to a new survey by Insights West, 53 per cent of residents plan to vote No in the upcoming 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. Only 38 per cent say they will vote Yes to the proposed half-percentage-point sales tax increase to help fund more buses, new rapid transit lines, improved walking and cycling networks, road and bridge upgrades, and more.

The once mighty Yes campaign’s decline is a regrettable development, but no one can honestly claim to be surprised. Though referendums can be useful exercises, they are out of place on matters such as public transit where the impacts of present-day decisions are borne in large part by future generations. Voters risk falling victim to the myopic lullabies of anti-tax zealots and their assorted useful idiots. Provincial and municipal representatives would have done well simply to sit down together and hammer out a fair cost-sharing arrangement.

But it’s too late for that now. For better or for worse, the provincial Liberals made a cheap pledge during an election which everyone expected them to lose, and we’re stuck with this plebiscite as a result. Mail-in ballots are on their way next month. It is therefore crucial, for reasons of social and environmental justice, that we do all we can to beat the odds and secure a win for the Yes side.

Is TransLink the problem?

So why, one might ask, is the delightfully named “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax” proving so unpopular? Apart from the reflexive mantra of “we hate taxes,” two primary reasons come to the fore. The first is the reputed wastefulness and unaccountability of TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority.

It is true that the organization suffers a democratic deficit, a convoluted governance structure, and bewildering levels of executive compensation. Moreover, the roll-out of the new Compass fare card system has been disastrous, and recent high-profile service shutdowns on the SkyTrain have not made matters any easier.

It is a mystery, however, why anyone would believe that voting No could solve these problems. High-level decision-makers and bureaucrats are not “punished” when denied the ability to implement sensible policies. They are neither fired nor forced to take pay cuts. On the contrary, the only effect is to punish the general public by worsening our transit system’s dysfunctionality in a time of rapid population growth. The poor in particular would suffer through this act of sabotage to one of the cheapest means of getting around. All this in addition to further increases in air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic congestion.

It is also worth noting that while any waste is indefensible — public bodies must always strive to improve their efficiency — the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide. So let’s keep matters in perspective, shall we?

Are sales taxes the problem?

A second concern for some segments of the No team is the kind of taxation being considered. Sales taxes, they argue, are regressive, in that they disproportionately impact people with low incomes. If we are to expand public transit services, we should try to do so by means of more progressive alternatives.

So far so good. Indeed, the options are limitless if we allow our imaginations to run wild.

In place of a regional sales tax, perhaps transfers from higher levels of government, which are already anticipated to defray the bulk of the costs, could cover every last dime of transit funding. Personal and corporate income taxes could be raised. So too could the provincial carbon tax, for although it is just as regressive as a sales tax (all else being equal), it at least adheres to the polluter pays principle.

The problem is that not one of these idyllic alternatives is on the table, nor will they magically become so if residents vote No. We are not faced with a choice between several different mechanisms by which to pay for needed transit investments; we are faced with a choice between making those investments and not making them.

A sales tax boost may not be perfect, but as far as tax hikes go, 0.5 per cent is fairly small — amounting to an average of 35 cents per household per day, according to the Yes campaign (or about twice that by the No side’s reckoning). And unlike other sales tax proposals, such as our dearly departed HST, this one is earmarked almost entirely towards public transit, an indisputably progressive cause which benefits people with low incomes and helps to prevent climate destruction.

So what exactly is the problem, Metro Vancouver? Will we succumb, as suggested by the latest poll, to the cynical panderings of “starve the beast” fanatics? Or will we defy the prognosticators and rise to the occasion?

This blogger is not optimistic, but he hopes to be proven wrong.

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Filed under: BC Politics, Environment, Municipal Politics Tagged: Metro Vancouver, public transit, referendum, sales tax, taxes, TransLink

On proper fixes

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:42
Since this headline seems to be getting far more attention than the actual accompanying interview (if mostly from people with a strong vested interest in distorting the NDP's position), let's take a moment to discuss what we'd expect a responsible party to do upon taking power - and what we can tell from a party's actions while in opposition.

The NDP has rightly taken the position that C-51 deserves to be defeated. And it's thus making a strong push to challenge the bill both in premise and in its details - in stark contrast to the Libs, who have pledged their unconditional support despite the fact they recognize serious flaws.

That doesn't mean the NDP shouldn't work to try to reduce the damage as the bill is dealt with in Parliament - including by offering amendments along the way.

But we know that the Cons will be able to force the bill through, particularly since the Libs won't actually be opposing it even if the Cons refuse amendments to try to improve it. So what then should the NDP should do upon taking power?

One option would be to treat C-51 with the same single-word level of analysis we know so well from the U.S. Republicans. And it's certainly tempting to treat the worst of Stephen Harper's choices as deserving nothing more than a declaration of "repeal!".

In the meantime, though, it's entirely likely that some national security practices will have changed based on the passage of C-51. And pulling the rug out from under those practices without assessing the consequences would be just as irresponsible as the Cons' habit of forcing through changes without proper thought.

Meanwhile, we'll also have new information in the meantime about how CSIS has actually used its new powers, and what steps might be most appropriate to rein them in. And it makes no sense to demand that any party close its eyes to that information.

Finally, let's note that the parties' actions now should send a strong signal as to their intentions upon forming government. The Libs' position is that they're more accepting of C-51 than concerned with it, and if they made any amendments at all after the fact we'd expect relatively little change. Conversely, the NDP sees C-51 as doing more harm than good such as to justify voting it down now - offering ample reason to believe it would be highly skeptical of Harper's changes in deciding what amendments are required later.

In sum, there's no immediate damage to current security operations in opposing the creation of new powers, where there could be in eliminating them after they exist. And while we should hold Tom Mulcair to the standard of deleting any parts of C-51 (and any other security legislation) which aren't justified as soon as can be done without disrupting our security services, that doesn't mean a "scrap it all immediately!" position is in anybody's interest.


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