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Updated: 9 min 29 sec ago

Staying the flawed course

4 hours 29 min ago
John Ivison is right to note that the Cons' latest ad reflects the Harper braintrust sticking to what seems to have been a long-established plan. But it's worth highlighting how that plan has been overtaken by events - and how even the Libs may be able to use the message to their advantage if they're smart in the approach to this fall's federal election.

In principle, a "just not ready" message is tailor-made for a two-party race where a party's ability to attach a single personality flaw to the opposing leader can make all the difference between victory and defeat.

But for the Cons, it represents a couple of important concessions.

As I've written before, the Cons' previous election campaigns were based on portraying the Libs' leader as unfit to govern under any circumstances - or indeed (in Michael Ignatieff's words) as lacking standing to be heard during at all. But "not ready" implies an entirely different standard: that the question to be decided about Justin Trudeau is whether or not he's suited to govern only at a single point in time.

And the softened message from the Cons seems also to signal some recognition that their attacks on opposing parties lack credibility. One has to figure that Stephen Harper would prefer to present a stronger critique if he thought voters would consider it plausible. But after a decade of saturation bombing with Cons propaganda through government and party channels alike, voters have tuned out anything that doesn't sound like what they'd be inclined to say for themselves.

It makes sense in that context for the Cons to turn to focus groups to tell them what messages will work. But that also means there's an awfully limited range of options available.

As for the opposition parties, the NDP surely figures to be happy to see the Cons sticking to their false assumption that the election will be a two-party race. (And it wouldn't be the first time that a right-wing party's failure to take the NDP seriously might lead to major progressive change.)

If the public accepts the ad's message - and particularly if Trudeau reinforces it at all during the course of the campaign - then Tom Mulcair can easily become the rallying point for opposition simply by showing that he's ready to govern. And that doesn't figure to be a problem for a leader with his talent and experience.

Indeed, Mulcair might well fit neatly into a Goldilocks scenario between a tired Harper and a not-ready Trudeau.

But even for the Libs, the new ad represents only a challenge rather than a defeat. And it's one they've presumably understood for some time now.


Unlike the vague criticisms of Dion and Ignatieff, the "not ready" critique is one which can be tested by how the Libs run their campaign. If Trudeau holds his own on the campaign trail and particularly in the leaders' debates, then the Cons' last attempt to bargain for another term in power will fail. And the particular criticism might also yield some fruit in developing counterattacks - such a "Harper thinks he knows it all" theme based on his presuming to dictate when Trudeau is ready, with former PMs taking to the stage to highlight the value of comparative humility and a willingness to learn.

Even if Trudeau can't hold up or counterattack immediately, though, he can easily preserve his own position by treating the election result as a "not yet" rather than a "no". And if a public consensus emerges behind the "not ready" messsage, the resulting attraction of progressive votes to the NDP doesn't particularly help the Cons either.

The Cons then seem to be betting that Trudeau's performance will be subject to just enough interpretation to split the vote for change while ceding the right to Harper. (Or they might hang on if Trudeau and the Libs spend their entire campaign bashing the NDP rather than making a case for change so as to ensure that both alternatives are tarred by election day.)

We'll see whether either comes to pass. But that's an awfully narrow set of possibilities for a sitting majority government which has done little but to plot for its own political fortunes.

On minimal solutions

5 hours 51 min ago
Shorter Corporatists to Fleece the Irrelevant Beggars trying to avoid a living wage for Alberta:
Has anybody pointed out that if we ensure that the hungry have food, some of them might gain weight? That's why we consider it more responsible to force-feed them diet pills.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 05/24/2015 - 07:06
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Heather Boushey writes about the Great Gatsby Curve showing a direct correlation between equality and social mobility - and conversely, that high inequality severely limits opportunity for large numbers of people. And Vikas Bajaj discusses how high inequality also harms overall economic development.

- But of course, we'll never get policies to address those problems without a government willing to highlight the need for change and acknowledge that there are no non-controversial answers - as Sadiq Khan points out in discussing the U.K. Labour Party:
(I)nsecurity reaches right up the income scale, which is why our commitment to fair rents and secure tenancies spoke to many middle-class professionals in London. Even Tory candidates attacked the Tory’s lack of policies on housing as a factor in why they struggled in the capital.

It’s got to be a deal though: economic growth, and lower inequality will only create a better life for all if we are straight that this will require shared effort and sacrifice. We promised things to ease the pain now for the “squeezed middle” without outlining what the economy might be like if we were in charge. And we suggested these would somehow be “pain-free” – paid for by someone else. The British public just didn’t buy it.

So it allowed our opponents to use the crash as a symbol of our economic mismanagement. But this is far from the truth. Let us be clear: the deficit in 2007 did not cause the crash, and the Tories were fully signed up to our spending plans. We should not cede this ground.

There were, however, bigger issues about our economic approach. We failed to regulate the banks and financial sector. We subsidised employers who paid low wages, placing a burden on the taxpayer, rather than encouraging them to pay a living wage. We tackled the effects rather than the causes, and that made it harder for us to tackle inequality. Since 2010 we began to address that and we must not go back on that now. But we have to paint a picture of what it means for people beyond the very low-paid, and how they’ll benefit personally if we tackle this.- Suha Diab discusses the Cons' general antipathy toward all but the wealthiest of immigrants, while the Ottawa Citizen editorial board is particularly (and rightly) critical of their attempt to dehumanize people trying to escape Burma by boat.

- Finally, Mitchell Anderson writes that just as Alberta's citizens finally built up immunity to right-wing rhetoric (if only over a period of decades), Canada's voters may be building the same strength just in time for this fall's election. And Michael Harris suggests that Stephen Harper's vanity may be his party's undoing, while Chantal Hebert argues that the Cons may be utterly oblivious to the public's demand for change.

Saturday Evening Links

Sat, 05/23/2015 - 17:53
This and that for your Saturday reading.

- Keith Banting and John Myles note that income inequality should be a major theme in Canada's federal election. And Karl Nerenberg points out that voters will have every reason to vote for their values, rather than having any reason to buy failed strategic voting arguments.

- PressProgress charts the devastating effect of precarious employment in Canada. And Wayne Lewchuk writes about the precarity penalty, and the need for public policy to catch up to the reality facing workers:
Uncertain future employment prospects can increase anxiety at home.  Lack of benefits can make even small unexpected medical costs a crisis.  Unpredictable work schedules can make finding suitable childcare very difficult.  The short-term nature of the employment relationship can limit a worker’s access to the training needed to get ahead. Together, the added challenges associated with insecure employment represent The Precarity Penalty.

In short, precarious employment not only creates significant stress on individuals and families today, it also creates conditions that can trap those who are in precarious employment from opportunities to get ahead.

Given that insecure employment is the fastest growing form of employment, we should all be concerned about what this means for our families, our children and our communities.

A new body of research (see references below), much of it focused on the troubles in the U.S. economy, suggests that public policy has fallen short, and at times exacerbated the challenges facing precarious workers. These policies have exposed workers to more economic uncertainty, reduced supports that help build healthy families and made it more difficult than in the past for workers to negotiate improved working conditions. There is evidence that Canada’s own public policy environment has not fared much better in terms of protecting vulnerable workers.

What policy has enabled, policy can change.  It is not inevitable that a growing number of Canadian workers find themselves in relationships that make it difficult to get ahead. The mechanisms we use to regulate labour markets, including how contracts are negotiated, how we set and enforce employment standards, how we support workers between jobs, how quality training is provided, and how workers can finance unexpected health costs and old age were all formed when permanent full-time employment was the norm.- Meanwhile, Elise Gould offers a reminder that a job - even with full-time hours - is no guarantee of escaping poverty. Craig Lambert discusses how citizens are being directed toward unpaid work - which can both take jobs away from people who need them, and serve as a threat to anybody seeking improved pay and working conditions for jobs which might be turn into shadow work. And Jim Dwyer reports on the wide-scale wage fraud being perpetrated against workers.

- Catherine Porter writes about Dr. Gary Bloch's prescription to combat poverty as a means of improving health generally.

- Erin Anderssen discusses the glaring need to improve access to mental health services as part of our health care system. And Steve Morgan highlights how a lack of a national pharmacare program makes health care less effective for everybody.

- Finally, Jesse McLaren argues that we shouldn't be surprised by the Libs' weakness on Bill C-51 in light of their historic willingness to trample civil rights in the name of political convenience. But Shannon Reardon nonetheless points out that anybody hoping for better from Justin Trudeau than support for the Cons' terror tactics has reason to be disappointed.

Musical interlude

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 18:56
Emma Hewitt - Colours

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 05:59
Assorted content to end your week.

- Michael Schwartz and Kevin Young make the case for a greater focus on influencing corporations and other institutions first and foremost - with the expectation that more fair public policy will be possible if a dominant business sector doesn't stand in the way. David Wessel points out that many states' tax systems are set up to exacerbate inequality. And Matthew Yglesias notes that a typical set of slap-on-the-wrist fines against banks for massive market manipulations call into question whether the U.S.' current regulatory structure is anywhere close to sufficient to protect the public interest.

- Meanwhile, David Dayen points out that part of the Obama administration's embarrassing attempt to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership includes a willingness to cut Medicare to slightly compensate some of the affected workers.

- Michael Harris tears into the Cons for their Orwellian war on dissent, while Steve Sullivan rightly notes that Stephen Harper's usual reaction to an imminent loss is to try to rig the game in his own favour. Canadians for Tax Fairness raises the question of whether we want to see massive amounts of public money spent on the Cons' self-promotion - with ministerial vanity videos serving as just the latest example.

- Vanessa Lu reports on the bizarre excuses being used for refusing to let Canadians know how the public reacted to the Cons' plan to end door-to-door mail delivery. And Mary Campbell discusses yet another example of dumb-on-crime legislation, this time featuring utterly pointless attacks on foreign offenders.

- Finally, PressProgress highlights OpenMedia's report (PDF) into the plummeting public willingness to put up with the Cons' terror bill. Toby Mendel offers another review (PDF) of the problems with C-51. And Noah Richler writes that the Cons' current message doesn't involve anything more than trying to stoke paranoia.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:08
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Heather Stewart writes about the OECD's study showing the connection between increasingly precarious work and worsening inequality. 

- Tara Deschamps reports on a few of the challenges facing poor Torontonians, while Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Laurie Monsebraaten cover the United Way's report card showing that most workers are now stuck in precarious work. And Star offers a few policy suggestions to improve that situation, while Ella Bedard points out how Andrew Cash is pushing for solutions at the federal level.

- Edward Keenan writes that it's long past time to stop relying on charity to ensure that basic needs are met. Cara Feinberg discusses (PDF) the effect of scarcity in limiting individual capacity to achieve goals of any kind. And David Wheeler takes a look at the growing movement for a basic income:
Those skeptical of basic income might ask: If you give people enough to live on, won’t they stop working? Won’t they get lazy? Evidence from pilot studies by Guy Standing, a professor of development studies at the University of London and a co-founder of the Basic Income Earth Network, points the other way.“When people stop working out of fear, they become more productive,” Standing says.

Karl Widerquist, a leader of the worldwide basic income movement, applauds Santens’ project, but says the goal of the movement is not to create privately financed basic income. “We need a publicly financed basic income for everyone; private charities can’t—and shouldn’t have to—do that,” says Widerquist, a philosophy professor at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, and the author of several books and papers about basic income. Widerquist also organized the most recent North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress in New York in March. “The point of a private basic income is to show how well it works, draw attention to the issue, and further the movement for a truly universal basic income,” Widerquist says.- Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on the IMF's study showing that the fossil fuel sector is subsidized to the tune of $5.3 trillion each year - offering a strong indication that there's plenty of money available to fund a basic income if governments were more interested in citizens than resource extraction. But Nelson Bennett highlights how Christy Clark is determined to lock in long-term subsidies to the gas sector no matter how thoroughly the public might want to change direction.

- Finally, Martin Regg Cohn writes that the Ontario Libs' Hydro One selloff represents little more than an utter failure of leadership, as Kathleen Wynne is willing to harm her province in the long term to avoid making the case for better revenue sources while in office. And Brent Patterson rightly slams the Cons for trying to force First Nations to privatize their water services

New column day

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 08:44
Here, expanding on this post about the new challenges the Cons are facing heading into this fall's election.

For further reading...
- Geoffrey Stevens offers his own take on the Cons' weaknesses.
- Meanwhile, Nik Nanos (as reported by Theophilos Argitis) focuses on the possibility of vote splitting working to the Cons' benefit. But that analysis seems to miss the point that no amount of vote-splitting between two competitors can get the Cons into majority territory if their own support levels remain stuck in the low 30s.
- And on a more interesting note, Robin Sears wonders whether the leader's tour model of campaign coverage will soon be a thing of the past - which might offer some reason to expect different influences to affect election results. But it doesn't seem that either the parties or the media are headed for a drastically different model this time out - nor is it clear that a shift would do anything but play to the strengths of more popular leaders.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 07:17
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Toby Sanger takes a look at Canada's balance sheets and finds that both households and governments are piling up debt while the corporate sector hoards cash:
(A)ll the recent handwringing over rising household and debt levels ignores one critical point: any one person’s financial liability is someone else's financial asset. Across all the sectors in the economy (households, corporations, governments and non-residents) in the national balance sheet, net borrowing and lending all balance out to zero.

The rising income share of the top one percent has been startling (and also echoed in increasing imbalances in debt and wealth by income and generation) the shift in net borrowing and lending between the household and corporate sector is just as dramatic, and reflect almost perfect mirror images of each other.

For decades until the mid-1990s, Canadian households were net lenders to corporations and to governments. Since then, with low wage increases and rising house prices, households have increasingly gone into financial debt, borrowing an additional $706 billion since 1997 -- an increase in net borrowing to the tune of about $50,000 per household. Meanwhile, with high profits, low taxes and low rates of investment, Canadian corporations have built up ever larger surpluses. They’ve become net lenders to the tune of $730 billion since 1997, with non-financial corporations accumulating $675 billion in cash.

...
The solution is clear: we need to rebalance our national balance sheet. The imbalance in our national balance sheet won’t be fixed until corporations are pushed to do something with their surpluses: invest in the economy, distribute to shareholders and/or pay workers more. If they don't, our governments should increase corporate taxes and used the increased revenues to invest in the economy, improve public services and reduce the financial pressures households are dealing with -- and help alleviate our real debt problem.- Meanwhile, Neal Irwin points out that Wall Street's return to gross excess as usual since it crashed the global economy in 2008 demonstrates that we can't trust businesses to even notice the public interest. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks question why Canada offers special tax breaks to the wealthy few who enjoy stock options. And Ezra Klein highlights Paul Krugman's theory as to how CEOs are claiming ever-larger salaries while denying gains to anybody else.

- At the same time, BBC reports on the large number of employers failing to offer living wages in Scotland. Sara Mojtehedzadeh comments on the bizarre set of exemptions and loopholes in Ontario employment standards. And while there's some good news in CBC's report about temporary foreign workers being granted a reprieve while testifying against employers who have threatened them with deportation, it's obviously a problem that the threat was plausible in the first place.

- Michael Harris discusses how Stephen Harper's debate cowardice reflects his general unwillingness to answer for his actions. And in a similar vein, Glen McGregor crunches the numbers on Harper's fear of question period in the House of Commons.

- Finally, Ian Welsh offers a useful strategy for activists who want to make sure that their values and ideas are reflected in our broader political choices.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 17:33
Slumbering cats.




Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 09:03
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Elizabeth Warren reminds us (PDF) that previous trade agreements were packaged with the same promises of labour and environmental standards being used to sell the latest versions - and that there's been no enforcement whatsoever of the elements of the deals which were supposed to protect the public.

- Kriston Capps discusses the unfairness of New York's property tax system which makes it easy for the obscenely rich to avoid paying their fair share. And Jon Stone notes that even following an election in which the Conservatives won a majority, UK voters are more concerned with fighting inequality than pushing growth for the few.

- David Roberts rightly warns that we're much further down the road toward catastrophic climate change than most people are prepared to admit. And Terry Macalister reports that Shell in particular is planning based on the assumption that we won't make any progress in reining in global warming.

- But the good news is that clean alternative energy sources are becoming far more readily available, meaning that we only need the political will to change our current balance of power. And Richard Littlemore writes that we're not lacking for businesses willing to offer renewable energy alternatives.

- Finally, the National Post slams the Cons for once again rewriting the law - in this case governing access to information - to suit their own political purposes. And the Star calls out the Cons' baseless terror fearmongering.

The mystery advantage

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 14:39
Shorter Brad Wall:


On proportionality

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 14:03
Among the other possibilities raised by the Alberta NDP's election victory, plenty of voices have chimed in on a shift to proportional representation. And while there may be limited scope to make a move immediately, electoral reform could well become both good policy and good politics for Rachel Notley.

Let's start, though, by pointing out where the Alberta NDP has positioned itself on proportional representation.

PR was not a part of the NDP's platform in the recent election. So there's ample room for opponents to argue that there's no immediate mandate for a unilateral change to Alberta's electoral system, and for supporters to see it as less than a top priority. (This is of course in contrast to the federal scene, where Tom Mulcair has made clear that a majority NDP government means a change to proportional representation.)

But in addition to being worth pursuing on the merits, PR has also long been part of the Alberta NDP's party policy. So we should expect Notley to look for ways to advance it. And fortunately, the circumstances of the NDP's win should lend themselves to one of two paths which might lead to PR by the next election at the latest.

For the short term, Notley would be well served to have a PR bill drafted and ready for presentation in the Legislature at any moment.

After all, the opposition parties are sure to complain ad nauseum - based on the same arguments made for PR - that 40% of the popular vote isn't enough of a mandate to support any of Notley's policy plans. But what better answer than to lament that the PCs refused to implement a better electoral system while they were in power, to agree that future elections should be decided by a majority of voters, and to offer to pass legislation ensuring that happens with all-party support?

Of course, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the opposition parties to sign on. But if the best-case scenario is to secure PR before the next election, and the worst-case outcome is to expose opposition criticism as utterly unprincipled and self-serving, that's not a bad set of possibilities.

Moreover, any opposition complaints about legitimacy would also raise the question of how to put the issue to voters.

On that front, a PR referendum alongside the next election ballot would serve as an ideal opportunity to give Albertans a choice in electoral systems. And both the PR cause and the NDP's re-election prospects could benefit from being seen as part of the same project of permanently changing Alberta politics away from the PCs' one-party state toward a model where cooperation and diversity are the norm.

In sum, even if PR wasn't part of the Alberta NDP's platform, it's well worth advancing as part of the NDP's long-term vision for change.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 07:43
Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Frances Woolley reminds us of some of the hidden advantages of the rich, and suggests that they point toward the fairness of taxing wealth in addition to consumption:
The greatest freedom money offers is the freedom to walk away. Your bank doesn't offer you unlimited everything with no monthly fees? Walk away. There's always someone else who wants your money. Your phone plan is too expensive? Walk away (o.k., that may not be the best example).

People with money have alternatives, which makes their demand for goods and services elastic. Food may or may not cost more in poor areas. But a rich person can shop at Value Village if he chooses. A poor person may not be able to afford expensive purchases which save money in the long run, like bread machines or high efficiency appliances or pressure cookers. Consumption taxes aim to tax the amount of stuff people actually consume. But if poor people pay a higher price for their stuff than rich people, is a system that taxes only consumption spending, without taking into account the ability to command consumption wealth conveys, fair?
...
Some might argue that taxing consumption taxes capital - once that capital is spent. But wealth generates benefits for the holder even if the holder never spends a cent. Canada has relatively low taxes on capital - we do not have an inheritance tax, do not tax capital gains on principal residences, provide dividend tax credits to offset corporate tax paid, and provide room for tax-free savings within pension plans and tax free savings accounts.

The noted economist Tony Atkinson has recently made the case for introducing an annual tax on wealth. His argument is that taxing wealth would reduce inequality.

Even those who find Atkinson's argument for wealth taxation on purely distributive grounds unconvincing, and believe that consumption is the most equitable basis for taxation, should still be open to the idea of wealth taxes - because such a tax would recognize the comforts of being comfortably off.- Meanwhile, Jameson Parker points out how one tycoon's excess wealth is being used to suppress scientific research which shows how fracking causes earthquakes. Rita Celli exposes both the appalling secrecy surrounding Ontario's resource royalties, and the pitifully low loyalty revenue amount which managed to leak out. And Samantha Page discusses the damage the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements could do to our climate.

- Garry Leech points out that we're far too willing to accept corporatist terminology such as the language of entrepreneurship to describe activity which should be seen in social terms.

- Ethan Cox discusses the Cons' strategy in trying to limit and control the leadership debates in this fall's election.

- Finally, Dave Cournoyer weighs in on the frivolity of the Alberta right's attacks on NDP MLA Deborah Drever for having been young in the social media era.

Sunday Afternoon Links

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 12:11
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Brad Delong discusses the two strains of neoliberalism which dominate far too much political discussion - and the reason why the left-oriented version doesn't offer any plausible analysis of where we stand:
(Bill) Clintonian left-neoliberalism makes two twin arguments.

The first is addressed to the left: it is that market mechanisms–properly-regulated market mechanisms–are more likely than not a better road to social democratic ends than command-and-control mechanisms.

The second is addressed to the right: it is that social democracy is the only political system that can in the long run underpin a market economy that preserves a space for private property and private enterprise. Therefore the right had better shut up and try to make social democracy work, or else.

The true underlying problem with left-neoliberalism, I think, is that with the Brezhnevite stagnation of the Soviet Union the second claim addressed to the right was no longer convincing. Hence the right went into its dismantle-social-democracy mode. And once the right was committed to dismantling social democracy, the ability to construct and maintain the proper regulations needed to make market mechanisms tools to achieve social democratic ends fell apart as well.- Andrew Jackson discusses how the need for equity between and within generations should lead us to make investments in what matters for future development, rather than doing nothing for anybody as demanded by the austerians:
There has been a great deal of recent media commentary on inter-generational unfairness, much of which misleadingly argues that affluent older Canadians are benefiting from current economic and social arrangements at the expense of youth.

Not to be misunderstood, young adults today are getting a raw deal when it comes to high levels of student debt, their immediate job market prospects compared to those of the baby boomers, and high housing prices.

The transition from education to stable and well-paid employment is much more prolonged and problematic than used to be the case due to the ongoing increase in insecure and low-paid jobs.

But that does not mean that all seniors and those who are about to enter their retirement years are flourishing. There are huge inequities within different generations that far outweigh inequities between generations.
...
Again, inequity within generations is a more important issue than inequity between generations.

The inter-generational fairness theme is often used to justify public spending cuts to reduce the “debt burden” on future generations. This ignores Canada's very low level of public debt, and the fact that experts such as the Parliamentary Budget Officer see federal finances as sustainable, meaning that tax increases will not be required to fund future spending.

More importantly, this argument gets in the way of the public investments we need to make today to secure a better future for today's youth and future generations. We could and should be investing more in the education and skills of youth, in research and development, and in the measures needed to ensure environmental sustainability. - Meanwhile, Brent Patterson laments the Harper Cons' willingness to leave an environmental disaster for future generations to clean up. And Thomas Walkom points out that Kathleen Wynne is following in the Cons' footsteps in trashing public wealth without any reasonable basis for doing so.

- Fred Joseph Ernst writes that the primary effect of C-51 is to legalize the "dirty tricks" against civilians which represent a regular feature of repressive states. And Andrew Mitrovica comments that even some of Stephen Harper's usual core supporters are rightly fighting back against that choice.

- Finally, Stephen Maher points out how the Cons' vote suppression tactics figure to cause serious problems for citizens seeking to vote this fall. And Bruce Johnstone makes the case to put first past the post behind us.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Sat, 05/16/2015 - 13:19
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne writes that the great Canadian revenue debate is well underway, with far more leaders willing to push for needed taxes than in recent years:
There is new political space to talk corporate taxes again, to talk about raising them. Rachel Notley, the new NDP premier of Alberta, won on a platform that promised fair taxation, raising corporate taxes, and getting a fair share of resources for citizens.

Newfoundland and Labrador must have the same conversation and review of resource royalties.

Even the federal Liberals have realized that the tide is turning and have been forced to talk tax fairness — or their version of it. They recently released their so-called middle class tax cut coupled with a promise to cancel some of the Harper government’s tax breaks to the wealthiest. The federal NDP has also been firmly on record about tax reform and tax fairness.

The conversation is started. Let’s keep it going. The kind of Canada we want for our kids depends on it.- Scott Santens looks at the trucking industry as a prime example of how there's plenty more automation yet to come in our economy - and how we need to ensure people can make ends meet without menial jobs which can be shed in favour of machines.

- Scott Klinger discusses the tendency of U.S. conservatives - like their Canadian cousins - to hand out free money to the wealthy while simultaneously decrying the standard of living of people who are scraping to get by.

- Tavia Grant and Janet McFarland report on the problems with payday lenders - and the efforts some cities are making to at least reduce the damage they cause to citizens. And Gillian White points out the connection between underfunded transit in poorer areas and the inaccessibility of needed services. But on the brighter side, Jim Silver and Carolyn Young observe that Winnipeg's Lord Selkirk Park housing complex offers a needed example as to how to turn neglected buildings into an again-thriving community.

- Finally, APTN reports that Bernard Valcourt knows nothing about his responsibilities for First Nations, other than that he thinks he has none. And PressProgress provides the video evidence.

On complexities

Sat, 05/16/2015 - 09:47
Bruce Anderson writes that as some of us have long suspected, a true three-party federal race is developing which will create some new complications for the Cons and Libs alike. But it's worth pointing out one area where the Cons are in much worse shape than they've ever been.

Before the 2008 and 2011 elections, the Cons managed to render Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff radioactive with voters - with those leaders' approval ratings running far below the Libs' party polling results. And over the course of the campaign, an expected convergence between those numbers led to a natural decline for the Libs, while Jack Layton's personal popularity couldn't make up the gap for the NDP.

But now, while the NDP and the Libs are on an equal starting point in terms of popular support, their leaders are also well ahead of Harper (with Mulcair rating as very much liked and Trudeau roughly neutral) - meaning that the inevitable campaign focus on leadership will work to the Cons' disadvantage this time.

Put another way, to the extent the Cons have normally relied on a desperately unpopular Lib leader to lower his party's support level throughout a campaign, Trudeau isn't quite the punching bag his predecessors were. If priority one for the Cons has been to turn Trudeau into Dion or Ignatieff, that job isn't yet done.

Yet to the extent the Cons have counted on the NDP to face an insurmountable deficit in voter support which can't be made up by the public's favourite leader, that's no longer a plausible assumption either. (On that front, note that not only is the NDP higher in the polls than at the start of any recent election campaign, but Mulcair is also far more popular now than Layton ever was at the same point in any election cycle.)

So the public's appetite for change is large enough for the Cons to face serious challenges from two parties and leaders with more appeal than their own. And it doesn't look like there's anything the Cons can do to undermine either of the plausible alternatives without substantially benefitting the other: a more pointed attack against Mulcair and the NDP will only help Trudeau and the Libs, and vice versa.

Based on that conundrum, I'd think the Cons might be best off taking their chances with something truly novel for the Harper cadre: a campaign primarily oriented toward a positive case for more of the same to expand their own voter universe (however slightly) and working toward favourable splits, rather than the usual plan based on relentless attacks against a single perceived opponent. But it doesn't look like the formula which has worked in the past is going to have the same results this time.

[Update: fixed wording.]

Musical interlude

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 19:03
Moist - Tangerine (Remix)

Time for some adult supervision

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 16:16

The latest Con dodge on greenhouse gas emission regulations for the oil and gas industry is to say that they'll promise to deal with a few collateral activities, just as long as actual production continues to receive a free pass:
Aglukkaq also announced new rules to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, such as industrial leaks and gas flares, which makes up a significant portion of the industry's total emissions.Notably omitted, of course, is the rest of the industry's total emissions.

So how does that painful level of parsing to avoid what has to be done sound familiar?

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 09:28
Assorted content to end your week.

- Matthew Yglesias points out that a particular income level may have radically different implications depending on an individual's place in life, and that we can only address inequality by formulating policy accordingly:
The median household income in the United States is about $52,000. So go ahead and picture a median-income household. What did you picture?

Did you picture a 25-year-old with a decent job who's maybe worried about student loans but is basically doing okay? Or did you picture a married pair of 45-year-olds who are both full-time workers stuck in kinda crappy jobs? Or did you picture a married couple with one full-time worker and one stay-at-home mom? Or a 65-year-old retiree whose $2.5 million stock portfolio yields him $52,000 a year in dividend income?

These people are all in very different situations. But household income says they are all the same. In fact, it says they are all typical households earning the US median household income.
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In any discussion of a broad social phenomenon, a little loss of precision is necessary. But the key things to keep in mind about household income and class are that you always need to supplement with life-cycle analysis and net worthespecially housing wealth, where otherwise similar people are often in very different situations. - Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal charts how increasing inequality at the family level has thoroughly overtaken any basis for belief that the U.S. is a meritocracy. And Jeff Noonan writes that we can't afford austerity in our education system if we want all children to be able to participate in our society.

- PressProgress debunks the Fraser Institute's attempt to claim that improved fire safety is a reason to slash firefighting services.

- Finally, Glenn Greenwald looks at the UK Cons as a prime example of how the greatest threat to our freedoms comes from the parties willing to sacrifice them to a fight against trumped-up enemies. thwap highlights the Cons' selective definition of terrorism. And Alex Boutilier writes that CSIS continues to identify anybody even remotely associated with environmental protection as an "extremist" threat.

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