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No struggle for what you believe in is ever futile.
Updated: 39 min 54 sec ago

Saturday Morning Links

4 hours 44 min ago
Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne examines the Cons' economic record and finds it very much wanting:
Inequality has deepened under Mr. Harper’s watch, job quality has declined, wages have stagnated, economic growth has been anemic, social protections have been reduced while corporate profits and CEO pay soar.
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(E)mployment and labour force participation rates are lower today than they were in 2006, part-time employment is up, corporate taxes are significantly lower (22.1 per cent in 2006, 15 per cent today) business capital investment saw no increase and has been static at 19.1 per cent of GDP, business R&D spending as a percentage of GDP has declined, exports as a percentage of GDP from 2006 to today have dropped significantly from 36.7 per cent of GDP to 30.8 per cent.

Not exactly great economic numbers. Add to this the over $600 billion in cash being hoarded by corporate Canada and Mr. Harper is heading into a federal election with more than a few economic weak spots.

Throw in the fact that wages are stagnant and inequality is growing and the only folks doing better are those at the top who are accumulating more and more wealth under Mr. Harper’s failed economic policies.
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Inequality and poor jobs are not inevitable. Nor are they just because of technological change and globalization, as some would want us to believe. We can, with good economic policy, make a difference for the citizens of Canada, but we have to first believe that government has a role to play. - And Bill Curry reports on the Cons' latest moves to undermine the Canada Revenue Agency when it comes to "aggressive tax planning" and other abuses at the top end of the wealth scale - which of course only figure to make inequality worse.

- Meanwhile, Larry Haiven discusses the utter failure of corporate social responsibility as a check on business abuses. And Molly McCracken questions the point of a one-night "sleep outside" event which will mostly figure to provide cover for a complete lack of public inaction to combat homelessness.

- Jesse McLean reports that the Cons' strategy of letting drug companies decide for themselves whether their products are safe (rather than, say, meaningfully regulating them) has led to the distribution of ingredients found to be unfit for U.S. consumption. And it's hard to see how a name-and-shame approach to health and safety will do any particular good when it's directed at utterly shameless corporations.

- Finally, Jeffrey Simpson highlights the Cons' continued wilful ignorance about Iraq. And Michael den Tandt and Thomas Walkom both note that the NDP is right to challenge the deployment of troops when the Cons have no clue what they're supposed to accomplish.

Musical interlude

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 17:39
For a reunion weekend:

Barenaked Ladies - The Old Apartment

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 06:08
Assorted content to end your week.

- Umut Oszu contrasts the impoverished conception of rights being pushed thanks to the Cons' highly politicized museum against the type of rights we should be demanding:
In their modern incarnation, human rights were fashioned after the Second World War and entered into widespread circulation in the 1970s and 80s, when they came to be deployed by Western governments and non-governmental organizations as part of a Cold War “battle of ideas.” Designed in predominantly civil and political rather than social and economic terms, the rhetoric of human rights has since been mobilized to focus attention upon egregious violations of such entitlements as the right to vote, the right to assemble and the right to express oneself freely.

In practice, this focus on civil and political rights has prevented human rights advocates from tackling the problem of why so many people, in Canada and throughout the world, do not have their basic social and economic rights — chief among them the rights to health, housing, education, and employment — satisfied adequately.

Further, the socio-economic conditions under which violations of civil and political rights take place are nearly always ignored, rendering every such violation a more or less isolated act of injustice, to be condemned and countered on its own terms.
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No more than a few kilometres from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights lies Winnipeg’s North End. Well known for its inter-generational poverty and chronic underinvestment, the area has long been regarded as one of the most destitute in any major Canadian city. Closer still, in the very heart of The Forks, is a newly erected monument to Manitoba’s countless missing and murdered aboriginal women — a reminder to locals and visitors alike that the city has grappled for decades with exceptionally high levels of crime, much of it directed against First Nations peoples.
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It is one thing to document large-scale atrocities like the Holocaust, Holodomor and Armenian genocide — events as worthy of denunciation as any in humanity’s collective history. It is another thing entirely to confront the socio-economic deprivation and exploitation with which so many around the world continue to struggle. Without the latter, the former is simply garish spectacle. - Gus Van Harten breaks down the disastrous effects of the FIPA - though the Cons have made sure that it's too late to do anything to avoid the damage. And Alison examines the connection between China's investments in the tar sands and the degradation of environmental standards.

- PressProgress points out the juxtaposition of perpetually higher unemployment and continued decreases in the percentage of jobless Canadians who have access to EI benefits.

-  Toby Sanger thoroughly debunks Stephen Harper's faith-based assertion that perpetual corporate tax giveaways pay for themselves, while Canadian for Tax Fairness notes that tax cheats can rest comfortably knowing that the CRA's ability to crack down is being systematically destroyed. Which is to say that those of us who see taxes as an important means to achieve social ends - such as, say, funding mental health services - have all the more reason for concern.

- Mike De Souza reports on the Cons' refusal to answer simple questions about their climate change negligence, while Margo McDiarmid highlights the ineffectiveness of regulations governing coal plants. And in case there was any doubt whether there's a meaningful difference between the Cons, the Saskatchewan Party and the oil lobbying industry, the seamless transitions for Rob Merrifield and Tim McMillan should put that to rest.

- Finally, Justin Ling exposes the Cons' push to get MPs to vote against trans rights - as well as their strategy of once again using the Senate to override the will of elected representatives, this time based on the Harper Cons' desire to maintain discrimination.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 07:55
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Linda McQuaig discusses how a politically-oriented audit of the CCPA fits with the shock-and-awe part of the right's war against independent (and public-minded) though:
In the conservative quest to shape public debate in recent years, no tool has proved more useful than the think tank. Nobody understood this better than the director of the ultra-right wing U.S.-based ATLAS Foundation, who once stated that his mission was “to litter the world with free-market think tanks.”

Mission accomplished. Certainly the Canadian landscape is cluttered with right-wing think tanks — the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, the Montreal Economic Institute, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Frontier Institute, just to name a few — all well-funded by a business elite keen to have its message packaged in a manner that makes it appear grounded in serious research.

These right-wing policy shops have played a huge role in implanting an ideology that treats the rich as ‘wealth creators’ who must be freed from government regulation — and whose goodwill must be constantly cultivated, lest they be discouraged from investing. This has boiled down to a simple message — government bad, private sector good — that has become the mantra of our times, the guiding force in shaping public policy.
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For years, the corporate world has bestowed bountiful, tax-deductible resources on right-wing think tanks, allowing them to baffle the public with this sort of misinformation.

Meanwhile, alone and often ignored by the media, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives keeps churning out quality research exposing the fallacies of the right-wing arguments that have come to dominate our public conversation.

What choice is there for a paranoid, controlling, undemocratic, right-wing government but to call in the auditors?- Meanwhile, Matt Bruenig argues that capitalism in its current form falls far short of any of the theoretical justifications for rewarding greed. Melissa Boteach and Shawn Fremstad note that matters are only getting worse even in the face of what's supposed to be an economic recovery. Andrew Brenier comments on the connection between fossil fuel use and inequality. And Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discuss what we've learned since The Spirit Level brought the issue to the forefront:
Most important has been the rapid accumulation of evidence confirming the psychosocial processes through which inequality gets under the skin. When we were writing, evidence of causality often relied on psychological experiments that showed how extraordinarily sensitive people are to being looked down on and regarded as inferior.

They demonstrated that social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. Almost absent were studies explicitly linking income inequality to these psychological states in whole societies. But new studies have now filled that gap. That inequality damages family life is shown by higher rates of child abuse, and increased status competition is likely to explain the higher rates of bullying confirmed in schools in more unequal countries.

We showed that mental illnesses are more prevalent in more unequal societies: this has now been confirmed by more specific studies of depression and schizophrenia, as well as by evidence that your income ranking is a better predictor of developing illness than your absolute income.

Strengthening community life is hampered by the difficulty of breaking the ice between people, but greater inequality amplifies the impression that some people are worth so much more than others, making us all more anxious about how we are seen and judged. Some are so overcome by lack of confidence that social contact becomes an ordeal. Others try instead to enhance self-presentation and how they appear to others. US data also show that narcissism increased in line with inequality. The economic effects of inequality have also gained more attention. Research has shown that greater inequality leads to shorter spells of economic expansion and more frequent and severe boom-and-bust cycles that make economies more vulnerable to crisis. The International Monetary Fund suggests that reducing inequality and bolstering longer-term economic growth may be "two sides of the same coin". And development experts point out how inequality compromises poverty reduction.- Stephanie Levitz reports on the Mowat Centre's latest study of income-splitting - which finds that in addition to being grossly inequitable in handing money to the people who need it least, the Cons' pet policy would also siphon billions out of provincial treasuries.

- Connie Walker reports on the Cons' choice to summarily discard any proposals from the Assembly of First Nations and other individuals and groups who want to see both meaningful studies and policy responses to the crisis of murdered and missing aboriginal women.

- Finally, Scott Feschuk rightly skewers Stephen Harper for a foreign policy that's all bluster and no substance.

New column day

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 07:49
Here, on Justin Trudeau's remarkable demand that Stephen Harper set up a federal shun registry to make life easier for Trudeau politically.

For further reading...
- Trudeau's Question Period interview is here, with the key passage starting at about the 3:15 mark. And some Libs went so far as to trumpet the demand for a public enemies list as a show of political talent.
- Carlos Tello reports on the RCMP's interest in stigmatizing the environmental movement - which of course matches the Cons' rhetoric. And Alex Boutilier reports that hundreds of public events have already found themselves under secret surveillance over the past few years. So there shouldn't be much doubt that Harper's choice would be to cast a similarly wide (and anti-democratic) net if he were to offer a list of pariahs.
- Finally, Thomas Walkom reminds us that if we're concerned about public health and safety, we should be spending far more time addressing ebola (or similarly threatening diseases), and far less obsessing over the war on adjectives.

Wednesday Morning Links

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 08:09
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- In a theme all too familiar based on Brad Wall's use of millions of public dollars to pay for access to U.S. lawmakers, Simon Enoch discusses the connections between Wall and ALEC:
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough is both a member and State corporate co-chair the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). You might know ALEC as the United States’ premier “corporate bill mill.” ALEC has also been characterized by the New York Times as a “stealth business lobbyist” and as a “bill laundry” for corporate policy ideas by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
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Some of ALEC’s more infamous model legislation includes anti-union “right-to-work” laws, anti-immigrant ID laws, protecting the secrecy of “fracking” chemicals from public disclosure, blocking sustainable energy initiatives, and enhanced corporate protection from liability and class action lawsuits.

This is not the first time that the current government has been associated with ALEC. In December of 2011 Premier Wall gave a keynote address to the ALEC States & Nation Policy Summit in Arizona warning of the dangers of U.S. environmental regulation hindering the export of Saskatchewan petroleum though pipeline projects like Keystone XL. Indeed, ALEC is currently one of the major lobbying organizations pushing for the Keystone Pipeline project, the very issue the Saskatchewan government hired Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to lobby U.S. legislators on its behalf. Given this history, the Premier must surely be aware of what ALEC is and what it does. So does Premier Wall agree with ALEC’s tactics? Does he believe that democracy can be well-served by such deceptive techniques? Furthermore, does he agree with the content of its model legislation? If not, the Saskatchewan government should seriously re-consider using public money to retain ALEC member and supporter Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as Saskatchewan’s lobbying voice in Washington D.C.- Circa News reports on the OECD's latest work to combat corporate tax evasion. And Harry Stein points out that the corporate profit share of the U.S.' total national income is at a record high level and still growing, while corporate tax payments are at a historic low - and all without creating any apparent benefit for anybody who isn't wealthy enough to boast significant stock holdings.

- Andre Picard examines Statistics Canada's data on home care, and finds the state of Canadian care to be sorely lacking:
2.2 million Canadians receive home care – 8 per cent of the population over the age of 15. Most care recipients are frail seniors with chronic health conditions, but there are also many people with physical, developmental and psychiatric disabilities.

About one in seven people – 331,000 people – who got home care in 2012 did not receive all the care they needed; their needs were only partially met. Another 461,000 chronically ill Canadians needed help with daily activities but did not receive any home care at all.

Without a doubt, these numbers underestimate the real needs. Statscan surveys do not reach people living in nursing homes, long-term-care homes and hospitals – and many of them could be living at home with the proper support.

It’s very difficult to figure out who is falling through the cracks. However, Statscan does provide some clues: Low-income Canadians and immigrants are far less likely to receive home care, and one of the most underserviced groups is informal caregivers, the millions who care for their loved ones at home and don’t know where to go for help.

Between the lines, the message is that to get home care in Canada, you either need to be educated and connected enough to wring service out of the system, or you need to be wealthy enough to pay for it.- And Brandon Sloan writes that income-contingent loans for post-secondary education ultimately ensure only that lower-paid graduates are charged more for their studies.

- Finally, Leehi Yona declares that the obstructionist Harper Cons don't speak for her (nor for many other Canadians) when it comes to climate change.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 18:10
Babied cats.




On paid access

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 16:13
Shorter Brad Wall:
As far as I'm concerned, paying large sums of money to cynical political operatives for insider access to decision-makers is just how business gets done with the U.S. government. Also, please don't draw any obvious inferences about how business gets done with my government.

Tuesday Morning Links

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:28
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- In the context of Scotland's referendum on independence, Polly Toynbee reminds us why fragmentation can only serve to exacerbate inequality - a lesson worth keeping in mind as the Cons look to devolve responsibility for taxation and public services in Canada:
What’s to be done? The answer from all sides is “localism”. Westminster’s monstrous hegemony must be broken up with devolution. If Scotland goes, rump UK will be bereft and depleted. But if Scotland stays, monumental home-rule promises made in the last week’s panic will offer Scotland immense tax, spending and borrowing powers that, says the London School of Economics’ Tony Travers, England will rightly resent. Already the Barnett formula gives the Scots more per capita, but look what happens now: under Osborne austerity, whatever extra Scotland spends or borrows will come out of the Treasury’s UK total – and that means less for the rest. Good to break Osborne’s unnecessarily extreme cuts planned for after the election, but cities, regions, counties, all will want equal freedom from Treasury handcuffs biting into local leaders’ wrists.

At first sight, how attractive it looks for each locality to raise tax and spend its share of national income as best suits local circumstance. Localism sounds comforting. It is indeed high time to give back powers Margaret Thatcher stripped out and replace the millions of council homes she sold. Labour would give local health and wellbeing boards some NHS powers. Schools and further education should be returned too. Borrowing to build, councils should sell bonds.

But alarm bells ring when groupthink grips all parties. For social democrats there are as many dangers as opportunities. Unlike more equal federal countries, England is so grotesquely unequal in geography and class that London and the south-east make all the money, the rest take it. Redistribution from the south must limit the scope for local tax-raising.
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I don’t know the answers to these conundrums, but dashing for devo is dangerous. The deepest recession of our lifetime was bound to rouse anti-politics wrath. The idea of Britain is hollowed out by 30 years of selling everything national (with even Royal Mail gone), trashing the public service ethos, sacking public staff, letting predatory capitalism rip while wages fall, pricing everything and valuing nothing. The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals. - Meanwhile, Elizabeth Lee Ford-Jones writes about the emergency of a million Canadian children living in low-income homes - signalling that there's an awful lot of work to be done to fight poverty on a national scale.

- Trish Hennessy looks at the positive spillover effects of a $15 federal minimum wage. And Angella MacEwen discusses how greater bargaining power for workers is ultimately a must if we want to build a more fair society:
Workers' bargaining power has been restricted in two ways. First, workers employed through the Temporary Foreign Worker program are tied to a single employer. Second, many are not allowed to unionize. If a worker is unhappy with the wages or working conditions of their job, they can neither band together to demand better, nor walk across the street to a better employer.

The result is that employers do not have to raise wages to attract and keep workers. If there is a sufficient supply of vulnerable labourers, then current non-TFWP workers may be easily disciplined with the treat of being replaced by a willing temporary worker.

Limiting the pool of workers whose bargaining power is restricted may improve the situation of non-TFWP workers somewhat, if it means that they are less likely to believe the threat of being replaced. But it does nothing to improve the situation for temporary workers.

If there is a need for more low-skilled workers in Alberta, then Alberta should open up temporary and permanent immigration for low-skilled workers. But all workers should be allowed to move between employers, and to bargain wages and working conditions through the union of their choice. The best way to enforce employment standards is by giving workers the power to stand up for themselves.- Nick Cohen observes that more and more of our political and social culture carries an entry fee which most families can't afford - turning the arts, journalism and politics into domains of privilege rather than public participation. And Paul Krugman laments that a top-down push for austerity is leading much of the developed world back toward stagnation or recession.

- Finally, Mike De Souza reports that the Cons have given up on even the facade of consulting about greenhouse gas emissions for the tar sands - signalling that a change in government is an absolute must if Canada is to become anything other than a climate scofflaw.

Monday Morning Links

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 05:10
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Dan Lett discusses Stephen Harper's callous disregard for missing and murdered aboriginal women - and how it should serve as a call to Canadians generally to take a broader look at the causes of social inequality:
Why so much resistance to a broader, sociological analysis? A national inquiry of that kind would pose awkward questions and reveal uncomfortable realities about the diminishing role of the federal government in the lives of all Canadians.

A national inquiry would delve into questions such as familial dysfunction, child welfare, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, economic disparity and the shortcomings of the education and health-care systems. An examination of that scope would touch on issues that affect both aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens.

An inquiry would no doubt expose growing income inequality and the ever-diminishing federal contribution to education, social programs and health care. And how that shrinking support tends to disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable in our society.

A commission of inquiry would be, to put it mildly, a potent and biting indictment of the culture of successive federal governments that have, for decades, placed the health and welfare of the neediest Canadians well below other, less profound policy goals.- Murray Brewster explores the wide world of policy areas which the Cons have shrouded in cabinet secrecy.

- Meanwhile, the CP reports on how secretive meetings with oil lobbyists look to have been behind the Clark Libs' push to weaken environmental protections. Les Whittington exposes the Wall government's preference for back-room dealing - along with its willingness to spend millions in public dollars to try to buy influence in Washington. And Mike De Souza traces the connections between ALEC, the tar sands and Keystone XL.

- Mike Moffatt weighs on on how the Cons' latest EI scheme will only make employment more precarious in mid-sized businesses by offering employers incentives to fire workers.

- Finally, Daphne Bramham writes about the need for us to be involved in public life as citizens, not merely as taxpayers:
To be a citizen means to belong, to have responsibilities, rights and shared values. It means having a stake in the future and, in democracies, a voice in determining what that future might look like.

In Canada, it means having the guarantee that laws will be applied fairly to every person and every institution (including governments), as well as the right to an education and health care.

That is why we pay taxes. It’s the cost and the duty of belonging.

As the terminology has shifted from citizen to taxpayer over the past three decades, maybe it is only coincidental that the gap between rich and poor has widened.

Perhaps it’s also only coincidence that voter turnout has spiralled downward as the poor and the young (too many of whom are unemployed or under-employed and often burdened by huge debts from post-secondary education fees that have nearly tripled in the last two decades) decide not to bother exercising their franchise.

A growing body of economic research confirms that wealth isn’t the best predictor or guarantor of happy or healthy societies.

What matters more is feeling connected, belonging and having a say. In other words, being a full citizen.

Sunday Morning Links

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 09:06
Assorted content for your Sunday reading.

- Naomi Klein discusses how entrenched corporate control through trade and investment agreements will prevent us from making any real progress against climate change. And Cory Doctorow weighs in on the Cons' FIPA sellout of Canadian sovereignty, while highlighting the NDP's petition to stop it.

- Meanwhile, Les Whittington writes that CETA will severely limit Canada's ability to regulate banks - which, as Barry Ritholz observes, only sets us up for predictable financial abuse which will never be properly investigated or punished:
Political access and lobbying go part way toward explaining the absence of prosecutions and, therefore, the lack of convictions [for financial sector criminality]. To understand why there were no convictions of senior bankers, you need to understand a bit of criminal law in the U.S. The American form of jurisprudence requires a criminal indictment to bring someone to trial. No indictment, no trial, no conviction. Where bankers and their lawyers have been so successful is stopping prosecutions before they begin. You don’t get to the conviction part if prosecutors don’t bring indictments.

As we have repeatedly shown, Treasury Department officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, had convinced prosecutors in the Justice Department of the dangers of prosecuting banks and bankers for the economy. This showed up in the news coverage over the years, and is still going on. Just consider this recent Bloomberg News article with the headline “Criminal Charges Against Banks Risk Sparking Crisis.”

So what crimes could we imagine? How about fraudulent mortgage underwriting; robo-signing and foreclosure perjury; falsifying Libor rates; manipulating gold and other metal prices; money laundering for drug kingpins and terrorists; and participating in Ponzi schemes. This is hardly an all-inclusive list and I could certainly make it longer.

If only the list of attempted prosecutions was as long.- Bruce Johnstone points out the limitations of a government which insists on its own impotence in cultivating genuine economic development. But unfortunately, the Leader-Post's editorial board undercuts a rare effort to build an alternative to total dependence on the corporate sector - in this case, when it comes to a municipal development agency.

- Katie Raso reminds us why we need to fight against for-profit health care which discriminates based on the ability to pay. And Mollie Reilly offers a galling example of what happens when that discrimination rears its ugly head.

- Finally, Andrew Cash highlights the fight against "pay-to-pay" rackets as an example of how public pressure can result in at least some policy changes.

On redemocratization

Sat, 09/13/2014 - 16:57
Adrian Morrow reports on Andrea Horwath's speech to the Ontario NDP's provincial council. And there's certainly plenty of reason for relative optimism about a message which both reflects a clear argument for big-picture progressive thinking, and recognizes at least part of the importance of the NDP's base. That said, I'll note that there's still one area which leaves something to be desired in Horwath's message:
Party sources say the election campaign was too undemocratic, run by a handful of people close to Ms. Horwath who decreed there would be no big picture pledges. The campaign also focused too strongly on winning Southwest Ontario – a region hard-hit with the decline of the manufacturing sector – at the expense of Toronto and the GTA, the sources said. The populist approach, they contend, made it harder for some in the party to feel they were fighting for anything important and consequently led to a lack of motivation.

Ms. Horwath made a bid to correct both problems Saturday.

In a speech that bordered on liturgy, she rhymed off example after example of progressive values – from universal health care to fighting poverty to better pensions to public transit – that she would embrace over the next four years. And she tugged at NDP heartstrings, at one point referencing the party’s revered late federal leader, Jack Layton.

“Love is better than anger, as a good friend reminded us a few years ago. We are the party of hope. We are the party of optimism,” she said. “In a time when the very, very few continue to amass so much for themselves while everyone else is falling behind, we have never been more relevant.” She also promised to make the party more internally democratic.

“Every single New Democrat should be able to see themselves in our campaigns,” Ms. Horwath said. “We must reach out as broadly as possible, both within our party and to our allies in our movement, when crafting both our commitments and our campaigns.”So what's wrong with that past passage in particular?

It's surely a must for any leader to be willing to speak to the values favoured by party supporters, and to design policy consistent with those values. But Horwath still appears to be taking the position that the crucial actor is "we" in the sense of the party leader and her (or his) closest advisers - reflecting a commitment to an increased baseline for consultation, but not necessarily an interest in true democratic decision-making at the party level.

Put another way, while we should be able to expect at least future campaigns and policy proposals (and hopefully general decision-making) from the Ontario NDP to better reflect members' values with Horwath as leader, her intention is still to decide personally where that commitment begins and ends.

That view of the relationship between a commanding leader and a subservient party is of course entirely consistent with the practices of the NDP's competitors. But unlike the Libs (who will generally follow their leader anywhere for lack of any coherent value structure) and the PCs/Cons (who count deference to authority as a key component of their actual value structure), the NDP actually has something to lose in settling for a top-down model.

In effect, the concession that politics must be practiced along the lines preferred by the other parties only helps the Libs and Cons to argue that the NDP doesn't live up to its own values, and thus doesn't offer an improvement on what we're stuck with now. And to avoid validating that line of attack, we should expect the NDP at all levels to advocate for - and offer - decision-making mechanisms which allow for grassroots debates and decision-making, rather than treating party members as just one more focus group to be taken into account by a leader who exercises sole control.

In making that observation about the need for the NDP's leadership to value something more than their own power, however, I'll also note that far too many political activists have been willing to reinforce the same dichotomy from the opposite side.

I've yet to hear anybody offer a reasonable explanation as to how frustration with a single leader justifies abandoning exactly the party system which should provide an alternate and more democratic source of policy ideas and strategic direction. In fact, a trigger-happy view of one's own membership based on dissatisfaction with a leader both diminishes the stability of a party's general value system, and further entrenches the view that the leader is solely responsible for defining the party.

And that's especially counterproductive within a party whose extensive (and growing) progressive network still offers by far the strongest opportunity for activists to shape both electoral results and governing priorities.

In sum, while Horwath has taken some important steps in speaking to core New Democratic values, there's still plenty of work to be done in better putting them into effect. And we'll only see the best possible results at all levels if both the leaders who have centralized power and the critics who have responded by turning their back on party involvement are willing to work toward that end.

Saturday Morning Links

Sat, 09/13/2014 - 09:02
This and that for your weekend reading.

- James Meek observes that decades of privatization in the UK have eliminated public control over housing and other essential services - and that privatization takes far more forms than we're accustomed to taking into consideration. And Rick Salutin offers his take on the latter point:
Economist Mariana Mazzucato's new book, The Entrepreneurial State, takes a bold step in "debunking" this fake construct. (Steve Paikin interviewed her on TVO this week.) She doesn't just argue that public spending (on defence) was crucial in basic advances like computers and the Internet. That's well-known. She also shows how U.S. public money funded product innovation way down the line, including some of the smallest details of the iPhone! She says the necessity of venture capital is highly exaggerated. Private investors are now far too focused on short-term profit to take real risks. It's governments that do it. The private sector then steps in when results are assured, to take the credit and the profits.

You could read her book as a blow on behalf of the public sector in the debate. But it works even better as a rejection of the debate's terms. There's no neat private-public division, that's just spin. There's actually society, a complex hybrid. Take the process of fixing potholes. Is that public or private? Or busing students to public schools. Even at those levels, it's all entwined. You cannot unscramble this omelet or neatly separate its ingredients back out. - Meanwhile, Robert Benzie examines the Ontario Libs' plan to hand over the province's public resources based on marching orders from Bay Street, while Rob Ferguson reports on Andrea Horwath's anti-privatization push.

- Daniel Tencer examines expert reactions to the Cons' latest plan to suppress jobs and wages, and finds precisely nobody other than the CFIB with anything positive to say about it.

- Sharon Murphy writes that directing our attention toward poverty and other social determinants of health is both more humane then funding merely reactive systems, and more likely to result in an improved return on our public investments. And Andre Picard discusses the health consequences of insufficient access to dental care (particularly among Canadians with low incomes).

- Dene Moore reports on the obscene amount of political intervention the Cons are imposing in scientific discussions, finding that 16 separate communications operatives interfered in a single request to interview a single scientist about his work. And the Star calls for Health Canada to stop suppressing its findings about defective and dangerous prescription drugs.

- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall notes that the Cons' backroom dealings on the FIPA trade and investment agreement with China resulted in their completely caving when it came to Canadian interests, while the NDP is leading the charge to stop the sell-out. And Katie Valentine reports that while Stephen Harper can't rush through giveaways to Chinese business fast enough, he also can't be bothered to show up for the U.N.'s climate summit.

Musical interlude

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 19:45
Bissen - Exhale (Sean Tyas Remix)

Friday Morning Links

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 07:01
Assorted content to end your week.

- Rick Smith discusses the growing public appetite to fight back against burgeoning inequality - along with the need to make inequality a basic test for the fairness of any policy:
(I)t is significant that a finance minister of our decidedly right-wing government showed the political courage to criticize a policy that will clearly make inequality worse. This test — whether a policy choice will exacerbate inequality — should be the test for any government in making political choices.
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[The Broadbent Institute's wealth inequality] data, though disheartening, can help focus the minds of Canadians and our elected officials to understand the urgency of taking action to combat inequality.

Because in the end this situation is the result of political choices, not some inevitability. As Ed Broadbent, a long-time champion of combating economic inequality, has explained, “Democratic politics, at its best, is about choosing what kind of society we want to live in.”

And deep and persistent inequality shouldn’t be a characteristic of Canadian society. - Meanwhile, Rebecca Vallas and Joe Valenti criticize one policy choice which does little other than entrench wealth inequality, as asset limits which prohibit people from accessing social assistance if they own even a modest vehicle strip people of their assets and trap them in poverty without serving any useful purpose. And in a similar vein, Angelina Chapin laments Ontario's insufficient social supports which result in parents having to choose between food and school supplies for their children.

- Bryce Covert weighs in on how unpredictable hours in the retail sector cause nothing but stress and frustration for workers. And Peter Cappelli points out the futility of telling workers to seek more education when employers are more interested in employees who have received on-the-job training (which they don't want to provide themselves).

- Harsha Walia rightly argues that after thirteen years of sacrificing rights to a war against a vague concept, it's about time to replace unfocused fear with solidarity.

- Finally, Glen Thompson exposes the latest attempts by the oil industry to make sure nobody can be held responsible for the environmental risks it wants to impose on the Canadian public:
The new [Kinder Morgan] pipeline, it seems, is as complicated as the first mission to the moon, with a robust 15,000 page draft plan, guiding a small army of civil engineers, scientists and project leads. It took no less than nine expert presenters with technical analysts standing by, to present an hour and a half project overview to the FVRD Board. Sitting two rows deep, the project leads extolled advanced science and gleaned wisdom distilled from forensic analysis of past catastrophes. The presentation team successfully stick-handled their way through the Boards member's queries; air quality, the depth of the pipeline in deep rooted agricultural crops, financial compensation capacity and riparian protection.

The second event was a long afternoon of Kinder Morgan being slow cooked by fully qualified, and at times pointed, questions from a highly informed group of community leaders, advocates and government agency analysts. Kinder Morgan walked away roughed up, limping a bit, but uninjured. Every concern it seemed, had a graph, a published opinion or a mitigation plan and supposedly every bit of it, was reasonable, given the daunting task of moving extremely heavy oil, over mountains, in February.

At the FVRD meeting, a single phrase, made by the pipeline's head director, hung in the air like a high fly ball. I'll never forget the finality in his voice, "Once the oil leaves the dock, Kinder Morgan holds no obligation or responsibility, even 10 metres out -- that's the carrier's liability." Nobody caught the ball.

The oil cargo that was loaded into the Exxon Valdez traveled safely through the supply pipeline from Prudhoe Bay without incident. The Alaska coast disaster had nothing to do with the pipeline, and everything to do with the carrier. The Kinder Morgan director's sharp statement pulls the sheet off the question: Who will take Kinder Morgan's oil out of the Port of Vancouver?

On intended consequences

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 16:24
Shorter Joe Oliver:
Hey, I've got a bright economic idea! Let's pay businesses not to pay workers!If there's any long-term bright side to the Cons' announcement, it's that it should serve so nicely to undercut any "job creation" or "better off" narrative: surely every opposition party can identify workers who end up being denied jobs or raises to keep employers below the EI contribution threshold, and point to the Cons as the source of the problem. But on the balance, surely we'd all be better off if Oliver simply walks this one back.

Thursday Morning Links

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 08:45
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- The Broadbent Institute studies wealth inequality in Canada, and finds not only that the vast majority of Canada's capital resources remain concentrated in very few hands but that the disparity continues to grow:
The new Statistics Canada data show a deeply unequal Canada in which wealth is concentrated heavily in the top 10% while the bottom 10% hold more debts than assets.
  • The majority of Canadians, meanwhile, own almost no financial assets besides their pensions. The top 10% of Canadians accounted for almost half (47.9%) of all wealth in 2012.
  • In 2012, the bottom 30% of Canadians accounted for less than 1% of all wealth; the bottom 50% combined controlled less than 6%. 
  • The median net worth of the top 10% was $2,103,200 in 2012. It rose by $620,600 (41.9%) since 2005. In contrast, the median net worth of the bottom 10% was negative $5,100 in 2012, dropping more than 150% from negative $2,000 in 2005.
- Meanwhile, PressProgress highlights a new international study on the declining wage levels and job quality faced by Canadian workers over the past forty-plus years. And T.M. Scanlon summarizes how growing inequality erodes our basic social foundations.

- Harriett McLachlan offers her take on what it's like to live in poverty:
What is it like to live in a world built for people not living in poverty?

I think a person who is poor is more vulnerable or susceptible to getting hurt along the road of life, the impact of which is deeper and longer lasting than folks who are not poor. The way our society is constructed, each time a poor person gets hurt they never fully recover, they are still wounded when they are hit by the next roadblock. 

Poverty is like [a] Mack Truck coming at you, barrelling towards you, and you only have a split second to jump out of the way. As you dodge one, you see another truck barrelling towards you and if you’re not careful or unlucky you can be hit by a third and by a fourth one that was not possible to see right away. How do you strategically manoeuvre towards safety in fractions of a second? How is it even possible to sustain this ‘escaping’ behaviour over the long-term? How can a person be a productive and contributing member of society under such challenging circumstances? That’s what the world is like for me living in poverty. 
...
Are there any other questions that you think I should ask you?

One question I would want to answer is: if you had money, what would change? Poverty has a way of impressing upon a person their identity. So that when one comes to define themselves as poor, all the negative images associated with being poor are woven together with who you are. A person who is poor, especially in long term poverty, most likely see themselves through a lens of negativity. The lens is bleak, without life, without hope. 

I never wanted poverty to define me. I volunteered for forty years giving to others so I wouldn’t be suffocated by the heavy weight of poverty consistently upon me. A person is still a person regardless of poverty. 

Poverty is such a restricting force, like when you see old metal cars compressed by huge machines, stacks of flattened cars waiting to be towed away to a scrap yard. Poverty can be like that on a person, very crushing. There is a strength of heart that is needed to counter that or poverty will compress the life out of you. For me it is important to define who I am independent of my circumstances. That can be a very challenging thing to deal with on a day-to-day basis when the weight of poverty is especially heavy.- Marc Lee points out that British Columbia doesn't lack the means to properly fund its public education, meaning that it's purely by choice that the Clark Libs are trying to strongarm the province's teachers into accepting low wages and unduly difficult class conditions.  And Lizanne Foster reminds us that the primary explanation for that choice is the desire to privatize education.

- PSAC notes that the Cons are trying to force federal public servants to go to work sick rather than maintaining a sound sick leave system. And the Saskatchewan NDP reveals how workers see Saskatchewan's health care system from the inside - with strong majorities of workers finding that neither managers nor the Sask Party government are listening to how to better ensure a healthy province.

- Finally, Linda McQuaig discusses the Cons' plans to boost military spending for no particular reason (other than to ensure public money isn't used for more positive purposes).

New column day

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 08:14
Here, on how the corporate sector is taking advantage of Brad Wall, Michael Fougere and their respective administrations at the expense of citizens who both fund and rely on public services.

For further reading...
- Murray Mandryk and the Leader-Post editorial board each weighed in recently on the latest developments from the smart meter debacle.
- CBC reported on the province's decision to let Deveraux Developments walk away from its commitment to build affordable housing, as well as Donna Harpauer's subsequent declaration that she's entirely sympathetic toward Deveraux (and by implication, not so much toward people who need homes), as well as the response by both the NDP and a procurement expert that it's foolish to let a business off the hook for a simple contractual commitment. And the Prince Albert Daily Herald rightly challenged Harpauer's spin that we can afford not to have any available housing because nobody is actually homeless, while Mandryk pointed out the respective treatment of people and businesses in the Deveraux case.
- Finally, the CBC's story on Emterra and the handling of glass food containers by the City of Regina's recycling program is here. And in keeping with the theme of the column, the City's late-breaking response couldn't have been much more carefully drafted to insulate Emterra from criticism.

Wednesday Evening Links

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 17:18
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Scott Clark and Peter DeVries criticize the Cons' choice to prioritize right-wing dogma over sound economic management:
What should Canada do? For starters, the passive approach isn’t working. In the face of global economic uncertainty and a secular decline in growth, Canadian policy makers need to get at the levers that can strengthen growth at home.

...Of course we have options — they just happen to be ones that clash with the Conservatives’ hands-off economic orthodoxy. The Harper government is committed to lower taxes, lower spending, balanced budgets and smaller government. But why should Canadians accept these as the only options? There’s nothing inevitable in this climate about years of sluggish growth. It’s a choice — a political choice.

So with its energies directed at the coming election, the Harper government finds itself stuck in a dilemma of its own making. It wants to run on a record of good economic management but it wants to define that record as narrowly as possible — as simply eliminating the deficit. In fact, as we argued last week, the government could kill the deficit this year, one year ahead of their political schedule. But getting rid of a deficit you created doesn’t make you a good economic manager. Healthy economies grow at a healthy rate. Ours isn’t.
...
Why not stabilize the debt ratio at 30 per cent of GDP? Why shouldn’t a government borrow to make new investments when ten-year, thirty-year, and fifty-year interest rates are at historically low levels? Surely that’s what future generations would want us to do. - And Stephen Kimber reminds us of the yawning gap between Harper and the Canadian public - while recognizing that it's also worth demanding that a new government actually improve on the Cons' attitude toward what brings us together as a country:
What are Canadians most proud of? Well, start with medicare, followed by international peacekeeping and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not to forget multiculturalism, bilingualism and the Canadarm.
...
But...there is a jangling disconnect between what Canadians say they believe in and the values Stephen Harper has enshrined in Canada's laws and practices since his party won the majority of seats in the 2011 election.
...
[Harper has] cut the netting from under our social safety net, slashed public services, done a 180-degree foreign-affairs pirouette from global honest broker to ideological barking dog, glorified the military while denigrating veterans, stealthily imposed a new unilateral medicare funding formula to eviscerate national health-care standards and download costs on to the provinces, imposed tough-on-crime legislation and mandatory minimum sentences despite evidence they don't work, attacked the courts, eliminated the long-form census, muzzled scientists, destroyed important data, emasculated environmental protections, audited charities and environmental critics, cut taxes for the rich while leaving gaping loopholes for offshore tax cheats, gutted the CBC, passed Orwellian legislation like the Fair Elections Act to make elections anything but…

The list goes on. When I asked on Facebook recently "what a post-Harper government would need to do to undo Harper's disastrous re-making of Canada," I got close to 100 responses with at least three dozen different specific suggestions.

All of this means the scheduled 2015 federal election should not simply be another rascal-changing exercise.

The 60 per cent of us who didn't vote to radically change our country's laws and values must now ask those who would seek to replace Stephen Harper not simply what they will do for our country but what they will undo to give us back our country.- Meanwhile, Tavia Grant reports on the financial squeeze facing far too many Canadians. Frances Woolley discusses the gender politics of taxation. And Carol Goar notes that the Ontario Libs' spin about addressing poverty isn't being matched with actions:
Anti-poverty advocates have learned to welcome crumbs from the Ontario Liberals.

That is what they got in the five-year poverty reduction strategy unveiled by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews last week. The 56-page blueprint consisted of recycled promises, long-term goals, soothing language and self-congratulations (despite the fact she fell far short of her last five-year target.)

But social activists lauded the government for its good intentions, its comprehensive framework and its long-sought acknowledgement that homelessness is a provincial responsibility. They politely overlooked the fact that the minister did not raise welfare rates, did not provide a nutrition allowance, did not address the shortage of child care spaces and did not offer rent supplements.

Do these advocates really speak for people living in poverty?

It seems unlikely. Good intentions don’t fill empty stomachs or pay the rent. Families in need don’t care which government does what.

Does easy praise encourage the government to aim low?

That seems highly probable. As long as Matthews can win public plaudits for saying what “stakeholders” want to hear, she needn’t risk bold action. As long as those who claim to represent the poor are onside, she needn’t back up her words with money. - Rank and File documents the Honour Our Deal movement which is looking to preserve the pensions earned by municipal workers in and around Regina. And Brigitte Noel reports on the heinous conditions faced by a temporary foreign worker who has since died on the job.

- Finally, PressProgress duly mocks Gwyn Morgan - not long ago one of the key figures behind one of the world's most corrupt businesses - for complaining that he and his ilk have managed to give corporations a bad name.

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