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On personal protections

lun, 05/04/2015 - 17:52
Where Brad Wall will admit just one "lapse in judgment" in his office's deliberate release of Peter Bowden's personal information for political purposes, I can count several - with a staffer's working for Wall in the first place, following his instructions, and expecting not to be thrown under the bus for Wall's decision looming high on the list.

Fortunately for Wall's staffers, they're apparently being granted far more privacy protection than the whistleblowers they're being paid to attack.

Monday Morning Links

lun, 05/04/2015 - 08:27
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Justin Wolfers discusses new research showing how location has a dramatic effect on the future of young children. And it's particularly striking that the negatives of moving seem to outweigh any positive effects of a surrounding neighbourhood for older children - suggesting that if there's any truth to the theory that poverty is merely a stage on the way to relative wealth for a meaningful number of families, then those families may systemically be in the worst circumstances when it does the most harm.

- Meanwhile, Denis Campbell reports on how austerity has cost lives in the UK. Kelly Crowe writes about user comments on discount drug cards which serve largely to highlight the lack of any consistent prescription drug availability in Canada. And Ryan Meili rightly argues that any talk of improving or revitalizing a neighbourhood needs to involve improving conditions for the people who are there - not driving them out for the benefit of others.

- Sara Mojtehedzadeh starts a series on precarious work in Ontario by contrasting the total commitment expected of part-time employees against the nonexistent prospect of work offered by retail employers. And while Anand Giridharadas reports on one possibility to smooth out incomes for people facing precarious work, the concept of a business extracting a fee for a more predictable income is hardly one we should prefer to an effective social safety net. 

- On that front, Bill Curry discusses new polling showing that Canadians widely support a strengthened Canada Pension Plan.

- Finally, Carol Goar offers a reminder that there's still a long way to go in pursuing gender equality around the globe - and that in fact matters have been getting worse in Canada over the past couple of decades.

Sunday Morning Links

dim, 05/03/2015 - 08:36
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Michael Kraus, Shai Davidai and A. David Nussbaum discuss the myth of social mobility in the U.S. And Nicholas Kristof writes that inequality is a choice rather than an inevitability:
Yet while we broadly lament inequality, we treat it as some natural disaster imposed upon us. That’s absurd. The roots of inequality are complex and, to some extent, reflect global forces, but they also reflect our policy choices.
In his new book, “The Great Divide,” Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, includes two chapters whose titles sum it up: “Inequality Is Not Inevitable” and “Inequality Is a Choice.”
“I overheard one billionaire — who had gotten his start in life by inheriting a fortune — discuss with another the problem of lazy Americans who were trying to free ride on the rest,” Stiglitz writes. “Soon thereafter, they seamlessly transitioned into a discussion of tax shelters.”
Say what?
We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but about free rides by the impoverished.- Sean Illing duly calls out David Brooks' attempt to paint the effects of systemic poverty as personal moral failings. And Jason Silverstein notes that racial health disparities have everything to do with social conditions rather than genetics.

- Anita Burke comments that we should be embarrassed by the pathetic response to the English Bay oil spill and resulting environmental damage. But Stanley Tromp reports that the spill didn't tell the U.S. anything it didn't know, as it's been concerned about the Cons' neglect of the possible effects of marine oil spills for years.

- Meanwhile, Dean Beeby reports that the Sierra Club is just the latest environmental group coming under attack by the CRA.

- Adrian Morrow reports on polling showing that Ontarians want nothing to do with the Wynne Libs' privatization schemes. And rightly not, given how a similar plan to shuffle funding into corporate profits rather than the public interest is harming public transportation safety in Ontario and Saskatchewan alike.

- Finally, Jonathan Goldsbie offers another take on George Lakoff's advice to progressives in framing political messages.

Saturday Morning Links

sam, 05/02/2015 - 09:40
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lynne Fernandez properly labels the Cons' federal budget as the "inequality budget". Andrew Jackson discusses how we've ended up in a new Gilded Age in Canada, and what we can do to extricate ourselves from it. And BC BookLook reviews Andrew MacLeod's new book on inequality by pointing out some of the important facts which seldom seem to surface elsewhere.

- Speaking of which, Andrew Nikiforuk exposes how the Alberta PCs handed the oil industry $13 billion in free money by failing to correct a miscalculation as to how royalties would change with time. (Feel free to insert quotation marks and/or pause for laughter in the general vicinity of the term "miscalculation".)

- And Michael Prince writes that a compassionate care benefit is following the Cons' typical pattern of handing plenty of money to those who need it least, while offering nothing at all for the people doing the most to help others.

- PressProgress highlights how the Cons' past funding for transit has been left unused, meaning that there's no reason to take seriously the promise of new money years down the road in the federal budget. And Jim Stanford duly slams the Cons' auto strategy of handing car makers massive amounts of money to produce vehicles elsewhere.

- Craig Forcese follows up on the problems with C-51 by pointing out that it wrongly sees all Charter rights as being both conditional and subject to destruction at the mere mention of national security. Open Media offers a new and hand primer on the Cons' terror bill. The Globe and Mail notes that the U.S. is moving to make its no-fly list more sensible and fair even as the Cons make ours more draconian. And Andrew Mitrovica explains why "just trust us" isn't sufficient accountability from anybody when it comes to national security powers:
So here’s what we’re getting by way of reassurance. C-51 looks “frightening” but it isn’t really — not when viewed from Fadden’s altitude in the security sphere. The security services will never use the vast new powers being granted by the bill to cross the line on Canadians’ civil liberties because Richard Fadden won’t let them. And besides, CSIS is beholden to the Public Safety minister — and we all know how seriously Steven Blaney takes his job.

What a crock. Ever since its inception in 1984, Conservative and Liberal ministers responsible for the agency have said repeatedly, both in and outside the House of Commons, that they do not and cannot get involved in the day-to-day operations of CSIS. And we’re supposed to believe Blaney, the guy who was making Holocaust comparisons during his own committee appearance on the bill, is going to be the one to break that streak?
...

One of the more disturbing aspects of Fadden’s performance before the committee was how myopic it was. He made pointed reference to terrorist attacks against “Western interests” and Canada’s “allies” in Paris, Madrid and London. He claimed that Canada’s “priorities” in combatting terror only changed after the Americans were attacked on 9/11.

At no point during his testimony did he mention the largest mass murder in Canadian history — the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182. Most of the 329 victims aboard that flight were Canadians; 86 were children. It was a terrorist attack that made the European attacks cited by Fadden seem subtle. So why didn’t he bring it up?

Because it didn’t fit the narrative. The Air India affair was a black eye for Canadian security and law enforcement. CSIS and the RCMP — the agencies Fadden never tires of describing as “second to none” — were so incompetent and preoccupied with turf wars that they failed, despite ample warning, to stop the terrorist attack, even though they had the tools to do so. And the Air India terror plot was engineered and executed in Canada; its intended victims were Canadians who hailed from every province, save P.E.I.
...
Air India was and remains a shining example of security service incompetence at its absolute worst. C-51 wouldn’t have prevented it. So while the bill will most certainly pass, the government’s arguments in its favour stand convicted of their own faulty logic. Unless, however, we’re all willing to just trust the Harper government — and Richard Fadden.

On relative popularity

sam, 05/02/2015 - 08:43
Jim Prentice is warning Albertans that they should vote for him lest they be governed by somebody like Tom Mulcair.

Jim Prentice's approval rating in Alberta is 22%.

Tom Mulcair's approval rating in Alberta is 42%.

Which means, shorter Jim Prentice:
You may think you're getting an exquisitely prepared filet mignon when you vote NDP, but what if you only get a juicy hamburger? Therefore, vote for gruel!

Failures of imagination and arithmetic

sam, 05/02/2015 - 08:04
Colby Cosh's latest includes this explanation as to why he wants to write off the party which holds a strong lead in Alberta's polls:
The province-wide NDP numbers, whichever set you prefer, are conceptually hard to translate into large numbers of seats outside Edmonton. Former Calgary alderman Joe Ceci, running for the NDP, is thought to be strong in his old stomping ground of Calgary-Fort, as is Shannon Phillips in university-influenced Lethbridge West. There is bound to be a third name on this list—a name no one knows yet. Some shrewd, hard-working NDP candidate is knocking on the last door in his riding right now, scarcely suspecting he is about to beat some country-fried PC cabinet minister who got careless.

Alberta New Democrats’ dreams are much wilder than this. They envision a chaotic “wave” election: a butterfly farts in Banff and they unexpectedly quadruple or quintuple their support, as they would need to, in seats outside Edmonton. But unless things have changed very dramatically in places like Cold Lake or Drumheller, the New Democrat ceiling is a couple of dozen seats. That would leave the overall outcome to be decided by 60-plus PC-Wildrose fights in Calgary and the hinterland.Needless to say, this type of analysis is a rather familiar: in 2011, more than a few pollsters and pundits looked at the NDP's commanding lead in Quebec polls, then declared based on past results that the party couldn't hope to win more than five to ten seats in the province. This line of analysis did not prove prescient.

Granted, Cosh allows for the theoretical possibility of a "wave" while simultaneously writing it off. But in so doing, he misses the point that what he considers to be dramatic change is already playing out in the polls.

No, it's not preposterous - nor even unexpected - for a party to quadruple or quintuple its previous support when current polls already show more than that gain. The NDP's 2012 support by region included results ranging from 5% in Calgary and 5-8% in rural Alberta; the most recent polling shows the NDP in the 25-30% and 30-35% range, respectively. So if the right standard is to ask whether the NDP can increase its 2012 vote by five times or more, the answer is that it's already there or further across much of the province.

That said, looking at the NDP's historical vote is probably the wrong way of approaching the question.

It's doubtful that anybody can claim to have a clear, riding-by-riding picture as to how votes will shift. But the regional polls consistently show a tight three-party race in Calgary and "rest of Alberta", including some with the NDP running ahead in those regions.

Which brings us back to the Quebec problem: how can any reasonable observer look at a party which projects to win as many votes as its opponents over a substantial number of seats, and default to a presumption that it will win none of those individual seats (nor indeed contend for any of them)?

I'd argue that absent some coherent explanation as to how a region can be split up into a series of two-way races which render the three-party numbers unreliable, the best assumption has to be that the distribution of seats will be broadly similar to the distribution of votes (subject to distortion by the first-past-the-post system). And even that type of theory can't be based on Cosh's assumption that the NDP will simply be out of the picture over a set of ridings where its vote share is similar to that of the PCs and Wildrose.

That means the fundamentals of the Alberta race boil down to this: the NDP has a significant head start based on its whopping lead in Edmonton, while the rest of the province is a dead heat where any of the three parties could win a large number of seats, but the best baseline assumption is a relatively even split.

Of course, it's theoretically possible that a party could manage to lose dozens of ridings by small margins to two competitors without managing to get over the top in a single one. (In principle, that could even result in the party winning the most votes without taking a seat. Thanks, FPTP!) But surely that outcome should be seen as a remote possibility, not a baseline expectation.

Similarly, a small shift at the end of the campaign could easily change the three-party dynamic in many different directions. But here too, there's no obvious reason to think a shift can only operate in one direction: surely the NDP is at least as likely as its competitors to be the one to nose ahead at the end, particularly since it's been the only party consistently improving its popular perception throughout the campaign.

To be clear, it's entirely possible that Cosh's assumed outcome might come to pass - and that risk will hopefully serve as motivation for NDP activists as the campaign draws to a close. But that doesn't mean there's any reason for Cosh or anybody else to write off the very strong possibility that the NDP can win as matters stand now.

Hegemony or bust

ven, 05/01/2015 - 19:42
Earlier this week, I mused thusly:
And I'm particularly curious as to whether the PCAA will bet heavily on a high-variance strategy, preferring to exhaust every hope of maintaining hegemony over Alberta politics rather than making any substantial effort to rebuild from the opposition benches.Suffice it to say that we have our answer, in the form of the declaration "keep us in power or the children's hospital gets it!" - which might marginally increase the possibility of scaring voters into the PC camp compared to a less hostage-based message, while carrying a far stronger chance of highlighting exactly why Albertans can't stand more of the same.

But it's also worth looking at the bigger picture. If Jim Prentice and company have gone out of their way to ensure that Alberta lacks the public resources to build essential health infrastructure without going begging to the corporate sector, isn't that all the more reason to want a more effective government?

Musical interlude

ven, 05/01/2015 - 18:00
Hooverphonic - Eden

Friday Morning Links

ven, 05/01/2015 - 07:58
Assorted content to end your week.

- Bill McKibben argues that Bernie Sanders' run for the presidency should have massive positive impacts extending far beyond both Sanders' central theme of inequality, and international borders to boot. And Salon interviews Joseph Stiglitz as to how inequality and the economy will affect the 2016 presidential campaign.

- Hannah Giorgis writes that a more fair economic system is a must in order to address historical racial inequities in the U.S.:
To stifle a community slowly, without the decisive replay value of a chokehold, you criminalize poverty while withholding the resources needed to escape it. There are many quiet ways to rob someone of breath.

Across the US, racial and ethnic wealth gaps continue to increase, climbing to record highs even as the economy slowly churns out of a recession. In 2013, the poverty rate among white Americans was 9.6%; among black Americans the number jumped to a whopping 27.2%. The wealth of white American households in 2010 was eight times the median wealth of black households; by 2013 it had risen to 13 times greater.

And that gap grows in no small part because of the intertwining forms of economic discrimination that target black communities – a complex web of racist housing policy that creates intergenerational poverty, education practices that funnel black students into prisons and out of classrooms and an economic climate that offers primarily low-wage jobs in lieu of better-paying work.
...
Addressing economic discrimination is a multi-pronged struggle that affects every arena of black life; our lives are informed by the complex, violent circumstances that shape black oppression. There is no racial justice without economic justice: we can’t breathe if we can’t eat.- Of course, Canada has its own shameful divide which demands immediate action. On that front, Dene Moore reports on the glaring gap between the Cons' international spin and their utter disregard for First Nations at home. But Chinta Puxley's report on the plight of the Shoal Lake First Nation - which has no means of bringing in food or water now that its lone ferry has failed an inspection - offers a stark reminder of how far there is left to go. And the cynical attempts of governments to buy off First Nations on the condition that they'll cheerlead for the tar sands (rather than ensuring sustainable development and sharing of resources) can only make matters worse.

- Meanwhile, Roderick Benns interviews Hugh Segal as to why a basic income makes sense to combat poverty and ensure a fair level of dignity for all regardless of one's ideological leanings.

- Finally, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig notes that younger workers are more supportive of unions than earlier generations, suggesting that opinion may be shifting back in favour of organized labour even as laws are regularly torqued to undermine it. Duncan Cameron addresses the pushback from Canada's public sector unions against the latest round of attacks. And Hugh MacKenzie and Richard Shillington study the importance of unions in ensuring broad prosperity.

New column day

jeu, 04/30/2015 - 16:05
Here, on how the treatment of Peter Bowden's concerns about patient care demonstrate that the Saskatchewan Party can't tell the difference between partisan and public interests.

For further reading...
- The background to the story, including Bowden's comment on understaffing at his Oliver Lodge workplace, was reported on by Clare Clancy here. CBC highlighted the apparent retaliation against Bowden here. And Mike McKinnon reported on the privacy breach involved in the release of details of Bowden's suspension here.
- And Murray Mandryk has already weighed in on the privacy concerns here and here. (Though I'll note that the Saskatchewan Party did theoretically set up a Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner and associated legislation - with the only problem being that it's done absolutely nothing to facilitate a single instance of whistleblowing.)

Thursday Morning Links

jeu, 04/30/2015 - 07:14
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Robert Reich offers a long-form look at the relationship between inequality and policies designed to extract riches for the wealthy at everybody else's expense:
The underlying problem, then, is not that most Americans are “worth” less in the market than they had been, or that they have been living beyond their means. Nor is it that they lack enough education to be sufficiently productive. The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it, while average workers have steadily lost bargaining power—both economic and political—to receive as large a portion of the economy’s gains as they commanded in the first three decades after World War II. As a result, their means have not kept up with what the economy could otherwise provide them. To attribute this to the impersonal workings of the “free market” is to disregard the power of large corporations and the financial sector, which have received a steadily larger share of economic gains as a result of that power. As their gains have continued to accumulate, so has their power to accumulate even more.
...
The answer to this conundrum is not found in economics. It is found in politics. The changes in the organization of the economy have been reinforcing and cumulative: As more of the nation’s income flows to large corporations and Wall Street and to those whose earnings and wealth derive directly from them, the greater is their political influence over the rules of the market, which in turn enlarges their share of total income. The more dependent politicians become on their financial favors, the greater is the willingness of such politicians and their appointees to reorganize the market to the benefit of these moneyed interests. The weaker unions and other traditional sources of countervailing power become economically, the less able they are to exert political influence over the rules of the market, which causes the playing field to tilt even further against average workers and the poor.

Ultimately, the trend toward widening inequality in America, as elsewhere, can be reversed only if the vast majority, whose incomes have stagnated and whose wealth has failed to increase, join together to demand fundamental change. The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress. - Meanwhile, Katrina vanden Heuvel worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership only stands to further entrench corporate domination over democratic politics. David Dayen observes that the Obama administration's arguments for the TPP are entirely recycled from broken promises surrounding NAFTA. And Dave Johnson observes that unenforceable token mentions of labour and environmental issues can't come close to making it worth handing further power to business.

- Julia Smith notes that the Cons have utterly abandoned any principles in their foreign policy as they chase profits through arms sales and human rights abuses.

- Don Curren writes that economists think Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz is being too optimistic in presuming Canada's economy will improve in the absence of any evidence. Which naturally means the Cons are spending every available opportunity trying to badger Poloz into declaring that all is rainbows and ice cream.

- Finally, Chris Hannay interviews Joseph Heath about the messaging challenge facing Canadian progressives. And Geoff Dembicki reports that there's plenty of work to be done in rallying young voters behind the best possible alternative.

Wednesday Morning Links

mer, 04/29/2015 - 10:17
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Louis-Philippe Rochon reviews the Cons' track record as irresponsible economic and financial managers. Statistics Canada looks at the debt picture facing Canadians and finds young workers and families in particular fighting against increasing debt loads. And Forum finds that no matter how many hangers-on trumpet the theme of budget management, Canadians aren't at all impressed by the Cons' choice to funnel wealth upward and leave everybody else to fend for themselves.

- Meanwhile, John Ivison writes that the Cons aren't even trying to pretend that their tax baubles serve any public policy purpose by bothering to follow up on their impact - though I'm sure they'd be able to provide polling numbers which would explain why public resources are being diverted from where they're more needed.

- Paul Krugman discusses how blind belief in the virtues of austerity in the guise of responsibility - particularly among elites who consider themselves above the expressed interests of the public - has led countries including the U.K. (and presumably Canada as well) to accept policies which are doing nothing but harming our economies. And Erin Seatter notes that the rest of Canada is well behind Quebec in demanding better from our elected representatives.

- Canadians for Tax Fairness highlights how the Cons have made pound-foolish cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency, preventing it from collecting far more money than it would cost to enforce tax laws. And Ian Hussey responds to some ill-founded spin about the effects of more fair corporate taxes in Alberta.

- Finally, Colleen Fuller discusses the hard right's legal attacks against public health care. And Rosa Marchitelli reports on a new wave of gratuitous bank fees as an example of how businesses exploit individuals in the course of providing essential services.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

mar, 04/28/2015 - 17:35
Cats with toys.




Tuesday Morning Links

mar, 04/28/2015 - 07:24
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Peter Ladner discusses why our tax and fiscal policies should be designed to reduce inequality - rather than exacerbating it as the Cons are determined to do:
Right now, the richest 20% of Canadian families hold almost 70% of the country’s wealth. The bottom 20% are in a debt position. A CCPA study found that Canada’s wealthiest 86 people have the same net worth as the poorest 34%.
Those of us with capital are adding these new breaks to existing tax breaks for capital gains, taxed at about half the rate of income; an $800,000 lifetime capital gains exemption for business owners; trusts that allow capital gains exemptions to be spread among family members; and a capital gains exemption on windfall real estate gains from a primary residence.
Lest we forget, to quote the U.K. Equality Trust: “In more equal societies people live longer, are less likely to be mentally ill or obese and there are lower rates of infant mortality. Inequality increases property crime and violence. Unequal societies have less social mobility and lower educational scores. 
High levels of income inequality are linked to economic instability, financial crisis, debt and inflation.”
A March 2015 U.K. Office for National Statistics report said “what makes the most difference to personal well-being is the level of an individual’s income relative to those around them.” In other words, less spread between the richest and poorest.
Why aren’t we designing tax policies to close the wealth gap, not widen it?- But Ian Welsh offers what's surely part of the answer, as some subsets of the wealthy are particularly motivated to drive down the income of the society around them no matter what harm it causes to everybody concerned.  And a needless extension of monopoly control over copyrighted materials and the negotiation of corporate-friendly deals to the exclusion of the public surely serve as prime examples - while symbolic votes against executive pay at the firm level won't do much to help.

- Meanwhile, Terrell Jermaine Starr identifies just a few of the ways in which the U.S. has criminalized poverty.

- Finally, both the Senate and the Cons are doing everything in their power to make sure Canadians don't find out how Mike Duffy fits into wider problems of systemic abuse and oil-sponsored corporatism. But fortunately, Alison is tracking down what they want to keep hidden.

Swing batta swing

mar, 04/28/2015 - 07:12
Needless to say, the range of potential outcomes in the Alberta election (along with the continued flow of news battering the Prentice PCs as they try to regain some type of footing) has made for a fascinating campaign. But it's worth pointing out that single polls and seat projections may miss important parts of the picture - meaning that the actual state of the race is far less certain than it might appear at first glance.

Take for example this important explanation of Election Almanac's methodology:
Election Almanac uses a proportional swing model for its projections based on the latest election poll results. For example, if a poll gives a party a greater (multiplied by a factor greater than 1) share of the vote than they received in the last election, the projector assumes the party’s vote has gone up by the same proportion in every seat. Conversely, if a poll gives a party a smaller (multiplied by a factor less than 1) share of the vote than they received in the last election, the projector assumes the party’s vote has gone down by the same proportion in every seat. No projection model is 100% accurate. Now, a presumption that all seats will see identical swings between parties might make for a useful initial assumption. But the last Alberta election was based on a radically different set of party strategies and goals.

In 2012, the Redford PCs veered left in order to paint themselves as a relatively moderate alternative to a perceived Wildrose government-in-waiting - so most of the province's seats were decided by the allocation of a two-way split among 78% of Alberta voters. Meanwhile, the NDP's primary focus was on holding onto beachheads rather than expanding its support throughout the province.

Today, we can say with some certainty that the situation has changed. Rather than fighting primarily in the few most friendly Edmonton ridings, the NDP is looking to sweep the city, while the PCs are turning to the right and chasing a larger share of right-wing voters to try to stop the orange wave. And the rest of the campaign will determine which seats actually are the swing ridings - with surprises likely to pop up along the way.

For all the news in the headline poll numbers, though, there's relatively little means for the public to figure out exactly how those will translate into seats. And that goes doubly in a three-way race where (for example) ThreeHundredEight's seat projection sees the PCs' seat count potentially ranging from 5 to 31 based on a swing of under four points in popular support.

In theory, it might be possible to try to use more sophisticated means to generate seat projections - for example, by also comparing regional and seat-based polling to the 2011 results to test the assumption of a uniform swing. But increased complexity is no guarantee of greater accuracy, especially when subtle shifts (particular in the last-minute choices of undecided voters) can swamp the effect of any further adjustment.

Meanwhile, it's also worth keeping on eye on the parties' plans, since they'll likely have the best information as to which seats are close. But the parties themselves face a range of goals which may include maximizing votes, maximizing seat totals, and maximizing the possibility of a plurality or majority government. And I'm particularly curious as to whether the PCAA will bet heavily on a high-variance strategy, preferring to exhaust every hope of maintaining hegemony over Alberta politics rather than making any substantial effort to rebuild from the opposition benches.

To summarize, we should be hesitant to draw overly precise conclusions from the poll results generated so far: while it seems safe to say the order in party support is currently NDP 1, Wildrose 2 and PC 3, the noise far outweighs the signal when it comes to projecting the seats which will ultimately determine who forms government. And so no party should be resting on its laurels as the campaign draws to a close.

Monday Morning Links

lun, 04/27/2015 - 06:04
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Barrie McKenna takes a look at how the Cons are pushing serious liabilities onto future generations in order to hand out short-term tax baubles within a supposedly-balanced budget, while Jennifer Robson highlights the complete lack of policy merit behind those giveaways. And Ian McGugan writes that even as they're trumpeted as attempts to improve saving none of the Cons' plans have anything to do with actually improving retirement security, especially for the people who need it most:
Our reliance on private savings to fund our retirements makes Canada an outlier among developed countries. Public transfers – programs such as Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security – account for less than 39 per cent of seniors’ incomes compared to 59 per cent on average among OECD members.

Women are most at risk, especially if they are divorced or separated. “Higher poverty among older women reflects lower wages, more part-time work and career gaps during women’s working lives, as well as the effect of longer female life expectancy,” the OECD notes.

These are problems that Ottawa should be addressing, but isn’t. Instead, it’s bending its efforts to ensuring that those who already have substantial retirement nest eggs can live even better.
...
To make matters worse, the TFSA system narrows the tax base. As wealth builds up in those tax-sheltered accounts over the years to come, Ottawa will have to push more of the tax burden on to the remainder of the population – in effect, shifting the load from affluent, older Canadians onto younger, poorer Canadians.

There are ways to fix the problem while still maintaining all the good parts of the TFSA program. Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, recommends instituting a lifetime cap of $150,000 on contributions to TFSAs, as well as a lifetime tax-exempt limit of $450,000 on each TFSA holder. That would allow typical Canadians to amass a substantial nest egg without subsidizing million-dollar-plus portfolios for the affluent.- Zach Carter reports that at least some U.S. Democrats are rightly challenging the position that free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership should be drafted entirely by corporate interests without any public accountability, then accepted without question. And Paul Krugman responds to the trade-at-all-costs crowd by pointing out that there's little reason to think the TPP will do much to encourage trade in general - as opposed to locking in monopolies - in the first place.

- Jim Coyle reports on George Lakoff's advice for progressives in framing our vision for Canada. And Susan Delacourt observes that there may be a natural disincentive for parties to try out new or different messages even if they otherwise wanted to.

- But lest anybody presume that political courage will never be rewarded, Ryan Donnelly comments on Tom Mulcair's opposition to the Cons' terror bill - which was once seen as a political risk, but has proven to be a boon instead.

- Finally, Michael Harris points out that Mike Duffy's trial may represent the only opportunity to seek honest answers from Stephen Harper about his appointment of ineligible senators.

Sunday Morning Links

dim, 04/26/2015 - 08:50
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Arjumand Siddiqi and Faraz Vahid Shahidi remind us how inequality and poverty are bad for everybody's health:
In Toronto, as elsewhere, the social determinants of health have suffered significant decline. As the report makes clear, the poorest among our city’s residents have borne the greatest portion of this burden.

These trends have affected the health of the poor in countless ways. They have constrained access to quality health care. They have increased susceptibility to harmful health-related behaviours, such as smoking. They have compromised the adequacy and stability of housing conditions. They have restricted access to nutritious foods. They have heightened exposures to daily experiences of stress and adversity that get under our skin and harm not only our minds but our bodies as well. In fact, what research has shown is that economic conditions underlie almost every pathway leading to almost every health outcome.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, despite a decade of public programs intended to promote health equity, the health status of the poorest Torontonians hasn’t improved. Given what we know about the social determinants of health, the persistence of health inequalities was entirely predictable.

At the heart of the issue are two important insights provided by our best available science. First, public health programs that are designed to encourage people to alter their lifestyles and behaviours simply do not address the myriad other associations between economic position and health status. Attempts to address any one problem do little to fundamentally interrupt the overall correlation. Second, because public health programs do not address the “causes of the causes,” they are incapable of stemming the tide of new individuals that develop poor health-related behaviours. No sooner has one cohort been exposed to a health promotion program than another cohort is ready and waiting. - But Dennis Gruending points out that the Cons' budget conspicuously avoids even mentioning poverty, let alone doing anything at all to reduce it. And Michal Rozworski notes that the Cons are merely continuing a pattern of destructive austerity.

- Meanwhile, Juliette Garside reports on the increase in wealth inequality in the UK. And Suzanne Daley points out that income-based fines and penalties can serve both to ensure that punishments are more fair, and that the enforcement of regulatory law slightly helps inequality generally.

- Andrew Mitrovica tells Benamar Benatta's story as a painful example of how individuals can get caught up in a Kafkaesque terror trap even absent the blanket secret police provisions the Cons want to impose through C-51. And APTN's report on two deaths in Winnipeg offers another example of law enforcement running amok, in this case be seizing media cameras without a warrant.

- Finally, Jesse Myerson offers some suggestions as to how to respond to public protests.

What you know in the PMO

sam, 04/25/2015 - 08:29
Obviously, the revelation that Mike Duffy saw his job in the Senate as including a role as a publicly-funded lobbyist for the climate denial movement raises a whole new set of questions about the Cons' misuse of public resources. And if, say Enbridge is being at all honest in its own public spin, Stephen Harper was well aware of what was going on:
Duffy's conversations with Enbridge officials [between January and June 2012] aren't listed in the company's lobbying registrations. However, in an email to CBC News, Enbridge's vice-president of enterprise communications called those conversations "unsolicited."

"Senator Duffy made a number of unsolicited contacts to Enbridge representatives offering advice regarding Northern Gateway, as well as to recommend that Enbridge consider hiring his communications colleague, Bill Rodgers. I personally interviewed Mr. Rodgers but elected not to retain him," D'Arcy Levesque said through a spokesman.

"At no time did Enbridge solicit Senator Duffy's help to lobby the federal government. In the interest of clarity, we also took the extra step to notify the Prime Minister's Office at the time, that Senator Duffy did not represent Enbridge or our interests."That, of course, would be the same Prime Minister's Office which continued to defend Duffy at every turn for a year and a half afterward. So it's well worth asking what it did - and didn't do - to follow up if it had been warned far earlier that Duffy was misusing his position.

From beyond the grave

sam, 04/25/2015 - 07:33
Andrew Coyne wants to pretend we shouldn't worry what legislation gets passed by the Harper Cons on the theory that there's absolutely nothing stopping a future elected government from reversing course.

Which means it's a good thing there's no antiquated, undemocratic chamber of Parliament where regardless of the results of any federal election, a Conservative majority will continue to hold the power to unilaterally negate the decisions of elected representatives.

Oh, wait.

Musical interlude

ven, 04/24/2015 - 17:51
Little May - Boardwalks (Sonny Alven Remix)

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