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Musical interlude

ven, 07/31/2015 - 18:03
Foals - What Went Down

Friday Morning Links

ven, 07/31/2015 - 05:40
Assorted content to end your week.

- Shannon Gormley points out how the Cons' actions to strip voting rights from Canadians abroad sticks out like a sore thumb compared to an international trend of recognizing that citizenship doesn't end merely because a person crosses a border. And Peter Russell and Semra Sevi lament that it's too late to reverse the damage before this fall's federal election, while the Star makes the broader point that we should be encouraging rather than limiting voter participation.

- Andrew Nikiforuk exposes how the U.S.'s green light to fracking has led to far more dangerous "shallow fracking" than anticipated - though it shouldn't come as much surprise that a poorly-regulated industry would engage in more risky practices than it would if public safety was properly taken into account.

- Ben Makuch reports that Stephen Harper is spending hundreds of millions of dollars for its own Star Wars program even as he denounces any suggestion of using public money to actually help people.

- Meanwhile, Jo Snyder makes the case for pharmacare as a means of reducing inequality. And Don Cayo notes that it's equally viable as a matter of economic policy.

- Finally, the Star argues that the Cons' economic spin consists of nothing but smoke and mirrors, while L. Ian McDonald sees it as more of a matter of theatre. And the CP reports on yet another month of economic decline on Stephen Harper's watch.

On institutional improvements

ven, 07/31/2015 - 05:35
Shorter Carol Goar:
When it comes to Canada Post, the only options are cuts, sell-offs or more cuts. Because who could possibly want better service which also increases public revenue?

New column day

jeu, 07/30/2015 - 06:48
Here, reminding us that it's our communities who ultimately pay the price for the poorly-thought-out election announcements from senior levels of government that we've seen so frequently recently.

For further reading...
- CTV reported on last week's Evraz Place expansion announcement, while the Leader-Post offered an all-too-obvious example of cheerleading for a shiny new project while paying no attention to the opportunity costs involved.
- Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Party's regular announcements and re-announcements of what proved to be an ill-thought-out scheme for new school construction have lasted from last July to last November to just last month.
- And finally, CBC reported on City Council's hasty revision to the plan foisted on it by the province, while Shawn Fraser offered his take on the school debacle.

Thursday Morning Links

jeu, 07/30/2015 - 05:56
This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Alan Freeman discusses the need for an adult conversation about taxes to replace the Cons' oft-repeated policy of ignorance:
Focusing on low taxes is great politics. It’s also a really dumb way to run the economy of an advanced industrialized country. Getting taxes right is a complex balance. Raise them too high — particularly taxes on income — and you risk creating disincentives for productive work, which can make your economy uncompetitive. Set them too low and you threaten the social programs and public goods that are fundamental to our values as a society — things like universal Medicare, safe highways and a sound education system.

In the U.S., where the low-tax gospel has become ingrained in the political system, the damage is there for all to see. The inability to raise the federal gasoline tax — it’s been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993 — has exaggerated the country’s infrastructure deficit by impoverishing the road system and mass transit services while discouraging energy conservation. At the same time, budget shortfalls at the state level have resulted in large tuition increases at state universities, leading to high student debt and contributing to America’s sorry record on social mobility.

So far, the Harper Conservatives seem to be delivering low taxes while still providing most of the government services and entitlements that we all value. But that’s largely because the federal government doesn’t deliver the really expensive programs — like health care — and has washed its hands of a long-term role in designing their future by unilaterally setting a funding formula that will keep its transfers under strict control, no matter how much it actually costs the provinces to deliver the services.

The upshot is that Ottawa is in fine fiscal fettle going forward, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which last week reported that Ottawa’s outlook is so rosy that it can afford to increase spending or cut taxes significantly over the coming decades. The provinces and municipalities, on the other hand, won’t have enough money because of the impact of an aging population on health-care costs. A solution would be to increase federal transfers for health or shift tax room to the provinces, says the PBO. But such is the allergy to taxes (look what happened to Vancouver’s proposed regional transit tax) that politicians everywhere are reluctant to move in that direction.- Jim Stanford and Jordan Brennan take a thorough look (PDF) at the Cons' economic record, leading to the conclusion that tax baubles, indiscriminate trade deals and feckless management have led to by far the worst economic performance of any Canadian government since World War II. And Scott Sinclair and Stuart Trew note that the Cons' impending giveaways in order to get the TPP signed will only make matters worse.

- Paul Buchhelt highlights how corporations are cheating the public education system in the U.S. And Hazel Sheffield reports on Wall Street's lobbying for Puerto Rico to shut down its schools in the interest of putting creditors ahead of people.

- The CP reports that privatized power has gone awry in Alberta, as a major provider has been found to have deliberately triggered power outages at peak times in order to drive up prices.

- Jordon Cooper writes about Saskatoon's new status as the city with the highest crime rate in Canada, and points out that any improvement will require some sorely-needed leadership in dealing with poverty and exclusion. And Jesse Bauman notes that a more fair minimum wage improves living conditions for everybody, not just the workers who see their wages directly increased.

- Finally, Bryan Palmer makes the point that today's policy issues surrounding precarious work are just the latest incarnation of the dispossession which has regularly faced vulnerable workers.


jeu, 07/30/2015 - 05:49
Elizabeth May tells us that her idea of a grassroots movement is a finely manicured lawn carefully maintained to suit the aesthetic preferences of its owners:
May said she didn’t want to thwart local efforts towards co-operation with other parties, but that she thinks she, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair should be the ones to discuss how grassroots co-operation should work.To be clear, there were plenty of problems with the Kelowna red-green pact which May seems to have nixed: it didn't make a lick of sense in terms of either reciprocity (since the Liberals were offering nothing in return for a Green candidate's withdrawal) or anticipated outcomes (since the NDP is in a far better position than the Libs to challenge the Cons in the seat). And so it's entirely justifiable that the deal itself would come under scrutiny.

But it's one thing for May to highlight where a specific arrangement has gone awry, and quite another for her to say generally that the plebes should be quiet until party leaders have decided how their activity should be channelled. And if anybody harboured any illusions that the Greens saw their own grassroots activists as significant political agents rather than easily-controlled minions, May seems to have decisively shattered them.

Wednesday Morning Links

mer, 07/29/2015 - 05:09
Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Tavia Grant is the latest to note that the potential for driverless vehicles necessitates some consideration as to how to account for people who currently rely on driving jobs. And Vivek Wadhwa makes the case for a new form of capitalism which isn't designed to leave people behind:
Countries such as India and Peru and all of Africa will see the same benefits — for at least two or three decades, until the infrastructure has been built and necessities of the populations have been met.

Then there will not be enough work even there to employ the masses.

Slim’s solution to this is to institute a three-day workweek so that everyone can find employment and earn the money necessary for leisure and entertainment. This is not a bad idea. In the future we are heading into, the cost of basic necessities, energy, and even luxury goods such as electronics will fall low enough to seem almost free — just as cell-phone minutes and information cost practically nothing now. It is a matter of sharing the few jobs that will exist in an equitable way.

The concept of a universal basic income is also gaining popularity worldwide as it becomes increasingly apparent that declining costs and the elimination of bureaucracies, make it possible for governments to provide citizens with income enough for the basic necessities. The idea is to give everyone a stipend covering living costs and to get government out of the business of selecting what social benefits people should have. The advantage of this approach is that workers gain the freedom to decide how much to work and under what conditions. Enabling individual initiative in the work that people pursue, in fields ranging from philosophy and the arts to pure science and invention, will result in their enrichment of their cultures in ways we can’t foresee.- Meanwhile, Jordan Weismann slams the right's attempt to invent a "success sequence" which conveniently leaves out the economic security necessary for people to be able to plan out their lives.

- Paul Krugman discusses how the past cost-based justification for slashing social programs has been thoroughly undermined in the U.S. - though of course the memo has been conspicuously shredded by Republican presidential candidates. And Arkadi Gerney, Anna Chu and Brendan Duke highlight how the U.S.' middle class is increasingly getting squeezed out.

- Laurent Bastien Corbeil reports on the RCMP's use of deceptive social media accounts to infiltrate and monitor activists, while Clare Wahlen reports on revelations that CSIS operates dozens more foreign stations that previous acknowledged. And Stephen Castle discusses how the UK's absurd secrecy surrounding security issues has resulted in the media being unable to report anything about the trial of an individual who's since been acquitted.

- Finally, Gerald Caplan writes that the ballot question this fall should centre on Stephen Harper's abuse of the trust of Canadian voters.

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

mar, 07/28/2015 - 18:15
Compartmentalized cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

mar, 07/28/2015 - 06:31
This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz discusses how Greece has been turned into a sacrificial lamb at the altar of austerian economics:
Austerity is largely to blame for Greece’s current depression — a decline of gross domestic product of 25 percent since 2008, an unemployment rate of 25 percent and a youth unemployment rate twice that. But this new program ratchets the pressure up still further: a target of 3.5 percent primary budget surplus by 2018 (up from around 1 percent this year). Now, if the targets are not met, as they almost surely won’t be because of the design of the program itself, additional doses of austerity become automatic. It’s a built-in destabilizer. The high unemployment rate will drive down wages, but the troika does not seem satisfied by the pace of the lowering of Greeks’ standard of living. The third memorandum also demands the “modernization” of collective bargaining, which means weakening unions by replacing industry-level bargaining.
None of this makes sense even from the perspective of the creditors. It’s like a 19th-century debtors’ prison. Just as imprisoned debtors could not make the income to repay, the deepening depression in Greece will make it less and less able to repay....(W)e understand that this is not just an academic debate between the left and the right. Some on the right focus on the political battle: the harsh conditions imposed on the left-wing Syriza government should be a warning to any in Europe about what might happen to them should they push back. Some focus on the economic battle: the opportunity to impose on Greece an economic framework that could not have been adopted any other way.
I believe strongly that the policies being imposed will not work, that they will result in depression without end, unacceptable levels of unemployment and ever growing inequality. But I also believe strongly in democratic processes — that the way to achieve whatever framework one thinks is good for the economy is through persuasion, not compulsion. The force of ideas is so much against what is being inflicted on and demanded of Greece. Austerity is contractionary; inclusive capitalism — the antithesis of what the troika is creating — is the only way to create shared and sustainable prosperity.- Pedro Antunes writes that rather than giving in to the siren song of austerity, Alberta should be taking advantage of an economic downturn to build needed infrastructure when it's more affordable. And Michal Rozworski comments on the need for far more pushback against austerity politics at the federal level.

- Tula Connell follows up on the IMF's findings that unions play an essential role in fighting inequality. And Lydia DePillis discusses the success of the U.S.' labour movement in making the minimum wage into a winning issue - though Jennifer Medina reminds us that better laws ultimately only help to the extent they're obeyed and enforced.

- Roderick Benns interviews Maggie Olscamp about the difference a basic income could have made in her life.

- Finally, Frances Ryan observes that France is outlawing discrimination on the basis of poverty, and asks why that step hasn't been taken elsewhere.

On know-nothings

lun, 07/27/2015 - 16:31
Shorter Lisa Raitt:
Now that I think about it, somebody should probably be responsible for regulating vehicle safety. (aide whispers in ear) Wait, that's me? Why is this the first I've heard of it?

Monday Morning Links

lun, 07/27/2015 - 06:51
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Peter Schroeder reports on a galling lobbying effort to keep the U.S.' government paying free money to banks. And Jeremy Smith discusses how corporate groups have pushed to treat any form of public-interest regulation or fair taxation as an imposition on financial-sector profiteering:
Mr Das outflanks even Ms Reinhart in the scope of what he includes (as it appears) within the scope of "financial repression".  It also covers – according to his article – higher taxes, co-paying for government services, cuts in benefits, raising pensionable retirement dates, currency devaluations, as well as maintaining low and negative interest rates, and new liquidity requirements for banks.  What he fails to mention (yet this is surely more “repressive” than low interest rates) is the fact that real wages in the UK were “repressed” by about 8% from 2009 to 2013.

At the end of the day Mr Das’s argument is no more than the classic bond-holder’s self-serving contention down the ages: that creditors - and sovereign bond-holders above all - always and everywhere must have their real rate of return protected and enforced...
What the “financial repression” proponents always ignore is that there was one period in western societies when the finance sector was well-managed, in line with Keynes’s policies for cheap money, with interest rates at low levels across the range of maturities. This was the period from 1945 to the early 1970s – and in some respects starting earlier, with the New Deal in America.  In his response to a paper published by the Bank of International Settlements on financial repression by Carmen Reinhart and  Maria Belen Sbrancia, "The Liquidation of Government Debt” (2011), Professor Alan Taylor commented:

We must be wary of confusing financial repression (which sounds like a terrible thing) with financial regulation (which sounds a good deal more wholesome).  In the context of current debate on how better to regulate the financial sector after the recent debacle, it is entirely understandable that the authorities have decided that banks and other entities were given far too much leeway to pursue activities that were not only self-destructive, but also destructive of the wider economy…
Whether we call it financial repression, lack of competition, tough regulation, the fact remains that the 1945 to 1975 era was a glorious period of economic growth in the advanced countries, as well as in many emerging economies.  It was a time of rapid economic growth with the allocation and mobilization of large amounts of capital, generalized macroeconomic and financial stability, sustained real wage growth and low unemployment…
In marked contrast, the subsequent thirty-some year period from 1975 to the present has been one of financial liberalization, but at the same time has seen a pronounced slowdown in growth and capital accumulation, more financial crises, real wage stagnation, and elevated unemployment.- Meanwhile, Aimee Groth points out that entrepreneurship - so often pitched as a means of encouraging social mobility - actually arises out of privilege since the only people with the ability to take risks are those with alternate means of support. The Huffington Post comments on the "glass floor" which ensures that the children of privilege never lose their advantages. And Miles Corak outlines some steps we should be taking to build an inclusive economy.

- Marie-Danielle Smith follows up on the UN Human Rights Committee's review of Canada by pointing out that the Cons seem to be the only people in the country who don't see both room for improvement, and an urgent need to achieve it.

- Finally, Drew Nelles writes that if the Cons' Mother Canada proposal is an abomination, it also reflects far too well the culture of corporatism and self-worship that represents their most obvious contribution to Canada. Which means it's no wonder that (as Charles Mandel reports) the project's proponents are cancelling public meetings which might result in people actually thinking about what it means. 

Sunday Morning Links

dim, 07/26/2015 - 08:16
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Greg Keenan exposes how corporations are demanding perpetually more from municipalities while refusing to contribute their fair share of taxes to fund the services needed by any community. And Sean McElwee points out how big-money donations are translating into a warped U.S. political system:
Available data reveals that donors not only have disproportionate influence over politics, but that influence is wielded largely to keep issues that would benefit the working and middle classes off of the table.

Do donors really rule the world? Recent research suggests that indeed they do. Three political scientists recently discovered that a 1 percent increase in donor support for a policy leads to a 1 percent increase in the probability the president supports the policy, if the president and donor are in the same party. On the other hand, they find no similar effect from general public opinion on presidential policies. In another study, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes find, “the roll call voting of members of Congress may be more strongly associated with the views of their donors (including outside donors) than with those of their voting constituents.”
The solution to big money is two-fold. First, we need mass voter participation. The path is simple: Eliminate unnecessary barriers to voting, shift the burden of registration off of people and onto the government and expand nonpartisan mobilization efforts. But that won’t be enough as long as donors rule democracy. So we should broaden the donor pool with a vibrant public financing system. Evidence from New York suggests that a donor-matching system could increase the diversity of the donor pool, further bolstering democracy. Demos has profiled a number of candidates that fight for working class and non-white Americans but were massively out-raised by their opponents, and showed how small donor democracy would boost their chances of winning. Candidate Eric Adams, when commenting on the New York public matching system noted that, “a large number of people who contribute to my campaign have never contributed to a campaign before.” A world in which big donors are less powerful is a world where average Americans have more of a say in politics.- Ole Hendrickson writes about the absurdity of austerity as a philosophical foundation for public policy. And Bruce Johnstone notes that the Cons' austerian economic plan is failing by all standards - including the Cons' own arbitrary measures of fiscal management. 

- Shawn Fraser discusses Regina's first count of its homeless residents, while summarizing a few of the policies needed to ensure that they can find the housing they need. And Justin Miller offers an abominable example of how social support systems are set up to punish the poor, as a Michigan mother was cut off welfare due to her daughter's brain cancer which kept her out of school.

- Natasha Geiling reports on the continued effect of Enbridge's Kalamazoo River spill five years after the fact. And Andrew Nikiforuk comments that British Columbia (like so many other places) is seeing a dramatic increase in earthquake activity as a result of fracking.

- Frances Woolley highlights how the "sharing" economy may only serve to perpetuate prejudice and inequality.

- Finally, Alison presents the Harper Cons' new advisory system for fearmongering about terrorism.

On final excuses

sam, 07/25/2015 - 15:19
I'll offer one more post arising out of the flurry of discussion about the Senate - and particularly the timing of an announcement which would seem to have been equally easily made during the campaign if it was intended solely for platform purposes.

Let's remember that the last time Stephen Harper broke his promise not to appoint unelected Senators (give or take a Michael Fortier), his rationale had nothing at all to do with the passage of legislation. Instead, it arose in response to the prospect of a coalition government winning power - and Harper's explanation was that if any party was going to appoint cronies and bagmen to publicly-funded sinecures, it would be his own.

In that respect, Campbell Clark's discussion of the difference between Harper's new announcement and the position the federal government has taken in Aniz Alani's lawsuit seeking to require the appointment of Senators might be of particular interest:
In that case at the Federal Court, the government has been filing materials to back up an argument that Mr. Harper is delaying appointments, not refusing them. They include an affidavit from McGill political science professor Christopher Manfredi, who declared that there’s no constitutional convention that dictates how much time PMs have to appoint senators, and they can take their time. But refusing to appoint senators?
“Certainly, at some stage, senators have to be appointed,” Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington wrote in May, when he rejected the government’s motion to dismiss Mr. Alani’s case. He noted that if there were less than 15 senators, the required number for quorum in the chamber, Parliament could not function. (Mr. Alani argues the Constitution requires Mr. Harper to appoint senators, and refusing to do so defeats constitutional provisions guaranteeing levels of representation to provinces.)
He also wrote this: “I know of no law which provides that one may not do what one is otherwise obliged to do simply because it would be embarrassing.”
But government lawyers told the court, in a letter dated June 15, that there was never any decision made by the Prime Minister to leave Senate seats vacant. The letter was sent as part of the court process: Mr. Alani had asked for copies of all the materials the PM used to make the decision to leave Senate seats vacant, and government lawyer Jan Brongers replied that there were no materials, because there was no such decision.Harper's new announcement surely changes the factual landscape underlying Alani's application. And it's worth wondering whether Harper's plan might open the door to his being provided with an excuse to make appointments in advance of the election.

To be clear, it's questionable whether a decision in the first instance could be made by October even if both parties did everything in their power to speed the process along - particularly since at last notice, the Government was appealing the denial of its own motion to strike Alani's application. And any appeals on the merits would carry on well past election day if either side chose to pursue them.

But if Harper were looking for a declaration that he should serve up one more set of Con patronage appointments before the election (and a trial court decision could well be excuse enough for political purposes), yesterday's announcement would seem to set the wheels in motion toward having a court offer exactly that. And it will be worth watching whether the government's attitude toward the legal proceedings changes in combination with that choice.

Update: Stephanie Levitz offers the Cons' explanation for the timing. But it's worth noting that it contains at least as much spin as substance given the implausibility that the existence and functioning of a chamber of the federal Parliament can be labeled with a straight face to "really (rest) with the provinces".

Saturday Morning Links

sam, 07/25/2015 - 08:53
Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Murray Dobbin writes that Canadians should indeed see the federal election as a choice between security and risk - with the Cons' failing economic policies representing a risk we can't afford to keep taking:
(N)ot only is Harper vulnerable on his own limited anti-terror grounds, he is extremely vulnerable when it comes to the kind of security that actually affects millions of Canadians. When it comes to economic and social security, the vast majority of Canadians haven't been this insecure since the Great Depression.

It's not as if we don't know the numbers -- 60 per cent of Canadians just two weeks away from financial crisis if they lose their job; record high personal indebtedness; real wages virtually flat for the past 25 years; a terrible work-life balance situation for most working people (and getting worse); labour standard protections that now exist only on paper; the second highest percentage of low-paying jobs in the OECD; young people forced into working for nothing on phony apprenticeships; levels of economic (both income and wealth) inequality not seen since 1928. Throw in the diminishing "social wage" (Medicare, education, home care, child care, etc.) and the situation is truly grim.
Most of these insecurity statistics are rooted either directly or indirectly in 25 years of deliberate government policy designed by and for corporations. Governments have gradually jettisoned their responsibility for economic security, slowly but surely handing this critical feature of every Canadian's life over to the "market" for determination. Economic policy has been surgically excised from government responsibility to citizens and is now in the singular category of "facilitating investment" -- a euphemism for clearing the way for corporations to engage in whatever activity enhances their bottom line.

From corporate rights agreements (which constitutionalize corporate power) to the decades old "independence" of the Bank of Canada (independent of democracy); from irresponsibly low corporate income tax rates to punitively low social assistance; from Employment Insurance that only 30 per cent ever qualify for to taxes grossly skewed in favour of the wealthy and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that has bestowed citizenship status on the most powerful and ruthless economic entities on the planet, Canadian governments have abandoned their citizens to the vagaries of an increasingly unregulated capitalism. This is not even a complete list, but it demonstrates just how corporate globalization and its promoters like Stephen Harper have created the greatest insecurity for Canadians virtually in living memory. - And Lana Payne highlights the absurdity of the Cons trying to pitch themselves as having anything to say about avoiding future downturns while refusing to accept any responsibility for the recession we're actually in.

- Meanwhile, Edmund Phelps suggests that Western economies in general are suffering from a narrowed perspective in which innovation is seen as important or valuable only if it creates or contributes to corporate machinery.

- Doug Saunders reminds us that if we want to see responsible budgeting, we're best off electing a party which is actually committed to keeping government functional. But I'll note that shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of the needless austerity which all too often forms part of budget-balancing exercises across the spectrum - and on that front, Sarah Miller emphasizes that B.C.'s nominally balanced budget is doing plenty of harm by cutting into needed public services.

- Mark MacKinnon weighs in on the Cons' imposition of second-class citizenship by taking the vote away from 1.4 million Canadians.

- Finally, Doug Cuthand calls out the Cons' treatment of First Nations as being disposable.

On leadership failures

sam, 07/25/2015 - 08:15
Among the many responses to the Cons' latest Senate shenanigans, one (from someone who's not exactly known for his recent NDP ties) stands out as being worthy of mention:
In his 10 years in office how many meetings with the prov premiers did PMSH hold to discuss Senate reform or abolition ? Ans: 0 #cdnpoli— Bob Rae (@BobRae48) July 24, 2015 That obviously represents an important rebuttal to the Cons' claim that they've done everything they could - or indeed anything at all - to keep their past promises. But it seems to me an equally powerful argument against the view that we should take the current stance of a few provinces as a final barrier to abolition.

Simply put, the Harper Cons have done effectively nothing to work cooperatively with the provinces - either on Senate abolition or on any other issue.

But for those of us who think it's possible for a Prime Minister to be more effective than Harper in achieving his goals, that reflects a failure of leadership in pursuing a worthy end, not the impossibility of reaching that end. And particularly if a Senate dominated by Harper's cronies stands in the way of action which an NDP government and the provinces agree on, the argument to have the provinces join in the effort to make the federal government more functional figures to be extremely compelling.

In effect, the parties' positions on the Senate now boil down to the following:

Libs: Let us tell you it can't be done. And don't even bother trying.
Cons: Maybe it can be done. But we're not going to lift a finger to make it happen.
NDP: Don't let them tell you it can't be done. And we'll actually work on it.

Of course, the NDP's position isn't a guarantee of success. But it actually reflects the concepts of hope and the hard work which the Libs seem to have abandoned in favour of increasingly-desperate attacks - and it represents the only positive option on offer from any of the parties in Parliament.

Music interlude

ven, 07/24/2015 - 17:31
Hot Chip - Need You Now

On common application

ven, 07/24/2015 - 16:17
Between Stephen Harper's combination of broken promises and ongoing scandals, I'm rather shocked that anybody thought the Senate would be anything but a political liability for the Cons. But let's highlight what's worth taking away from an announcement which came nowhere close to living up to its billing.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he refuses to name any senators until the Senate is reformed, adding he hopes it will put pressure on the provinces to figure out a plan to update the institution.
The policy will remain in place as long as the government can pass its legislation, the prime minister said.Of course, the Cons have a majority in the Senate and will for some time no matter what happens. As a result, they face no risk at all in their ability to pass legislation in the foreseeable future.

But the more general principle that the Senate shouldn't interfere with the passage of government legislation is rather more important given the prospect of a new government facing Con obstruction.

So between now and election day, it's worth pressing Harper, his party, and particularly their unelected non-representatives on their willingness to apply the same rule no matter who forms government. And if the result is a consensus that the Senate won't interfere with the will of the electorate, that should make for an important step in placing decision-making authority where it belongs.

Friday Morning Links

ven, 07/24/2015 - 09:23
Assorted content to end your week.

- Barry Eidlin argues that Canada's comparatively stronger trade unions have led to a far more equal distribution of income than exists in the U.S., and discusses what we need to do to reinforce that tendency:
In a recent article and forthcoming book, I put forth a new theory: Canadian unions remained stronger because they were better able to retain a legitimate social and political role as defenders of working class interests. By contrast, U.S. unions got painted as a narrow “special interest.”

These different roles for labour weren’t just rhetorical. They were built into how unions are viewed by the legal system and political parties, and even how unions viewed themselves. While U.S. unions’ “special interest” role de-legitimized class issues, eroded workers’ legal protections, and constrained labour’s ability to act, Canadian unions’ “class representative” role gave class issues greater legitimacy, strengthened legal protections, and imposed fewer constraints on labour.

It’s important to stress that Canadian unions didn’t adopt this “class representative” role because they were more radical than their U.S. counterparts, and Canadian labour law didn’t stay stronger because of more sympathetic governments. Rather, it was the result of a labor policy designed first and foremost to keep labour unrest in check. For example, while unions’ ability to strike was restricted, so too was employers’ ability to replace strikers or interfere in union certification campaigns.

The dynamic that this policy framework created reinforced for labour the importance of mobilizing to win demands, as opposed to finding sympathetic political allies from whom to seek favorable treatment. For employers and government officials, it reinforced the importance of a strong labour policy to discipline unions.
What broader lessons can we draw from this comparison of U.S. and Canadian unions? The key point is that if we want to do something about runaway income inequality, we need to address the power inequality that underlies it.

At a policy level, that means laws that level the playing field for labour. But more broadly, it means that we need to talk about the working class. Politicians, union officials, and other civic leaders talk far too much about a mushy – and somewhat meaningless and outdated – “middle class.” They need to acknowledge the real and growing class divide between the wealthy and the working class.- Which isn't to say there's a lack of reason for optimism in the U.S. (where Patrick McGeehan reports on the spread of the movement for a $15 minimum wage), nor for concern in Canada (where Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports on the failures of Ontario's employment standards enforcement system in its job of ensuring that workers get paid).

- David McLaughlin wonders whether this fall's election will be the last under Canada's antiquated first-past-the-post system. And Kelly Carmichael and Ryan Campbell make the case for mixed-member proportional representation as a far more fair and democratic alternative.

- Finally, Stephanie Levitz reports on the United Nations Human Rights Committee's recent review (DOCX) of Canada's deteriorating human rights record - with Bill C-51 raising particular concerns. And Fram Dimsham points out how the Cons' terror legislation might criminalize the work of journalists (whether by accident or by design):
Even before C-51’s passage into law, Henheffer said that freedom of the press in Canada was under attack, citing Harper government restrictions on media access such as that experienced during press conferences and increasing difficulty in accessing information.

Now that C-51 is law, Henheffer said that journalists would face additional difficulties in doing their job in reporting stories related to national security or street protests such as those against the G20 five years ago, as the government could selectively target people to ensure their own agenda dominated the headlines.

Journalists covering protests have already found themselves under arrest, such as New Brunswick reporter Miles Howes, who in 2013 was detained at an anti-fracking demonstration on suspicion of uttering death threats against an RCMP officer, but some believed that the real reason was his asking too many questions regarding hydraulic fracking in Atlantic Canada.

The Lemming Party of Canada

ven, 07/24/2015 - 07:08
Shorter Scott Reid:
There is no indignity which we Libs we won't suffer, and no evil which we won't allow ourselves to be strongarmed into supporting, if it means marginally saving face for the leader irresponsible enough to embrace them in the first place.

Change for the better

jeu, 07/23/2015 - 08:17
It seems so long ago when it was conventional wisdom that no party in contention for government in Canada would dare talk about cooperating to get things done, no matter how many voters wanted to see it happen.

But if there was any doubt that the NDP can change Ottawa's underlying assumptions, we can put that to rest.