Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Liberal reformers

A few thoughts here on today's announcement by Justin Trudeau that Liberal Senators will no longer be part of the Liberal caucus and are now to sit independently.

One of Trudeau's lines that stood out for me was this one: "At our best, Liberals are relentless reformers." Recently, on the death of Jim Coutts, an opinion piece he wrote in 2004 was circulated, and in it, we found this:
"The current policy markers of the Liberal party have evolved over time and are fairly familiar to many Canadians. The most crucial Liberal markers are these:
  1. Reform, which is so central to Liberal identity that it was the party’s name up to and during the leadership of George Brown. The marker has stood for political reform, ranging from the introduc- tion of responsible government under Baldwin and Lafontaine, to battling ruling-class power and patronage abuse at the time of Brown, Mackenzie and Blake, to entrenching a constitutional Charter of Rights under Trudeau. Since the 1920s, the Liberal reform marker has most importantly sig- nified social reform, or the cre- ation and improvement of a modern welfare state."
Today we saw a big bout of reform in the form of a Senate that would be independent, in Trudeau's words:
That is why I have come to believe that the Senate must be non-partisan. Composed merely of thoughtful individuals representing the varied values, perspectives and identities of this great country. Independent from any particular political brand.
Trudeau's reform will likely come off as reasonable to many Canadians. It is not the radical abolitionist approach of the NDP which would require constitutional reform. It is not the Conservative supposed pro-reform approach that has gone nowhere for their seven years in power and that would also likely require constitutional reform.

Trudeau's reform looks at the Senate, and proposes an approach that will not tear it down, but make fair use of a second chamber. In the Westminster system, it would be anomalous not to have a second chamber. The direction suggested, a more merit-based approach is a good one that speaks to the times. This reform, as Trudeau is suggesting, could be infused with principles of merit, competency, and transparency, to bolster the credibility of the Liberal proposals. And this Liberal would suggest ensuring that the appointment process be free from an elite-based orientation.

To be sure, there will be wrinkles to iron out. Senator Campbell spoke to some of these today: He also questioned how the Senate will function in terms of their role in scrutinizing government legislation. He questioned, for instance, who will sit on committees and who will be named critics of which bills. 

Ensuring that the elected representatives' will is carried out and without blockage, is another consideration to be grappled with. And perhaps with that consideration in mind, note Trudeau's last line in his remarks today:
We want to build public institutions that Canadians can trust, and that serve Canadians. This requires real, positive change. These proposals are the next step in our Open Parliament plan to do just that.

They won’t be the last.
This may be a nod to the democratic reform resolution that the federal Liberal MP caucus has proposed as one of its priority resolutions to be voted upon at the upcoming February biennial policy convention in Montreal, less than a month away now. That resolution, Bolstering Canada's Democracy, contains this operative proposal:
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT immediately after the next election, the Liberal Party of Canada institute an all-Party process, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with analysis and recommendations for an electoral system including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent all Canadians more fairly and to allow Parliament to serve Canada better.
Senate reform without reform of our House of Commons would be incongruent. The above proposed resolution would be the beginning of addressing the imbalance that would result if the Senate were reformed without a similar effort being made in respect of the House of Commons. As bad as some of the practices and appointments connected to the Senate have been, the pressing need for reform lies in the House of Commons. Electoral reform to change the system in which we operate is one route. Michael Chong's reform which accepts the system yet changes the rules is another. The good news is that reform in a big way is on the agenda for Canada.

Liberals are re-embracing reform as a mantle. All in all, a positive development today.

Monday, December 16, 2013

CPP reform rhetoric

Since there is a significant meeting among Canadian finance ministers today, where reform to the Canada Pension Plan is on the agenda, it's worth pointing out some really unhelpful ongoing language the federal Finance Minister is using to describe CPP. This is what he said today to describe CPP:
"CPP is a tax on people who work, a tax on employers. It takes money directly out of the economy, so it's not something to be done lightly. It's something that must be done with consideration and thought," he said.
This framing of CPP, a valued Canadian program that is the backbone of our savings retirement, as just another vile tax should be countered. Here's one:
There is not a shred of credible empirical evidence to support assertions CPP contributions amount to a payroll tax and a job killer. CPP contributions, like all contributions to any pension plan, are deferred wages. Calling an employer's pension contribution a payroll tax is disingenuous, if not an outright deception.
Deferred wages. Savings investments. A retirement worth paying for.

Or choose whatever else you'd like to call it to accurately describe the value and positive association most Canadians would have in their minds to ascribe to CPP.

The Conservatives are masters of dumbing down issues into these convenient ideological talking points. The facts are that people are not saving, there are a growing number of provinces getting behind expanded CPP for such reasons, and Canada's economy - as the Conservatives enjoy telling us - is one of those to be envied among world nations.

We should be tackling pension reform and hopefully, in the long term, if serious people keep speaking up, the need to address this issue will trump the rhetoric.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Restore our anthem politics

I support the "Restore our Anthem" initiative to replace the words "in all thy sons command" to the gender neutral "in all of us command."

The reactions early on to this latest initiative in the letters to the editor sections of the National Post and Globe were fairly supportive, sometimes a little silly but definitely not reflective of a major backlash of the variety that was seen in 2010 following the Harper government's effort to take this step.

The Harper Throne Speech of early 2010 came following Harper's second prorogation of Parliament, both viewed as illegitimate. The second was to avoid accountability on Afghanistan and torture allegations. Harper's second prorogation was lengthy and provoked large street demonstrations that many of us attended. Harper justified that prorogation with the claim that he needed to "recalibrate" his government's agenda. Yet what he brought forth, proposals such as Seniors Day and the national anthem lyric changes, wasn't viewed as substantive enough to have shut down Parliament for the sake of his "recalibration." This may have had something to do with the disapproval of the proposed lyric changes to the anthem expressed at that time. That and the Olympics buzz.

And who wants the Prime Minister, who is widely viewed as the lone gun leader of this government, re-writing the words of the national anthem in any event? Better that it come from a popular movement to test the waters and let support build. That's what this new initiative is doing.

Flash forward to today, a political point. Peggy Nash's office responded earlier today to someone I know on the anthem change with this email:
From:
Date: October 9, 2013 at 3:07:30 PM EDT
To:
Subject: RE: Attention: This issue is important to me as a Canadian

Thank you for contacting our office to share your opinion on our national anthem. We welcome the debate, and as NDP leader Tom Mulcair has said, we feel that the anthem can always be improved.

Unfortunately, under the Conservatives gender equality in Canada has significantly eroded. They shut down Status of Women Canada offices, weakened its mandate and flatly ignored the Pay Equity Task Force’s recommendations to promote fairness in Canadian workplaces. They also made no improvement to programs that can best support women’s equality—such as affordable child care, Employment Insurance, home care for loved ones and affordable housing.

Once again, thank you for your sharing your view on gender inclusive language in the national anthem. New Democrats will continue to support and push for gender equality.

Peggy Nash
Member of Parliament - Députée | Parkdale - High Park (emphasis added)
Except, that is not what Tom Mulcair said at all. He did not leave any doors open to improve the words of the anthem:
I think that when you start tinkering with an institution like a national anthem, that you’re looking for problems,” Mulcair said when asked about the proposal.

“We seem to have agreed on the English and French versions as they are and I think that’s probably a good thing.
I searched but could not find any modification of the Mulcair statement in any subsequent comments by him. 

2013 is not 2010. And this movement to change the words comes from a multi-partisan group of individuals who seek to garner support. They should be encouraged to do so by those who care about gender equality.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Leadership noted

What a great display of striking, positive leadership for the good in the last 24 hours. First, this news of the Obama administration's announcement today on limiting emissions from new power plants:
A year after a plan by President Obama to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants set off angry opposition, the administration will announce on Friday that it is not backing down from a confrontation with the coal industry and will press ahead with enacting the first federal carbon limits on the nation’s power companies.
This is executive action that does not require approval by Congress. Obama will, however, have to take on the coal industry. Yet somehow, doesn't that now seem like much less of a task in the wake of Obama's handling of the Syria crisis? The timing of this announcement seems to be one from a leader feeling emboldened, with that major international event just under his belt. Moving on now to one of the other major challenges the world faces.

And what will be the reaction of PM Harper? He of the letter to Obama asking for joint things to be done emissions-wise. Obama is acting. Unilaterally. What then is Canada prepared to do?

The second instance of leadership very much worth noting, the interview released of Pope Francis speaking on the Catholic church and his view of how the church needs to evolve.

Even if you are not a particularly religious person, this seems to have big implications. The way that this Pope, in such a position of influence and stature, is shifting the church from a close-minded, dogmatic institution to a non-judgmental, loving stance is remarkable. At least, that's the way it is striking me. I see news of others similarly moved.

And I certainly don't see how this is good news for those politicians who would seek to use gay issues and reproductive rights as exclusionary and divisive wedge political issues. This is a powerful counter.

And if you only read one thing on yesterday's Pope news, I recommend this.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Prorogation, obviously

The big news on an August Monday:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has confirmed he will ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until October, when his Conservative government will introduce the next speech from the throne.

"There will be a new throne speech in the fall, obviously the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back — in October is our tentative timing," Harper told reporters in Whitehorse Monday. Harper is in the Yukon on the second day of his annual summer tour of the North.
A few thoughts to add to the online maelstrom.

I am quite meh over this one. It's mid-August and the House of Commons will be back in just over a month and a half? That's not tooo bad in terms of an extension beyond a return that was expected on September 16th.

The news coverage on the Senate scandals, for example, is likely to continue through this period. They won't be escaping damage from it.

Also, whenever Harper interferes with his own government's ability to legislate, that's not so bad. Less is definitely more for some of us when it comes to their legislative output record.

Harper, though, just can't prorogue and avoid critical comment. He has baggage, to say the least.

He is the lone Prime Minister, of any Westminster democracy, to have faced a confidence vote and deployed prorogation to avoid his minority government's fate. Totally unprecedented in Canadian history and so he just can't shake that shadow. He would have been defeated in late 2008-early 2009 by the opposition parties but for his proroguing of Parliament. The Harper majority era might totally have been avoided had he not done so. All of today's present Conservative party edifice is built on that shaky foundation. Which is partly why the power to prorogue is still in need of reform. There is less malevolent political calculation at play in today's prorogation. But nevertheless, it doesn't take away the need to fix, at some point, the unrestrained ability of a PM to prorogue without limitation.

A law that would restrain the power of the Prime Minister to prorogue could be passed and a PM would ignore it at their political peril. Whatever that judgment by voters might be. Could be nil, could be more, depending on how prorogation occurred. (Similar laws could be passed provincially as well.)

Today's prorogation is also another reminder that it is just plain old anachronistic that a Prime Minister retains such power to unilaterally dictate the government's sitting. In this modern era of a 24 hour news cycle, ever enhanced technologies and where Canadians' work is increasingly stretched beyond 9-5, it is a strange holdover that a Prime Minister can still set their own government's clock and work agenda, largely for political convenience. It just doesn't fit in this era. It's a reminder that there is a larger democratic deficit that needs to be cured in Canada. It's not all about the Senate sideshow. Harper has educated us well about a PM having too much power and our way of governing being in need of an update.

Beyond all that, politically, today's prorogation seems to continue the end of summer roll-out of the newish Harper majority looking toward 2015. New websites here and there with partisan purpose (Consumers First, the new Harper blog), election style speech and talk, etc. Now prorogation. The reboot is on and he's looking to win again in 2015. Obviously.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chickens roosting day, etc.

Harper's chickens, that is: "Senator Wallin audit details set for public release." One upside for Wallin, she has one of the best litigators in Toronto representing her (pictured in the CBC link).

One thing of interest in this Postmedia report that could hint at more possible trouble for, I'm assuming, Conservatives:
In their report, the auditors write that part of Wallin’s inappropriate costs were for “partisan related activity, such as fundraising.” Her lawyers cite as an example a May 27, 2011, event for former cabinet minister Bev Oda, who resigned in July 2012 over her own spending scandal, which was made famous by a $16 glass of orange juice charged to taxpayers.
At the Oda event, Wallin talked about Oda’s ministerial role overseeing intenrational [sic] development, as well as the Afghanistan file, which Wallin knew from her work chairing the Senate’s defence committee. Her lawyer’s letter notes that fundraising events took place outside of election campaigns, involved talking about Senate-related matters, and that “this was generally accepted practice,” suggesting that others in the Senate have done the same.
Generally accepted practice, says Wallin's lawyer.

Also of note, a possible strategy suggested by Ivison that could come out of the Senate Supreme Court reference:
The Conservatives argue that the Senate can be abolished under the constitution’s amending formula — section 38 — which states that any changes to the Senate would merely required resolutions in the House of Commons, Senate and seven provinces, representing 50% of the population (rather than unanimous approval).
If the Supreme Court agrees, it seems to me that we will see the Conservatives launch a full-on campaign for Senate abolition, in an effort to insulate Mr. Harper from accusations of being the Red Chamber’s patron. There appear few lengths to which this prime minister will not now go to distance himself from Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin — three of his 59 Red Chamber appointments.
A full-on campaign for abolition by Harper et al. as a matter of political expediency would have absolutely zero integrity or credibility, as Ivison himself hints. It's not clear the Court will rule that abolition could happen under the 7/50 formula in any event. Peter Russell is of the view that unanimity would be required:
Prof. Russell said there’s “no way” the government can unilaterally abolish the Senate and without seeking unanimous consent. “You’re taking 100 per cent of the power away. The Senate has full power to approve every law, and it was put there mainly so the provinces, the sections of the country, would feel some protection against the central government,” said Prof. Russell.
I would tend to agree with Mr. Russell. But, that's all Senate reference stuff, down the road a bit. Today it's all about Wallin's audit and it is at the doorstep of the one who appointed her.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Keystone jobs

I keep hearing people saying Obama still might approve Keystone. And who knows. But he's sure not sounding like he's going to do it at moments like this:



If [Congressional Republicans have] got a better plan to create jobs rebuilding our infrastructure or to help workers earn the high-tech skills they need, then they should offer up these ideas. But I’ve got to tell you, just gutting our environmental protection, that’s not a jobs plan. Gutting investments in education, that’s not a jobs plan. You know, they keep on talking about an oil pipeline coming down from Canada that’s estimated to create about 50 permanent jobs. That’s not a jobs plan.
That was a speech he gave yesterday. Obama gets the 50 number from a Cornell study that says this on job creation:
In this context, it is also important to consider that almost all of the jobs (direct, indirect
and induced) associated with Keystone XL will, of course, also be temporary. The operating
costs for KXL are very minimal, and based on the figures provided by TransCanada for the
Canadian section of the pipeline, the new permanent US pipeline jobs in the US number
as few as 50. The other operating expenditures (for materials, supplies, services, electric
power, property taxes, etc.) would comprise the bulk of operating expenses and would also
have some job impacts. So considering a broad range of spin-offs, operating expenditures
would have job impacts in the order of around 1,000 per year.

It is unfortunate that the numbers generated by TransCanada, the industry, and the
Perryman study have been subject to so little scrutiny, because they clearly inflate the
projections for the numbers of direct, indirect, and long-term induced jobs that KXL might
expect to create. What is being offered by the proponents is advocacy to build support for
KXL, rather than serious research aimed to inform public debate and responsible decision
making. By repeating inflated numbers, the supporters of KXL approval are doing an
injustice to the American public in that expectations are raised for jobs that simply cannot be
met. These numbers—hundreds of thousands of jobs!—then get packaged as if KXL were a
major jobs program capable of registering some kind of significant impact on unemployment
levels and the overall economy. This is plainly untrue.
Current Canadian government advertising that can be seen on U.S. websites is touting 40,000 plus jobs that the pipeline will support during a two year construction period. More on that advertising, said to total about $16 million, here.

(h/t)