Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Toronto Danforth

Reviewing this item in the Globe, Taber's piece, "Liberals hope to paint Layton’s Toronto riding red again," it's not clear how much of the hype there on Liberals possibly taking back the riding is Taber's framing or Apps' quotes. Because Apps' quotes on their own are not necessarily the basis for the Taber headline. He does seem to minimize the NDP hold on that seat, however:
Mr. Apps, a Bay Street lawyer who knows the Toronto political landscape well, told The Globe Wednesday that Mr. Layton won the seat because of his “terrific municipal background and powerful personality.”

He added: “Jack actually won it on the strength of his personal reputation and charisma.”
It's good for a party president to be behind his party and putting the case in the best possible light for Liberals but I'm not sure this is how to do it. There's a question on whether it's smart politics to be talking about chances in that riding at all given present fresh circumstances. But if you must, think I'd go more along the lines of this is an NDP seat and we will give them a good challenge, paint yourself as the underdog rather than suggesting that Layton held it only due to personality. Ixnay on the expectations that Liberals always seem to set so high. It hasn't been a "Liberal seat" in a long time. Really, given present circumstances, it's going to be herculean to win back that seat. Why emphasizing a new process like an open primary style of nomination might be a better way to go, build some excitement that way. That alone could be a win.

But, Liberals in Toronto-Danforth might want to pin this quote from Brad Lavigne on their bulletin boards: “With respect, of all the hurdles we have to clear to form the next government of Canada, the Liberals in Toronto-Danforth is not one of them.” Kind of offsets some of the above.

Today in Flaherty

He will speak:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is expected to comment on the economy this morning, following the release of the latest data from Statistics Canada. [...] Economists widely expect that the Canadian economy stalled in the second quarter and may have even contracted slightly amid a global slowdown.
See also: "Canada's current-account deficit rose to $15.3 billion in the second quarter as the trade balance fell into the negative, Statistics Canada said Tuesday, increasing from a $10.1-billion deficit in the first quarter. That was bigger than the $13.7-billion current-account deficit that economists polled by Bloomberg had expected."

Further backdrop, Christine Lagarde, new head of the IMF, gave a big speech on the weekend encouraging a greater focus on job creation as a priority over austerity measures in the U.S. and Europe.
"By pointing out a commonplace – that if fiscal tightening happens too fast, it can destroy a recovery and undermine bond market credibility – Ms Lagarde offends against what has become the ruling view in the eurozone: that deficit cuts are the required cure, regardless of the patient’s symptoms. And not just the eurozone: the UK, whose stagnation is not unrelated to its ambitious and successful deficit reduction policies, is no doubt on her mind, even if she is too polite to name names."
The big question seems to be whether anyone is listening. Wonder if Flaherty might have some leadership type thoughts on her recommendations and such world currents that seem to be affecting us.

Political party finance follow-up

Following up on yesterday's post response to the Guardian report on how party finance reform might financially ruin Labour were a cap to be brought in, thereby undercutting its significant support from labour unions, a U.K. organization called Democratic Audit has released a report on the issue. It's relevant to Canadians because it is a review of Canada's recent experiences with political party finance reform as a comparator for the U.K.. Here is the report for those interested: "Reforming Political Party Funding in the UK: Lessons from Canada" (pdf).

The report is a brief overview, highlighting some of the benefits our reforms have brought over the past 8 years in particular, since the 2003 reforms. But the part that is being emphasized for UK purposes is how we went about it in Canada and why the UK should not follow our lead as it considers its own reform. From their site, "Party funding reform: Canadian experience suggests a negotiated settlement is essential":
The contrast between the 1974 Act and the next major reform of Canadian party funding regulations could hardly be more stark. Passed in 2003, Jean Chretien’s Bill C-24 changed the landscape of Canadian party finance by introducing donation restrictions and increased public funding to the existing regime. Yet unlike the Election Expenses Act of 1974, Chretien’s proposals did not command full, cross-parliamentary support: the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance both opposed the Liberals’ bill, and their successors – the Conservative Party – have since gone on to make further radical changes to the laws when in minority government between 2006 and 2011.

Stephen Harper’s newly-elected majority government has recently announced its intention to phase out one of the cornerstones of the 2003 settlement, the money-per-vote subsidy, in a move which is widely-predicted to have a devastating impact on Canada’s opposition parties.(The Conservatives in Canada had previously tried, and failed, to do this once before, when governing as a minority).

Although Canada’s new regime of federal party funding regulation has had many salutary effects on the quality of Canadian democracy, the decision to adopt a unilateral approach to reform in 2003 has therefore left an unenviable legacy of partisan reform and uncertainty over how the regulatory structure may evolve in the near future. While it would clearly be easier for the UK's coalition government to pass far-reaching reform of party funding law without the agreement of its main political rivals, recent turbulence in Canada suggests that the UK would be better off sticking with its policy of negotiated settlement, however frustrating such an approach may prove to be.
The author seems to put more responsibility on the 2003 reforms for the sowing of a toxic unilateral approach on the issue than I would. The 2003 reforms didn't cause any party to face dire financial circumstances. It created a balanced system of limited donations and public finance. The 2011 Harper proposals disrupt that balance and do cause financial harm to some political parties as they unbalance the former system by gradually eliminating the public subsidies. Big substantive difference.

The point about the peril of proceeding unilaterally on such a foundational issue is a good one. But even if Chretien had gone with multi-party buy-in (if that was even possible at the time), it's not clear that Harper wouldn't have gone his present day route in any event.

Not a topic we can do much about at the moment. But it's worth noting how our partisan excess on this emblematic democratic matter is being viewed elsewhere - as a case study in how not to proceed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Relevant moment at 2:45 or so. "The harder you work, the luckier you are..." said Carville in '92. A universally shared sentiment.

A little sentimental but heck, it is campaign season out there so this kind of clip is in order.

Prompted by this piece, sent along by a friend today.

Update: To make this post more clear, while I agree that Harper's success does have a good deal to do with hard work, I don't disagree with the thesis that Lawrence Martin et al. have circulated that Harper is indeed lucky and certainly has had a good deal of it. Any successful politician you look at has their share of luck. It doesn't mean that anyone is denigrating that Harper has worked hard to get where he is and his party is. I assume he does nothing but work hard at what he does.

Conservatives seem to be a little sensitive on the point if you ask me. (I'd excerpt the argument that was made, including the generalizations about what conservatives and liberals learn from their parents, but it's not permitted.)

Discontent in Ontario Toryland

"Ouster of Sterling by Tories disgraceful: Eves."
“I don't care who hears this," said Eves. "The treatment that Norm got from his own party was not very polite, was not fair, it was not loyal, it was not compassionate and it was not very honest,” he said during an appreciation dinner for Sterling at the Canadian Golf and Country Club on Aug. 25.

The remarks received loud applause and cheers from the more than 200 people at the event, which included many high profile Tories.

The event featured a who’s who of the conservative party, including federal Tory MP John Baird and former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

Eves said Queen’s Park had lost a “great, great man” in not having Sterling run for re-election.

Sterling, who served as MPP for 34 years, lost a bitter nomination battle for the Carleton-Mississippi Mills riding at Scotiabank Place on March 31 to Ontario Landowners activist and farmer Jack MacLaren.

During the bitter nomination battle, Sterling received the backing of Baird and Harris, while MacLaren was endorsed by Conservative MPP Randy Hillier, another former member of the landowners’ association.

MacLaren won a tight race and was selected to run as the Tory candidate in Carleton-Mississippi Mills in the upcoming Oct. 6 provincial election.
Probably not what you want on the eve of an election campaign...

Annals of ruining political parties via donation reforms

This seems familiar for Canadian observers: "Labour could be ruined by proposed cap on political donations." Limits on political party donations are being looked at in Britain at the moment and Labour would suffer the most if a cap were to be brought in to the system:
Labour could face financial ruin under plans being developed to cap the biggest donations to political parties, a Guardian analysis shows.

The independent standards watchdog is said to have agreed to recommend a new limit on donations, introducing an annual cap with figures ranging from £50,000 to £10,000 being considered. Such a move, in an attempt to clean up political funding, would end the six- and seven-figure donations to the Labour party from its union sponsors, as well as the Tories' reliance on the richest city financiers.

An analysis of five and a half years' worth of donations to the parties reveals the move would most dramatically affect Labour's funding base. If the £50,000 limit had been in place over the period, Labour's donations would have been reduced by 72%, the Conservatives' by 37% and the Liberal Democrats' by 25%.

A source close to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which has been reviewing the party funding system and is due to report in October, said it was trying to find a way to impose a cap without bankrupting any one party.
Now that's good of them to try to avoid "bankrupting" any one party! The Brits are so civilized. No such considerations in play over here.

There is a minority government situation in place in the UK in any event and the Lib Dems are saying no dice to such a change that would bring severe consequences for one party:
A Liberal Democrat spokesman insisted that the coalition would not impose a deal on the parties. "The history of party funding reform is littered with corpses. You have to do it in consultation with the other parties," the spokesman said.
Yes, ideally. It detracts from the self-interested partisan taint of going it alone, particularly when certain parties' interests are placed above others.

A publicly funded system is being considered as well although with Britain's hyped up austerity mood, it's not clear that a public system could be sold or that the Tories would want any part in selling it. The argument could well be made, however, that at such times it's even more imperative to have a system free from moneyed influences.

Something to watch, to see what they come up with for comparison's sake and for possible future reform here (we won't be living under Mr. Harper forever). Presumably it will not proceed with the result being forecast, with Labour taking the brunt of the reform's fallout given the Lib Dem pledge. But we do know that irrespective of how integral many of us view viable political parties to our democratic health, that sentiment doesn't necessarily prevail when matched up against partisan opportunism.


Lawrence Martin's question today on Tony Clement's status:
What sort of punishment should be handed out to a cabinet minister who, judging by an auditor-general’s report, was found in clear breach of federal policies on accountability?

Should he be shuffled to another post? Should he be dropped from cabinet entirely? Or should he, as appears to be the case with Treasury Board President Tony Clement, be allowed to remain in his post, a post wherein he stands watch over the very type of transgressions of which he is accused.
Juxtaposed with Tony Clement's duties yesterday: "Treasury Board President reaffirms commitment to reduce government spending and return to a balanced budget."
Today, the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for FedNor, delivered an address to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce regarding the Government of Canada's commitment to balancing the budget in three years and eliminating the deficit.

"The Government has received a mandate from Canadians to eliminate the deficit, keep taxes low and continue creating jobs for Canadians," said Minister Clement. "Our deficit reduction action plan is an opportunity to modernize how we do business—to get government right and ensure the economy can continue to grow and create jobs, and that we continue to invest in the priorities of Canadians."

To help return to a balanced budget, 67 organizations are reviewing their operating expenses and grants and contributions expenditures. The goal is to find ongoing savings of at least $4 billion by 2014–15. There will be no cuts to major transfers, to persons and others levels of government, nor to public debt payments. The results of the review will be released as part of Budget 2012.

The President of the Treasury Board also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to adopting a balanced approach to ensuring responsible and strategic investments in keeping with the priorities of Canadians while continuing to eliminate the deficit.
It all does kind of ring hollow from Clement, doesn't it?

The parameters

The NDP leadership selection rules were canvassed by Kady O'Malley yesterday:
...aside from ensuring that every single active, card-carrying member of the party has the right to cast a ballot, and that the winner is eventually chosen with no less than 50% plus one support, the parameters are bogglingly wide.

For instance, as we discovered earlier today, contrary to media reports that ran uncontested by the party over the last week, there is no guarantee that 25 percent of the total ballots will be reserved for 'affiliate members,' as was the case in 2003; that, it turns out, was a provision implemented by the council at the time, and may not be replicated this time around, but could instead be reduced -- or, for that matter, raised -- or eliminated entirely.
The ubiquitous Brian Topp added to the developing picture:
“At a meeting of our party's officers last week, party secretary-treasurer Rebecca Blaikie agreed to take the lead in a review of the party's rules, regulations and precedents as they apply to this matter,” Mr. Topp said. “In due course she'll be making appropriate recommendations to our executive committee and federal council.”
Le Devoir notes that leadership candidates are waiting to find out what the rules are before making their decisions:
Brian Topp est donc le premier à manifester assez clairement ses intentions. Plusieurs autres noms circulent: Thomas Mulcair (qui est resté muet hier), les députés Peggy Nash, Peter Julian, Joe Comartin, Megan Leslie et Paul Dewar, ou encore Anne McGrath (chef de cabinet de M. Layton).

Nouvelles règles

Avant d'annoncer leurs intentions, plusieurs attendent que soient connues les règles régissant la course au leadership.
Waiting to find out about that 25% precedent, I take it. Which seems to be a pretty big matzoh ball hanging out there and could alter the shape of the race.

All very interesting. Liberals have been strenuously criticized for their rules in leadership races or the amending of their rules, etc. Turns out it might be way easier to have very few rules to begin with then make them up for each contest without the constraints of written rules. Who knew.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ontario election notes this eve

A few things noticed in the news this evening that may be of interest...

1. Notable column on the NDP's environmental policies in Ontario: "Cohn: NDP losing its green allies."
Prominent environmentalists are denouncing the NDP and publicly defending the Liberal government’s activist agenda on green energy.
The party’s campaign platform has also made it a priority to lower gas prices by knocking 1 percentage point a year off the HST through 2016. The latter promise was the last straw for environmentalists, who had already put the NDP on probation.

In a stinging letter to Horwath, circulated to members of a green coalition, Environmental Defence executive director Rick Smith complained that her party had lost its way:

“Some of your existing policy positions are not in the best interest of environmental or human health protection,” Smith wrote last month.

“How can any party that claims to be concerned about global warming advocate de facto subsidies for buying oil and gas. This is absolutely the wrong direction.”

Significantly, Smith is a former chief of staff to the late federal NDP leader, Jack Layton, who made environmentalism a cornerstone of his campaigns in a way that Ontario New Democrats have not. The party’s former research director, Hugh Mackenzie, has also condemned its recent positions.

Dale Marshall, the Suzuki Foundation’s climate analyst, wrote that the NDP’s platform “appears to be just another case of politics over good policy.” Its founder, David Suzuki, recently endorsed the Liberal campaign, citing its green policies.
2. "Payer" says Rossi in his own brand of political speak:
“We have three levels of government in Canada, but we only have one payer and that payer wants those levels of government to deliver value for Ontario,” Rossi told supporters at his barbecue during a stump speech, alternating between English and Italian.
Usually "payers" like a variety of stores to shop in, to further the analogy. Some competition, if you will...I see Doug Ford was at his BBQ, he of the let's-close-TO-libraries-fame. An indicator of things to come from Rossi/Hudak et al...also, not a fan of the consumer terminology one bit, try citizens, Ontarians, etc. Much better than the odd word "payer."

Rae speech at summer caucus: Jobs, jobs, jobs

A great speech by Rae today at the caucus meetings in Ottawa. Going right at Harper and with an economic message. That jobs, jobs, jobs line should be the big soundbite out of the speech. Economic policy provides huge ground for opposition to the Conservatives given what is going on in the world presently and looks to be for many coming years.

There's some humour here too, the "Royal Canadian Wheat Board" line a goodie.

Update (5:35 p.m.): Should also add one other thing here...nice tribute to Stephane Dion that Rae gives, mentions that he's proud to be a member of the same caucus. Highlighting in conjunction with his words on Dion that there is no conflict between the economy and the environment. Nice touch. We could do with a lot more visibility of Dion in coming years as opposed to the last few.

Missing the boat

There's good news and bad news about this Globe editorial today, "Canada in danger of missing the boat in the Arctic." The good news is that the Globe publicizes a major international environmental study on the shrinkage of ice in the Arctic:
A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, released in May, revealed the cover of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean is shrinking faster than projected by the U.N.’s expert panel on climate change. It predicts that the Arctic Ocean itself will be virtually free of ice in summer within 30-40 years. The Northwest Passage is forecast to be free of ice earlier than that, in perhaps 20 years.
The bad news is that the Globe uses this information, as significant as it is, to argue this point:
Yet Canada, despite having a federal government committed to its own Arctic strategy and sustainable development in that largely untapped region, is unprepared for commercial shipping in the Northwest Passage. The infrastructure needed to support such activity does not exist, and there is little sign that will change. Mr. Rochard, a former French prime minister, said he has the “impression that Canada has given up on the competition to attract a large part of the (shipping) traffic in 25 or 30 years.” Russia, by contrast, is actively pursuing the opportunity.

It may be that Canadians are content with this situation, as the costs would be substantial and such development would alter the fundamental nature of Canada’s North. But isn’t it at least a discussion we should be having?
Maybe there's another discussion we should be having as a result of such a major climate change flashing red light?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday night

That's a good one from Morgan Page this summer. And if you like Deadmau5, there's this.

Have a good night!

Why progressives should support the HST

Ken Lewenza in a speech in December, 2009 on the anti-HST positioning from the right:
We can't buy into this. Neither can my friends in the New Democratic Party. I said to the Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, "Andrea, the harmonized sales tax, as unpopular as it may be, cannot be an issue from the progressive side. It can't be an issue that makes Ontarians more cynical about taxes. We want to pay taxes. We want a civil society. We want health care. We want education. We want infrastructure. We do not want every Ontarian to think that taxes are bad.”
We are arguing about elements of the harmonized sales tax, but brothers and sisters, don't buy into this tax rage because if you do, as progressives, we will be destroyed because you need taxes for a just society, as a society that cares for one another.
The anti-HST rhetoric solidifies an anti-tax mojo in Canadian society that in turn undercuts the glue that binds our social programs together. The Rob Fords, the Stephen Harpers, the Tim Hudaks love that rhetoric. Yes there was a particular political outrage in B.C. over the HST's introduction, rightly so. But it should not be exploited for political opportunism elsewhere. It contributes to an increasingly American anti-tax atmosphere that the right wing thrives on in Canada.

The HST does help business (and certain types more so than others) no question about it. As this National Post editorial outlines tonight:
The original PST taxed every stage of the production process. If a business needed parts and equipment to make a product, it would have to pay tax on each item, and then charge a tax on the final product. In contrast, the HST only applies to finished products. This removes the disincentive for businesses to invest in the province and ensures that the same tax is not applied to a product multiple times. The HST should, therefore, boost investment and reduce the cost of doing business. This is why the tax is supported by the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation — two organizations that are consistently against any tax increases — and supported by 45% of the electorate as well. That a large plurality of voters would vote to keep the tax despite its ugly birth convincingly argues that, handled correctly, the HST could have been adopted with relative ease.
So the anti-taxers have in fact voted for more tax. To go backwards. Out of a tax-them-not-me frenzy. But in doing so, it's self-defeating. It's a harder big picture argument to make, for sure. But creating a competitive environment for business is not a consideration separate and apart from the welfare of individuals who think they've gained from reverting back to the PST now. Those businesses provide the tax base that supports hospitals, education, etc. And of course, as others are pointing out, there's the $1.6 billion in HST adjustment dollars to be paid back to the feds. So it will be felt.

I see one NDP MP touting this referendum result as a victory, mostly on the basis of the democratic element of the B.C. situation. That's their position in B.C. anyway. In Ontario, the provincial NDP sit on the fence. Tweaking HST proposals in their election policies here and there but not opposing it at the end of the day. They support keeping it. In Nova Scotia, the NDP Premier Darrell Dexter has raised the HST by two points. So the NDP position across the country is situational and without overall integrity.

Taxes and how they are treated in Canada, how we speak about them, how we ensure we have resources to sustain and invest in our society, this is one of the central issues in Canada today. The HST result is a setback, no question.

Maybe more thoughts later, an early reaction to the news.

Friday drive-by blogging

1. Harper on the possibility of new stimulus spending, the first words from The Economist™ on the topic in light of the latest economic anxiety:
"Flexibility I think has been really key throughout the last two or three years, and we have to continue to respond appropriately to the changing economic circumstances," he said.

He said he doesn't foresee reverting back to the type of stimulus spending that he pushed through to weather recession in 2008 and 2009. That package, he said, "had to do with some very unique conditions that existed in late '08 and '09. A mere slowing of the economy would not replicate those conditions. But look, if we found ourselves with seriously changed circumstances, we would alter our policies accordingly."

Earlier this year, Mr. Harper sped up a pledge to balance Canada's budget—to fiscal year 2014-2015. In the interview, he said the government isn't changing course, and is moving ahead with modest spending cuts. But he said plans to balance the budget were always based on continued growth, including in government revenue.

"The goal remains to have the correct economic policy, not simply to balance the budget," he said.
But it will depend on what the meaning of "seriously changed circumstances" means...

2. DCam, over in the UK, a less skilled Tory political hack, had his government meet with social media companies yesterday to talk clampdown stuff in the wake of the riots: "In Britain, a Meeting on Limiting Social Media." Now that's the way to put an X on your back! Very popular stuff in modern, leading, western democracies! China reacts:
In China, The Global Times, a government-controlled newspaper, praised Mr. Cameron’s comments, writing that “the open discussion of containment of the Internet in Britain has given rise to a new opportunity for the whole world.”
With free speech friends like those...I think it's fair to say one is definitely on the wrong track.

3. More Harper, since he seems to have talked up a storm yesterday, this time on his governing philosophy:
"The government's position has always been that the government governs for everyone," Harper said during a media availability at a Yellowknife hospital, where he announced extended territorial health funding Thursday.

"The government provides a clear direction in what we know are troubled economic times around the world, and the government is prepared to adapt and listen to the Canadian population when necessary."
Must have missed all that adapting and listening over the past six years. Now let's see if such words will have a different meaning in majority times.

4. So here's a test for him: "Canadians oppose Internet spy law: Poll." Look forward to the governing for everyone thing on that little bit of news.

5. "Where’s Canada’s Warren Buffett?" Great question and very interesting tax figures there.

6. Finally, a photo for the day. Directions for Canadians when in Wales!


Thanks to @aubrey_harris for sharing.

Have a good day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On green job schemes

As a counter to Margaret Wente today, "Message to McGuinty: Most green-job schemes have been miserable failures," who relies in part for her view on a New York Times report of last week, I suggest the following reading: "Absurd NY Times Story on Green Jobs Ignores “Explosive Growth” Documented in the Sector." There, the New York Times report she relies upon is thoroughly debunked. See for example this excerpt:
Imagine if, in 1963, two years after JFK’s famous speech to Congress, the New York Times had run a story, “Space program fails to live up to promise.” That will give you some idea of how bad a recent NYT story on the clean energy economy was, “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises.”

The story is triply terrible: It’s incorrect and premature and misleading. So of course it has been quoted endlessly by the right-wing media. It’s sad when the U.S. press isn’t any better than the UK press (see “Over Half the Coverage of Renewable Energy in Mainstream British Press is Negative“).

First, the core inaccuracy:
A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.
Talk about a bait and switch. The NYT cites the Brookings study, but then pulls out one tiny piece of it to make the exact opposite argument of the study. As Climate Progress wrote, Brookings actually found nationwide:
From 2003 to 2010, the clean economy grew by 8.3% — almost double what the overall economy grew during those years….

The pace of growth really is torrid in that sector,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Program and a co-author of the report. “This confirms the intuition that these exciting industries really are growing as fast as we think they are.”
On top of that, median salaries for cleantech-related jobs are $46,343, or about $7,727 more than the median wages across the broader economy. But you’d never know that from the NYT hit job.
It goes on from there. But the Brookings point on the pace of growth undercuts Wente's piece sufficiently given how extensively she cites U.S. examples. Government efforts to stoke green job growth rates seem to be on the right track. (As an additional note on the credibility of the Times piece, Van Jones, a former Obama administration official who was quoted in it has clarified his quotes that were used in that report in a misleading way to portray him as critical of the Obama administration's green energy efforts.)

See also "Pushing back on a bad Green Jobs story" for a report on a tour through Midwest clean energy factories that also countered the New York Times piece and the slagging of green jobs in general.

One other item for those considering Wente's opinion that the "green dream is a mirage." Here's an interesting indicator, business schools in the U.S. are responding to increasing demand from business and their students for sustainability education skills:
“Through the roof” is how Adam Zak, an executive recruiter, describes the demand for workers with sustainability-related job skills. “We estimate about a 40 percent increase over last year in the search assignments we are asked to conduct for these kinds of individuals,” said Mr. Zak, whose clients include companies like Coca-Cola, Andersen Windows and Del Monte.

To meet this demand will require qualified workers. So a growing number of graduate business programs are offering electives in topics like carbon accounting, corporate social responsibility and lean manufacturing techniques to reduce waste and environmental impact.
Demand from students is also driving business schools to include more social and environmental topics in their curriculum, and hard economic times has not dampened this demand. “The economic downturn has caused some deep soul searching among this generation,” Ms. Maw said, adding that “they want to incorporate their desires to change the world into their careers now, and many are seeing business school as a way to help them make a career change or deepen their skills.”
"Through the roof." That seems to fit with the Brookings numbers. Seems like governments who support green job growth are thinking the same way a lot of businesses are at the moment.

Moving pieces in Quebec

MacPherson in the Gazette on the latest poll showing a new Francois Legault led party in the lead just ahead of the Liberals and with the PQ trailing in third:
The Liberals need a stronger PQ to split the francophone opposition vote more evenly with Legault.

And there’s another reason they need a stronger PQ: as a credible “separatist menace” to keep their own electoral – and financial – base of unconditional federalists in line.

If federalists dissatisfied with the Charest government are assured that the PQ has no chance of winning the next election, then some of them could desert the Liberals, as some English-speaking voters did in the 1989 election. In the next election, they could go over to Legault.
Cue Vincent Marissal's column with this news:
Tapi dans l'ombre, François Legault continue néanmoins à s'organiser. Après avoir recruté la semaine dernière une ancienne organisatrice et candidate libérale fédérale, Brigitte Legault, il compte depuis hier sur un nouvel attaché de presse, Jean-François Del Torchio, lui aussi issu de la filière PLC (il a notamment été l'attaché de presse de Stéphane Dion).
Tweet from Del Torchio. See also this piece, at the very end, suggesting defeated BQ MP Bernard Bigras might join the Legault party.

And to further demonstrate how across the spectrum support for Legault is, those who voted NDP would support his party in big numbers even if Legault merged a new party of his with the right wing ADQ (according to a CROP poll):
Indécis ou désabusés constituent un terreau fertile pour François Legault. L'ex-ministre péquiste est très populaire auprès des électeurs du NPD. Pas moins de 59% d'entre eux opteraient pour M. Legault, et ce, même si son éventuel parti fusionnait avec l'ADQ, pourtant de centre droit. Près du tiers des électeurs de Québec solidaire voteraient aussi pour un tandem Legault-ADQ.

Bref, ce nouveau parti séduirait à la fois à gauche et à droite. «Ce n'est pas si surprenant, analyse Youri Rivest. Ce qui séduit avant tout, chez Legault, c'est l'idée de changement. Les gens veulent voter pour quelque chose de nouveau, pour autre chose qu'un vieux parti. Un peu comme ç'a été le cas avec le NPD.»
Chantal Hebert with more on the "seismic realignment" going on in Quebec provincially and what the Quebec view is on what this should mean for the federal scene.

Late night

The spontaneous celebration of Layton in chalk out in front of Toronto City Hall has most likely been washed away tonight with the major rainstorm that blew through the city. This is a nice pic of the scene that was captured earlier on.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Late night

Lightening it up break...

Library privatization

Via Hullabaloo today, one of the bloggers there is doing a bit of a shout out to a Democratic Assemblyman in California, Das Williams of Santa Barbara, in an effort to illustrate why Democrats should stick together and not implode over various Obama failings. This is the gist of the Williams anti-privatization of libraries bill:
The measure, awaiting a vote in the Senate, would place strict conditions on cities contemplating contracting out for library services, including requirements for multiple advance notices of a public hearing, the completion of a study enumerating anticipated savings, open bidding and an assurance that no existing library employees would lose their pay and benefits.

The bill is strongly opposed by local government officials, who say the proposed restrictions are so severe that the bill would effectively eliminate the option of contracting out.
Interesting legislative effort. Great photo of Williams fighting the "privatization beast" here.

The Hullabaloo post goes on to link to this New York Times article from fall 2010 on L.S.S.I. ("Library Systems & Services"), a leading corporate library privatizer in the U.S. ("The company is majority owned by Islington Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Boston, and has about $35 million in annual revenue and 800 employees."). That piece covers some of the debate surrounding L.S.S.I.'s takeover of public libraries in a number of U.S. states, including in Santa Clarita where the chief method of cost cutting L.S.S.I. proposed involved "cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees." There has been a mixed track record in the U.S. on library privatization: "Some L.S.S.I. customers have ended their contracts, while in other places, opposition has faded with time."

L.S.S.I. apparently is eyeing Toronto's situation as well, a Star piece worth a read as background on our debate.

Here is the link to the "Our Public Library" petition.

P.S. One of the best library renovations in the city, Bloor Gladstone, this really is stunning. Visits are way up.

Canada and its economic wiggle room

A TD report is not optimistic about our room to maneuver should the U.S. go into another recession:
“Policy makers in Canada have less wiggle room on the fiscal and monetary fronts and households face larger debt burdens,” Toronto-Dominion Bank deputy chief economist Derek Burleton said in a report. “By virtue of its fundamental strengths, many believe that the downturn would be less severe and the economy would recover more quickly than would be the case south of the border. Given Canada’s increased domestic vulnerability, such an outcome would not be guaranteed.”

TD pegged the odds of another U.S. recession at 40 per cent. Should another U.S. downturn occur, Canadian businesses would be in better position this time around because most have less debt and more liquid assets, and because it is “highly unlikely” that a double-dip south of the border would be as deep as the last recession, TD said in its report.

But with governments and households less able to spend, Canada’s economy is more vulnerable to shocks, TD said. That view is at odds with the message Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney gave last week at a parliamentary panel, when they said Canada and its trading partners would sidestep any recession, and that they have the tools to blunt the impact if they are wrong.
Just in reference to the Flaherty/fiscal side, what Flaherty had to say on Friday at the Finance Committee is reported here, with the numerous positives he cites on Canada's relative economic shape. Flaherty did admit, when pressed, that they might acquiesce to more stimulus spending, i.e., veering from his deficit reduction/austerity course, if conditions were to dramatically deteriorate. This TD report seems to be putting a damper on that latter point.

In the interests of noting developing opinion surrounding the government's prevailing economic line.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton

Thoughts and best wishes to all NDP and Canadian political friends today. What a very sad day it has been as we have all been struck by the loss of Jack Layton. There are many eloquent tributes and statements being made. I just want to add a few observations about the man. The political consequences and considerations can wait for another day.

The thing that has stood out to me as I've been thinking today, first and foremost, is the devotion to political public service that he embodied. There are very few individuals who make a life's work out of politics, from beginning to end, and Jack was one of them. He really had a remarkably long tenure in political life. For this example, I admired him very much. He really did seem to love it, live it, breathe it. We could do with a lot more of that variety in our politics in Canada. Those who care about it all, heart and soul. 

A further thought, that Jack also had a sense of modern politics in Canada. How it is all developing and how it should be played. His 2004 book starts with this quote: "Politics matters. Ideas matter. Democracy matters." In those three mantras you can see the seeds of the party infrastructure he worked to build. We're living in different political times, it's technologically driven, the ground has been shifting in the last few years and Layton seems to have been quite skilled in detecting those shifts, better than many others. Respect.

Finally, like many others are probably doing, I also thought today about the brief interaction I had with him. Many, many years ago one night at a Queen Street bar in the 90s at some point. I was there with friends who thought I was a little nuts to have gone up and said hello to him as he was standing by the bar with, no doubt, his fellow politicos. I have little recollection of what I said or what my pretense was for saying hello. But I do recall that he made a pitch for me to join the NDP or get involved in something or other that he was then involved in. I said no (even then!) as I was working on some by-election or other for a non-NDP candidate. He was cheerful and unflappable. I mention this only because it is probably a common little scene that has played out hundreds of times for many who encountered him in Toronto or elsewhere.

Here's to you, Jack.
The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean—
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.

Where we're at - Ontario election


Lawful access legislation to retain warrant requirement?

Fantino last night:
Speaking to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in Windsor, Ont. Sunday evening, associate Minister of National Defence Julian Fantino said the government will retable a bill designed to address a “pressing real need” for police officers to track those who use the internet to evade or break the law.

“I am happy to tell you that this fall — once Parliament returns — we will re-introduce our lawful access legislation, which will give police the ability to lawfully intercept transmissions from the internet and mobile phones with a court approved warrant,” he said.

The legislation will require internet service providers to share subscriber information under warrant.
Fantino suggests they won't be doing away with a warrant component, i.e., court oversight. Fantino's remarks come in the wake of Stockwell Day being quoted in last week's Lawrence Martin column as affirming his support of the warrant requirement and then advising us to wait and see the legislation. A warrantless regime, ripe for abuse, might not come to be.

But as with everything with this government, best to wait and see what the details of the proposed legislation are.

Update (7:00 a.m.): Something that could be related to this news.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

737 crashes in Nunavut

Tragedy in the North:
A First Air 737 crashed and caught fire in northern Nunavut Saturday, killing 12 people.

Police say the jet, a 737-200, went down Saturday afternoon near the hamlet of Resolute Bay.
Maj. Gerald Favre at the northern search and rescue centre at CFB Trenton said aircraft were already in the area as part of an operational exercise — Operation Nanook — and have been able to assist in the rescue.

He said the plane that crashed was not part of the exercise and 700 personnel participating were well position to help with the rescue.

Chris Krepski, spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said investigators are on the scene. They were already in Resolute, scheduled to participate next week in the military exercise.
In a bitterly ironic twist, an air disaster was supposed to have been part of next week's exercises:
Operation NANOOK 11 consists of joint and integrated sovereignty operations conducted primarily in the eastern Arctic and include a training exercise where the Canadian Forces responds to a simulated air disaster and maritime emergencies in the North.
More from the CP link:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was scheduled to be in Resolute to observe the military operation. His office could not immediately say whether the trip would still go ahead.

Governor General David Johnston is currenlty touring Nunavut and his official itinerary had him in Resolute Saturday morning. A spokeswoman from his office said no one from the official deligation was involved in the crash.
Update (9:30 p.m.): From the Star tonight:
The deadly crash has prompted military officials to suspend the exercises.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is touring the north this coming week as part of a weeklong annual Arctic tour. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that his visit to the north would go ahead but the precise details of the trip, which was slated to include a stop in Resolute Bay, are in flux.

Massive military cuts and hard sells

"Harper spins a new brand of patriotism."
The Liberals embraced the Charter, the flag, peacekeeping and multiculturalism. Now, the Harper Tories are pursuing symbols and areas ignored by the Grits – the Arctic, the military, national sports and especially the monarchy, according to senior Tories.
Yes. Relentlessly:

Meanwhile, there are more serious currents going on in military circles behind the carefully crafted public relations efforts by the government: "General’s report calls for dramatic cuts to bloated military staffing."
The key recommendations include:
- Redeploying or eliminating 3,500 regular forces personnel who currently hold jobs that serve little purpose;
- doing the same to 3,500 civil servants in the department;
- cutting the number of full-time reservists – many of whom man desks at headquarters – in half, to 4,500 and converting them to part-time service, while preserving and strengthening their ranks within communities;
- cutting 30 per cent from the $2.7-billion spent annually on contractors, consultants and services provided by the private sector
- consolidating departments that overlap and duplicate each other.
The changes are aimed at ending the “administrative incoherence ... stifling process, blurred authorities ... [and] reluctance at all levels to accept managerial risk” that Gen. Leslie maintains is hobbling the Canadian military’s efforts to meet its mandate of protecting Canada’s borders and working with allies overseas.
The changes would save the Canadian Forces an estimated $1-billion a year, the report concludes.
A General's report that offers up a billion in savings at a time when the government is seeking to cut? Sounds like something this government would have to look at. We'll see...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday night

Have been listening to that one for about two weeks now and it just keeps getting better! One of my faves of the year thus far. Best when turned up to 11.

Have a good night!

Incredible catch


James Fallows at the Atlantic is having a blast with it.

These things don't happen in Canada, thankfully.

Today in Finance Committee

So the big political news out of the Finance Committee meeting today where Jim Flaherty and Mark Carney provided updates on the state of economic affairs for Canada amidst this sea of difficulties seems to have been this:
On stimulus

“That’s exactly what we should not do,” Mr. Flaherty said as he rejected NDP calls for new spending on infrastructure and aboriginal communities to stimulate the economy now. Yet when pressed by Liberal MP Scott Brison on whether he would bring in new stimulus if the economy worsened, the minister said this: “If we were to see the situation globally deteriorate in a dramatic way, we would obviously do what is needed to protect our jobs and economy and families in Canada. We would act in a pragmatic way, as we have done successfully, previously and recently.”
Substantively, I don't know whether to be optimistic about that statement or pessimistic. Stimulus to Conservatives has been an opportunity to message, self-promote and solidify themselves electorally. There's not a lot of trust there. On the other hand, at least he's acknowledging a pragmatism that would be required. But he's risking sticking to a course that was set months ago and may be harder to pivot from the further down the road we go if world conditions continue to worsen.

More on what sticking to the deficit reduction course in a low growth environment means:
On the deficit

“We will stay the course. We will balance the budget by 2014-15,” Mr. Flaherty said. “That's the plan and we intend to stick to the plan.”

What it means: The Harper government is not using slower growth as an excuse to push back its deficit elimination plans. But slower growth will ultimately mean less revenue for Ottawa. That will create pressure on Ottawa to cut spending more deeply to make up the difference.
Which has already started.

A minor political observation here...Brison's time was limited compared to the allocations to the Conservatives and NDP. That he was the one who seems to have driven Flaherty to the above admission seems notable.


Flaherty's opening statement
Carney's opening statement (pdf)
Flaherty, Carney brace for lower economic growth

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Building prisons and the crime rate

An interesting graphic that's making the rounds today courtesy of the ACLU:

In the last decade, New York drastically reduced its prison population and at the same time experienced a huge drop in crime. Indiana, on the other hand, drastically increased its prison population — and consequently the burden to taxpayers — while seeing a much smaller drop in crime than the national average.
More on the U.S. experience that we are not learning from in Canada.

An economist we could use at Friday's Finance Committee

Jeffrey Sachs on globalization and present challenges for the US and European economies. His thoughts also ring true for Canada:
...I’ve watched dozens of financial crises up close... Neither the US nor Europe has even properly diagnosed the core problem, namely that both regions are being whipsawed by globalization.

Jobs for low-skilled workers in manufacturing, and new investments in large swaths of industry, have been lost to international competition. ... The path to recovery now lies ... in ... upgraded skills, increased exports and public investments in infrastructure and low-carbon energy. ...

The simple fact is that globalization has not only hit the unskilled hard but has also proved a bonanza for the global super-rich. They have been able to invest in new and highly profitable projects in emerging economies. Meanwhile..., they have been able to convince their home governments to cut tax rates ... in the name of global tax competition. ... In the end the poor are doubly hit, first by global market forces, then by the ability of the rich to park money at low taxes in hideaways around the world.

An improved fiscal policy in the transatlantic economies would therefore be based on three realities. First, it would expand investments in human and infrastructure capital. Second, it would cut wasteful spending, for instance in misguided military engagements in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Third, it would balance budgets in the medium term, in no small part through tax increases on high personal incomes and international corporate profits that are shielded by loopholes and overseas tax havens. ...

Export-led growth is the other under-explored channel of recovery. Part of this must be earned through better skills and technologies – another reason not to cut education. ...

Sadly, these global economic currents will continue to claim jobs and drain capital until there is a revival of bold, concerted leadership. ...(Original link)
I'd like to hear what he has to say about Canada paying top dollar for a military hardware purchase in the range of $9-29 billion dollars (I've lost track of the most recent price tag) when the jet's reliability and future, really, is in jeopardy. Whether that might be characterized as untimely and misguided military spending and whether there might be better priorities for Canada. I'd also like to hear what he has to say about Canadian economic leadership on infrastructure and our tax rates, personal and corporate, in light of the above. I think we can guess.

It's that time again

So it's that time of year again, Operation Nanook is beginning in the North (see how they have that Royal thing going already in the press releases). Harper is heading up there next week.

One thing that doesn't seem to be discussed much in the Canadian coverage thus far that is framing the event is the prospect of oil drilling in the Arctic. There's a New York Times op-ed today arguing against it being permitted, specifically against the Obama administration's decision to allow Shell to drill four exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea as early as next summer. The Beaufort Sea, as a reminder, is off the north coast of Alaska and is a sea shared by us. The Times op-ed points out the difficulties of conducting drilling in the Arctic and the perils if a spill happens there, mostly due to weather and remoteness and lack of resources to deal with it.

The lack of resources on the Canadian side (search & rescue aircraft, drones, icebreakers, transports, Coast Guard year-round presence, for e.g.) are pointed out in the latter half of this Gazette piece today. Environment Canada cuts will also be affecting the North, pointed out here.

A few things to think about as Harper visits next week and the focus tends to be on all things military. Apparently there's going to be a simulated rescue of a grounded cruise ship and a downed plane. We'll see if there's any word on improving northern resources or planning for other possible disasters.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pennsylvania a lesson for Ontario on renewable energy

Pennsylvania's Republican Governor has gutted the renewable energy programs of his predecessor:
In Pennsylvania, where a major shale gas boom is underway, Governor Tom Corbett is doing exactly what renewable energy supporters feared, according to a recent story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The Corbett administration is de-emphasizing renewable energy and energy conservation, eliminating programs created by previous Democratic and Republican administrations as it focuses on natural gas energy from booming Marcellus Shale.

Quietly but systematically, the administration has all but shut down the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Energy and Technology Deployment — the state’s primary energy office — and removed directors and reassigned staff in the Office of Energy Management in the Department of General Services and the Governor’s Green Government Council.

It has also forbidden state executive agencies from signing contracts that support clean energy supply.
After many years of strong build-up of Pennsylvania’s renewable energy industry under former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, is all that work being dismantled in the name of natural gas?

Rendell signed a renewable energy standard into law, created manufacturing incentives, and expanded rebates and loans for renewable energy projects – helping spur the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in the state. But some groups fear that is all being swept aside by the Corbett Administration:
One former DEP employee, who asked that he not be named because he continues to work on energy issues in Harrisburg, said of the Energy Office, “it’s being taken apart piece-by-piece and the pieces are being thrown away.”

“In the past 12 years, Pennsylvania has gone from having virtually no clean energy jobs to employing more than 106,000 Pennsylvanians in the clean energy industry, despite the national recession,” said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of Penn Future. “These program cuts and legislative attacks threaten to kill those good, family-sustaining jobs.”
That's the kind of road Tim Hudak wants to go down in Ontario, taking us backwards on green energy. Is that really what we want to see here?

A few thoughts on the royal thing

I see that it's "Quebeckers, historians and anti-monarchists" who have been among the early opponents speaking out against the move to restore the Royal moniker to the Navy and Air Force. Well, they're not alone. Count this citizen, member of none of those categories, among the opposed as well.

For starters, I agree with Emily's point on the independence that's being lost, albeit in this symbolic move:
When Louis St. Laurent was acting as secretary of state for external affairs, he held a dinner party in honour of Ernest Bevin, then Great Britain's foreign secretary. At the end of the meal, Bevin got up and made a speech, praising Canada for standing beside Britain in her hour of need.
'His compatriots, he said, would never forget the way their cousins across the Atlantic had come to their assistance during the darkest days of World War 11.'

St Laurent was not impressed by the implication that Canada had entered the war out of loyalty to the mother country, rather than for reasons of principle. In his reply to Bevin he went out of his way to emphasize that Canada's declaration of war had been an independent decision made by the country's elected representatives, that it was prompted by the nation's determination to fight Nazism and had nothing whatever to do with helping Britain. (The Making of a Peacemonger: The Memoirs of George Ignatieff, By Sonja Sinclairp. 108)
That was an important stand, because Canada's foreign policy was based on what we felt was right at the time. And that same independence kept us out of Vietnam and Iraq, despite the fact that they were wars waged by our powerful neighbours to the South.
St Laurent believed that most Canadians wanted their country to contribute to world peace and better understanding among nations. (Sinclair)
The big news yesterday was that Canada will now be going back decades to "correct an historic mistake", fighting under the Royal Standard. Back to the time before we thought that we were no longer a British colony.
I also agree with much of what some others and have said on this move.

On the politics, this was likely done to sew up of the military aspect of the Harper coalition. For those vets who wanted it, for the pro-military crowd who like the emphasis on all things military, maybe even for those older (and not so old) voters who identify with the historical nod. A matter of cementing a long term Conservative voting coalition, something that can be tended to with little restraint during the new majority era.

Beyond the above, I'll just add that I've had a real feeling of sadness about this one. It's strange the way it's snuck up and you never know what's going to do it. The Harper crew are minimizing this change as just "a historic truth." It seems like more than that to me. We're losing something, there's a dilution of the Canadian identity here and I think that's what's doing it for me. It's like the beginning of some kind of creeping identity remake is now officially underway.

They really should have had the guts to run on this change in the election. I suspect it would have produced a very lively discussion.

Not very good, eh

That comment, taken from below, seems about right for this news: "Members of project selection committee Clement chaired received 83 per cent of $50-million G8 fund."
A select committee of nine mayors, reeves and municipal leaders that was chaired by Treasury Board President Tony Clement and vetted applications from their own and other municipalities for a share of $50-million Ottawa spent on sidewalks, streets, even flower boxes for the G8 summit in Mr. Clement’s riding last year received $41.4-million from the fund.

The remaining six municipalities in Mr. Clement’s electoral district that received project funding but whose mayors or reeves were not on the committee got a total of only $2.5-million, with the remainder going to North Bay, Ont., for runway improvements when it was being considered as an air link into Mr. Clement's Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont., riding, and the Ontario Transport Ministry as a contribution to bridge work already underway in the riding.

Two former town and township leaders who were not part of the private group, and whose municipalities applied for funding but did not receive any, told The Hill Times on Tuesday they were unaware of the committee’s existence. One replied “maybe it’s not very good, eh,” when he was asked about what the public might think of the system Mr. Clement set up to dispense the money. Opposition MPs are calling for a Commons committee inquiry because Mr. Clement, among other things, ran the project out of his own consitutency office.
Worth a read as the G8 spending saga unfolds. Good reporting.

Friday's Finance Committee meeting

So there's a bit of a controversy over this Friday Finance Committee meeting to get an update on the Canadian economy. A motion was brought to have the committee hear from independent economists in addition to hearing from Jim Flaherty and Mark Carney. It was rejected. Here is what the Conservative MPs had to say in rejecting the motion:
“It’s imperative, in my opinion, that we not do anything that might worry Canadians,” explained Conservative MP Shelly Glover, Mr. Flaherty’s parliamentary secretary, in rejecting Ms. Nash’s motion. “I think that hearing from the Minister of Finance and the Bank of Canada will help to reassure them, as they should be, that there is concern, but that we are proceeding, as parliamentarians, in their interests.”

Conservative MP Randy Hoback suggested the comments from Mr. Flaherty will be more reliable than what independent economists have to say.

“I want to make sure that we don’t have people coming into this meeting and start speculating and start giving their opinions and their impressions which are based on what? A crystal ball?” he told MPs. “I think it’s better that we stick to the facts and I think the two people who can provide the best facts are the Finance Minister and the Bank of Canada.”
So that is what the meeting will be limited to, with no other opinion to be brought before the committee. These two are major economic players in Canada, of course. But why in serious economic times is it preferable to limit the federal Finance Committee to less opinion rather than more? It's not as if such persons are infallible.

The remainder of the Globe article is largely dedicated to the Globe attempting to demonstrate that the Conservative MPs are correct. They interview some of the sought out private-sector economists in an effort to have them say what they might have said before the Finance Committee. To show how all that's really needed at committee is Flaherty/Carney since the economists all agree with them anyway. Then they go on to characterize the economists as "untroubled at being left out of finance committee meeting Friday." As if that is relevant. They have a sub-heading to that effect and everything.

Anyway, I'm sure the Conservatives appreciate the back-up and the opposition will see how silly they were in trying to seek out additional opinion.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Today in the bizarro world of Canadian politics

Two choice items from the Globe today: "Harper makes ‘remarkable’ gains in best-prime-minister ranking" and "Cinephile Stephen Harper drops in on Crazy, Stupid Love." "He loves movies," we're told.

Meanwhile, this is the big context of the week, politically, that is going on in the background while such pieces appear in the Globe: "Clement steered G8 funding in riding, documents show," "Auditor duped on funding for G8, opposition charges," to select just some of the coverage of this week's G8 developments. Sure, the Globe is editorializing tonight on the G8 revelations, but they seem to be overly focused there on the role of public servants in the G8 Clement mess rather than on the politicians in question. Who has ultimate responsibility here? The discrepancy in information provided to the Auditor General as to the role of public servants in these questionable G8 processes needs to be cleared up, sure, but how about asking some questions about Mr. Clement and his boss rather than papering over the news. The editorial heading itself plays up a supposed equality between public servants and Clement et al. in the G8 spending: "When civil service and politics clash." Really? Is that what the G8 spending extravaganza at its core is about?

Also maddening, this line in the editorial on the mix of politics and government spending that has been seen one too many times in the last few years: "It’s not a partisan issue – Liberals have been just as complicit as Conservatives in blurring the line." That line attempts to delegitimize criticism from Liberals in the here and now, which is nonsense. Second, it serves to provide cover for the Conservatives in the everybody does it sense. 

Quite the scene. And I didn't even get into the whole "Royal" business...

Lawful access looms closer

Conservative plans for lawful access online surveillance legislation get some welcome attention in a Lawrence Martin column today:
On the question of surveillance and reduced civil liberties, the latest Ottawa measure is what is termed “lawful access” legislation. This will compel Internet service providers to disclose customer information to authorities without a court order. In other words – blunter words – law enforcement agencies will have a freer hand in spying on the private lives of Canadians.

When he was public safety minister, Stockwell Day, now retired from politics, was opposed to going this route. When the question of handing police these powers arose, he stated that “we are not in any way, shape or form wanting extra powers for police to pursue [information online] without warrants.”

While having to get a court order might make some police investigations more difficult, Mr. Day correctly held to the view that the citizen’s right to privacy was paramount. That all changed, and now the expansion of intrusive state power is set for passage as part of the Conservatives’ omnibus law and order legislation.

Mr. Day was asked what happened? “I won’t back away from what I said, nor would I want to,” he replied in an e-mail message. He was careful not to slag his Conservative brethren, saying that critics should exercise a modicum of restraint until all the details of the government’s plans are known.

The country’s privacy commissioners – federal and provincial – are lining up against the legislation, as are citizens’ groups. But lumping the lawful access measures in the omnibus crime package will help limit debate and public rancour.
That's interesting that Day is still pro-warrant and that he's willing to say so. While he's not on the scene anymore as a federal cabinet minister, he is a high profile voice within Conservative circles that may be helpful in persuading the government to listen to opposing viewpoints on this highly controversial intrusion into Canadians' internet privacy. Keeping the warrant requirement is key.

The potential for abuse is ripe with this legislation and the case has never been made by the government that it is a necessity to do away with the warrant requirement. Indeed, they have never really allowed for any credible amount of scrutiny of this legislation at all. An omnibus bill being jammed through Parliament with such ominous privacy implications just might stir Canadians. We like our internets and it's one of those issues that just might hit home as it becomes a looming reality.

See also: Harper's aggressive internet surveillance push

Late night

Memories of TPaw. Heck of a video though, wonder how much it cost to make. Perhaps a lesson in having your video presentations match the quality and stature of your candidate.

Memorable line: "None of this is going to be easy." No, it certainly wasn't! That Iowa straw poll in particular.

He had the courage to stand and now he will have lots of time to sit. Buh bye.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Early evening accountability watch

The Mounties have dropped their preliminary probe of a former Tory aide who was cited for political interference in an access-to-information request.

An RCMP spokeswoman said Monday there will be no further investigation into Sebastien Togneri, who ordered an internal Public Works document withheld after it was ready to be sent to The Canadian Press.

"It was determined that a criminal investigation into this matter was unwarranted," said Const. Suzanne Lefort. She declined to comment further on the decision by the force's "A" Division, which launched the initial inquiry in March.

Canada's information commissioner ruled earlier this year that Togneri clearly interfered with the Access to Information Act request when he had no legal authority to do so.

Internal emails showed that Togneri, a political aide to then Public Works minister Christian Paradis, ordered senior public servants to "unrelease" a document that was already in the mailroom for delivery. The document was an annual report on how well the department manages its massive real-estate portfolio.
The Auditor General's office:
The auditor general is not going to take a second look at the G8 legacy fund despite new revelations that Tony Clement shepherded requests for taxpayer-funded projects through his constituency office.

The Star reported Monday that newly released documents obtained by the federal New Democrats show Clement, who was then industry minister, steered applications for $45.7 worth of public money through his political team in Huntsville, Ont.

The unearthed municipal records from Gravenhurst and Bracebridge were not available to the Office of the Auditor General when it investigated the G8 legacy payouts and released a scathing report in June accusing the Conservative government of doling out funds without bureaucratic oversight or paperwork.

“It appears that this slush fund was set up in such a way that it kept the Canadian public and the auditor general in the dark,” NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay) told a news conference in Ottawa on Monday.

A spokesman for Auditor General John Wiersema nonetheless said the case is closed.

“We asked for documentation, but we were not provided with any,” Ghislain Desjardins wrote in an email Monday. “Deputy ministers signed off on the accuracy of facts in the chapter. We have no plans to reopen the file.”
Smiles all around in Conservative circles tonight...although the Mounties are apparently still looking into the G8 issue. Well, last we heard, they may or may not investigate.

The mega-rich vs tax breaks

Update (6:20 p.m.) below.

Warren Buffett lends the Democrats a hand: "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich."
Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
Serious talk about tax increases, it's almost a shock these days. And Buffett's cleverly doing so by talking about shared sacrifice, he's making an equality argument.

Nice to see a respected business leader who may bring many others along stepping up at a key moment to counter the pervasive conservative tax narrative.

Wonder if Mr. Flaherty and his world finance pals agree with Mr. Buffett? They've penned an op-ed that's in the Globe today and contains this line: "Difficult decisions on spending, entitlements and taxes in countries with large budget deficits are unavoidable." A piece worth reading, a narrative is being shaped for here too.

Update (6:20 p.m.): Obama ran with it today:
Basically what we need to do is we need to cut about $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Now, that sounds like a big number -- it is a big number. But if we were able to, as I proposed, cut about $2 trillion in spending, if folks who could best afford it -- millionaires and billionaires -- were willing to eliminate some of the loopholes that they take advantage of in the tax code and do a little bit more, and if we were willing to take on some of the long-term costs that we have on health care -- if we do those things, we could solve this problem tomorrow. I put a deal before the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, that would have solved this problem. And he walked away because his belief was we can't ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations in order to close our deficit.

Now, Warren Buffett had an op-ed that he wrote today, where he said, "We've got to stop coddling billionaires like me." (Applause.) That's what Warren Buffett said. He pointed out that he pays a lower tax rate than anybody in his office, including the secretary. He figured out that his tax bill, he paid about 17 percent. And the reason is because most of his wealth comes from capital gains. You don't get those tax breaks. You're paying more than that. And -- now, I may be wrong, but I think you're a little less wealthy than Warren Buffett. That's just a guess. (Laughter.)

The point is, is that if we're willing to do something in a balanced way -- making some tough choices in terms of spending cuts, but also raising some revenue from folks who've done very well, even in a tough economy -- then we can get control of our debt and deficit and we can start still investing in things like education and basic research and infrastructure that are going to make sure that our future is bright. (Applause.) It's not that complicated, but it does require everybody being willing to make some compromises. 

Conservatives pursue asbestos widow

My, Conservatives should be so proud of themselves: "Tories tussle with asbestos widow over use of party logo in ad campaign." There is no other party quite like them in Canada today. Check out the picture accompanying the report.
The federal Conservative party has sent a threatening email to the widow of an asbestos victim in the latest chapter of Canada's debate over the hazardous mineral.

A top Tory official is warning the woman to stop using the party logo in an online ad campaign against the controversial industry — a campaign she started after her husband died of an asbestos-related cancer.

Michaela Keyserlingk, whose husband Robert died in 2009 of mesothelioma, has been running an online banner since the spring that reads, "Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!"

Conservative party executive director Dan Hilton warned Keyserlingk to stop using the Tory symbol immediately.

"Failure to do so may result in further action," Hilton wrote in a July 29 email which carried the subject title, "Unauthorized use of trademark." The email, which The Canadian Press obtained from Keyserlingk, went on to advise her: "Please govern yourself accordingly."
It's true that the usage here might be a problem if the Conservatives have indeed registered their logo as a trademark. But just because they may have legal grounds to pursue Ms. Keyserlingk doesn't mean they should. They've created some terrible political optics for themselves now.

Especially when they don't have clean hands themselves on fair dealing issues. And especially when they're harassing a widow over asbestos, an industry that's on its last legs in any event and is bringing us mega international disrepute.

The health of the Conservative party of Canada seems to be the foremost consideration here, irrespective of the sensitive personal situation and the asbestos controversy. What a sad display.

See also: Sister Sage's Musings, Sixth Estate, Rusty Idols.