Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mankiw on raising taxes

This is a notable development in the U.S. conservative spectrum, an op-ed from Gregory Mankiw in the New York Times today dares to talk about raising taxes and on the middle class, at that: "Too Much Wishful Thinking on Middle-Class Tax Rates."
Which brings us back to the middle class. When President Obama talks about taxing the rich, he means the top 2 percent of Americans. John A. Boehner, the House speaker, talks about an even thinner slice. But the current and future fiscal imbalances are too large to exempt 98 percent or more of the public from being part of the solution. 
Ultimately, unless we scale back entitlement programs far more than anyone in Washington is now seriously considering, we will have no choice but to increase taxes on a vast majority of Americans. This could involve higher tax rates or an elimination of popular deductions. Or it could mean an entirely new tax, such as a value-added tax or a carbon tax. 
To be sure, the path ahead is not easy. No politician who wants to be re-elected is eager to entertain the possibility of higher taxes on the middle class. But fiscal negotiations might become a bit easier if everyone started by agreeing that the policies we choose must be constrained by the laws of arithmetic.
Mankiw, as noted in the brief bio at the end, was a Romney adviser but more importantly was an adviser to President George W. Bush as well and is a leading light for U.S. conservatives. Talk of raising taxes, any taxes, as we know is anathema for them but things seem to be changing. What prudent conservatism is supposed to be about, after all, is balancing budgets and fiscal discipline and all that.

And you don't have to agree with the rest of the content of Mankiw's column, which trots out Romney's campaign talk on relative percentages of paid income taxes as between the wealthy and the middle class, to take away from it the point that he is now willing to speak of raising taxes. It's good for the House Republican bunch to hear that key message from one of their own.  

We, of course, have a VAT, the Americans don't. And while we don't have a carbon tax, unless you live in B.C., it's quite the thing to see this notable American conservative float it.

2012 in viral video

The Guardian's version of 2012's top viral videos. Some classic political moments from the year are featured. And what do you know, a Canadian with a British connection makes an appearance near the very end for his very Nixonian protest during a British media interview.

My apologies for such a predictable year end blog post, ho hum. I'd go with a Canadian version but I don't think one exists.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pondering Lincoln

Haven't seen it and not sure I want to after watching David Carr eviscerate Spielberg for it. This is fun.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday night

Crazy "drop," as the house peeps put it, but it's growing on me. I close out the year with....drum roll...Kaskade!

Have a good night!

Most and least worthwhile Canadian initiatives 2012

Taking some inspiration from Ezra Klein on this who in his year end wonk piece distributes various awards. He includes a most worthwhile and least worthwhile Canadian initiative. (The term "worthwhile Canadian initiative" once won a contest held by The New Republic on the most boring headline that one could imagine. Thus, Ezra's use of the titles today.)

First, Ezra's picks for Canada with which I strenuously disagree:

"Most worthwhile Canadian initiative: Mark Carney

Mark Carney is just cleaning up with honors these days. First, Reader’s Digest named him the “Most Trusted Canadian” in the entire country. Then, British officials tapped the very-trustworthy Carney to become the next governor of the Bank of England. Now, we’re giving Carney a wonky for his work as Canada’s central banker. While the rest of the global economy was in free-fall, Canada saw a relatively minor economic downturn. It avoided the big banking crises that played out in the United States and England. For his stewardship of the Great White North, Carney racks up yet another accolade.

Least worthwhile Canadian initiative: The NHL lockout

Canadians are usually known as a polite people, quick to resolve a conflict. That’s not the case with the National Hockey League lockout, which has lead to the cancellation of 625 games. It’s also hit the Canadian economy: As Brad Plumer reported earlier this year, Canadian spending on “arts and entertainment” fell by 2.8 percent in the third quarter. Research on a previous NHL lockout, in 2004, suggested that the cancellation of the entire season shaved 0.1 percent off Canada’s overall GDP."

First, on the Carney pick. Let's not overstate the ongoing stewardship that has been solid, yes, but given Canada's relatively better economic position than most of the G-something world is a little like being the manager of the New York Yankees. Sure you can mess it up but if you've got the basics firing well, like a well-regulated financial sector, then your chances of coming off smelling like a rose are quite good. Best of luck though to the man as he shuffles off to Britain shortly. And notice, no mention at all by Ezra, noted economic wonk of the Carney-Liberal dalliance which really is quite gossipy but inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. Second point on the Carney pick, it reinforces the all-economy-all-the-time Canada with which this corner disagrees. We are not Canada Inc., simply put.

Thus, my pick for - cue the bold type - Most Worthwhile Canadian Initiative 2012: The anti-bullying efforts that have been unleashed this year in the face of tragic teen suicides across the country. The country has been forced to reckon with a nasty underside of modern life in which social media has made high school experiences a living hell for many young persons and particularly gay young persons. The Canadian suicide problem has been raised to prominence as a national issue. May we continue to build on the caring response and commit to doing more.

As for the Least Worthwhile Canadian Initiative 2012, while I am tempted to agree that the hockey lockout is possibly a good metaphor for present day Canada where our federal government is similarly unable to engage with its opposition and work out solutions that intelligently reflect a diversity of inputs, maybe we can do better. Ezra is giving too much prominence, once again, to a stereotypical Canadian symbol. There are so many in the least worthwhile category to choose from, what is a blogger to do. The omnibus tragicomedies should figure prominently here but are perhaps too obvious.

So I will go with the one that rises instinctually to the top of mind and choose the Woodworth motion as the least worthwhile Canadian initiative. Dangled in the spring, carried over into the summer and finally voted upon in September, this motion was divisive, a sideshow in the Canadian Parliament that sought ultimately to interfere with a woman's right to choose. The only utility, really, was to demonstrate the reactionary breadth of the Harper Conservatives, which could well come back to haunt them, and smoke out the stamp of officialdom on the Woodworth approach in the form of the Status of Women Minister voting in favour of the motion. Runners Up in this category: Anything touted by the talking points crew of Alexander, Del Mastro, Leitch or Poilievre; This government's appointment of a climate change ambassador who is probably a lovely person but which moved the ball exactly nowhere.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Navigable waters nightmare

Robin Rowland, a B.C. based journalist writes about an overlooked aspect of the omnibus Bill C-45, its drastic reduction of rivers, lakes and streams protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act from 2.5 million to 159. This is one of the driving concerns underlying the Idle No More movement as these changes will affect aboriginal people who depend on water for hunting and fishing rights and basic access to clean water. As Rowland points out, this may also have further political ramifications for the Harper government:
When the Harper government killed the controversial long gun registry, it claimed it was championing rural and wilderness Canadians, supporting hunters and farmers. Then why are so many of the people I know who were either opposed to or wary of the long gun registry now seething with anger against the Harper government?
The main reason is this: the rural and wilderness way of life doesn't just mean taking a rifle and going hunting. It also includes fishing, hiking, camping and sailing. To hunt or fish, you must protect the habitat of those animals and the ecosystem that allows salmon or deer to thrive. Those ecosystems are now in danger from the omnibus bills. So one has to question whether Harper's campaign against the long gun registry was really a support for wilderness and rural Canadians, or nothing more than imported conservative ideology, driven by Canada's NRA branch plants.
Many non-urban, small c conservatives across Canada are beginning to say, at least on the issue of rivers, lakes and streams, forests and mountains, they have more in common with the green and aboriginal activists on the left, than the blind ideologues in the urban right-wing think tanks, eastern editorial boards and the Prime Minister's Office.
Hope to hear much more from those non-urban small c conservatives across Canada in 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Only in Britain?

Only in Britain, you say. Pity:
I only ask because a few days ago the government released a transparently self-serving “response” to a request from its own MPs, showing that it costs as much as $150,000 to respond to a question tabled by an opposition politician in Parliament, and therefore that opposition politicians should not be permitted to ask questions of the government.
This is yet more evidence of the fantastic fiscal competence of “Canada’s responsible majority government,” I must say. The British government says that the average written response to a question costs just £164.
Oh the fun stuff you find on the internet blog things. What a bunch of ongoing hooey from our self-proclaimed bunch of supposed fine fiscal managers. Surprising that Mssrs. Cameron and Osborne haven't seen the bit of partisan hay they could be making of such measures, followers that they are. I suppose though that this kind of utter nonsense wouldn't play in the U.K.

Amazing bit of contrast there that deserves to be highlighted.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Republicans on the no new taxes road to ruin

The Republican party in the U.S. has taken that road for almost two decades now and our Prime Minister has imported that no new taxes philosophy to Canada. Conservative sycophants all over the country have followed his lead. Yet at years end, take a look at what's happening in our neighbour to the south. The budget negotiations in the U.S. over the fiscal cliff have laid bare where the absolutism of the no new taxes stance can take you. Instead of permitting tax increases on upper income earners, the Republican radicals would rather let the fiscal cliff kick in and cause tax increases for all Americans and massive spending cuts, sending the U.S. into recession. Tying themselves in knots over being seen to raise taxes. The New York Times has a story today on how the Republicans arrived at this place: "How Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to ‘No New Taxes,’ Ever."

It's the road the Conservative Party of Canada is on as well, and possibly, other federal political parties if they continue to bow to Conservative political pressures. We are not on a fiscal cliff but we do have a structural deficit and other major challenges.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday night

Howdy all! Hope you're having a good week and surviving the holiday busyness and various and sundry politicking all across the country. That's an excerpt above from Jeremy Olander that should be, of course, about twice as long. Very nice and it needs to be loud, very loud. Thought about going with something more mellow, seasonal, but Quite enough of that elsewhere, malls and the like. So progressive house it is.

Have a good night!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Notes from the cooperation front

From a Q & A with Bob Rae, an interesting excerpt on the Canadian political party dynamic:
Speaking of teams, you have, as a New Democrat and a Liberal, probably experienced any number of election results and parliamentary situations. The recent spate of by-elections has stirred up the discussion again about cooperation and mergers and various alignments. Do you think that’s a discussion the Liberals and perhaps the New Democrats have to have, either individually or together? Or do you have to think about 2015 as going in there as distinct parties and rivals?
I think the leadership candidates have now got that issue right in front of them because one of the leadership candidates has raised it as a legitimate issue for discussion in the leadership race. So I’m sure it’ll be discussed. I don’t think it’s an issue we can discuss on our own, otherwise we’re just talking to ourselves. And I think I’ll let the new leader try to figure out to what extent there’s an appetite to do that or not.
I don’t think it’s entirely clear how things will sort of shake out or shake down in the next two years. The one thing I do feel quite strongly is that there’s a substantial majority in the public who do not want another Harper government, another Conservative government. And I think everybody else in the political system has a responsibility to think about what that means and how that result is going to be achieved, without simply blowing their own horn. But I’ll say, you know, after the last election, I mean, the NDP was in a triumphalist mode and then after Jack died and then Tom Mulcair won, Mulcair was in a triumphalist mode. So it’s hard to see how this all happens. I do think in our own ranks, I think there’s a greater sense of self confidence that people will ultimately want to turn to a non-ideological choice than an ideological choice. But, as I say, I think we all have an obligation to be respectful of those people who, well, whatever happens, I don’t want to see a Conservative government. And I think the result in Calgary Centre in particular should cause everybody to reflect on what the future might bring.
From Frank Graves' analysis of a recent poll and what the strengthening multi-party dynamic could mean:
The Conservative party may well benefit from a perfect progressive storm of vote-splitting and a futile rise in Green party votes resulting in few or no seats — as in 2008, when almost 7 per cent support for the Greens still failed to produce a single seat. The slightly invigorated Liberal party and the slightly diminished NDP will now saw off about 50 per cent of voters and the lion’s share of the progressive vote. A even more popular Green Party is still far away from levels where their popularity can translate into seats under the first-past-the-post system. So it may well be the case that a relatively stagnant and diminished Conservative party is in position to post another majority with even lower numbers than they had going into 2011.
...nothing in the current churning patterns suggests that we are going to see anything much different than what we’re seeing right now: two almost equally matched Liberal and NDP parties and a slightly more muscular Green party which would further siphon off the centre left vote in a rather seat-inefficient manner. So the new political arithmetic suggests that the new minority-majority, which is increasingly offside with most Canadians, will continue to be majority government for some time.
Things to mull over the holidays and onwards. We live in interesting times full of possibilities.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Carney brouhaha

This is causing a bit of a stir in some circles today in light of the Globe piece yesterday: "The Carney affair with the Liberal Party: It will all end in tears." I'm not sure exactly who would be the ones ending up in tears here so I leave it to others to determine that.

But I do recall some tears that were shed on Carney's departure. They were those of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, pictured here in an emotional gaze toward the Bank of Canada Governor. If there were any questions about Mark Carney's judgment in speaking about Dutch Disease or the content of what he said in a speech to the CAW, cited by Gordon, surely Mr. Flaherty would have been much less emotional on Carney's departure. The fact that people are only now giving a hindsight look to those speeches means that at the time, those Carney speeches certainly didn't do enough to raise any question about Carney's judgment as Governor.

Conflicts of interest abound in small circles Canada. They should always be disclosed and whether Carney did that internally with the Bank of Canada on the Brison holiday is unknown. Has anyone demonstrated that he didn't disclose it within the Bank by the way? Irrespective of that point, on its face, a conflict of interest doesn't mean that Carney's judgment was or is tarnished. Those asking questions now should demonstrate that there were decisions made by Carney that exhibited any taint. In the absence of that, this is all about appearances.

And on the appearance scale, it's all not great. He probably should have done more to keep Liberal advocates at a distance. But this seems to be more of a political question about his political instincts and not core to his Governor role. That's the way I see it, anyway. The party needs a political leader with good political instincts first and foremost. And why he was not the best choice to be courted in the first place.

I think it bears mentioning, as well, if we are going to now suggest that a few wayward Liberals courting Carney to run somehow taints the very Governor's role by making that position a place of possible political ambition, that over the past few years the closeness of Carney and Flaherty et al. should be examined to a greater extent. In the post-2008 financial recession era, our Bank of Canada Governor, whoever it might have been, might have achieved the stature that Carney has. Might have. We had Carney though and his profile made him more of a star-like figure. This government has never hesitated to hitch themselves to Carney. So let's consider that as well if we're going to talk politicization of that position.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seen in Ottawa

Two people who enjoy politics very much, consulting about leadership advice, etc. Very nice photo.

That is all.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

"Panic all over" on the F-35 at Mr. Harper's feet

If this is true, that aerospace contractors are suddenly all aflutter given the news out of Ottawa on the F-35, then it's squarely on the shoulders of Stephen Harper and his government: "‘It’s panic all over’ as Ottawa rethinks F-35 purchase." Harper and his crew inflamed and sensationalized the jobs issue for contractors for political reasons when they had no need to do so. Here's a reminder of Harper in high form on the F-35s back in the day of 2010:
“To do what Mr. Ignatieff and his allies suggest now is to put in jeopardy every single job in this room and every single job that depends on the aerospace industry with no possible upside whatsoever for the Canadian air force,” he said. “Their position here is playing politics with the lives of our men and women in uniform and the jobs of the people in this room, and we will not stand for it.”
That's what the Prime Minister of Canada did while on site at one of these contractor locations. It was totally inappropriate.

The Memorandum of Understanding that Canada is a party to and that permits contractors to bid for jobs pursuant to, is the principal contract that has always governed our bidding regime. It provides for companies to bid and we paid money in joining this regime in order for these companies to do so. The contracts were never guaranteed to Canada but given our aerospace sector, the contracts came. They may continue to do so.

Some of the panic might have to do with a contractual conflict between what aerospace contractors signed with Lockheed Martin versus what Canada's Memorandum of Agreement with Lockheed Martin states. Again, that's something that never should have happened in this mess but all these people are grownups and they knew all these details. The contractors seemed to be willing to go along with Lockheed Martin to in effect pressure the government into buying the F-35. But governments are ultimately controlled by we civilians, thankfully, and this one finally has had some sense knocked into it by the astounding costs of this plane and the sheer risk now to their political viability (Conservatives of conscience, time to step up, hello).

Back to the main point, setting up aerospace contracts as a condition of our purchase of the F-35...that framing is all on the shoulders of Stephen Harper. And it is partly why this entire episode is so sorry. People's jobs are not political playthings to be gamed for electoral success. But this is the era Stephen Harper has ushered in, so now let's make him live with it. Maybe all those areospace types might want to re-think their photo-op availabilities next time someone comes knocking too.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

December 6th, 1989

Where were you? I will never forget. I was in my first year of law school in Windsor and watched this, or maybe it was a CTV report, on the national news with my roommate Marian. There was no internet (!), no smart phones, no Twitter, no blogs, nada. This is how we saw the news, old school. We were shocked, horrified, stunned. I remember the nighttime, the December cold and thought about a dear girlfriend in Montreal who I called that night. I graduated from McGill in the summer of 1989 and felt a special connection to the city. At the law school the next day and for a while, there was a lot of camaraderie, a closeness, a sharing of what we felt.

Every year on this day, like most of us, my thoughts are about those women and the horror they lived. It is still a day that leaves you with utter sadness and a lump in your throat about their loss. Never forget.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Mercer does Liberal leadership

Addressing the supporter category the party has adopted: "an astounding experiment in democracy." Could be indeed!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Electoral reform debate - video

Parkdale High Park Liberal Debate on PR vs FPTP Part 1 from June Macdonald on Vimeo.

For those who are interested, this is the first 20 minutes of our debate (more to come) held on November 15th in Parkdale-High Park on the topic of electoral reform. The introductory statements by the debaters begin at around the 7:00 minute mark.

It's relevant to a national debate that's taking off on electoral reform, so this was a happy incident of timing. Mr. Dion's presentation of his electoral reform proposal at the Green Party convention at the end of the summer was our jumping off point in deciding to pursue this topic.

Hope you find it informative.

A big thanks to Fair Vote Canada, the debate co-sponsor, for videotaping it and sharing and of course to all the PHP Libs who kicked in as a team to hold this substantive event.

More on cooperation

Noted in this op-ed about the Calgary Centre byelection aftermath:
Leadership is important but it may not be party brass and power-brokers who usher in co-operation. If it happens, it is much more likely to occur at the local level when frustrated political activists and volunteers devise new strategies for coming together to defeat Conservatives.

To that end, a meeting has already been planned for this week in Calgary. The anti-Conservative faction may have lost the byelection but they haven’t given up hope.
This democratic element of local organization is something that is usually overlooked in all the debate over cooperation in favour of what leaders and party brass have to say.

Democracy is messy sometimes and how you deal with it in politics can be telling.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Joyce Murray's Vancouver launch

That's video of Joyce Murray's Vancouver launch that happened Saturday afternoon. I recommend watching the full video as by the end of it you'll get a good sense of what she's about and the bold policies of her platform thus far. It is Sunday after all, come have time to watch a video. If you do need to get right to the heart of it, skip to about the 7:00 min mark and following for the official Vancouver based declaration of her candidacy and continue on from there. She was clearly happy and comfortable with her home crowd of about 200.

There are a few good quotes in the accompanying Georgia Straight article as well that is worth reading. There's this, on the party:
"Liberal governments have introduced most of the practical and bold initiatives that have made this country great," Murray said to a capacity crowd at the Jericho Saling Centre meeting room. "And that's what we need right now: a vision that's not only bold, but is achievable through experience and pragmatic decision making."
Continuing with that thought about the tradition of the party and its bold initiatives, there's more on the cooperation plank that is getting some favourable attention:
"I am against a merger," Murray noted, "but what I am for—for the next election only—is working with my party to adopt a system of voluntary cooperation at the riding level with riding associations having the veto."

She added that the "worst thing would be to continue to let Prime Minister Harper and his government dismantle our democracy and dismantle our social-safety net, and more than that, dismantle our environmental-safety net".

"I find it unimaginable that we can't find the will to cooperate on these key issues for Canadians," she said. "So I will be leading the charge on that."
 One more excerpt on another of her policies:
"In Canada, we have to end the phoney debate in Parliament," she said. "We need to put a price on carbon, and I will work with Canada's CEOs to discuss the best way to implement this carbon price and ensure that they have the predictability and stability that business needs. Business does need to be involved here and be a leader."
Murray is clearly not shying away from big issues of the day that need to be addressed.

Have a great Sunday.