Wednesday, August 31, 2011

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 here...in 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

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.

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.

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!

IMG_0903

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.

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.

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



(h/t)

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

These things don't happen in Canada, thankfully.

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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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

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.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

If it seems too good to be true, it usually is

Rob Ford is giving election promises a very bad name right about now:
When he was running for mayor last year, Rob Ford made two explicit promises to the voters of Toronto.

The first was that his plan to trim spending and “stop the gravy train” would not mean any cuts to city services. “I will assure you that services will not be cut, guaranteed,” he said on Oct. 8, two weeks before winning election.

The second was that there would be no layoffs. In a statement released on YouTube on Sept. 27, he said he would reduce the number of city employees through attrition. “No need for layoffs.”

Now it looks as if he will break both promises. City hall is considering a whole menu of service cuts as Mr. Ford seeks to wipe out a $774-million budget shortfall. City council is to meet next month to consider cutting back on everything from libraries to policing to street cleaning.

As for layoffs, Mr. Ford came close to admitting on Friday that they are inevitable. It was clear all along that attrition alone would not do the trick. Now it seems that a second tactic – offering buyout packages to employees if they leave – is falling short too. Though Mr. Ford says that the last thing he wants to do is put people out on the street, “I don’t know if we have a choice.”
Toronto's budget woes will be a very helpful and ongoing backdrop for the Ontario election. Those promising tax relief yet simultaneously no changes to Ontario services will hopefully be viewed with greater skepticism this time round. Fool me once...and all that.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday night



Oh, what else would it be!

Have a good night.

The lifeblood of parties

What a great blog post at digby's tonight. The post was about intra-party critics and their usefulness, in light of much of the Democratic generated criticism of Obama of late. These two last paragraphs in particular were notable, on a grassroots group that heckled Mitt Romney in Iowa yesterday. The group prompted his "corporations are people" gaffe, one that is likely to hound him from here on in.
These are the sorts of activists who are persistent and get things done. They're the sorts of activists who will be there on behalf of Democratic principles come rain or shine, come Republican or Democratic Administrations. All the Democratic Party needs to do is have their back, and they can make magic happen. Iowa CCI just did more for the Obama re-election campaign than $50 million of advertising dollars could ever hope to do, against the candidate whom all the polls show would likely be Obama's most formidable opponent in the general election.

The truth is that Iowa CCI isn't stabbing the President or the Democratic Party in the back through their criticism of the Grand Bargain. If anything, the President and the Party are stabbing them in the back, even as they continue to do the sort of work that helps get Democrats elected--even if that work doesn't necessarily come in the form of phonebanking or door-to-door canvassing. The Democratic Party needs both the ideological progressives and the careful team player shock troops, and it forgets that lesson at its peril.
The incident and the blog post prompted a few thoughts. First, for all the craziness in the American system right now, at least it was a good example of no-holds barred democratic interaction that we Canadians are seeing less and less of these days. Good luck getting such a group near our Prime Minister to challenge him. He was cloistered in notoriously pre-screened rooms during the federal election and isn't likely to be putting himself in any kind of comparably open forum in the near future.

Second, despite such limitations in our system, the work of this Iowa group is a clear example of party-coalition building in action. Having such groups in your party tent is, to be trite, how you can get your members elected. They're electoral muscle. Liberals need to have it on the radar to a much greater extent. We read a lot about membership, fundraising, etc. these days in reporting on Liberal party goings on. This is the stuff that's missing though.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Video: "CWB vote: Last chance to have your say "



From the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, encouraging those eligible to vote: "All ballots must be returned no later than AUGUST 24."

Great mood captured in that video! Go farmers!

Carbon taxes may be the new debt reducers

There is an op-ed in the Globe today by Todd Hirsch, a Calgary-based senior economist at a financial firm out there: "Debt is the new carbon." His premise is essentially as his title states, that climate change, despite a lack of action to date, will fall off governmental agendas to be replaced by a focus on debt reduction. Hmmm. Except the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The New York Times editorialized the other day about revenue sources that will indeed need to be confronted by the Americans in what is likely to be a difficult political debate. A carbon tax is staring them in the face as an opportunity:
Congress should consider raising revenues in other ways, like a value-added tax, or carbon taxes. That way all of the needed revenue for deficit reduction, and for what government provides, does not need to be squeezed from the income tax. A value-added tax is conducive to saving, and a carbon tax helps protect the environment.
Joe Romm at Climate Progress also set out the case for a carbon tax's possible introduction in the U.S. as part of a future debt ceiling deal after an Obama re-election (which he puts at 50-50). He cited this point from a Climate Wire piece in his blog item:
“A carbon tax could be an appealing alternative to even more ambitious cuts to entitlements and defense spending as well as a national value-added tax, repealing the home mortgage tax deduction, or higher income taxes,” [economist Joe] Aldy said in an email. “A well-designed carbon tax could raise some revenues to finance deficit reduction and enable a reduction in payroll tax rates, for example.”
Here in Canada, Professor Harrison of UBC recently made the argument as well:
...carbon taxes offer some near-term economic, and thus political, advantages that may have been underestimated.

In particular, carbon taxes bring in government revenues that can be deployed for various purposes: investing in clean-energy infrastructure and (politically popular) job creation; stimulating the economy by cutting other, less efficient, taxes; and reducing government deficits at a time when traditional revenue sources are not delivering. The last of these probably accounts for the “public benefit surcharges” on electricity that some two-dozen U.S. states have quietly adopted in recent years. It has arguably also contributed to the survival of the B.C. carbon tax (and several long-established European carbon taxes), the revenues from which are essential to avoiding increases in other taxes.
So, I don't think it's as simple as Hirsch makes it out to be in the Globe today with his concluding, "Sorry, carbon, you've been replaced" as a focus of governments in favour of debt reduction. Carbon and debt reduction could go hand in hand.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Libraries and the governments that love them

Don't tell the Ford clan but some governments get libraries and why they are important:
“The Burnhamthorpe Library plays an important role in the Mississauga community,” said Stella Ambler, Member of Parliament for Mississauga South, on behalf of the Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities. “Many families enjoy visiting the branch and benefiting from its many services, and the completion of this infrastructure project means they can continue to do so well into the future. Our government is proud to support the redevelopment of this facility and its grounds.”

“The McGuinty government is proud to support our local libraries, which help provide our children and grandchildren with lifelong learning and development opportunities,” said the Honourable Charles Sousa, Member of Provincial Parliament for Mississauga South. “Mississauga’s libraries play a vital role in our neighbourhoods and I’m certain that this beautifully renovated library will serve as a vital community hub for many years to come.”

"The renovated and expanded Burnhamthorpe Library is architecturally striking," said Hazel McCallion, Mayor of Mississauga. "And, with the library, Maja Prentice Theatre and Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre under one roof, the facility conveniently provides a range of services and opportunities for joint programming and cost sharing."
Now I realize that compared to Toronto, Mississauga is virtually rolling in dough. But the value attributed to the library as a community institution is what's of interest here. Hazel could teach Mr. Ford a thing or two.

National Post hearts Liberals today

Just noting the occasion. While some of this is begrudging and framed a little backhandedly, it is relevant to remember that our economic situation today that is standing us in better stead than a lot of nations does indeed trace back to a Liberal government.
It is worth offering thanks to those who helped make Canada what it is today: the strongest, most stable economy in the free world. This editorial board was often critical of the Liberal style of leadership, which frequently played on anti-Americanism, emphasized left-wing social engineering, and engulfed Ottawa in a series of real scandals. But in the economic sphere, every Canadian owes former prime minister Jean Chrétien and his long-time finance minister, Paul Martin, their gratitude.

It was under the leadership of those two men that the federal government finally began restoring sanity to Ottawa’s spending habits, which had become punch drunk under Pierre Trudeau and then Brian Mulroney. Alarmed by the decision of several ratings agencies to drop Canada’s federal rating to AA+ — the same as S&P now assigns Washington — the federal Liberals began a series of deep, often painful spending cuts. Little was spared, including provincial transfer payments. Between 1995 and 1998, government spending was chopped by an impressive 14%. While some of the cuts, particularly to defence spending, had lasting negative effects, the overall effort saved the international community’s confidence in Canada as a safe place to invest. The result was that Canada’s federal debt-to-GDP ratio dropped from a whopping 70% (not much lower than where the United States is now) to under 30% in 2008.
They go on to praise Mr. Harper's record post-Liberals but I'll let you read that and make of it what you will. Around here we are not so enamoured with his economic philosophy and priorities.

Our Economist™ versus others

Interesting little wire crossing in Brazil as Harper meets the Brazilian President:
At a signing ceremony with Harper for several modest bilateral deals, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff criticized the credit-rating agency for an "incorrect assessment."

"We do not agree with the rushed evaluation, a little bit too quick evaluation, and I would even say incorrect assessment made by Standard & Poor's which reduced the credit rating of the United States."

The Prime Minister's Office later clarified that Rousseff was speaking on behalf of Brazil, not Canada.
The implication of that clarification could be that Canada is with Standard & Poor's.

The Standard & Poor's decision to lower the U.S. rating has been pilloried by many including a former Managing Director of Moody's Sovereign Ratings and Krugman:
Let’s start with S.& P.’s lack of credibility. If there’s a single word that best describes the rating agency’s decision to downgrade America, it’s chutzpah — traditionally defined by the example of the young man who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.

America’s large budget deficit is, after all, primarily the result of the economic slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. And S.& P., along with its sister rating agencies, played a major role in causing that crisis, by giving AAA ratings to mortgage-backed assets that have since turned into toxic waste.

Nor did the bad judgment stop there. Notoriously, S.& P. gave Lehman Brothers, whose collapse triggered a global panic, an A rating right up to the month of its demise. And how did the rating agency react after this A-rated firm went bankrupt? By issuing a report denying that it had done anything wrong.

So these people are now pronouncing on the creditworthiness of the United States of America?

Wait, it gets better. Before downgrading U.S. debt, S.& P. sent a preliminary draft of its press release to the U.S. Treasury. Officials there quickly spotted a $2 trillion error in S.& P.’s calculations. And the error was the kind of thing any budget expert should have gotten right. After discussion, S.& P. conceded that it was wrong — and downgraded America anyway, after removing some of the economic analysis from its report.

As I’ll explain in a minute, such budget estimates shouldn’t be given much weight in any case. But the episode hardly inspires confidence in S.& P.’s judgment.
Given what we've seen on the markets today, I'm not sure what Harper has in mind by emphasizing the distinction between Brazil's critical position on the S&P rating and our own. In another report, there's more on his reaction:
Later, appearing at his own news conference, Harper declined to say if he agrees with the criticism, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on the decisions of the credit-rating agency on another country.

However, Harper did say the agency had issued an assessment of Canada's fiscal position that was "extremely positive."

"I think that does indicate we are on the right track. We are gradually reducing our deficit. We've got a low debt level but we're gradually reducing a deficit in a way that is encouraging the Canadian economy to continue to create jobs."
I'm no economist but wouldn't it be preferable to be talking up the economic strengths of your leading trading partner whose economic fortunes are so crucial to our own? At least something more than what he's done here.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Moneyball



The movie about Billy Beane and his revolutionizing of the Oakland A's and their baseball strategy is coming out soon, why I assume Patrick Lagace is writing about Beane today. It's good stuff:
Moneyball, le baseball et les idées reçues, donc. Lewis, au début des années 2000, est fasciné par les succès des A's d'Oakland. Cette équipe à petit budget réussit souvent à se classer dans les séries éliminatoires, bien qu'elle ne compte que sur le tiers du budget des grandes puissances du baseball majeur. Pour comprendre, Lewis s'est imbriqué dans l'organisation des A's, suivant à la trace ses joueurs, ses entraîneurs et, surtout, son directeur général, le colérique, athlétique (il est plus en forme que ses joueurs!) et iconoclaste Billy Beane.

Le système Beane repose sur la conviction que l'utilité réelle des joueurs de baseball est méconnue, car ceux-ci sont évalués selon des paramètres qui ne résistent pas à l'analyse. Des paramètres qui sont plus près du vaudou que de la science. Déterminez les statistiques pertinentes, trouvez les joueurs qui possèdent ces statistiques, achetez-les au rabais et, tadam, le nectar de la gloire vous attend...

Un exemple, parmi mille: les équipes de baseball dépensent des millions pour des gros frappeurs de puissance. Le joueur qui frappe 40 circuits par année, selon la croyance, fait gagner des championnats.

Surfant sur les conclusions d'une génération d'adepte des «sabermetrics», une discipline statistique créée par des fans finis de baseball, Beane décrète qu'il ne veut pas embaucher de gros frappeurs. Il faut embaucher des joueurs capables d'arracher des buts sur balle! Parce que les statistiques ne mentent pas: plus une équipe a de joueurs capables de se rendre sur les buts, plus elle marque de points, plus elle gagne de matches...

Le pire, c'est que ça marche. Le système Beane produit ses fruits. Mais le baseball est un sport de traditions, dont certaines sont carrément stupides, et à l'intérieur même des A's, les recruteurs regardent le DG avec le dédain qu'on réserve à une crotte de nez.

Alors que Beane et son adjoint, un diplômé universitaire gourou des statistiques accessoirement intéressé par le baseball, prônent la dictature des statistiques indicatrices de succès, leurs recruteurs, eux, sont encore coincés dans un autre siècle, le XIXe. Ils évaluent encore les joueurs, par exemple, selon ce critère ésotérique: la capacité de «bien» porter un uniforme...
Innovation with a sport that's been played a certain way professionally for decades, that's what the Beane story is all about. He elevated the stat of on-base-percentage above all others as instrumental to their organization. No other team at the time was doing it. They had success. A great story.

Columnists gone wild

Quite a column from John Ibbitson for a lazy Saturday in August: "Will Cautious Stephen Harper let Wild Steve run free?" It's a musing on whether the thus far apparently cautious PM we've seen - census, cough, constitutional crisis, cough, gazebo builder extraordinaire, cough - will now morph into his wilder more conservative version. On three issues specifically, EI, equalization and health care, major Canadian social programs but unhelpfully framed as "the entitlement regime" by Ibbitson (language matters, we should identify and reject these framings immediately). The column reads as if the possible changes for these social programs are trial balloons, maybe certain folks are getting ramped up for a fall agenda and are seeding the landscape, who knows.

Anyway, Ibbitson muses about how Harper has a free hand now to move on such issues:
"The Conservatives in Ottawa have virtually no opposition. Both the Liberals and the NDP are in disarray, struggling with the challenges of interim leaders and internal contradictions, while a raft of provincial elections this fall could put rookie conservative premiers in office across much of the country. Politically, this is as close to carte blanche as it gets."
Somewhat true. But the federal Conservatives were just elected on a specific platform. None of what Ibbitson raises in his column today appeared in that platform. So no one should be getting carried away with the "carte blanche" advice from Ibbitson. Let's call that one out, clearly. It's not right. Not that such niceties are likely to deter this Prime Minister, mind you, but it should give a cautious Prime Minister pause. One who has a sense of his mandate, rather than some interpretive policy dance he's going to do all over our social programs.

Here's what's possibly on the agenda according to Ibbitson on equalization for example:
"Equalization would be another priority for Wild Steve. The complex formula is clearly broken, since Ontario now collects more from it than any province other than Quebec. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has suggested in the past that perhaps the whole system should be scrapped. He won’t get much of an argument from voters in the “have” provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. All three are Tory bastions."
Yep, scrap the whole system. He's not presenting McGuinty's present position on equalization, for the record. So if this is somebody's idea for a present day basis for eliminating the equalization formula, probably not a good one. We can just imagine the opposition that we'll see from Ontario, Quebec and the maritime provinces on this doozy. Fixing a problem is one thing, floating the scrapping of it is a whole other can of worms. (More here on McGuinty's position; here's a right wing institute that's been laying the ground for equalization reform since early 2010.)

More from Ibbitson:
Then there’s health care. The current federal funding formula expires in 2014. Some premiers want Mr. Harper to get started on a new plan that would last another decade. But Wild Steve would rather cut 10 separate deals, freeing those provinces that want more leeway to experiment with parallel private care from the strictures of the Canada Health Act.
Is your head shaking yet? 10 separate deals on health care. You second guess yourself on whether this is all truly satire at this stage, but no.

See also the EI proposal in the column.

Canadians who believe we are all in this together on the social ties that bind us should should pay attention to such trial balloons. Surely it's all coming from somewhere.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday night



This is a little on the cheesy side, but heck, am a sucker for progressive house with piano, major key, etc. So infectious!

Have a good night.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Reminder: T.O. blogger event tomorrow night

A quick reminder here...tomorrow night - Thursday the 4th - is the casual, Toronto-based progressive bloggers get together, organized haphazardly by some of we blogging types. 6:30 p.m. at a downtown location to be happily disclosed to any out there still thinking about attending (or who may just be spotting this now). Email me impolitic@rogers.com or Big City Lib bigcitylib@hotmail.com for the details.

Hope to see some new peeps, or even some of those vets! Come on in, the water's warm. We will not break the covenant of the anonymous bloggers for those concerned.

Btw, BCL is buying. I mean, a published literary author and all, isn't that to be expected? ;)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Turmel's day

Just a few points to add to the maelstrom. Have been out much of the day so forgive me if any of this is repetitive of anything seen elsewhere.

Last week I did want to blog about the NDP interim leader selection process. But I held off out of a sense that it would be improper given the emotional circumstances. There is still that air about this entire development or series of developments so I hope to say this in a respectful and civil manner.

1. Process. Jack Layton announced last Monday that he would be stepping aside for an interim leader. The vote, which became a ratification, on his suggested choice of Turmel was to occur on Wednesday, by the NDP caucus. This would be followed by a Thursday vote of the national executive.

Whether that is proper procedure under the NDP's constitution, I can't say because I haven't read it. This is not a technical point though.

As far as I understand, even the MPs had no knowledge of what Mr. Layton's announcement would be on the Monday. So they and any others had no opportunity, really, to react, debate, or even consider what a proper process should be. And really, I'm talking timeline here. Was it urgent that an interim leader be appointed so quickly? Possibly not. Is there a 48 hour requirement for the appointment of an interim leader in their constitution? Probably not.

In hindsight, and as it has unfolded, it is possible to say that the process they undertook was flawed. Too smooth, too quick. Understandable perhaps given the circumstances but ultimately it doesn't seem to have been the right decision.

2. Succession. It was also a surprising thing to see the interim leader hand-picked by Layton. It's not the ideal scenario. Think beyond politics too for analogies. Does a CEO get to hand pick their successor? Or is there a succession process that the board oversees to ensure the best interests of the organization are placed first, above and beyond personal choices? That's an ideal, yes, and that's the way it should happen. It was/is a delicate situation the NDP is dealing with here. But not beyond the realm of what mature organizations deal with every day in hard circumstances. The NDP likes to tout itself as a well-functioning machine independent of the leader, as we've heard this past week. This aspect of the interim leader process did not speak to that.

3. Disclosure. For Turmel not to have disclosed her former (and very recent) Bloc membership (and Quebec Solidaire) to the public is a strike against her. It's something that she should have disclosed up front. The NDP leadership knew about it (last paragraph here). That information was owed to the public by her and the NDP and it's a hit for their credibility.

Tax value

This piece in the Globe today by a Toronto architect, Jack Diamond is worth a read because it's the kind of case that's not often made these days for what's needed to build and keep the Canada we enjoy living in. It's about cities and the elements that sustain them. But it's also about how we pay for that and the need to have political leadership that understands how all these elements interrelate. This excerpt in particular stood out:
Most residents are not opposed to taxes in order to preserve the services citizens need and expect in a civil society. These also happen to be the services that attract investment, provide physical and social connectivity, and ensure environmental sustainability.

It’s not tax cuts that respect taxpayer values, but respect for tax value.

In Toronto’s case, the business-minded mayor needs to be reminded that there are two sides to a ledger – expenses and revenue.
With emphasis on that middle part: "It's not tax cuts that respect taxpayer values, but respect for tax value." It seems to be a little awkwardly phrased but not a bad way of putting it. The important point is the "respect for tax value" leg of the equation, the need to inculcate more respect and support for tax value. In other words, let's take the argument beyond ourselves and toward the infrastructure our taxes support (the transportation, housing, low crime rate, entertainment venues, etc.). The focus on Toronto libraries has been a good recent example of that.

That's the nice version of the argument today. Here's another must read, along similar lines, on taxes and what kind of cities we're living in, emanating out of the Montreal tunnel disaster that happened on the weekend: "La bullshit de Sam Hamad."