Saturday, October 10, 2015

On credibility blows

Presumably, at some point in the future, the Wildrose Party will run in another Alberta election campaign, with Derek Fildebrandt as one of its candidates.

And plenty of us will have the popcorn ready to see how they try to explain their now-on-the-record belief that it's somehow a betrayal - rather than a desirable state of affairs - for a government to fulfill its promises.

On conversation pieces

Following up on this post, the stretch run of the election campaign (particularly a holiday weekend with advance polling already underway) is exactly the time when our messages in talking to unpersuaded voters will matter most in shaping the results. And I'll offer a few suggestions as to how to argue for both a new government, and the best possible alternative.

First, the main theme should be the need for change - putting the focus squarely on the Cons' failings and the need for a new government to reverse them. But as I've noted before, that doesn't mean implicitly or explicitly insulting people who have voted for the Cons in the past; instead, it means making a case as to why any past reasons for supporting the Cons longer apply.

On that front, it's worth highlighting the contrast between Con promises/branding and actual outcomes: promised wait time guarantees gave way to the abandonment of any health policy whatsoever; promised emission reductions gave way to climate obstructionism; promised honesty and accountability gave way to a corrupt and secretive party and PMO; promised economic competence gave way to stagnation and uncertainty. And whether or not a voter gave the Cons the benefit of the doubt in the past, the important point is to ensure that doesn't happen now.

Second, in differentiating between the opposition parties, it's important not to reinforce Con messages. And since the Cons have been abundantly clear about their three primary themes (economy, security, bigotry), it should be easy enough to avoid reinforcing Harper's messaging on any of them.

Finally, I'd suggest that due to the dangers of voters giving up on the possibility of change, it's not helpful to argue that any national opposition party is unable or unwilling to deliver change of some sort - and conversely, it's important to point out how change can occur across party lines.

To be clear, that leaves ample room to make the case that one party is more desirable than another in the contents of its platform and/or the likelihood of delivering on it. But I'd draw a distinction between saying another party is too similar to the Harper Cons - which at least leaves the Cons isolated as the worst of the lot - and saying that it's no better than the Harper Cons, which opens the door to arguments between supporters of different opposition parties which may leave observers thinking there's nothing to choose between any of the parties.

There's still plenty of room for the campaign to shift - either for better or for worse. But it's possible to make sure that our own messages lead to improvement in terms of both support for our preferred parties, and a wider case for change in this election and beyond.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Don Pittis examines the Cons' record on jobs and the economy, and reaches the inevitable conclusion that free trade bluster and corporate giveaways have done nothing to help Canadians - which makes it no wonder the Cons are hiding the terms of the deals they sign. And John Jacobs writes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership only stands to make matters worse:
Canada is exporting goods that create few domestic jobs and importing goods that create jobs elsewhere. This accounts for some of the decline in manufacturing employment over the past decade in Canada and points to long-term challenges in creating jobs and increasing wages. The exchange rate volatility associated with being a “mining and energy superpower” has also contributed to the decline in manufacturing jobs. For workers, Canada’s free trade experience is one of stagnating wages, increasing income inequality, and relatively higher levels of unemployment.

The TPP, like all modern “free trade” agreements, contains no concrete measures to directly protect or create employment. On the contrary, it ties governments’ hands in pursuing employment and industrial strategies. Jobs are simply assumed to follow automatically from tariff reduction and providing increased protection for investors. They, and not the government, should have complete freedom to decide when, where and how goods and services are produced. Recent history tells us that companies have a poor track record when it comes to translating this freedom into jobs or growth.

Ultimately, though the TPP is not about trade or increasing prosperity for most Canadians, one can understand why Canada’s corporate elite are cheerleading the deal. It entrenches their role as drivers of the Canada economy and “consitutionalizes” their rights to profitably exploit Canada’s resources. For the rest of Canadians, accepting the TPP will have long-term detrimental impacts on the prospects for full employment, economic prosperity, and the ability of Canadians to sustainably manage their economy.
- Anne Kingston highlights how the Cons' and Libs' promise of increased parental leave may only push women out of the workforce if it isn't paired with either specific second-parent leave, or a commitment to the availability of child care. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh notes that at the moment, child care is often problematic both for the parents who can't find it and the workers who are severely underpaid for the responsibility.

- Tasha Kheiriddin speculates that the Cons' continued attacks on women who wear niqabs are based more on a desire to create divisions between minorities than an expectation of exploiting general prejudice - though it's hard to see how either could be excusable as a basis for political decision-making. Tabatha Southey offers a twist on the "leader you'd like to have a beer with" test by pointing out Stephen Harper's choice to bring a bear to the bar with him. And Naomi Lakritz readies her own complaint about Stephen Harper to the Cons' barbaric cultural practices hotline.

- Mike Robinson writes about the Cons' deliberate suppression of altruism as a Canadian value, while calling for our other parties to stand for cooperation and mutual recognition. And Kady O'Malley notes that the NDP is again taking a stand for exactly that in order to ensure a new and better government.

- Finally, Carol Goar writes that the Cons are trying to fundamentally change Canadian democracy by eliminating any meaningful connection between representatives and voters. And Andrew Coyne suggests some simple steps to start repairing Canadian democracy.

On unaccountability

Shorter Harper Cons:
It has come to our attention that we may have come to power on a platform of "whistleblower protection". This was a typo: our plan was instead to pursue "whistleblower prosecution". Don't you dare tell anybody about the error.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Musical interlude

Some pre-election music courtesy of...

Hey Rosetta! & Yukon Blonde - Land You Love

Land You Love - Hey Rosetta! & Yukon Blonde from Phil Maloney on Vimeo.

And for a bonus, Blue Rodeo - Stealin' All My Dreams

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Armine Yalnizyan highlights how Volkswagen's emissions cheating scandal is just one more compelling piece of evidence against trusting the corporate sector to regulate itself:
The trend is towards asking industries to monitor themselves (at their own suggestion), which they quite happily will do, and tell you what they think you want to know.

Now there is a role for self-regulation. Most adults practice self-regulation to some degree. But when we pass laws against certain types of behaviour, we don't think people should police themselves. We hire police to ensure that the laws are obeyed.

Corporations' sole purpose is to make money. That motive doesn't make them more trustworthy than individuals.

If the VW story isn't a huge wake-up call about the failure of corporate self-regulation, I don't know what is. We need good rules, well enforced. Without good enforcement, good rules are just a charade of fairness.
- And needless to say, the fact that a political party is approved as unwilling to act in the public interest is hardly a vote of confidence - which, as Linda McQuaig notes, is exactly the pitch Conrad Black is making for Justin Trudeau and the Libs.

- Meanwhile, Andrew MacLeod finds Con and Lib candidates alike supporting Republican-style drug testing for EI recipients - as the desire to unleash the corporate sector's worst impulses is characteristically paired with the desire to intrude on individual privacy. 

- CBC reports on the Cons' reassurance that people can avoid the effects of two-tier citizenship just as long as they renounce their heritage. (But it's worth noting even that position may not be based in fact, since one need only eligible for other citizenship to have Canadian citizenship revoked, not actually maintain it.)

- Finally, CTV reports that Stephen Harper's PMO inserted itself into decision-making about Syrian refugees for the clear purpose of excluding Muslims. And Tim Harper is the latest to point out that the Cons' xenophobia should be called out as more than just a distraction.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

To summarize...

...the Cons' campaign is effectively down to brainstorming new ways to gratuitously attack women who wear niqabs, regardless of the excuse used to do so or even the non-existence of the circumstances where new discrimination would be imposed.

New column day

Here, on how the Cons' multi-billion dollar price tag for Trans-Pacific Partnership compensation makes clear that every party is planning to spend large amounts of public money reshaping Canada - leaving us to choose which we value most out of the NDP's social programs, Libs' temporary infrastructure spending or Cons' corporate control.

For further reading...
- My previous column comparing the NDP and Lib plans is linked here. And I first noted the burgeoning cost of the TPP (including both direct costs and compensation) here.
- Armine Yalnizyan's review (PDF) of past Canadian recessions includes some discussion as to how free trade led to the 1990 downturn.
- David Reevely notes that the Cons' compensation cheques to politically-crucial businesses serve as a compelling indication that the TPP will indeed hurt Canadian industries, while David Molenhuis makes the same point about the auto sector in particular. And Scott Sinclair and PressProgress detail the expected impacts on supply management and the auto sector respectively.
- Cory Doctorow examines the TPP's appalling copyright restrictions, while Michael Geist argues that the Cons are misleading Canada about what they mean.
- Finally, Jeremy Nuttall reports on the work of Canadians for Tax Fairness in pointing out what the TPP will cost out of the public purse. John Nichols weighs in on the corporatist bent behind the TPP as a whole. And Don Pittis writes that the issues underlying the TPP are indeed similar to those behind other free trade deals which have harmed the public interest.

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Scott Santens writes about one possible endpoint of the current trend toward precarious employment, being the implementation of a basic income to make sure a job isn't necessary to enable people to do meaningful work. And Common Dreams reports that a strong majority of lower-wage workers support both unions, and political parties and candidates who will allow them to function.

- Harvey Cashore and David Seglins follow up on the multiple connections between the Cons, the Canada Revenue Agency and KPMG even as the latter was under investigation for facilitating offshore tax evasion.

- Joe Friesen breaks the news that Stephen Harper's PMO specifically intervened to stop Syrian refugees from having their claims processed.

- Meanwhile, Harsha Walia and Dana Olwan ask whether the Harper Cons are really going to cling to power through bare racism, while Andrew Coyne notes that the forces at play are more insidious than fear alone. And Rick Mercer sums up what the election campaign is ultimately all about:

- Finally, Jason Childs and Alexander Siebert compare (PDF) the liquor retail distribution systems across Western Canada and find there's little reason to privatize anything other than to push more alcohol into citizens' hands.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

On power dynamics

Paul Wells offers his thoughts on what might happen if the Cons lead in the seat count in a minority Parliament. But I'd think it's worth noting two other considerations to counter Wells' take that the Cons could hold on with substantially less than half the seats in the House of Commons.

First, particularly if the combination of NDP and Lib seats adds up to a majority, it's hard to see which of the parties running flat-out on the need for change could possibly do anything but vote down the Cons' first throne speech.

The issue isn't one of relying on technical arguments against fairness and public opinion, but acting out of fairness to supporters based on their clearly-expressed opinion. Any action which kept the Cons in power would be guaranteed to alienate the large mass of people who want to vote Harper out more strongly than ever, while allowing the other party to be seen as the more effective opposition as another election loomed.

Which leads to the second consideration. As I've noted before, if Stephen Harper stays in power, then Stephen Harper retains the ability to call another election any time he wants it. And that's not in the interest of either of the parties who are already being squeezed by a prolonged election campaign.

Of course, Harper would have the constitutional entitlement to try to cling to power. But I'd think the chances of the Cons holding onto power past a throne speech in a minority Parliament would be limited to extremely narrow sets of circumstances - perhaps including the Cons being able to induce MPs to cross the floor or at least leave their existing parties, or winning the support of a Bloc presence sufficient to get them over a majority threshold. And if the NDP and the Libs between them have the ability to bring about a change in government, both principle and politics dictate that should be the result.

On campaign reflections

There's been a flurry of discussion elsewhere about the NDP's campaign over the past couple of weeks, and I'll chime in quickly with my own take on how the campaign has developed so far - and what we should hope for as it reaches its conclusion.

To start with, I see two points where there's some basis for fourth-quarter-commercial-break quarterbacking as to the NDP's campaign strategy.
First, I've previously pointed out the inherent flaw in the Cons' plan to brand Justin Trudeau as "not ready": while it might have been a valuable message as long as it stuck, it was subject to disproof based on Trudeau's performance during the campaign. And while I don't see Trudeau as having been particularly strong, he's at least cleared the painfully low bar set for him by the Cons. (Conversely, the high expectations of Mulcair based on his personal reputation and performance in Parliament seem to have led to strong debate performances being largely dismissed by the commentariat.)

That matters because the NDP seemed to be counting initially on the Cons' personality-based case against Trudeau to stick throughout the campaign and make Mulcair look stronger by comparison. Now, with the "not ready" theme looking like it's going to be something less than a decisive ballot question, the NDP is building off of relatively little previous messaging of its own to paint Trudeau as "not change".

Second, the NDP seems to have expected the campaign to consist primarily of a war between the Cons and the Libs which would allow it to come up the middle as the least-worst option.

On that front, the NDP's early-campaign rise in the polls might have represented more hindrance than help. When the NDP took the lead, Tom Mulcair became the main target for his rivals for several weeks - and the resulting wave of negative messaging has at least cut into Mulcair's lead over his opponents in terms of personal approval.

That said, there's still plenty for the NDP to build on as the campaign draws to a close. Mulcair remains the most popular of the federal leaders, the NDP is still well within striking distance in terms of both headline polling numbers and underlying issue support and voter consideration, and it still has a memorable and worthwhile platform which can be re-emphasized now that it's clear that trying to stay above the fray won't be enough.

And as a bonus, the Trans-Pacific Partnership unveiled by the Cons looks like exactly the kind of issue which will help clarify the difference between a faux progressive in Trudeau who wants to claim the title only when convenient, and a party actually committed to putting people first. So I'll echo the sentiment that the path to victory for the NDP involves standing on principle and making the case for a government with the capacity and willingness to act for the good of citizens.

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Paul Theroux comments on the gall of corporations who move jobs to the cheapest, least-safe jurisdictions possible while trumpeting their own supposed contributions to the countries they leave behind. And Wilma Liebman sees more progressive labour legislation as one of the keys to encouraging workers to organize and secure better working and living conditions.

- The Star's editorial board writes about the need for far more debate about poverty and precarity in Canada's federal election. And Max Ehrenfreund discusses the connection between income and life expectancy, while noting that inequality is going up (and the poorest class is seeing absolute declines) in both.

- Hilary Beaumont, Rachel Browne and Justin Ling report on the Libs' apparent plans - in both their platform and Justin Trudeau's own public statements - to unleash large-scale domestic surveillance on Canadians. (And the apparent clarification that they don't know what they're actually promising doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their general interest in civil liberties, including their vague tut-tutting about C-51.)

- Meanwhile, Susan Delacourt contrasts the option of an inclusive, multicultural society against that of a Con-approved "snitch state" where everybody's looking for reason to report everybody else as unCanadian.  And Neil MacDonald sees the Cons' deliberate discrimination as the barbaric cultural practice we should be concerned about.

- Finally, Heather Mallick summarizes how the Harper Cons have gone out of their way to ruin Canada.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Deconstructing cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood highlights how the Trans-Pacific Partnership will do little but strengthen the hand of the corporate sector against citizens. Duncan Cameron notes that even in the face of a full-court press for ever more stringent corporate controls, there's plenty of well-justified skepticism about the TPP. And Olivia Chow compiles both plenty more concerns with the TPP, and the evidence that the Cons' obsession with trade agreements is doing nothing to help Canada economically.

- Upstream calls for Canadians to vote for a healthier society in the upcoming federal election. And Kimberly Noble points out how poverty and deprivation affect children's development - resulting in worse results for everybody. 

- Catherine Latimer discusses the prison crisis created by the Cons' combination of dumb-on-crime policies and lack of investment to deal with the increased demands on the correctional system.

- The CCPA provides a much-needed overview of the Harper Cons' disastrous record over their past two terms in power.

- Which means it's no surprise that the Cons are left with little but fearmongering to try to cling to power as pointed out by Heather Libby. But Sandy Garossino writes that Harper and company are putting women at risk with their choice of targets for xenophobia and exclusion. And Joseph Heath rightly argues that the Cons have gone far beyond the realm of defensible policy to the point where there's no innocent or reasonable explanation for their choices:
I usually lean towards the more charitable interpretation of people’s motives. And I try very hard to be charitable with conservatives, in part because I disagree with them on so many points, and so am likely to be biased in the direction of being uncharitable. Thus I have really been working hard to resist the tendency – which many of my colleagues have – of writing off the Conservative Party entirely, as being outside the scope of “reasonable” political conviction. I’ve also been doing what I can to encourage centre-right conservatives to be more assertive in controlling the drift into extreme ideological positions that one can see in the right wing in Canada. At this point, however, I’m starting to have trouble. My most charitable reading of the current situation is that it can be blamed on this Australian strategist they brought in, who’s basically been telling them to play the anti-Islam card, because hey, what does he care what happens to the country – he doesn’t have to live here (never thought I would find myself missing Jenni Byrne!). But even then, I’m having doubts.

Psychologically, I’m starting to feel that I should put the Conservative Party of Canada into the same mental category that most people put the National Front in France – not as a representative of a reasonable political position, but as more of a cancer on the body politic. For the moment I’m still resisting that – holding out some faith in the decency of Canadians – but the way things are going I may need to reconsider.

The one thing I can say, however, is that after Friday’s press conference, I can no longer regard it as morally acceptable for anyone to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada. A week ago, I could still persuade myself that reasonable people could disagree over how to vote in this election, but no longer.

Monday, October 05, 2015

On uncosted liabilities

So even from the sketchy details made public so far, and even leaving aside the more general harm done by limiting government action and entrenching corporate monopolies, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will cost Canada:
Naturally, none of those costs were taken into account in the budgets being relied on by any of Canada's political parties in developing their platforms. But now that we know they'll come with the TPP (while any supposed benefits tend to be longer-term to the extent they materialize at all), can we agree that any party open to ratifying the deal has to account for the price in its platform for the next four years?

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Joseph Heath discusses how the Volkswagen emission cheating scandal fits into a particular type of corporate culture:
(W)hen the Deepwater Horizon tragedy occurred, or now the VW scandal, it was hardly surprising to people who follow these things. Certain industries essentially harbour and reproducing deviant subcultures. This is one of the reasons that much of the best work on white collar crime has been inspired by, and draws upon, work in juvenile delinquency. Whereas delinquents tend to exist in subcultures that reproduce deviant attitudes toward authority, many corporations reproduce subcultures that promote organized resistance to regulation.

This is a well-known feature of the automobile industry, and apparently this is what was happening at VW as well. One executive, speaking anonymously, blamed “the company’s isolation, its clannish board and a deep-rooted hostility to environmental regulations among its engineers. “
What can be said about this? Perhaps a few lessons: First, it serves as a helpful reminder that white collar crime remains a very serious social problem, one that attracts far too little public concern. This is partly because of an almost entirely supine business press – it remains that case that while the “news” section of newspapers focuses very heavily on criticizing the government, the “business” section almost never criticizes business, and does almost no investigative reporting or muckracking. (Notice that while political scandals are almost always uncovered by political reporters, the VW story was not broken by an “automotive” reporter.) Second, it is important to be aware that these criminogenic business subcultures, once developed, can be extremely difficult to eliminate. Thus it is a very important responsibility of management to set the right tone, to keep a careful eye on the corporate culture, and to take hard line when things start to get out of hand. Finally, there are many people who, for reasons of political ideology, are strongly critical of environmental law, health and safety regulation, financial regulation, the FDA, etc. These political ideologies are often appealed to by corporate criminals, as a way of legitimating their law-breaking activities. It seems to me, therefore, that those who express an ideological hostility to regulation bear a special responsibility for ensuring that their views are not misused in this way. This can be achieved, in part, by emphasizing the very significant difference between claiming that a law should be repealed and claiming that a law need not be obeyed.
- And on the subject of cultures where lawbreaking is seen as normal if not outright desirable, Andrew Nikiforuk reminds us of the multiple scandals surrounding Bruce Carson - involving both illegal lobbying and publicly-funded shilling for the oil industry.

- Meanwhile, Joseph Stiglitz sees the Trans-Pacific Partnership as nothing more than a means of entrenching corporate abuses into law around the globe. But Michael Harris notes that plenty of voters and activist groups will be fighting that choice in Canada. 

- Edward Keenan makes clear that the Cons' campaign of discrimination is intended to foment hatred against Muslims in general, while Sean Fine reports that the Cons' target voters are taking up the invitation to do violence against fellow Canadians. And Paula Simons highlights the arrogance involved in claiming to tell women what they may and may not wear.

- Finally, Haroon Siddiqui discusses the domestic damage being done by the Cons' politically-obsessed foreign policy.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Ian Welsh writes that the Harper Cons have destroyed Canada's historic economic balance by scrapping the parts of the manufacturing sector which previously provided a buffer against low resource prices. And Bruce Campbell compares Canada's record on climate change to Norway's, and concluding that it isn't only in terms of royalties and heritage funds that we're far worse off for catering to big oil.

- Andrew Jackson comments on the role government investment should play in improving Canada's record on innovation. But Joseph Stiglitz and Adam Hersh flesh out what the Cons are pushing instead: "trade" agreements which serve mostly to entrench the existing advantages of the wealthy. And Annie Lowrey discusses the connection between tax evasion and inequality.

- Alex Boutilier reports on SumOfUs' work in exposing the connection between Con donations and patronage appointments.

- Toby Sanger offers a reminder that the NDP's track record of fiscal management is far better than that of any other political party.

- Alex Hemingway summarizes why C-51 and other civil rights concerns need to be at the forefront of the federal election.

- Finally, Suzanne Goldenberg comments on Tony Turner's role as the face of a suppressed public service. And Lana Payne echoes Turner's most famous theme by saying the election should come down to a referendum on the Harper Cons' woeful record.