Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Duncan Brown discusses the connection between precarious work and low productivity. And Sara Mojtehedzadeh examines how Ontario's workers' compensation system is pushing injured individuals into grinding poverty by setting impossible requirements for claimants.

- Jim Balsillie worries that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will only increase the tendency of profits from Canadian ideas to flow elsewhere. And Cory Doctorow criticizes the Trudeau Libs for blindly following the Harper Cons when it comes to corporate control agreements.

- Stephanie Levitz reports on the Cons' cherry-picking of Christian refugees contrary to Canada's international obligations. And Fram Dinshaw exposes the Cons' willingness to keep pesticides in regular use long after they were known to be toxic.

- Nora Loreto discusses the state of Canada's media, including the need for both public and activist support for alternative news-gathering as corporate newspapers are slashed. And Thomas Frank points out the role of elite media in limiting political choices, particularly by presenting special treatment for the wealthy as an inevitability.

- Finally, Alison Crawford reports on CSIS' pattern of unauthorized intrusion into Canadians' tax information. Andrew Mitrovica situates that violation in the broader context of intelligence abuses, while Colin Freeze discusses how substantially more oversight could serve as at least a partial solution. And Cara Zwibel argues that it's time to put Charter rights at the forefront of how laws are made (which we can also extend to how government functions are carried out):
Clearly there are critical accountability and transparency gaps in our law-making process, which enable the advancement of arguably unconstitutional laws, such as Bill C-51. Indeed, at no point in the process are parliamentarians required to publicly defend the constitutionality of the laws they pass.

That job seems to have been left to our already overburdened courts, and to affected individuals and public interest organizations, such as CCLA, who, in recent years, have been compelled in some cases to launch Charter challenges as the only viable recourse. This is unfortunate given that these particular challenges — which come at a significant cost not only to the applicants, but also the public — could likely have been avoided had Parliament done its duty. And of even greater concern, as these lengthy court battles play out, the laws challenged remain on the books, restricting the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians, and risk becoming normalized.

Furthermore, the limited safeguards we do have are simply not working. Typically, the Department of Justice (DOJ) provides legal opinions to the justice minister regarding the constitutionality or legal vulnerabilities of government-proposed legislation. However, the government has refused to make these opinions public, stating that they are subject to solicitor-client privilege. The minister is also required to report Charter inconsistencies to Parliament, but the DOJ has suggested that the minister need only report when there is no credible argument in favour of a bill passing the Charter test. This standard is simply too low and, in practice, has meant that not a single report relaying concerns about Charter compliance has ever been made to Parliament.

Proactive accountability and transparency measures are sorely needed to help compel our government and parliamentarians — both present and future — to honour their fundamental duty to uphold the Charter throughout the law-making process. This is why CCLA has launched a new campaign called Charter First, which calls for the reform of our legislative process such that Charter rights are prioritized and Canadians are informed about the constitutionality of proposed bills.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Musical interlude

Greg Downey & Bo Bruce - These Hands I Hold

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Rachel Bryce, Cristina Blanco Iglesias, Ashley Pullman and Anastasia Rogova examine the effect of inequality on education in Canada. And John McMurtry comments on the increasing hoarding of wealth and the lack of anything left over for the rest of us.

- Emily Badger highlights the "million dollar block" phenomenon showing that incarceration is just as systematically concentrated as extreme wealth (if of course in different places). 

- Dana Milbank traces the poisoning of Flint back to Rick Snyder's corporatist mindset. And Julia Lurie reports that Snyder was well aware of the dangers of the city's water long before publicly admitting anything - resulting in state employees receiving an alternate source of water while residents were left to ingest lead.

- Mychaylo Prystupa points out that the Libs' changes to pipeline review processes are still avoiding the downstream environmental effects of fossil fuels. And Stephen Rees notes that resource-based economic bets being made with large amounts of public money - including the B.C. Libs' push toward fracked liquid natural gas - are themselves doomed by market forces.

- Finally, Mark Hume reports that Environment Canada had effectively shut down enforcement activities under the direction of the Harper Cons. And Bill Curry reveals that much-trumpeted inspection plans to limit the abuse temporary foreign workers never actually got started.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ed Miliband offers his take on inequality and the political steps needed to combat it:
(T)he terms of the case against inequality have changed. I have always believed that inequality divides people, deprives many of the chance to succeed and makes us all worse off. But now there is good reason to believe that inequality isn’t just unfair but that it actually inhibits economic growth. ‘Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time,’ the IMF announced in a report last year: ‘We find an inverse relationship between the income share accruing to the rich (top 20 per cent) and economic growth … the benefits do not trickle down.’ Last May, the OECD published a study entitled In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All. All this makes it possible for us to talk about equality not only in terms of fairness, but also as the means to prosperity. The UK is deeply unequal and has an unproductive economy when compared to its major competitors. There are good grounds for thinking the two facts are connected: a low-wage economy, which doesn’t invest properly in its workforce, is an unproductive economy. The mechanism that links low growth to inequality is still debated: some say that low wages for the majority cause low demand and low growth; others say that the social exclusion of a large segment of society has a depressive effect. But what is clear is that inequality must be tackled not just because it is important to distribute resources fairly but also in order to secure higher growth, from which everyone can benefit.
(F)inally, there is the question of how political change happens, and how to mobilise the millions of people needed to bring it about. Labour must make use of the opportunity afforded it by the remarkable number of new members it has gained since the general election. But it also needs to acknowledge the challenge it faces. The party emerged from the traditions of community organising, and some local Labour branches are now rekindling that spirit. To succeed, the party needs to be about more than knocking on doors, crucial though that is, and the passing of resolutions. Labour needs to use its expanded membership to build deeper roots in local communities, and to help people find the collective power to change things. In a way I didn’t manage, it needs to reinvent itself as a genuine community organisation.

This is a tough time to be a progressive in Britain, with the re-election of a government that seems determined to dismantle the progressive institutions that remain and to make inequality worse. Labour’s renewal must be built on ideas, the most underrated commodity in politics. Ideas create and sustain movements and inspire people – and indeed voters – to join a cause. The right can’t solve the problem of inequality because to do so would be to abandon too much of what they believe, from a belief in the small state to trickle-down economics. The deep injustices of modern capitalism compel us to find a better way of living together. The left should approach the coming years with a determination to renew itself but also with confidence in its values.
- And Ally Foster reports on a panel discussion on the erosion of the middle class in Canada.

- Derek Leahy discusses the Libs' plans to include upstream emissions as part of the environmental review process for pipelines. But Mike De Souza notes that the Libs are already falling behind on international climate change reporting.

- Meanwhile, the list of the Cons' damage in need of repair continues to grow. On that front, Kady O'Malley notes that their changes to elections rules may have enabled third parties to engage in unlimited robocalling, while BJ Siekierski reports on the wide range of Statistics Canada data gathering which was scrapped for no apparent reason.

- Finally, Laurie Monsebraaten writes about the push for Ontario to lead a national movement on child care, rather than settling for wage subsidies as the upper limit of public action.

New column day

Here, on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's decision (PDF) finding that the failure to provide equal child services for First Nations is a human rights breach which requires federal action at law - rather than merely a moral failure which has too often been ignored.

For further reading...
- CBC reports on the decision, while Neil Macdonald places it in some context
- Tim Harper goes into more detail as to the history of discrimination given wider exposure by the decision. And I'll point again to Murray Mandryk's take on the lack of social resources facing La Loche and other communities.
- But in case we needed immediate evidence that a finding of discrimination will still leave plenty of people to be convinced that there's any problem to be solved, Jen Gerson belittles the decision and apparently the concept of human rights tribunals in general. And Scott Gilmore argues that the only solution is to push the residents of remote communities out of their homes, rather than making any effort to build healthy lives where they already live.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- John Clarke discusses the challenges facing social movements trying to resist austerity and push for action on poverty in the face of mushy-middle governments who lack any commitment to those principles. Simon Wren-Lewis reminds us of the harm already done by anti-government ideology. And Crawford Kilian makes the case that governments should be wary of trying to cut out the "fat" which may be necessary for a healthy public sector. 

- Tim Harper examines the significance of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's finding that the underfunding of First Nations child welfare services makes for actionable discrimination. And Murray Mandryk notes that last week's shootings in La Loche made for just one predictable tragic outcome from a history of neglect. 

- Jeremy Nuttall talks to Hassan Yussuff about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and finds that the government pushing yet another corporate privilege agreement has no answers as to what it's supposed to do for workers. And Thomas Walkom writes that the Libs seem to be following in the Cons' footsteps, while Derrick O'Keefe wonders when we're supposed to see the full and open debate on the TPP that the Libs promised during the election campaign before deciding they'd sign on without further analysis.

- Patrick Fafard and Steven Hoffman offer their suggestions for a new federal health accord centred on the social determinants of health.

- Finally, Ole Hendrickson comments on Canada's plutocracy and the morality of extreme wealth.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Snoozing cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Julie Delahanty comments on Canada's crisis of inequality and poverty. And Sean McElwee highlights how the ill-founded belief that income inequality is more a matter of merit than luck tends to lead people to accept far more of it than should be tolerable.

- Susan Riley rightly challenges the myth of "tax relief" - which typically results in tiny individual returns at the expense of any capacity to build a functional society.

- Paris Marx argues that a basic income serves as the most promising support system to allow for the growth of art and culture. And Angella MacEwen points out that employment insurance is the most obvious means of targeting stimulus money toward both social needs and economic growth.

- Finally, Colin Horgan examines the future of media as a public good in Canada, including this suggestion as to how to develop new opportunities for focused discussion of issues:
(T)he CBC’s online division offers the best chance at producing more new, niche-oriented media, given that it continues to receive federal funding — and if the current government has anything to do with it, apparently will receive more. This is not to say that all out-of-work journalists could work for the CBC, but rather that it may be there where experimentation could work, as it bears fewer (though still some) of the pressures of private media.

More specifically, this might mean launching an iPlayer-style TV app, and commissioning programming for it that otherwise might not make it to the main network simply because it appeals only to a small sub-section of viewers. Similarly, expanding its battery of podcasts beyond merely recordings of its radio shows, to include specific — or even random — topics (Video games? TV recaps? Vacations in continental Europe? WHL team coverage? The Aboriginal music scene?) would be inexpensive and, more importantly, allow advertisers more specific audiences to target. Likewise with its journalism: why not open sub-sites? Why not, for example, a data-journalism site akin to FiveThirtyEight? Any of these ventures that proves successful at the CBC might strike out on its own, starting another series of similar shows or podcasts, complete with a website garnered toward those viewers or listeners. Who knows?

There are problems with this idea — I can name a few already. For one, it would take a major shift in the way we conceive of a public broadcaster (as part start-up incubator). But if a varied, engaged, and thoughtful media sphere is indeed a public policy concern, then it might be incumbent of us to at least spitball some ideas about what we can do with the media corporation we all still own.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Morning Links

Assorted content to start your week.

- Steve Hilton suggests that we should make attending Davos as much a marker of shame as being responsible for a sweatshop - though I'd argue we have a ways to go in holding people accountable even for the latter. David Sogge and Nick Buxton observe that even when inequality finds it way onto the agenda at the World Economic Forum, the only answer proposed is still more neoliberalism. Aaron Wherry documents Justin Trudeau's corporate glad-handing in Davos - along with the lack of expectation that it will produce any substantial results. And Kevin Rawlinson reports on the hidden meetings between the UK Cons and right-wing media moguls including Rupert Murdoch.

- Emily Badger points out the connection between extreme income inequality and the lack of availability of affordable housing for the poor. And the NDP makes clear that it will keep fighting Canada's growing inequality in all of its forms.

- David Helwig reports on the perverse outcomes of Essar Steel Algoma's bankruptcy, as workers stand to lose out on the pensions they earned while executives continue to receive massive bonuses.

- PressProgress reviews just a few of the most bizarre outcomes produced by Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system.

- Finally, iPolitics argues that rather than merely glossing over the Cons' abuse of the Canada Revenue Agency for their own purposes, the Libs need to ensure that the politicization of a public regulator receives appropriate scrutiny.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On oversimplification

One could hardly design a more stark contrast between the complex realities of politics and the media's tendency to portray them in appallingly simplified terms than Althia Raj's report on the NDP's conference calls with party members last week. But for those willing to look past a misleading headline and lede, there's plenty in the points raised by members worth considering in advance of the Edmonton convention.

Meanwhile, it's also worth noting the significance of the call itself. As has often been the case, we should see it as a potential first step toward greater engagement with the public - but one whose value likes mostly in the prospect that it could be followed up with far more effort in the future.

On the bright side, the calls reflect a noteworthy willingness to talk to people about (and indeed allow the media to report on) their actual views on the campaign. And I'd consider that important opening lines of communication between members and the party structure at least for the moment.

That said, the greater potential for significance lies in what comes next. Here's the follow-up anticipated on the call:
Blaikie told the more than 1,000 callers on the first phone-in that their feedback would be sent to regional party representatives who would compile the information for a mid-March draft report. The final product would be released publicly at the NDP convention a few weeks later.
Ideally, I'd hope to see members' concerns today paired with some involvement in the further development of the election report - particularly given the limited number of people able to participate in a particular call.

More importantly, though, we shouldn't see this type of member engagement as merely a one-off opportunity for people to let off steam following last year's election.

Instead, it should represent a first step toward normalizing what Raj wrongly treats as a "gotcha" moment: the honest expression of views by members which may include constructive criticism of a party's choices (without necessarily leading to anybody being thrown under a bus). And the more the NDP can do to foster and meet the expectation that it will be unique among Canada's major parties in its responsiveness to members, the more likely it will be to avoid the type of disconnect that contributed to its disappointment at the polls.

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Lana Payne highlights how Kevin O'Leary's obliviousness to inequality makes him a relic. But Linda McQuaig notes that however distant O'Leary may be from the public, he's not that far removed from all too many Conservatives.

- Gerald Caplan points out that even a campaign where the Cons managed to earn the committed disapproval of up to 70% of the country doesn't seem to have led anybody to learn any lessons. And Michael Harris reacts to the Cons' sudden attempt to deny the existence of the record they were so desperately defending just months ago.

- Emily Badger responds to the poisoning of Flint by asking whether the U.S. would have accepted similar damage to more privileged segments of the population. And Rachel Browne observes that this weekend's shootings represented just the latest tragedy for La Loche - if the first to receive sustained outside attention.

- Al Jazeera reports on the alarming - and continuing - buildup of plastic waste which stands to outweigh all the fish in our oceans within a few decades.

- Finally, Marvin Shaffer is the latest to discuss why revenue-neutral carbon taxes only ensure that we don't take steps to mitigate the long-term damage done to our planet:
While we are already experiencing some impacts and costs of climate change, the most extensive and significant costs will be borne by future generations. So if we are going to pay a tax in recognition of the costs we are imposing on future generations, those payments shouldn’t be returned to us in the form of income or sales tax breaks.

Any reasonable notion of equity would demand that carbon tax revenues be directed to measures that benefit those who will be bearing the costs of what we do. They should be dedicated to measures that will help offset the emissions we are generating, prepare for and mitigate the climate change impacts we know we are causing, and support the research that ultimately will be needed to reduce the impacts and costs of what in all likelihood will be increasing concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere far beyond what our targets call for.

There are legitimate concerns about the inefficient use of earmarked funds. But that calls for vigilance in the manner in which funds are invested so that we do the best we can for the future generations. It doesn’t support the redirection of funds to the present generation at the expense of those who will bear the costs of what we do.