Sunday, July 12, 2020

Finding A Way Forward

Jim Stanford writes that Canada's recent employment numbers are good. But we have a long way to go:

The headline growth in jobs (almost one million more Canadians were working in June, compared to May) was very encouraging, much better than expected. By that measure, Canada's labour market has climbed almost halfway back out of the hole we fell into from February through April. 
But the next steps of job recovery will be much harder to achieve. The share of remaining unemployed Canadians expecting to go back to their former jobs has fallen substantially (just one-third now). We are experiencing a wave of second-order layoffs as companies permanently downsize because their market isn't coming back. Recent examples of that (all in the hard-hit transportation sector) include Air Canada (20,000 layoffs), WestJet (3,300 layoffs), Bombardier (2,500 layoffs), and VIA Rail (1,000 layoffs).

And make no mistake. Those numbers are directly related to the government programs which have been spawned in the wake of COVID:

This was a busy week for Canadian economic data, with today's labour force report coming on the heels of Wednesday's federal government "fiscal snapshot." Most observers thought the snapshot was bad news, because it forecast an enormous $343 billion deficit. But in fact, that big deficit is the flip side of the coin of today's good jobs numbers.
The two are clearly related: Without the enormous injections of government support (for household incomes, to keep workers on payrolls, to fight the health battle against COVID-19) that caused that big deficit, today's job numbers would have been much more dire.

But one brutal fact remains: The suffering has been unequally distributed:

Women, young workers, workers in temporary and insecure jobs (including gig workers), immigrants and migrant workers, have all also experienced disproportionate harm from the crisis. Ongoing policy responses (including both income supports and job-creation measures) must be focused on those hard-hit groups, or else we will experience a destructive polarization of well-being and opportunity that, among other consequences, will weaken our capacity to respond effectively to future public health emergencies.

Now the real work must begin. And that means those who have been the worst affected must be helped in finding a way forward.


Saturday, July 11, 2020


Donald Trump has commuted Roger Stone's prison sentence. It is, says Stone, a sign of God's mercy. Because, you see, Roger has come to Jesus. Howard Fineman writes in The Washington Post:

When I called Roger Stone early Friday evening, he was in the midst of doing an online interview with an evangelical Christian leader. He let me listen in. It was, shall we say, a revelation. Until recently about as un-devout as a lapsedeverything could be, he earnestly recounted for an equally earnest interviewer how he’d been saved by Jesus Christ at a Franklin Graham rally.
“I stood up,” Stone said. “I accepted Christ as my savior. I felt like a cement block had been lifted from my chest.” His newfound faith had given him a ticket to eternal salvation and, perhaps, a stay-out-of-jail card.
Like God, President Trump was merciful, Stone said. Trump was a man of “enormous fairness and compassion” and would lift the burden Stone was facing.

And God only knows what the future holds for Stone:

“I know there is a lot of skepticism,” he said in the audial version of a straight face. “Who knows? A year from now you may be calling me Reverend Stone! What else am I going to do with all these white suits I own?”


Image: The New York Times

Friday, July 10, 2020

It'll Be Horrific

It's become a depressing pattern -- one ethics violation after another. Now we must process the WE controversy. Susan Delacourt writes:

The newest [violation] is Trudeau’s connection to the WE charity, hand-picked by his own government to dole out nearly $1 billion in pandemic-relief efforts for students: a choice that has since gone from reversal to regrets to really big trouble.
It’s not the first time things have gone so badly this way for Trudeau and that’s the baffling thing.
If this was a binge-watching series, viewers would have seen the hints in previous seasons.
First there is the denial and doubling-down.
Then there is the retraction, accompanied by revelations that things are worse than originally reported.
Then comes the prime minister’s promise to do better.

But, after awhile, the promises ring hollow. And the money keeps piling up in privileged pockets:

Thanks to revelations by CBC and Canadaland, we now know that Margaret Trudeau received $250,000 in honorariums for speaking at 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020.
Alexandre Trudeau, or Sacha, as he’s known, was paid $32,000 in speaking fees between 2017 and 2018.

That kind of behaviour is totally self-destructive -- not just for Trudeau but for Canadians in general. It's clear that the Conservatives don't know how to handle the pandemic. But Justin's nonchalance about ethics will put the Conservatives in the driver's seat.

The pile-up will be horrific.

Image: ClubLexus

Thursday, July 09, 2020

How It's Spent

Yesterday, the federal government released its "fiscal snapshot."  Ryan Campell writes:

It outlines the price tag up to now and describes how costs will evolve over the fiscal year. Headlines of the day include a $343 billion deficit for 2020-21 and a corresponding change in our national debt to $1.2 trillion. Expect pundits to repeat this figure over and over again to drum up fear.

The Conservatives thundered doom and damnation as soon as the numbers were announced. But those numbers need to be put in context:

The fiscal shock is serious but less threatening when put in historical perspective and scaled against the size of the Canadian economy. Canada’s net debt may have crossed the trillion dollar mark but, apart from being a big round number, the threshold itself is not particularly frightening. In 2018-19, well before the crisis, Canada’s debt was sitting at 30.9% of GDP. The G20 average for that same year was 82.0%. The fiscal update predicts debt may rise to 49.1% in 2020-21. The end result of this historically bad year is that Canada, after the crisis, will hold a fraction of the debt an average G20 country was carrying before the crisis. 
The cumulative impact of the war effort in the 1940s resulted in debt levels as high as 130% of GDP. In the 1980s debt was almost 70% of GDP.  At the time, the ten-year bond rates were nearly 12%. The high cost of borrowing made reducing debt challenging. Interest rates today are less than 1%, making any amount of debt accumulated more sustainable. In fact, today’s snapshot predicts debt servicing costs this year will be lower than last year. The government has the ability to spend multiple times what it already has before it reaches debt levels that were experienced – and dealt with – in other periods. 

The number is not the problem. The real challenge is how that money is spent:

The better question is how the borrowed money is being spent? In this case, the outlay will save lives now and into the future. Spending will prevent structural damage to the economy that, if unchecked, will limit employment and lower living standards for decades. This is money well spent. 
The debt levels announced in the spring fiscal snapshot do not require service cuts to offset increased spending. Making cuts when investment is needed would make a bad situation worse. One day in the not-too-distant future, the health threat will be diminished. Making the right decisions now will make sure the economy on the other side is vibrant, equitable and sustainable. We must protect people’s safety today and their livelihood tomorrow. This means setting ambitious targets to stimulate growth while actively trying to build a better future. When the time is right, temporary crisis spending can be wound down, and a healthy economy will outgrow the debt.

The Conservatives don't understand this.  Andrew Scheer said yesterday that the notion he should wear a mask inside Pearson Airport -- a policy the airport has mandated -- is "ridiculous." It's been obvious for some time that Mr. Scheer is no bright light. Unfortunately, those who have lined up to replace him burn less brightly.

Let's hope that, in the immediate future, Canadians don't hand the steering wheel over to them.

Image: The Beaverton

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Hate -- Pure And Simple

If you want to know what Donald Trump's campaign will look and sound like, Nathan Robinson writes, consider the speech he gave at Mount Rushmore:

The general thrust of Trump’s speech was: this country is not threatened by a virus, it is threatened by a protest movement that aims to destroy our culture and history. At a time when Covid-19 cases are growing by the tens of thousands every day, Trump tried to shift the focus to “cancel culture” and the activists who have been trying to tear down controversial monuments:

Trump accused his opponents of trying to wipe out American history:

Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities … One of their political weapons is “cancel culture” – driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism.

Trump had a problem pronouncing totalitarianism. It was a clear sign of his desperation:

It’s clear what Trump is doing here. His presidency is in crisis. The economy has collapsed, and the administration has proved itself totally incapable of containing the coronavirus, instead promoting irresponsible reopenings that are now causing infection surges. Joe Biden, while uninspiring, is polling well against Trump because nearly everyone is dissatisfied with the direction of the country. Trump cannot pretend that things are going well, because people can see plainly that this is not the case. All he can do is try to whip up the culture war, to get his supporters to see themselves as being in an existential war against a fascist left.

His target audience is aggrieved whites. And he knows how to whip up hatred in their ranks:

They’re the ones whose country and culture is being supposedly “lost”; it seems unlikely that many Native Americans will miss an Andrew Jackson statue. Trump is relying on these white people being angry and aggrieved enough to get him re-elected in November. But it’s a desperate tactic. People’s minds are on other things, like the deadly disease killing their grandparents and destroying social life as we know it.

They were his audience in 2016. Others decided to take a flyer on him. They have since come to regret their decision. Trump knows that. So all he has left to run on is hate -- pure and simple.

Image: PolitiFact

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The New Ambassador

Bob Rae is Canada's new ambassador to the UN. His appointment comes in the wake of Canada's failure to gain a seat on the Security Council. Susan Delacourt writes:

Bob Rae, Canada’s next ambassador to the United Nations, had much to say about defeat when he spoke to the media on Monday.
It isn’t everyone who would be reflecting on loss when gaining an important new job on the world stage.
But this is Rae’s fortune and forte. The former premier of Ontario, also the former interim leader of the Liberal party, has once again arrived in a role for which he is perfectly suited, at a less-than-perfect moment in history.

Rae, like Trudeau, is following in his father's footsteps:

Rae now has something else in common with Justin Trudeau, the man who appointed him to the UN post on Monday.
Both now are doing jobs that their fathers did before them. Rae’s father, Saul Rae, served as ambassador to the United Nations in the 1970s, when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.
“For me to be able to work in the same place as my father, and to be able to have his picture in my office,” Rae said, “is a wonderful moment for me.”

Rae's appointment also signals an attempt to build bridges between Trudeau and the old Liberal guard. His appointment strikes me as a very smart move -- and I taught in Ontario when all of the province's public servants endured "Rae Days." Rae paid the price for his decisions. And it appears that the price he paid made him a wiser man.

Image: The Toronto Star

Monday, July 06, 2020

The Cost Of Illiteracy

God knows, the United States has failed many times to live up to its ideals. But its great leaders understood those ideals and put them into words. Unfortunately, Donald Trump doesn't read. That inconvenient truth is evident every time he steps in front of a teleprompter. Jennifer Rubin writes that, if Trump did read, he would have encountered several worthy sentiments:

Thomas Jefferson’s words — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — transcend the flawed author and the epoch in which they were written. They define the country not as an “us” vs. “them” fight to the death; they make clear this is an experiment in self-government that each generation must perfect.

Or, if he read, Trump might have encountered the real Abraham Lincoln -- who he likes to compare himself to:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And, instead of shouting "law and order," he might say something different, having read these words from Martin Luther King:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. …
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Trump stands as the ugliest example of the cost of illiteracy.

Image: Macleans