Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Thought For The New Year


                                                  http://www.canada.com/

Andrew Coyne ends the year with a surprising -- for him -- admission. When it comes to a contest of ideas, he writes, the Left is winning:

It wasn’t until late in the year that it dawned on me: the left is winning. I don’t mean this in a partisan sense. If the NDP represents the left, it had a terrible year, fading in the polls federally, turning in a miserable showing in the Ontario election and losing two mayoral races, in Winnipeg and Toronto, it had earlier been favoured to win.

But in the contest of ideas, the left is very much on the march. Kathleen Wynne won the Ontario election on an aggressively left-wing budget/platform that not only increased spending, taxing and borrowing, but proposed the first major addition to the social safety net in decades: the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.

Elsewhere there are serious proposals on the table for a national daycare plan, a national pharmacare plan, a surge in spending on urban transit and other infrastructure. The left is doing all the running on the environment, where it is no longer taboo to talk about carbon pricing. Identity politics, with its obsessive focus on race, sex and class, dominates public discourse.

He does not come to this admission happily. But he does admit that the Right in Canada -- like their Republican brethren south of the border -- have become the Party of No:

The most the right will allow itself is to oppose this or that proposal to expand the state (when it is not proposing them itself: see “cross-border pricing,” inter alia), once it has assured itself it is on safe ground politically to do so. Occasionally it will even go so far as to roll back a policy that has already been enacted.

However true Coyne's observation might be, it does not mean the Left will win the next election. The Right does not deal in ideas. It deals in fear and smear.

Something to think about in the New Year. May everyone have a happy and healthy one.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Conventional Wisdom Is Failing


                                                   http://raptorsrapture.com/

Our prime minister believes that "no taxes are good taxes." He simply parrots what has been the conventional wisdom for the last forty-five years. But, Alex and Jordan Himelfarb write, the conventional wisdom is failing:

According to the government’s own figures, federal revenue as a share of the overall economy is hitting lows not seen for 70 years. Cash-strapped governments behave as we all do when money is tight, cutting corners and focusing on getting through the day rather than investing in the future — even when this short-termism ends up costing far more down the line. We see this, for example, in crumbling infrastructure as governments put off necessary investments, increasing risks to health and safety, undermining competitiveness and passing on even higher costs to future generations.

We see this as well in the increasing concentration of income and wealth and persistent poverty as tax cuts weaken the programs that reduce inequality and mitigate its consequences — from child care to medicare. Today, fewer unemployed Canadians than ever have access to EI, this at a time when our labour market performance has been particularly shabby. Twenty-five years after our Parliament committed to ending child poverty, shamefully, things are actually worse. And perhaps most worrisome, we start to believe this is all normal and inevitable. Little wonder that trust in government continues to decline and more Canadians are asking whose interests government serves.

Now organizations like the IMF and the OECD are arguing that inequality impedes economic growth:

Over this past year, however, some unexpected voices have started to talk about taxes not as a burden, part of the problem, but as a key part of the solution to our challenges. Even some organizations that have always embraced and promoted the low-tax austerity agenda have started to wonder out loud whether this has all gone too far. The IMF, the OECD, bond rating agency Standard and Poor’s — past champions of austerity — have all published reports this year making the case that the costs of tax cuts now outweigh whatever benefits they were supposed to deliver.

For an economist, Stephen Harper remains breathtakingly ignorant of the latest work in his field. He will run in the next election on a platform of family friendly tax cuts. The myth that he is a smart fellow -- like the conventional wisdom -- is failing.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Advice From Sears

                                                http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/

Robin Sears is a past master of political strategy. In this morning's Toronto Star, he offers strategic advice about how each of our three main leaders should approach the next election. Stephen Harper, he writes, will not be able to get by on his economic credentials:

They are, as analysts would say, already “priced into his stock.” He is facing real opponents for the first time in his life, apart from the late Jack Layton explosion in 2011 that almost overwhelmed him. Trudeau may not look like a statesman but neither is he the gormless St├ęphane Dion or the unbelievable professor who “did not come back for you.” Mulcair has amply demonstrated that in street-fighting credentials Harper has met his match.

Harper needs to pivot from previous dead ends and demonstrate that he can learn and adapt. He should make selections from a suite of softer game-changers: a new honesty on climate change, a program on employment and integration for Canada’s vets that admits past failures, a believable job creation platform focused on the young and new Canadians that is not simply more blather about tax cuts, even an acknowledgement of his missteps on First Nations and a package on education and economic development would stuff one of the orange and red teams’ most damaging attack lines.

Stranger things have happened. But I wouldn't bet on Harper taking Sears' advice.

Justin Trudeau is caught in a bit of a vice:

He will be fighting a war on two fronts. He is the greenhorn against two tough and seasoned pros, each of whom has signalled that they will deploy their artillery against him from different sides of the battlefield.

He does have an energized and united party for the first time in a generation. But it is now 35 years since the Liberals have won a majority of Francophone votes let alone seats in Quebec. It is twice as long since they have won more than a dozen seats between Toronto and the Rockies. Redistribution may give them gains of ones and twos in several western cities.But Trudeau will need to move nearly 100 new seats into the win column for a majority, a swing achieved only twice in the past century.

He needs a galvanizing vision similar to his dad’s. In his first campaign Pierre Trudeau sold sex appeal, a contest in which his son has amply demonstrated his chops. But Trudeau the elder also sold a vision of a more global, confident Canada, a modern compassionate leader on the world stage. It matched perfectly the centennial bonhomie of a new generation of Canadians.

So far, we've seen no vision from Trudeau the Younger.

Then there is Mulcair, who has a wealth of political experience. But what he lacks are "big commitments:"

Mulcair needs to demonstrate his economic savvy, buttressed by his green credentials with a believable climate change and economic development message. He needs to round out his social justice message to arrest soft progressives’ drift to the red team. The national minimum wage and universal child care planks were good beginnings. He needs big commitments on environment, First Nations, youth employment, education and pension reform to block Mr. Trudeau.

Sears seems to have carefully sized up each man. One wonders if any of them are listening to him.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Changing The Firmament

                                                http://www.globalresearch.ca/

On the second anniversary of the founding of the Idle No More Movement, Irvin Studin writes:

There can be little doubt that the aboriginal question is by far the most important moral question of Canada’s early 21st century. No other public question in Canada has its historical weight, inertia and complexity.

But what is the aboriginal question for this century? Are we talking about standards of material well-being for aboriginal people? Is it about social status and professional opportunity? Or does the question turn fundamentally on the vindication of specific legal and constitutional rights?

The answer must begin with the brutal premise that the aboriginal people in Canada still live as history’s losers; that is, most of the aboriginal people in Canada are descended most recently from people who in their legal, social, economic, organizational and geopolitical interactions with non-aboriginals — principally European settlers and their own descendants — were over time and for a variety of reasons stripped of territory, prestige, rights and the underpinnings of social and material well-being.

The answer must also take note of the fact that the government which tore up the Kelowna Accord has done nothing to advance the well being of Canada's native peoples. If anything, the Harperites have moved to ensure that Canada's First Nations remain trapped in and enslaved by a long history:

To this day, the aboriginal people have generally not been relieved — in their own minds or in the minds of the winning majority — of the status of Canadian history’s losing people. This is not a merely formal status; it is a properly psychological-spiritual one. It means that to a large extent the negative drag of the aboriginal question today continues to be psychological-spiritual in nature, and that a good part of the answer to the aboriginal question must deal frontally with this reality.

Studin writes that French Canadians used to be seen as a conquered people. The Quiet Revolution changed that perception -- for both French and English Canadians:

The creation over time in Canada of a properly bilingual, bicultural and binational state points the way forward on the aboriginal question. Canada’s great success in responding to the challenge to internal unity and cohesion posed by the linguistic and cultural differences between the English-speaking majority and the French-speaking minority has been premised on the idea that the endgame consists not in perfect harmony or amity between the tribes, but depends instead on how a historically victorious majority can rehabilitate and resuscitate defeated minorities into political and even cultural co-equals — co-equals who are equally invested in the continued existence of the state. 

That change, of course, presumes a generosity of spirit -- something that is missing in the Harperite DNA. If Canada's native peoples are ever to take their place in the national firmament, the Harper government will have to be removed from its place in that firmament.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How Cynical Have We Become?



Stephen Harper passed his best before date long ago. If he paid attention to history, he would have misgivings about running in the next election. Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Think of the prime ministers with majorities since 1968. Pierre Trudeau served 11 years (1968 to 1979) before being defeated. Brian Mulroney served a bit less than nine years before resigning. Jean Chr├ętien was prime minister for 10 years and a month before resigning.

But, in our first past the post system, all Harper needs is 40% of the votes to form a government:

He has an unshakable core vote of 30 to 32 per cent of the electorate. These people skew older, rural, male, western Canadian – and they vote. The Conservatives know how to mobilize them.

They have also identified minority groups – Jews, Tamils, Ukrainians – and tied Canadian foreign policy to the interests of these slices of the electorate. They have large amounts of government money in the form of tax cuts and government advertising to direct at other slices of the electorate: single-income families with stay-at-home mothers, parents with kids in athletic programs. And they have a large series of targeted spending announcements yet to be made, on top of the dozens and dozens already made.

It's an entirely cynical approach to politics. And Stephen Harper isn't the first politician who got to where he is by being entirely cynical. But when the people themselves get cynical about their leaders, those leaders go down to defeat:

The most powerful anti-government sentiment in any democracy is the oldest adage in politics: “Time for a change.” The economy can be reasonably sound, the political alternative untried, even shaky, the government experienced and able, but when the largest parts of the public settle on the ill-defined but powerful notion that the time has come to change, there isn’t much the incumbents can do.

Harper is betting that Canadians haven't reached that point yet. 2015 will test just how cynical we have become.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Our Lost Prestige

                                                http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

As we enter 2015, the world faces a Pandora's Box of problems. Daryl Copeland writes:

Thanks to the emergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the much-maligned Global War on Terror (GWOT), which only a year ago seemed to be waning, has received an enormous boost. The name may have changed, but terrorism and radical Islam remain at the top of the threat list for most Western governments. While large-scale invasions and occupations have — for now — fallen into well-deserved disrepute, that space has been filled by a combination of drone and airstrikes, special operations, cyber attacks and mass surveillance.

Long-standing concerns over Russia’s stability and the security of its enormous nuclear arsenal have been exacerbated by the resurgence of revanchism in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and throughout the “near abroad.” The ongoing economic meltdown engendered by the oil price collapse has amplified the sense of volatility and uncertainty.

 When the distribution of wealth within and between states becomes sharply skewed, economies and people suffer. This was the core message of the Occupy Wall Street campaign, and although that observation has since become mainstream, polarization continues. Meanwhile, last week’s round of climate change negotiations in Lima produced little, despite the findings of the latest — and highly troubling — IPCC report. Similar paralysis has afflicted efforts to remedy problems of diminishing biodiversity, resource scarcity, public health and pandemic disease, and other planet-imperilling issues rooted in science and driven by technology.

Canada used to play an important role in international diplomacy. No longer:

What of this country’s role and place? By my reckoning, Canada’s once-admired internationalist brand has been spoiled, mutating into something of a cross between warrior nation wannabe and fossil of the year. We have foundered on the shoals of lessons unlearned — think Afghanistan and Libya — and moved decisively to make matters worse.
After wisely passing on joining the disastrous misadventure in Iraq in 2004, Canadian Air Force and army personnel are now engaged, thus reversing earlier gains and creating new enemies by effectively signing on to GWOT II. On the home front, many NGOs are struggling due to the withdrawal of government support. Rights and Democracy, chartered by Parliament in 1988 to promote human rights and democratic development worldwide, was eliminated in 2012. The Pearson Centre for peacekeeping training was shuttered in 2013. The development research dedicated North-South Institute was closed down earlier this year.

Stephen Harper has done all kinds of damage to this country. And that damage is spreading out to the rest of the world. If we are going to re-establish our international prestige, 2015 must be the year we throw the Harperites out of office.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Economic Argument For Peace On Earth


                                                  http://www.victorystore.com/

"Peace On Earth." We repeat the phrase often at this time of year. It's standard boilerplate -- a postive suggestion, but not very likely. However, Paul Krugman wrote this week that there are realistic reasons to support the suggestion. Those reasons have been around for awhile:

More than a century has passed since Norman Angell, a British journalist and politician, published “The Great Illusion,” a treatise arguing that the age of conquest was or at least should be over. He didn’t predict an end to warfare, but he did argue that aggressive wars no longer made sense — that modern warfare impoverishes the victors as well as the vanquished.

Krugman believes there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Angell was right. Iraq and Afghanistan stand as sad examples of the fact that the spoils of conquest are no longer what they used to be. And Vladimir Putin's recent empire building offers more evidence that conquest no longer pays:

Look at what passes for a Putin success, the seizure of Crimea: Russia may have annexed the peninsula with almost no opposition, but what it got from its triumph was an imploding economy that is in no position to pay tribute, and in fact requires costly aid. Meanwhile, foreign investment in and lending to Russia proper more or less collapsed even before the oil price plunge turned the situation into a full-blown financial crisis.

So what does the evidence tell us about the guys who keep insisting they're the smartest guys in the room?

Let’s not forget how we ended up invading Iraq. It wasn’t a response to 9/11, or to evidence of a heightened threat. It was, instead, a war of choice to demonstrate U.S. power and serve as a proof of concept for a whole series of wars neocons were eager to fight. Remember “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran”?
The point is that there is a still-powerful political faction in America committed to the view that conquest pays, and that in general the way to be strong is to act tough and make other people afraid. One suspects, by the way, that this false notion of power was why the architects of war made torture routine — it wasn’t so much about results as about demonstrating a willingness to do whatever it takes.

Christmas isn't about doing whatever it takes. It's about doing for others not to others. Merry Christmas to all. Perhaps next year there will be more peace on earth.

The entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dictators Love To Pose As Democrats



The Harperites like to present themselves as advocates for law and order. But, Errol Mendes writes in the Globe and Mail, they do their best to undermine the rule of law. Consider their taxpayer funded propaganda machine:

Governments are allowed to advertise about services and programs that they are implementing, but when some of them are either untruthful, promote partisan positions or are not even authorised by Parliament, it becomes a vehicle to undermine the foundations of any democracy that values the spirit and letter of the rule of law.

Dalton McGuinty was no Boy Scout. But he realized that government advertising could be used for blatantly partisan purposes:

The McGuinty government brought in rules that requires all government ads to be reviewed and passed by the auditor-general. The holder of that office has the ability to stop clear partisan ads being funded by the taxpayer.

There is no such mechanism at the federal level:

The present national ads for the family benefits tax package would have been stopped dead in their tracks if we had a similar screening process of government ads at the federal level, especially given that they were not even passed by Parliament.

And Stephen Harper has devoted much of his energy to making sure that no such mechanism materializes:

Even back in 2000, while heading up the National Citizens Coalition, he launched court actions against the spending limits of third parties under the Canada Elections Act. With a challenge that seemed to ignore the need for ensuring electoral fairness, his conservative advocacy group used the argument of citizens’ freedom of speech to ask the courts to strike down limits on third-party funding beyond a $150,000 limit during the election campaign. He failed when the Supreme Court lectured him and his group that the law was needed for electoral fairness and a level playing field in order to prevent certain groups or individuals from dominating the media and the electoral process.
Now in government – and outside the electoral period – Mr. Harper has found a way for his government to flood the media with partisan propaganda to the tune of hundreds of millions of our dollars. If such democratic subterfuge has the same effect of unfairness before an election, then the Harper government is clearly undermining the spirit of the rule of law critical to fair elections. He has, in effect, made the government a third party that is allowed to spend potentially millions of dollars, making the actual limits in the election period illusory to some extent.

Empty barrels always make the most noise. And dictators love to pose as democrats.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Trudeau -- Mythic Hero?


                                                   http://merlin.wikia.com/

Michael den Tandt writes that the political narrative in Canada over the next year will be all about what Justin Trudeau does. That's because -- for better of for worse -- Trudeau has assumed the mantle of the mythic hero:

Trudeau’s popularity could be linked to the very fabric of how human beings perceive political narrative. His brand has been crafted, deliberately it seems to me, to tap into very old archetypes of heroism. These archetypes are everywhere in our culture – in film, literature, myth and politics.

Joseph Campbell called it the mono-myth. It’s also been described as “the hero’s journey.” A young warrior appears, often of secretly noble parentage. He or she is called to adventure, initially refuses the call, but eventually yields to destiny, to take up the mantle and burdens of leadership. George Lucas’s character Luke Skywalker, of course, was built around this meta-story. So were the tales of the Lion King, and numerous other Hollywood fables.

Perhaps den Tandt is going a bit overboard. But he points out that:

Trudeau’s policy deficit has been presented as his greatest problem. It really isn’t. Though the lack of hard platform thus far has caused him some discomfort, the waiting does have one benefit: The Liberals will have the last word. It is safe to assume that, at some point between now and October, Trudeau will unveil a detailed plan to address income inequality and high household debt among the middle class. It is also safe to assume this plan will be framed as more egalitarian than the Conservatives’ income-splitting plan, and more realistic and responsible than the NDP’s ideas. The policy gap, in other words, will be filled.

What’s more intriguing, and potentially dicey for the Liberals, is the relentless pressure on Trudeau to live up to what I have heard jokingly described as his “Skywalker brand.” It’s actually no joke. The framing of a leader in Arthurian terms, as a good-hearted young hero, is inherently risky, because it makes it incumbent on that leader to live that part, and continue living it.

The problem with the Arthur fable was that -- in the end -- it all came crashing down. Only time will tell if Trudeau can rebuild the Round Table.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Whose Terrorist?


                                                 http://www.terrorism.com/

The word "terrorist" is everywhere these days. But, Tom Walkom writes, the definition of the word depends as much on domestic considerations as it does on international considerations. And domestic considerations change -- frequently:

Take the most basic question: Who are the terrorists? Until Wednesday, Cuba was listed by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism. Now U.S. President Barack Obama says it is not.

Why? It’s not because Cuba has changed. It’s the same old place. Raul and Fidel Castro are still in charge.

Rather it is because American domestic politics have changed. Now it’s politically useful for Washington to bury the hatchet.
Is Hamas itself terrorist? Canada says yes. The European Union’s second highest court says maybe not. The General Court said the EU used improper methods to place Hamas on its terror list.

And, in the lead up to an election, the word "terrorist" becomes a hot button:

For more absurdities, look at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s air war against the Islamic State.

According to Ottawa, it is part of an epic battle for the future of civilization. Yet in almost 50 days of warfare, Canadian fighter jets have released their bombs only nine times.

In part, this is because the U.S.-led coalition can’t find enough enemies of civilization to bomb.
But in part, it results from the disjunction between the rhetoric surrounding this conflict and a more mundane reality — which is that Harper needs a war to win the next election, but he needs it to be a war with few Canadian casualties.

Last week, both Peter Mackay and Stephen Harper suggested that the murderers of two Canadian soldiers might be connected to ISIS. To date, no evidence of that connection has emerged -- just as those "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq never materialized.

So whose terrorist are we talking about? A real one -- or one manufactured for political gain?


Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's The Conventional Wisdom?


                                                   http://www.slideshare.net/

Parliamentary government is rooted in a series of conventions. The problem, Andrew Coyne writes, is that our political parties are no longer paying attention to those conventions. And if -- as seems likely -- we elect a minority government the next time around, what, he wonders, will happen in the wake of no political consensus:

We are notably lacking in consensus in this country on even the most basic rules of the game. We flirted with an all-out constitutional crisis on more than one occasion then. The next time we might not be so lucky.

Suppose, for starters, the Conservatives win a plurality of the seats in the election, and suppose, as seems likely, they are defeated in the Commons shortly thereafter on a matter of confidence: the Throne Speech, for example. What then? Would the prime minister go to the governor general and demand that he dissolve the House, triggering another election so soon after the last?

Would the governor general be obliged to do as he was told, or could he call upon some other party, perhaps even a coalition, to try to form a government? Mr. Harper has been adept at presenting this as dirty pool, an attempt by “the losers” to steal the election. Traditionalists like me insist that’s precisely how our system is supposed to work. We do not elect governments in this country: we elect Parliaments. The prime minister is whoever commands the confidence of the House, full stop.

All three parties now operate on the principle that we elect leaders, not parliaments. And it appears that most Canadians think that's the new convention. What happens when the conventional wisdom no longer applies?



Friday, December 19, 2014

The Curse of Petro-Politics


                                                          http://thetyee.ca/

Stephen Harper has made no secret that it is his intention to transform Canada into a petro-state.  Stanford professor Terry Lynn Karl has devoted her academic career to the study of petro-states. And she has concluded that petro-politics lead to self immolation. In an interview with Andrew Nikiforuk, she predicts that falling oil prices will have catasrophic consequences for several petro-states:

"The effects of falling oil prices will be quickly felt in Venezuela, which is extremely vulnerable. If oil keeps dropping, the country's employment, standard of living and GDP will be affected. This tends to make people not like their government.

"Venezuela, which is already extremely polarized, is in big trouble. In this respect, there is a big difference between how oil prices affect Canada and the U.S. and how they affect countries where the politics have become totally petrolized. Where there is simply no difference at all between wealth and power, where corruption and rent seeking have taken over the whole enterprise or where conflict is already very high, these are the most vulnerable countries.

Russia isn't quite as vulnerable as Venezuela, but because it is a global power its fate is more important. In the face of both sanctions and low prices, the ruble has plummeted, debt is rising, living standards are declining, and food prices are up sharply. With oil prices high, Putin took certain actions in the Ukraine and elsewhere because he felt untouchable; his popularity remains very high.

"But this could change very quickly if prices remain low.

"Most people don't understand that the decline of the former Soviet Union was closely linked to the 1986 collapse in oil prices. Putin later took advantage of high prices to build his own personal power. That could be at stake if prices stay low."

And for all petro-states:

"Debt is the Achilles heel of this picture. If prices remain low for several years, a lot of U.S. shale producers have high debt loads, especially in junk bonds. Today, energy debt currently accounts for a substantial 16 per cent of the U.S. junk bond market. If these producers start going bust, investors in junk bonds will be in for a shock.

 "Dropping oil prices affect international debt as well, creating a high risk of default by countries like Venezuela. Around the world two sets of debt are coming in -- from the high cost bitumen and shale oil producers who borrowed to help create the current supply glut and oil exporting producers who have borrowed heavily. Both affect the entire financial system.

So, just as the financial system almost brought the house down in 2008, oil could be the cause of the next global economic collapse. And Stephen Harper happily assumes oil will lead to national Nirvana.

Who would you believe -- Karl of Harper?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Should We Be Surprised?

                                                      http://www.cbc.ca/

Canadians were appalled when the U.S. Senate report on torture saw the light of day. We like to think, as John Baird said, that "Canada doesn't torture anyone. Period. Period." But, like everything that comes out of the mouths of this government, that's a half truth. Linda McQuaig writes:

The Harper government has opened the door to Canadian complicity in torture. It issued a directive allowing Canadian officials to share intelligence with foreign governments in some situations, even when this could lead to torture or to the receipt of information extracted under torture.

But like so many other disgraceful things that this government has done, the Harper crew issued this directive secretly; it only came to light through the access to information law.

Rather than simply prohibiting Canadian government agencies from sharing torture-tainted information, the Harper government’s directive simply requires approval from higher-ups, specifying that the matter should be referred to the appropriate deputy minister or agency head.

And, given the fact that "higher ups" either fall into line with this government or are fired, that protection means nothing. The goal is to get the information and let others do the torturing -- which is precisely what happened with Maher Arar. Justice Dennis O'Connor rejection of that policy was scathing:

In his powerful report, Justice O’Connor found that the RCMP’s false information likely had contributed to Arar’s year-long ordeal in Syria, and recommended Canadian agencies never send foreign authorities information that could lead to torture.

That recommendation led the RCMP to revamp their information-sharing procedures.

 O’Connor’s report went further and condemned torture under any circumstances, noting that the prohibition against torture in international law is so fundamental it has acquired the status of jus cogens — a body of “higher law” that overrides all other laws or government practices.

But the Harperites' secret directive, in effect, eviscerated O'Connor's specific recommendations.  Should we be surprised?


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

That Would Make No Sense At All

                                                   http://www.sodahead.com/

Scott Clark and Peter DeVries ask the question the majority of Canadians are asking:

Why do the Conservatives govern the way they do? Why do they treat so many Canadians with such … contempt? Aboriginals, immigrants, children, disabled and minorities — all have been pushed aside. Not-for-profit groups and associations have been deprived of the resources they need to contribute to the economic, social, scientific, environmental and cultural well-being of the country.

This government loves power but hates government. And it has a plan:

The plan is, actually, quite simple — when you remember that these Conservatives came to power not to praise government, but to bury it. This is an administration committed to reducing the size and relevance of the federal government (not counting advertising and PR staff, of course). Since 2006, federal programs and services have been cut dramatically — not to serve the short-term needs of budget austerity, but to fulfill a conservative quest for the smallest government possible … “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” to borrow a phrase from American arch-libertarian Grover Norquist.

Government can actually be quite effective. And it wouldn't take much to make the federal government much more effective. Scott and DeVries offer a modest proposal:

Suppose the government increased the GST by one point. What would that do? Well, the cost of a $100 product or service would go up by … one dollar. Ten cents on a $10 dollar purchase. The cost of a pack of gum might go up by a penny (there aren’t any pennies any more, but you get the point).
What would that do for the federal treasury? It would raise about $8 billion every year. That’s a lot of money for veterans services, for badly-needed infrastructure, for everything we’ve been neglecting. And it still amounts to just .04 per cent of GDP.

They won't do that, of course. Making government more effective would destroy their raison d'etre. That would make no sense at all.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Coalition Time?


                                                 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

After the latest EKOS poll, there has been a lot of talk about a Liberal-NDP coalition. Frank Graves claims that's what the majority of Canadian voters want. But, Chantal Hebert writes, that's not what the two respective party leaders want:

This fall, their mutual obsession with each other has tended to blind them to other big-picture considerations with posturing and positioning regularly taking precedence over the fight against a common Conservative foe.

Think of Justin Trudeau’s opposition to Canada’s combat role in the international coalition against Islamic State extremists. It ran counter to the advice of some of the party’s brightest foreign policy minds and it was poorly articulated but it did offer the Liberal left flank some cover from the NDP.

Or think of Mulcair’s out-of-the-blue musings about a resuscitated federal gun registry. He may have hoped to score points against Trudeau but he mostly ended up bringing long-standing NDP divisions back to the surface.

Think finally of the reciprocal suspicions that attended their handling of the delicate matter of the alleged sexual misconduct of two male Liberal MPs against two of their female NDP colleagues.

The days are long gone when Liberals, under Louis St. Laurent, thought of Dippers as "Liberals in a hurry." And Stephen Harper knows that. In fact, he's counting on the new Dipper-Lib rivalry to keep him in power.

And, unless Mulcair and Trudeau can learn to talk to each other,  Mr. Harper will get his way.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Stephen Harper's Word

                                                http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

Newfoundland Premier Paul Davis was not happy after his meeting last week with Stephen Harper. "It really solidifies that you can’t trust the federal government, you can’t trust Stephen Harper’s government," he said. "We bargained in good faith. We believed that we had an agreement in place, that we had a deal set."

Davis sounded eerily like another premier from Newfoundland, Danny Williams. Michael Harris writes:

Former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, once believed he had a deal that would allow his province to keep its offshore oil revenues while still being eligible for full equalization payments from Ottawa. When Stephen Harper changed that arrangement, Williams went on the war path. With the full backing of the premier’s office, word spread across Newfoundland and Labrador — vote for anybody but Harper at the ballot box.

And then there was Harper's alteration of the Atlantic Accord. When Bill Casey met with Harper, he discovered that the agreement meant what Stephen Harper said it meant:

Casey visited the prime minister personally, armed with legal opinions from the justice department confirming that the deal had been changed and that it was illegal.

“Harper swept the opinions off his desk and said that the words meant what he said they meant. He said that I had never been with the program,” Casey told me.

Jack Layton said he discovered early on that you couldn't take the prime minister at his word. That, Harris writes, is what the next election will be all about: Stephen Harper's word.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Questioning The Orthodoxy

                                                   http://canadabubble.com/

Joe Oliver is meeting with his provincial counterparts today. Kevin Page writes that, given Canada's and the world's economic outlook, it's time to ask some tough questions:

Some of these issues cannot be ignored any longer. For instance, will any provincial or territorial finance minister confront Joe Oliver, their federal counterpart, about income stagnation? Data on Human Resources and Social Development Canada’s site shows that median after-tax incomes for all families (or real GDP per capita) has been virtually flat since 2007. Debt feels very heavy when incomes are stagnating.

Or what about income inequality? The New Canadian Income Survey on the Statistics Canada website shows that 4.7 million people or 13.8 per cent of our population lived with low income in 2012 (income less than half of the median of all households). That is a troubling number that should worry all Canadian political leaders.

It's not that our finance ministers lack brains. Page gives credit where credit is due:

Our finance ministers are smart. They know that faster growth is going to require higher investment rates and sustainable public finances. But the reality is that Canada is falling down on capital investments in both the private and public sectors.  

That's because the ruling orthodoxy these days dictates that the only way to encourage investment is to cut taxes:

Why do we continue to pursue an approach that stunts growth now and for the future? Is this public sector mismanagement? Or, is this an effort to achieve a balanced budget that allows for spending on current goods or services (for my generation that votes) at the cost of capital goods for future generations (our children and grandchildren that do not yet vote)?

And what about infrastructure spending? Will the ministers confront Oliver about the 2013-14 Public Accounts for Infrastructure Canada, which show the federal government is not getting planned transfers on infrastructure out the door. Last year, $640 million was left unspent on a range of infrastructure programs. What will this mean for future Canadians?

The austerity approach set out in the 2012 federal budget will succeed in generating a balanced budget, but at a cost: slower growth and degraded public services like support for veterans. Meanwhile, the government is responding to its improved fiscal situation not by raising the investment rate, but by cutting taxes further.

Page got into trouble because he questioned the Harper government's orthodoxy. Time has proven, however, that Kevin Page knows a lot more about economics than Stephen Harper does.


Friday, December 12, 2014

A Foremost Fabulator


                                                http://www.webchercheurs.com/

Stephen Harper came to Ottawa claiming that he was a righteous man. He stood, he said, for the truth. But, Michael Harris writes, with Harper it's never been about the truth. It's been about advertising -- and he arranges for Canadians to foot the bill:

We’re living in the age of propaganda politics financed by the public between elections; appearance and reality are now separated by light years of marketing BS. As the PM postures as the veterans’ champion, his government has quietly agreed to transfer to Quebec the last Veterans Affairs hospital in Canada run by the feds. It hasn’t been announced yet, but Quebec’s health minister, Gaetan Barrette, listed St. Anne’s Hospital in the Law Number Ten Project, merging the federal facility with other establishments in Montreal’s West Island.

The veterans affairs fiasco is a particularly egregious example of how advertising has replaced the truth:

So the latest episode of let’s-pretend marketing goes something like this: The Harper government is going to hire new front-line workers for VA — ergo, its commitment to veterans is confirmed.

It’s nothing of the sort, of course. In fact, it’s more tarnished than ever. The Harper government has fired thousands of VA staffers and are hiring dozens. There is no information on how these new front line workers will be deployed. There never is any detailed information in Harper “news” releases; he saves that for information leaks about his enemies, like Helena Guergis or Jim Prentice.

And the Harperian propaganda surrounding the F-35 was equally putrid:

Remember all the marketing attached to this file? The PM confabulating that there was a contract when there was no contract. The PM saying the price was $16 billion for sixty-five F-35s; it was $10 billion higher and cabinet knew it. The PM saying the parliamentary budget officer was wrong on his numbers; it was the PM who was wildly, consciously wrong. The Auditor General finally put the Cons out of their misery by completely backing up Kevin Page.

Joan Mellen wrote that Lillian Hellman was the:

foremost literary fabulator of her generation. Lillian Hellman invented her life, so that by the end even she was uncertain about what had been true. 

Hellman's and Harper's politics were diametrically opposed. But they shared a fatal flaw.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Exposing The Lie

                                                   http://thisfragiletent.com/

The Big Lie of the last forty-five years has been Trickle Down Economics. The Great Depression exposed it as a Big Lie. But people have short memories and  -- at least until recently -- they've bought the lie for a second time. The OECD, however, has exposed the trickle down lie for a second time. Linda McQuaig writes:

Essentially, the OECD report reveals the immensity of the trickle-down scam, which the report shows has not only failed to foster economic growth as promised, but has proved to be an overall killer of economic growth.

And the report puts actual numbers on how much growth has been reduced as a result of trickle-down. In the case of Canada, the reduced economic growth amounts to about $62 billion a year — which economist Toby Sanger notes is almost three times more than the estimated annual loss to the Canadian economy of lower oil prices.

All along there have been contrarian voices:

Meanwhile, there was mounting evidence — advanced by Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and other high-profile liberal economists — that neoliberal policies did little more than the obvious: making the rich richer, with no benefits for anyone else.

Now the economic powers that be have caught up with Stiglitz and Krugman:

With its report this week, the Paris-based OECD has gone farther still, stating unequivocally that its research shows that policies favouring the rich haven’t just failed to create overall economic growth, they have actually “curbed economic growth significantly.”

Indeed, according to the OECD, the dramatic increase in income inequality — now at its highest level in 30 years — is the “single biggest impact” preventing economic growth.

This drag on economic growth, the OECD explains, results largely from those lower down the income scale — including the bottom 40 per cent of earners — lacking the funds to invest in their own education.

The Harper government, however, has no interest in the OECD's research. They've already been bought and paid for.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Harnessing The Energy Of The Young

                                                       http://www.vice.com/

Generational conflict awaits Canadians -- unless the young are brought into the political process. And Franks Graves' latest polling suggests that is not happening. Graves reports:

Among younger Canadians there is clear sense that the playing field is tilted to favour older voters. This perception may be grounded in harsh realities about how the economy, our democracy and our public institutions are performing. The youth vote is increasingly irrelevant to the business of winning elections — so political agendas tend more and more to reflect the wishes and fears (both real and imagined) of older Canada. This, in turn, may be leading to the permanent political disengagement of the young — who increasingly see a political process that doesn’t reflect their needs, their concerns and their ethics.

The Harper government has focused its pitch solely on baby boomers, whereas the children of the boomers have been forgotten.The gap between them and their parents is profound. The young are:

much more ethnically and culturally diverse — and more educated — than previous generations. They grew up in a digital climate and are completely at home with modern information technology. Their social values are highly progressive — but they suffer from being the first post-war generation that failed to benefit from the middle class covenant of intergenerational progress. They’re entering their peak years of economic influence and they’re raising families now — but they will never have the political and market clout enjoyed by the boomers that preceded them, and will be shoved to the side by the larger echo boom of Gen Y and millennials now coming of age.

And the Gen Y folks are even more distant from the present government's agenda. Together with the GenXer's, they don't buy any of the Harperian prescriptions for this country:

They are extremely progressive in their social values; the small-c conservative values of hard work, self-reliance, traditional family values and respect for authority are basically meaningless to this generation. They’ve entered a stagnant and unequal economy and their futures look much less bright than those of their parents at the same stage of life. They’re deferring the usual rites of passage — starting a career, marrying, building a family — further and further into the future.

So what is the Harperian plan to deal with the young? Turn them off and keep them turned off. As long as the young stay away from the polling booths, the Harperites feel they are safe. However, it's clear that the future belongs to the politicians who can harness the energy of the young.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Imagine The Damage

                                                  http://firstdegreepr.com/

When Mike Harris became premier of Ontario, he appointed John Snoblen as his first Minister of Education. Ironically, Snoblen had dropped out of high school in grade 11 and never returned. His record not withstanding, he proclaimed that he was going to "reform" education. And the best way to do that, he said, was to "create a crisis."  He proceeded to do just that.

When Stephen Harper came to Ottawa, Scott Clark and Peter Devries write, he followed in Snoblen's footsteps, even though he inherited a very healthy economy:


In 2006, the Conservative government inherited a structural surplus of $13.8 billion, just under one per cent of GDP. This represented a major correction from the $39.0 billion deficit (5.5 per cent of GDP) Ottawa was carrying in 1992-93. The debt-to-GDP ratio had dropped steadily from a high of 67.1 per cent in 1995-96 to 28.2 per cent in 2008-09. Program spending had fallen to a record low of 11.9 per cent of GDP in 1999-00, down from a high of 17.0 per cent in 1992-93.

In other words, the heavy lifting was done already. Never before in Canada had a newly elected government inherited a sustainable fiscal structure — a structure that had produced 11 years of surpluses and a declining debt burden. The fiscal situation could not have been better for the Conservatives.

Harper, however, was obsessed with the idea that he was a better student of economics than his predecessors:

He had to prove his own budget bona fides. For that he would have to find a ‘fiscal problem’ that he could fix with tough spending cuts and public service layoffs — even if he had to manufacture one. If he could do this, he could make ‘sound fiscal management’ his political brand. All he’d need would be a good ad campaign.

The first step was for Harper to adopt an approach that had been used (unsuccessfully) by President Ronald Reagan in the U.S. — the ‘starve the beast’ strategy. The idea — which, on paper, seemed very simple and appealing — was to starve the government of revenue and then claim that, because the resulting deficits were bad for the economy, government programs and services would have to be cut to keep the debt in check. In doing so (according to the theory), the ‘beast’ would shrink in size and the private sector would become so deliriously happy as a result that it would immediately ramp up investment and spur growth.

So much for theory. It wasn’t hard for the newly-elected Conservative government to find a way to close the revenue taps in 2006. During the election campaign they had promised to cut the GST by two points. Say one thing for the Conservatives: They usually follow through on their election promises — especially the bad ones. Had Mr. Harper targeted income taxes instead of the GST, he could have claimed that he was undertaking good tax policy by reducing a disincentive to work and make money.

 But good policy seldom wins out over good politics. The GST was the riper political target, so the Conservative government cut the GST by one point in 2006 and one point in 2007. That cost the government $14 billion annually. As a result of the GST cuts, the government recorded a “structural deficit” of $5.8 billion in 2008-09 — down from a “structural surplus” of $9.6 billion in the previous rear, a single-year change of $15.4 billion. And that was before the 2008-09 recession had even started.

And then the recession hit -- something both Harper and his finance minister, Jim Flaherty, said would not happen. But consider what would have happened if Harper and Flaherty had not cut the GST:

Without that loss of $14 billion in GST revenue, the deficit would have been much smaller. Simply adding back the $14 billion would have given us a deficit of $41.6 billion in 2009-10, $19.4 billion in 2010-11, $12.3 billion in 2011-12 and $4.4 billion in 2012-13. There could even have been a $9.2 billion surplus in in 2013-14 — two years before the government’s deadline. Net debt would have increased by less than $80 billion by 2015-16 — just over half the $150 billion increase we’re expecting now.

John Snoblen knew nothing about education and Ontario is still trying to repair the damage he did. Imagine how much more damage Stephen Harper can do if he is re--elected.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Firing Up The Base


                                                   http://www.hilltimes.com/

It's interesting to consider the titles of bills that the Harper government steamrolls through parliament. Consider a few: The "Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.” Or the "“Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.” That's the new prostitution law. Or "The Black April Day Act." If you missed that one, Michael Harris reminds you that it:

created April 30 as the day to commemorate the diaspora of Vietnamese citizens after Saigon fell to the Viet Cong in 1975. Thousands of those refugees from South Vietnam came to Canada.

There is only one problem with dissing Vietnam with the Black April Day Act. That country is now an important trading partner and a key ally in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. Vietnam’s ambassador didn’t care much for the name of the private member’s bill or its intent. So he decided to act. He asked to appear before the Senate committee to air his concerns.

As reported by CP, he was turned down. The ambassador was then invited to make a written submission. He complied. But while it was being translated into French, the committee completed its “study” of the bill and his objections were never formally considered. Nor were the objections of any other witness who opposed the legislation.

Obviously, the act had nothing to do with the Vietnamese. It was all about firing up Harper's base:

Harper is merely driving in the wedges. He knows that the base doesn’t like the idea of prostitution, so they will approve of the moralistic bent of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act – and send in $5. He knows that his Christian base also abhors polygamy, so they will also send in $5 to support the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. And they will also send in $5 to support the Black April Day Act because it is a reminder of the horrors of godless Communism.

And, as long as he can fire up his base -- and keep the opposition fighting about sexual harassment -- he'll continue to be prime minister.


Sunday, December 07, 2014

Journalists First

                                                http://www.quillandquire.com/

Except for the occasional episode of The Nature of Things, I don't watch CBC Television. But I do listen to Radio 1. The Gomeshi Affair has revealed deep seated problems at CBC Radio. So I read Noah Richler's piece in today's Toronto Star with interest. Richler writes:

There are many bright lights at the CBC and some very accomplished journalists and perhaps even good managers, without question, but these are up against the obdurate culture of an institution under siege. Fighting to remain the same is not an option. Only radical change will save the place.
Great swathes of CBC airtime are handed over to single people. You would think, listening to CBC Radio, that only Eleanor Wachtel had ever read a decent foreign novel; that Bob McDonald was our only adjudicator of science and that Peter Mansbridge is the only person who can read the news.

Similarly, Jian Ghomeshi was awarded every single trendy arts beat in the country ad nauseam. Did we really need the allegations of his beating women to discover that Rick Mercer could do the Scotiabank Giller job better? Will the latter now do that show forever?

The point is that there are huge numbers of qualified and entertaining Canadians ready to be discovered that the CBC is shutting out by its reliance on just a few people to do the work. Indeed, one of the pleasing effects of the vacant seat at Q is that — as is ordinary, for instance, at the BBC — the audience has been enjoying multiple hosts. It would be proper for listeners to be treated to more of this, but this too is unlikely as the CBC’s complacency in this regard is exacerbated by the tendency to chase the grail of high ratings that celebrity brings to it in its ailing state.

Unfortunately, CBC Radio has followed the American model. If Peter Jennings or Morley Safer could become stars south of the border, why not encourage that culture in Canadian broadcasting?  The powers that be concluded that we no longer needed any more gravel voiced Norman DePoes,  bespectacled Knowlton Nashes or non-photogenic Peter Gzowskis. Stars they weren't. But they were journalists first.

We would do well to return to the maxim Journalists First.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

One May Smile And Be A Villain

                                                  http://www.popsugar.com

With Industry Canada's approval of Burger King's takeover of Tim Horton's, Oakville officially became the home of the Whopper. But Gerald Caplan writes that the real home of the Whopper is Ottawa. And, while several past governments might lay claim to telling  the biggest whoppers, the Harper government is certainly in the running for the gold medal:

But last week the government finally won the gold medal for perhaps the most despicable act ever of deceit and outright lying. And wouldn’t you just know, given the Harper record, that it was Canada’s veterans they lied to.

Stephen Harper and his government have seemed inexplicably indifferent to vets returning from war zones with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the latest Defence Department stats, 160 military personnel committed suicide between 2004 and March 31, 2014. That compares to the 138 Canadian soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014. It’s a stunning comparison, isn’t it? By any measure it’s a crisis of epidemic proportions, and yet the government refused to take it seriously. Rhetoric? Of course; a great deal. Money? Some. Yet no serious attempt to deal with the problem. It’s truly baffling.

So, two days before the auditor general lambasted the Harperites for the delays in getting services to the victims of PTSD, Julian Fantino announced that $200 million dollars were going to be spent on providing those services. However:

The $200-million money is not for the next six years at all. It’s for the next 50 years, as the government was soon forced to acknowledge, maybe $4-million a year. According to Scott Maxwell, executive director of the activist Wounded Warriors Canada, the 50-year figure “has never been mentioned in any briefing, in any press release or conference.” The government wilfully covered up the truth from beginning to end.

Othello got it right.  One may smile and smile and be a villain.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Real Villain Is Stephen Harper

                                                    http://globalnews.ca/

The opposition parties are calling for Julian Fantino's resignation. It's true that Fantino has bungled every cabinet position he's held. But he has never run any ministry for which he has been held responsible. Michael Harris writes:

No Harper cabinet minister runs his or her department. Fantino does what every other cabinet minister does — exactly what he’s told to do by the PMO. He did what he was told as minister of state for Seniors, as associate minister of Defence, as minister for International Cooperation, and as the dud champ of the vets. A click of the heels, a salute — and then its off to fire another snowball made by Stephen Harper.

Harper doesn’t fire people for doing what they’re told — which is why Fantino still has his job. Nor has the PM ever had a problem with sending a bricklayer to repair a Rolex. In fact, Harper has used Fantino’s tough-guy/ex-cop image in every one of his postings to “scare the ‘crats” internally, as one insider put it — the “‘crats” being bureaucrats. Since Harper is still persuaded the public service is an enemy, Fantino performs a very useful service.

It's Harper who has dismantled Veterans Affairs. Consider the numbers:

It’s Harper who is downsizing Veterans Affairs. It’s Harper who removed $226 million from VA, or nearly 30 per cent of its operational budget, in just two years. It’s Harper who thinks massive job cuts at VA — 1,000 so far — amount to nothing more than the culling of backroom nobodies.

Finally, it’s the PM who has such a shallow understanding of the nature of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that he thinks any vet suffering from it can get help at Service Canada Centres — the places you go to apply for Employment Insurance or maternity benefits.

And to cover the damage, there is the usual response -- advertise:

Those ads will have to be pretty good this time. They’ll have to make people forget all about the unspent $1.13 billion the Harper government has siphoned from Veterans Affairs since 2006. They’ll have to convince Canadians to overlook the fact that Harper has cut 25 per cent of the workforce at Veterans Affairs in the past five years. As reported by Paul McLeod of the Chronicle Herald, half of those cuts were made to a program called Health Care and Re-Establishment benefits.

Fantino may be a tough talking fool. But the real villain is Stephen Harper.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Make No Mistake. It's Madness


                                                  http://www.oddbloke.ca/

Some commentators have suggested that, after the Michael Sona trial, no political party would be stupid enough to try any robocall shenanigans. Linda McQuaig has her doubts:

If you’re a low-level political operative, the conviction of Conservative party staffer Michael Sona for his role in the robocall scandal may well have deterred you from committing voter fraud in the future.

But if you’re a high-level political operative, the outcome of Sona’s trial probably left you emboldened.

After all, even though one judge concluded that there was deliberate organization behind the effort to misdirect voters, and another judge concluded that Michael Sona could not have acted alone, the Harperites managed to shut the whole investigation down:

Certainly, the Conservatives seem to have dodged a bullet. After months of investigation and court proceedings into allegations of an organized attempt to send non-Conservatives to the wrong polling stations on election day in May 2011, the party itself has emerged with (technically) clean hands.

Blame for the scandal was meted out solely to Sona, the former party operative in Guelph who was sentenced to nine months imprisonment and released on bail this week.

Avoiding any responsibility was no small feat for the Conservative party, given how strongly the evidence pointed to some sort of organized scheme, presumably involving the authorization — or at least the tacit co-operation — of high-level officials within the party.

And with the "Fair" Elections Act now in place, they have made sure that there will be no further investigations:

That’s because the government’s controversial election reform package includes a section that prevents the Commissioner of Elections from revealing any details about investigations being conducted by Elections Canada.

The robocalls came to light only because, after receiving complaints of electoral irregularities (primarily involving Guelph), the Commissioner of Elections began to investigate and filed a court application related to that investigation. After the details of the application were picked up by the media, there was a flood of complaints from citizens across the country reporting they received similar misleading phone calls on election day.

Had the new “muzzling” rule been in place, the application filed by the Commissioner would have been sealed, preventing the public from knowing about the initial investigation — the trigger that prompted the nationwide response, allowing the public to see a larger pattern of possible voter suppression.

There is a method to their madness. And make no mistake. It's madness.



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Tax Fairness

                                                      http://occupynatick.org/

The Robert Reich documentary, Inequality For All explains with remarkable clarity what has happened in the United States over the last forty years and in Canada over the last thirty years. Reich argues that the economy will implode unless there is a fairer distribution of income between citizens. That idea is beginning to percolate in Canada. Carol Goar writes:

But continuing to neglect the problem will allow the top 0.01 per cent of the population to skim off an ever larger share of the national income at the expense of everyone else. It will leave most of the electorate with no stake in the country’s collective success. And it will deepen the sense of unfairness hard-working Canadians already feel.

Even banks and business-friendly think-tanks recognize the danger. In a special report last week, the Toronto Dominion Bank urged the government to “lean against income inequality.” A day later, the C.D Howe Institute devoted its annual Benefactors Lecture to rewriting the tax code to restore fairness and give Canada’s next generation a chance.

And, taking his cue from Reich, Kevin Milligan has suggested that several changes need to be made to the way Canadians are taxed:



  • First, get rid of all the loopholes, starting with the “boutique tax credits” that have proliferated under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The list includes the children’s fitness tax credit, the green renovation tax credit, the volunteer firefighting tax credit, the public transit tax credit, the tradespersons’ tool tax deduction, the tuition tax credit, university textbook tax credit, the working income tax credit, the video production tax credit and the adult gym membership tax credit and the search-and-rescue tax credit. “These credits are inefficient and they’re biased toward higher earners,” Milligan said.


  • Second, apply the same tax rate to all forms of investment income: dividends, capital gains and interest payments. Milligan contends this would simplify the system and get badly needed capital into the hands of entrepreneurs and innovators with the potential to go global.


  • Third — and most controversially — move to a dual income tax system. There would be one flat rate for all forms of capital income, but a more steeply progressive rate structure for employment income. This would include two new tax brackets at the top: one for those with incomes of $250,000 or more (32 per cent), the second for those making $400,000 or more (35 per cent). This, coupled with the closing of tax loopholes, would leave the hyper-rich with fewer ways to escape paying their share of the tax burden.

  • Goar admits that there are problems with  Milligan's proposals. Most Canadians don't have capital income, so the system would still be tilted in favour of the rich. But Milligan would put an end to the tax cuts that have bought Stephen Harper votes. And the rich would pay more of their fair share.

    And, until we stop buying the canard that the rich create jobs, we're heading for disaster.


    Tuesday, December 02, 2014

    A Pig In A Poke

                                                         http://dailyenglish.cz/

    Stephen Harper hopes to be re-elected on his boast that he knows -- better than anyone else -- how to manage the Canadian economy. But the evidence keeps suggesting that he doesn't know what he's doing. Murray Dobbin writes:

    However you see it -- as separate from society or integral to it -- Canada's "economy" is increasingly at the mercy of a risk-averse, inept corporate elite addicted to government tax breaks, and an ideologically addled government which more than anything else is simply incompetent. It is a deadly combination -- a sort of dumb and dumber team slowly dragging us backwards at a time when the world is just hoping there won't be another economic collapse.

    Consider our sliding position among OECD countries:

    An OECD study reported in the Globe shows that Canada has dropped out of the top 10 in R&D spending and now ranks 12th. While we de-industrialize and fall back on raw resource exports, previously underdeveloped countries -- Taiwan, Indian and Brazil -- are now outspending us as they industrialize.

    We continue to decline in the World Economic Forum's World Competitiveness Index as well. For 2014-2015 we rank 15th. But even worse, in the category of "innovation and sophistication factors" we rank 25th.  In 1998 our overall rank was sixth. Some of the countries that now beat us: the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The dramatic decline in R&D has a continuing negative impact on labour productivity as well. According to OECD figures, for the year 2012 we stood at 73 per cent of the U.S. benchmark of 100. This failure to increase labour productivity through investment in new machinery and innovation has a huge impact on our standard of living and the domestic economy: as wages stagnate and personal debt increases domestic consumption starts to flat-line -- and that further suppresses investment.

    And, while Harper trumpets his trade deal with Europe, India isn't even on his radar:

    The other media report that reveals the pathetic level of government and corporate leadership on the economy focused on our complete failure to look to India as a potent export market. It is the fastest-growing economy on the planet yet Canadian corporations and their government partners seem asleep at the switch. Kevin Carmichael in the Globe and Mail quotes the president of Canada-India Business Council: "We've got to get in here fast or we're going to miss the boat. You've seen a rush to the gates [from other nations]. We seem to be taking a slow walk." Currently exports to India account for a minuscule 0.63 per cent of Canadian exports -- and 45 per cent of that is raw materials. Canada scarcely does better in other emerging nations. Of our top three destinations for goods, the U.S. takes 74.5 per cent, China 4.3 per cent and the U.K. 4.1 per cent. Australia, a Pacific nation we compete with, is far more diversified in its export destinations: China 29.5 per cent, Japan 19.3 per cent, South Korea 8 per cent, India 4.9 per cent.

    The only thing that Mr. Harper is focused on is getting Canadian oil to foreign markets. But it's becoming apparent that Alberta bitumen simply costs too much to produce. And its overall economic benefits are miniscule:

    Frances Russell highlighted the fact that "Canada's energy sector created only 1.7 per cent of all new jobs in Canada from 2007 to 2012." That was just 13,000 jobs. Compare that to the 22,000 jobs created in a single month, December 2013, in health care and social assistance. "The energy sector accounts for only 0.1 percentage point of the average 2.25 per cent annual GDP growth over the last decade," according to the IMF. As for the alleged benefits accruing to other provinces, a dollar invested in the tar sands boosts manufacturing in the rest of Canada by three cents and GDP in Ontario by four cents. And if none of the pipelines from the tar sands were built? The economy would grow 0.5 per cent less by 2020.

    If you look at the numbers, it begins to dawn on you. If you buy Stephen Harper's vision of the Canadian economy, you're buying a pig in a poke.