Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Alberta Sovereignty Act

Danielle Smith has unveiled her Alberta Sovereignty Act. It really is a piece of work. Jason Markusoff writes:

Premier Danielle Smith's much-awaited Alberta Sovereignty Act more or less delivers on what she promised it would do when she was United Conservative Party leadership candidate Smith a couple months back. It does, indeed, empower Smith's government to order provincial authorities to refuse to enforce any federal law or policy it believes harms Alberta.

In other words, it's similar to the incarnation of her big idea that several of her leadership rivals — including three current Smith cabinet ministers — warned was chaos-inducing, constitutionally problematic, and, in now-Finance Minister Travis Toews' words, "dangerous for the province." Since that now-bygone bit of intra-party tension, Smith has added to her bill the title words "within a United Canada," and a whole lot more.

As was clear before Toews swiped like that at his future boss, Smith's first bill wouldn't automatically nullify, squash or ignore federal laws in this province. It takes the legislature passing a special motion that opines about a specific Ottawa-related grievance, before the new extraordinary cabinet superpower detailed in the bill take effect.

However, the superpowers in the bill are indeed super. And Smith didn't announce several of them until now:

Section 4 of the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act gives the provincial cabinet the kinglike powers to amend legislation by circumventing the legislature, and all the debates and democratic trappings therein. Once the UCP-dominated legislature approves a resolution that beefs about — say, federal methane regulations for fertilizer — there's nothing in Smith's bill that constrains the secret law-rewriting powers of the premier and her lieutenants.

There's a second extraordinary thing this bill does. It severely limits Albertans' rights to challenge use of the act's superpowers in court.

She's talked about the bill as a "shield" against Ottawa. It also shields her government from its own concerned citizens.

Someone only has 30 days to challenge any decisions or deeds made under the Sovereignty Act. For normal laws, the time limit is six months.

Anybody trying to launch such a challenge also must meet an unusually high legal standard to knock it down. The act also immunizes anybody carrying out this act's provisions from civil liability — cabinet ministers and MLAs, too.

There is a tendency these days for politicians to declare themselves kings or queens.

Image: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Outrunning The Crocodile

Last week, Donald Trump had dinner with the neo-Nazi, Nick Fuentes. That dinner was a clear sign that the United States' biggest problem is not just Donald Trump. Karen Tumulty writes:

In the wake of the GOP’s disappointing performance in the midterm elections, it is plainly self evident that the party has a “Trump problem.” But there is a deeper problem, and that is the Republican Party itself.

Republicans cannot move past Trump, as long as they cannot bring themselves to confront him and, by association, the element he attracts. This is not the party that had the fortitude to purge the hateful John Birch Society from its ranks in the mid-1960s. As former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye put it to me, today’s Republicans still think they can “outrun the crocodile.”

Since the dinner became public over the weekend, we have heard plenty of prominent Republicans denounce antisemitism, as though doing that is anything other than basic human decency. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who is reported to be considering a presidential bid of his own, tweeted that antisemitism is “a cancer” and declared: “We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world’s oldest bigotry.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel issued a statement: “As I had repeatedly said, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican Party.”

But depressingly few were willing to even mention Trump himself.

By refusing to confront Trump, the party refuses to deal with the problem head-on. Only former Republican governor Asa Hutchinson and former vice president Mike Pence have been willing to do that:

One welcome exception was outgoing Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who told CNN: "I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader that is setting an example for the country or the party to meet with an avowed racist or antisemite. And so it’s very troubling, and it shouldn’t happen. And we need to avoid those kinds of empowering the extremes. And when you meet with people, you empower.” Another was Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, who said on NewsNation: “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize.”

When you're looking for cowardice, a good place to start is in the silence you hear.

Image: The Wrap

Monday, November 28, 2022

Harper Redux

Michael Harris was never impressed with Stephen Harper. He is equally underwhelmed by the man following in Harper's footsteps -- Pierre Poilievre:

There were a lot of things wrong with Pierre Poilievre’s recent video on his bonkers drug policy.  And they go much deeper than a single issue.

For one thing, no public figure should use real human misery as the backdrop for a political pitch. If he insisted on doing so, how much better it would have been if he’d stayed a night in the tent city, and talked to the people who live there. That way, he could have told them how he would improve their lives, and perhaps gain a better understanding of their problems. Using them as props to peddle his snake oil was disgraceful. 

Then there is the insidious implication of the communications strategy: airing his views in what amount to home-made political monologues. The people who have praised this as a new way of doing politics need to give their heads a shake. This is just Stephen Harper’s old, recycled idea of taking your message directly to the people, without the irritating filter of the media.  

As prime minister, Harper even launched his own newscast—you guessed it—covering himself. By doing these monologues, Poilievre is doing exactly what Harper tried to do—deal out the media. You dispatch with questions and challenges. The principal benefit to the politician? You don’t have to explain these sermons from the ditch. Instead, the words mean what you say they mean. The bonus? Some low-information people might even believe you.

Harper came to power on the backs of low-information voters. Poilievre intends to do the same. But that strategy has obvious weaknesses:

So much of what he had to say was untrue. The person who understood this best is former adviser to prime minister Harper, Benjamin Perrin.

Now a law professor at the University of British Columbia, Perrin was outraged at Poilievre’s antics. With good reason. The former Supreme Court clerk knows a lot more about the matter at hand than Poilievre.  In 2020, the professor published a book on the subject, Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada’s Opioid Crisis. This is what Perrin told reporters about Poilievre’s video: “It was a five-minute long diatribe that’s not informed by any research evidence or expertise. It’s just Mr. Poilievre rehashing Conservative, war-on-drugs tropes that have been long since discredited and have been found to be not only ineffective, but costly and deadly.”

How far did Poilievre miss the strike zone with his drug pitch? Not just wildly but dangerously so, at least according to British Columbia’s mental health and addictions minister. Sheila Malcolmson, who deals with the reality of the opioid crisis on a daily basis, said this in a statement: “People hide their drug use due to stigma and shame—which is why the message the leader of the federal Conservative Party is perpetuating is dangerous.”

The video is an example of Poilievre’s crass attempt to score political points with his base, using the misery of addicts and their families. 

In his monologue, he called safe injection sites, where addicts get clean drugs as a first step toward breaking their habit, a “failed experiment.” Nothing could be further from than the truth.  

For the record, Stephen Harper was also opposed to safe injection sites for heroin addicts, and said so on the campaign trail during the CPC’s unsuccessful 2015 campaign. During that same election run, Harper defended his opposition to legalizing marijuana by saying that most Canadians agreed with him.  They did not.  

Nonetheless, Poilievre insists on following in his master's footsteps. Canadians watched the Harper Show for ten years. I'm betting that they won't watch the sequel.

Image: Press Progress

Sunday, November 27, 2022

He'll Survive

The Gomery Inquiry marked the beginning of the end of Jean Chretien's government. But, Chantal Hebert writes, Justin Trudeau's government will survive the Rouleau Inquiry:

A decade and a half ago, the publication of the findings of the inquiry into what was known as the federal sponsorship scandal signalled the beginning of the end of a dozen-year Liberal tenure.

Justice John Gomery’s final report — and the blame it apportioned to Jean Chrétien’s government — led to the defeat of his successor’s minority government and set the stage for a Conservative decade in power.

But the political parallels between that exercise and the ongoing inquiry into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to use the Emergencies Act to deal with the blockades and anti-vax convoy that crippled the federal capital and the Canada/U.S. border last winter stop there.

Should Justice Paul Rouleau conclude in his final report that Trudeau failed to meet the legal threshold required to invoke the Emergencies Act, the prime minister’s minority government is unlikely to take a decisive hit over the issue.

For all intents and purposes, the case, it seems, is already closed in the minds of many Canadians and the popular verdict, notwithstanding Rouleau’s future conclusions, favours the ruling Liberals.

An Abacus poll published at the end of October showed majority support for the government’s decision in all provinces. The testimony heard since then was not, on its face, earth-shattering enough to reverse the trend.

And that's why Pierre Poilievre is keeping his mouth shut:

For their part, the Conservatives have been uncharacteristically discreet. That silence speaks for itself. Almost half of the Abacus respondents who self-identify as Conservative do not share the sympathies of the party’s latest leader, Pierre Poilievre, for the convoy and its members.

As Falstaff reminded us, "the better part of valor is discretion."

Image: CBC

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Dealing With The Crazies

The Red Wave never materialized. Nonetheless, the Republicans -- with a very slim majority -- will soon take over the House of Representatives. Paul Krugman writes:

The modern G.O.P., in case you haven’t noticed, isn’t a normal political party. It barely has policy goals, other than an almost reflexive desire to cut taxes on the rich and deny aid to those in need. It certainly doesn’t have policy ideas.

Republicans spent much of the election talking about inflation. But in a news conference just after securing a narrow majority in the House, top Republicans declared that their top priority would be … investigating the Biden family.

So the G.O.P. won’t help govern America. It will, in fact, almost surely do what it can to undermine governance. And Democrats, in turn, need to do whatever they can both to thwart political sabotage and to make the would-be saboteurs pay a price.

What should the Democrats do?

Two issues in particular stand out: the debt limit and aid to Ukraine.

For historical reasons, U.S. law in effect requires that Congress vote on the budget twice. First, it authorizes spending and sets tax rates; then, if that legislation leads to budget deficits, it must separately vote to authorize borrowing to cover those deficits.

It’s not clear why this ever made sense. In the current environment, it allows politicians who don’t have the votes to change policy through normal procedure to hold the economy for ransom, as Republicans did during the Obama years, or simply blow it up out of sheer spite — because failing to raise the debt limit would probably cause a global financial crisis. Does anyone expect the incoming G.O.P. House to behave responsibly?

As for Ukraine, while the Ukrainians have been incredibly brave and remarkably successful in turning back Russian invasion, they need a continuing inflow of Western aid, both military and economic, to continue the fight against their much larger neighbor.

The Democrats must pass legislation dealing with the debt ceiling to keep the government going. The Republicans will surely try to shut the government down. They've tried that gambit before. And the Democrats must also pass legislation to continue financial support for Ukraine. The Republicans have also threatened to shut that funding off.

After that, the Republicans will start their investigations -- and nothing will get done.

Image: The American Prospect

Friday, November 25, 2022

Too Much Plenty?

George F. Will has an interesting thesis: Our politics are toxic because we live in an age of plenty. I'm not sure I buy it. But I place it before you:

In 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression and of a decade that would end with the beginning of the worst of wars, a great economist wrote an essay (“Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”) of ambivalent cheerfulness. John Maynard Keynes said the economic problem, “the struggle for subsistence,” was approaching solution. Another century of growth — by around now — would mean that “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares … to live wisely and agreeably and well.”

So, material plenty deprives humanity of what had been its unavoidable preoccupation. This would be a problem, Keynes wrote, that could plunge society into something akin to a “nervous breakdown.” Brink Lindsey says that Americans who think Keynes was mistaken should look around.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, indulging in progressive utopianism, insisted that “necessitous men are not free.” If so, freedom is the absence of necessity. But living beyond necessities is not enticing: Surmounting necessities is a source of life’s meaning and satisfaction.

Will speculates that, with so many Americans living above the poverty line, America is experiencing a nervous breakdown. He cites Lindsey:

“Reported unhappiness is on the rise, and mental health problems are surging. Morbid obesity is becoming normal … IQ scores have begun falling. Marriage and childbearing and personal friendships and community involvement are all becoming less common … We now have all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, but the social authority of that knowledge has fallen into embattled retreat while conspiracy theories and mass delusions fill the vacuum … Where once workplace solidarity and tight-knit social relationships were compensations for lower economic standing, now the new class divide leaves those outside the elite increasingly atomized and adrift … In the industrial era, workers had it much tougher physically, but the status of the working class in social estimation was incomparably higher than today.”

Lindsey’s list of social ills does not include the one that is the most debilitating because it impedes addressing the others: the poisonous politics of rivalrous grievances. A politics of distributional conflict — who gets what from whom — is banal, but it is better than today’s politics of cultural contempt and score-settling: who gets even with whom. Today’s political conversation is dominated by tone-setting minority factions who would be improved by banality.

The politics of grasping is unlovely, but not as ugly as politics treated as a mode of cultural bullying and disparagement. As memories of subsistence struggles recede, people who are no longer necessitous are indeed free — free to use politics for unpleasant self-expression. Their default mentality is anger, which reminds them that they are alive.

“The effect of liberty to individuals,” said Edmund Burke, “is that they may do what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.” The fundamental economic problem of attaining subsistence having been banished by plenty, many hyper-politicized Americans have filled the void in their lives with the grim fun of venting their animosities. This would not have surprised Peter De Vries, the wittiest American writer since Mark Twain: “Human nature is shabby stuff, as you may know from introspection.”

As I see it, the way the plenty is distributed has a lot to do with the anger. But I admit that there's more to it than that.

Image: Roll Call

Thursday, November 24, 2022

An Angry Little Man

Pierre Poilievre is an angry little man. Bob Hepburn writes:

To Pierre Poilievre, everything is broken in Canada — and it’s all the fault of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.

As the Conservative leader sees it, this country is a wreck, with inflation at a 40-year high, 35-year-olds living in their parents’ basements, food and gas prices soaring and crime and homelessness on the rise. His list of miseries list goes on.

Never mind that the clear evidence shows that in these troubled times Canada is faring much better on the economic front than almost every other major industrialized nation. Poilievre, however, is still demanding answers from Trudeau to why the nation is in the state it’s in and what he’s going to do to fix it.

Poilievre keeps demanding answers from Justin Trudeau while he dodges questions of his own:

Indeed, as Poilievre uses slick videos to portray himself as a voice of reason and hope, he actually has done nothing to erase, or even moderate, his image as a cynical politician who shamelessly champions crazy ideas and wacky people in his bid to become Canada’s next prime minister.

Worse, as he nears the three-month mark as Tory leader, Poilievre doesn’t even bother now to try to defend his most controversial proposals, which keep mounting with each passing week. This was evidenced by his refusal to answer questions from Ottawa-based reporters or even from business leaders after one of his Trudeau-bashing speeches.

Here’s a sample of Poilievre’s latest troubling positions:

Last Sunday, Poilievre released a video titled, “Everything feels broken,” in which he calls for the defunding of safe drug consumptions programs supported by NDP and Liberal governments, especially in B.C., because they lead to “massive” increases in overdoses and crimes. Narcotics policy expert have denounced Poilivere’s position as misguided and outright dangerous.

Also last week, cryptocurrency cheerleader Poilievre was noticeably silent as cryptocurrency prices collapsed and FTX, one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, fell into bankruptcy. The collapse has cost many Canadians a small fortune, yet not a peep from the one-time crypto-king.

In addition, as the public inquiry into February’s so-called “freedom convoy” protests winds down, Poilievre still defends his support for the demonstrators. But he now claims he didn’t support “anyone who behaved badly.” Oh, really?

And where does Poilievre stand on Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s ridiculous proposals to ignore any federal law she doesn’t like, or to keep the fees charged visitors to enter the national parks in Alberta? Again, not a word.

Or why won’t he criticize Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s move to use the notwithstanding clause to trample on the right to strike for low-paid educational support workers — the very type of worker Poilivere claims to support.

And then there’s Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, who suggests the Liberals are using assisted suicide policies to kill off people. In a Nov. 15 tweet, she said that Medically Assistance in Dying (MAID “is being used by the gov’t as social policy to save $ and rid society of people who the Liberals see as costly/undesirables.” Does he support this crazy view?

The truth is that Poilievre is an empty barrel. Empty barrels make the most noise.

Image: YouTube

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

No Mask Mandate

We need another mask mandate. But, Andre Picard writes, we're not going to get one:

Given the devastating impacts of the triple-headed monster – respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and SARS-CoV-2 – on children and pediatric hospitals, is it justifiable to have mandatory masking in public spaces again?

Almost certainly, yes.

Is it going to happen? Almost certainly, no.

Welcome to the frustrating incongruity of (post-?) pandemic life.

A mask mandate makes sense scientifically. But it’s pretty well a non-starter for political and social reasons.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we bought into masks:

Masking was widely embraced earlier in the pandemic – before vaccines, and before most people were infected with COVID-19 during one of the eight or so waves that have washed over the country.

But now the conventional wisdom is everyone for themselves:

People are largely sick and tired of pandemic rules and restrictions, even largely effortless gestures such as donning face coverings in public spaces.

The messaging around masks has also been confusing at best.

At the outset of the pandemic, we were told masking was to be avoided, that research shows masks make you touch your face and increase the risk of infection. Masks were for health professionals, trained in donning and doffing. Then came mask shortages, and the do-it-yourself era of cloth masks. (Who doesn’t have a box of those in the cupboard?)

Scientific consensus shifted rather quickly and soon masks were mandated in all public spaces. Except in schools, where we argued about the impact on learning, and whether kids actually get sick. (That question has been answered in spades.) Then we bickered about the relative merits of various sorts of masks, and where they should be used. Gradually, restrictions were lifted everywhere.

We can forgive the public for being a bit confused, or skeptical about masking and mask mandates. The messaging has been and continues to be all over the map.

Recently, politicians and public health officials have been doing a lot of “urging” about mask-wearing, but are backing it up with some contradictory role modelling.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford encouraged everyone to mask up in indoor public spaces, but he and most of his colleagues remained unmasked in the legislature. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, “strongly recommended” masking, especially at indoor gatherings. Then he was photographed unmasked at a Toronto Life party.

Neither of those is a good look. But the reality is that masking is a personal choice, whether we like it or not. Public shaming is not an effective tool.

The new conventional wisdom makes it virtually impossible to solve the existential problems we face today. It's been almost a century since T.S. Eliot published his poem, The Hollow Men. If he published the poem today, the last three lines of the poem would read:

This is the way the world ends,

This is the way the world ends,

It's everyone for themselves.

Image: YouTube

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Trump Problem

Canada's Conservatives have a Trump problem. Jake Enright writes:

In Canada, he is downright detestable to the vast majority of voters. Trump unites Canada’s left and divides the right. Some polls suggested that Trump had as little as 16 per cent support among Canadians when he was defeated by Joe Biden. Given the events of January 6, Trump presumably has only become more detestable among Canadians.

But Trump has his admirers in Pierre Poilievre's caucus:

While most of these MPs know that it’s not politically advantageous to show outward support for the former President (remember what happened to Candice Bergan when she wore the MAGA hat), a small number will inevitably give their unfiltered opinion when they think it’s safe to do so. The result will be a slow trickle of pro-Trump content that the Liberals will use to showcase support and sympathy for Donald Trump by Team Poilievre.

These MPs will keep Poilievre busy:

This situation will result in the Opposition Leader’s Office (OLO) constantly trying to dissuade Conservative MPs from speaking publicly about Trump, but in such a way that those same MPs don’t complain anonymously to the media that Poilievre’s office has become the gatekeeper. This is a tough set of circumstances that rarely end well.

But there will be other problems for Poilievre:

Trump will challenge Poilievre’s ability to maintain message discipline. Donald Trump’s Canadian support is entirely comprised of traditional conservatives and a new voter coalition Mr. Poilievre is hoping to attract to the Conservative movement, the “Left Behinds.” Left Behinds feel they are falling further and further behind financially, do not trust the government, and are becoming suspicious of institutions. Trump has significant influence over both American and Canadian Left Behinds, and these voters will expect federal Conservatives to voice public support for Donald Trump, as well as Trump’s politically damaging policies that repel centrist voters.

Can Poilievre speak to the Left Behinds without alienating more moderate voters? Speaking to multiple audiences with perfect message synergy and zero contradictions is one of the most difficult tasks in politics. It requires message discipline, attention to detail, and mastery of digital media.

Most importantly, Trump provides the Liberals with a political opportunity:

The Liberal Party of Canada and Justin Trudeau excel at downloading U.S. issues into the Canadian political discourse, especially when it comes to policy issues that reflect voter values. Think, for example, abortion, firearms control, and political extremism. The Liberals will be quick to draw comparisons between Pierre Poilievre and Donald Trump on policy, tone, and values.

On the issue of abortion, Donald Trump is widely viewed as being responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade due to his judicial appointments to the upper court. The Democrats were then able to capitalize on the issue of abortion to defeat Trump-backed candidates during the U.S. midterm elections. Expect the Liberals to create a similar conflict point ahead of the next federal election by passing a law that will guarantee access to abortion. The Liberals will then warn voters that if the Conservatives form government, Poilievre will be forced by his caucus to infringe on a woman’s right to choose by rescinding this newly created law. This is a daunting prospect for Poilievre and his team, because typically when elections are fought over values and not issues, Conservatives tend to lose.

By the time the next election rolls around,  Justin Trudeau will be near the traditional shelf life of most Canadian prime ministers. But he could defeat Poilievre by resurrecting the ghost of Donald Trump.

Image: Amazon

Monday, November 21, 2022

Destabilizing The Planet

We've known for quite a while about the dangers of fracking. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

In the past ten days, North America’s oil and gas industry rattled key geological formations with earthquakes in British Columbia and Texas.

Damage from the U.S. quake, the third largest in Texas’s history, closed a major building in San Antonio and demonstrated that frack-triggered tremors can threaten structures even hundreds of kilometres away from the epicentre.

Starting on Nov. 11, Canada’s Montney Formation, a key source of methane and natural gas liquids straddling B.C. and Alberta, experienced three earthquakes measuring over four on the Richter magnitude scale.

Tremors greater than a magnitude of three can be felt while those greater than four can knock items off shelves and in rare cases cause damage to structures.

On Nov. 11 a quake registering 4.7 struck 140 km north of Fort St John in northeastern B.C. The province’s fracking regulator, the BC Oil and Gas Commission, told the Tyee that drilling by Malaysian-owned Petronas triggered the tremor and a cluster of others. As more earthquakes ensued, the Petronas operation was ordered to shut down but then restarted before again stopping when another quake topping four in magnitude struck on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile the U.S. fracking industry most likely triggered a 5.4 earthquake on Nov. 16 in the prolific oil bearing Permian Basin in west Texas. The largest quake in Texas since 1995, it rumbled the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez 320 kilometres away. In San Antonio, 560 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre, the structural damage inflicted on an historic, five-storey complex on the city’s University Health campus caused officials to close it down.

Since 2018 industry’s fracking and wastewater operations in the Permian Basin have caused thousands of earthquakes greater than a magnitude of 2.5.

In the last 15 years, fracking in the Montney Formation has changed the seismic patterns in the region and now accounts for 70 per cent of earthquakes. The industry initiated thousands of small tremors and then progressively triggered tremors of greater magnitude such as the 4.6 quake by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. that shook the Site C dam under construction in 2018.

Our continued use of oil warms the planet, while our search for more oil destabilizes it.

Image: CTV News Calgary

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Here They Come!

The big takeaway from the American midterm elections is that generational change is underway. John Della Volpe writes:

Stressed and sickened by thoughts of their rights and democracy slipping away, young Americans across gender, racial, geographic and education lines banded together last week to help save the Democrats from what many foresaw as a sizable midterm defeat. If the elections had been decided by voters 45 and older, Republicans would have won the House by an even greater margin and likely taken the Senate. But thanks to young voters (especially the 18-to-29 age group, which had the second-highest turnout in midterm elections in almost 30 years, according to early estimates from Tufts University), Democrats retained the Senate, showing that an alliance of Gen Z and millennial voters answered history’s call to defend democracy. The majority of them rejected the big lie. They possess the turbulent, kinetic energy that withstands red waves. They will propel Democrats’ progressive agenda forward if the party seizes the moment.

The change has actually been underway for a while:

In 2018, young voters were key to Nancy Pelosi regaining the speaker’s gavel. In 2020, millennials and members of Gen Z were instrumental in moving Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin into Joe Biden’s column, thus relegating Donald Trump to a one-term presidency. Winning one election might be an accident. Two, an anomaly. Three in a row proves that earning the support of the Gen Z-millennial alliance is essential to winning elections in our current era.

Smart politicians should be paying attention:

This union of Gen Z and millennial voters will account for nearly 40 percent of votes in the next presidential election, according to estimates from the Center for American Progress. Republicans ignore this voting bloc at their peril. Even among white voters — the traditional Republican base — the youngest are slipping away to support Democrats. While midterm estimates show that the majority of whites over 30 years old voted Republican, 58 percent of whites under 30 voted for Democratic House candidates.

Democrats in the House have noted the change. They are handing over the reins to the next generation. Republican continue to believe that their future belongs to a seventy-six-year-old man.

We'll have to see if that trend holds for us as well.

Image: Quinn Glabicki/Reuters

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Some Of The Inmates

Danielle Smith has fired Alberta's chief public health officer. Graham Smith writes that Canadians should pay attention to what Smith is doing:

If you can’t wait until the next movie in the Fast and Furious franchise, might I suggest you start watching Alberta politics.

Premier Danielle Smith is taking Albertans on a white-knuckle ride that, depending on your perspective, promises to be an exhilarating joyride to freedom or a maddened race into a brick wall.

Albertans should buckle up. So should the rest of Canada. Nobody will be a bystander to Smith’s erratic driving. Her tactics are aimed not just at her home province but could yet see the rest of the country involved in a pile-up involving the Constitution or health care.

Smith took aim at more people than Dr. Deena Henshaw:

On Thursday, Smith once again stomped on the gas, this time by dismissing the entire board of Alberta Health Services and replacing it with an official administrator.

“We need a health-care system that meets our growing demands and to take action to improve access and today we are doing just that,” said Smith in a comment bereft of any mention of the just-fired board.

Smith said she is simply trying to fix a broken health-care system. While it’s true Alberta’s health-care system needs improvement, Smith appears motivated as much by revenge as by reconstruction.

She won the recent United Conservative Party leadership race after promising to punish health officials who, in her expressed view, violated Albertans’ rights and freedoms by imposing mandates during successive waves of the COVID pandemic.

Smith pledged never to reimpose any pandemic-related mandates, even a mask mandate. In fact, she wants her justice minister to take steps to remove the power of school boards to impose their own mask mandates.

No province has reintroduced a mask mandate, despite a wave of respiratory illnesses, particularly among children, flooding emergency rooms across the country.

But no province has slammed the door on future mandates as deliberately and loudly as Premier Smith. While Ontario Premier Doug Ford has recommended people “wear a mask every time possible,” Smith will only say people can decide for themselves.

“I think it’s important that we not cause an overreaction or a state of panic,” she said this week, as schools reported massive rates of absenteeism due to illness.

Smith’s rhetoric has boxed not just her into a corner politically but every Albertan who sees a mandate not as a restriction but as a protection.

Clearly, some of the inmates have escaped from the asylum.

Image: The TorontoStar

Friday, November 18, 2022

If They Only Knew

Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem is getting a lot of advice from Canada's opposition leaders. Andrew Coyne writes:

As he steers inflation back to Earth – the three-month annualized rate was 4.3 per cent in October, a third of its spring peak – Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem must surely take comfort in the knowledge that, should he need any advice on how to proceed, he need not rely only on the bank’s world-leading roster of economists, but can tap the deep wellspring of expertise on the opposition benches.

Just now they are sending somewhat conflicting signals. Where Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre holds the governor to blame for inflation having reached such levels, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is equally concerned that he might do something to reduce it. For where Mr. Poilievre believes current inflation levels are solely and entirely a function of bank policy, Mr. Singh believes it is caused by everything but: corporate greed, profiteering, price-gouging.

Their prescriptions, likewise, are diametrically opposed. Besides firing the governor – he seems no longer to be advocating the wholesale adoption of bitcoin as a way of “opting out of inflation” – Mr. Poilievre has lately suggested he would alter the bank’s mandate to require it to keep inflation at 2 per cent, as is currently the target, but “with an eye not just to CPI inflation, but asset price inflation.”

For his part, Mr. Singh complains of the bank’s “one-size-fits-all” approach, which is to say its use of the instruments of monetary policy, such as interest rates, to control inflation, rather than addressing the “root causes” of price increases: along with greed, they include supply chain bottlenecks and the war in Ukraine, issues that are not widely considered to be within the bank’s ability to control.

The analyses of both men are simplistic:

Mr. Poilievre subscribes to a cartoonish version of monetarism in which any large increase in the money supply automatically translates into higher inflation. This is not actually what either theory predicts or real-world evidence confirms. The long-run correlation between money growth and inflation holds, but in the short run all sorts of other factors can intervene.

Mr. Singh’s objection, and that of his allies in the labour movement, that the bank ought to be less focused on inflation and more on fighting unemployment (the president of the Unifor union went so far as to accuse the governor of waging a “class war” against workers) is based on the belief that there is some tradeoff between the two.

In the short run, that may be true: Indeed, the governor has been frank that unemployment, currently at a 40-year low, will have to rise somewhat if inflation is to be tamed. That’s simply a recognition of reality: Wages make up 70 per cent of the final prices of things. So long as wages are rising at 5 per cent, good luck holding prices to two.

But in the long run, there is no tradeoff, as we learned in the 1970s. To hold unemployment to some arbitrarily fixed level requires not just higher inflation, but accelerating inflation. That’s not sustainable.

If only Mr. Poilievre and Mr. Singh really knew something about economics.

Image: YouTube

Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Sad Little Man

Two nights ago, Donald Trump droned on -- for fifty-three minutes -- to announce that he was running for president again. Charles Lane writes that what the speech amounted to was a concession speech:

Donald Trump’s hour-long speech Tuesday night should be remembered not just for the things he said, including his announcement that he will seek another presidential term in 2024. What mattered most was what he did not say: that Joe Biden and the Democrats thwarted his reelection in 2020 by fraud.

Trump has been repeating that outlandish lie endlessly for the past two years, including as he barnstormed the country on behalf of Republican candidates in the midterm elections.

And yet on Tuesday, with all eyes upon him and his political future on the line, he omitted it. Yes, there were allusions to the supposed need for an election revamp based on hand-counted paper ballots, which Trump called a “very personal job for me.” He floated innuendo about “a very active role” by China against him in our 2020 election.

At no time, however, did he repeat his false claim of massive cheating in 2020, nor did Trump say Biden holds office illegitimately; by repeatedly criticizing the current president’s record, he backhandedly implied the opposite. He even indirectly acknowledged the reality of the 2022 results by boasting that “by 2024,” when he intends to head the ticket, “the voting will be much different.”

In short, by Trump standards, this was a concession speech. The concession was to reality — the reality that voters on Nov. 8 spoke in free and fair elections, and what they said, by repeatedly rejecting Trump-backed Republican election deniers, is enough already with his ludicrous relitigating of 2020.

And, even as he was announcing his third bid for the presidency, his supporters were deserting him. Even Ivanka has announced that she is going to sit out the next election. Her father's monstrous ego could not hide the fact that he is a sad little man.

Image: ABC

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

There Will Be A Next Time

The film director Billy Wilder said that "Hindsight is 20/20." We should keep that in mind when we look back at the pandemic. Heather Scoffield writes:

The pandemic has meant Canadians have been through some deep trouble in terms of their living arrangements, work arrangements, economic prospects and personal finances. Their mental health, physical safety and trust in one another have been shaken.

And the effects have been felt disproportionately, revealing — and at times exacerbating — the profound weaknesses in our society that go far beyond the health-care system.

COVID's effect on women has been particularly revealing:

The research was commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada midway through the pandemic, at a time when it was obvious that women were paying a high price — not just in terms of employment and income but also in terms of caregiving for the old and the young.

The researchers found what we know almost intuitively — that in addition to steep losses in employment, the pandemic also escalated demands on paid and unpaid caregivers, exacerbated gender-based violence, undermined mental health for girls in school, and made women’s transition to the workforce more difficult.

At the same time, government income supports and programs often missed the mark. Very rarely did thinking around support fully recognize the cascading challenges of race, disability or gender, the researchers found.

For example, women with disabilities — physical, mental or intellectual — make up about 24 per cent of all women in Canada, but rates of disability are higher for Indigenous and Black women. Those women also face disproportionately higher rates of poverty, unemployment, violence, incarceration and homelessness, as well as disease and dementia, writes contributor Bonnie Brayton.

It should not have been a shock that they were hit harder by COVID-19 than other demographics, but you wouldn’t know it by the public supports that were available, she argues.

And then there are the supply chains issues:

Inflation, a concurrent economic slowdown or recession, plunging real estate values, soaring rents and even a children’s Tylenol shortage are all linked to Canada’s persistent inability to fully shake the pandemic.

And we know all too well that those economic spinoffs of the pandemic double down on the same demographics that are hurt most by the public-health aspects of COVID-19, compounding their vulnerability.

Some of us survived COVID much better than others:

The pandemic didn’t just reveal weaknesses in our health-care system and our ability to produce vaccines and masks. It also exposed serious issues with our social-safety network, our financial markets and our understanding of inflation and global supply chains. And it exacerbated the inequities that are constantly bubbling away.

Those weaknesses must be addressed. Because there will be a next time.

Image: Corporate Finance Institute

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

This Is A Leader?

Donald Trump will probably announce his third run for the presidency today. And therein lies a mystery. Paul Krugman writes:

Let’s talk instead about how remarkable it is that someone like Trump managed to dominate one of America’s two major political parties and surely retains a substantial base.

I’m not talking about the fact that Trump holds what I consider reprehensible policy views or even the fact that he engaged in several acts, including an attempt to overturn a national election, that can reasonably be described as seditious. Clearly, most of the G.O.P. is OK with all of that.

I’m talking instead about the evident perception by many Republicans that Trump is a strong leader, when he is in reality extraordinarily weak.

It's obvious that Trump is not who he claims to be:

Start with personal character — not my favorite subject (I’m much more comfortable talking about policy), but something that clearly matters when you’re choosing a commander in chief.

I don’t think it’s romanticizing the past to say that once upon a time politicians who sought the presidency had to appear, well, presidential. That is, they had to display gravitas and dignity; whatever their behavior behind closed doors, in public they had to appear mature and self-controlled.

Trump, however, comes across as 76 going on a very bratty 14. He veers, sometimes in consecutive sentences, between cringeworthy boasting (what kind of person describes himself as a stable genius?) and whining, between bombast and self-pity.

Beyond personal affect, what stands out about Trump’s time in office is his weakness, his inability to get things done.

On domestic policy, Trump ran in 2016 as a different kind of Republican, one who would break with the party’s tax-cutting, anti-government orthodoxy. Once in the White House, however, he was putty in Mitch McConnell’s hands. His only major domestic policy initiatives were a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare and a standard-issue G.O.P. tax cut for corporations and the wealthy.

What about his promises to invest in infrastructure? Nothing came of them: “It’s Infrastructure Week!” became a running joke.

On foreign policy, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un played Trump for a fool with empty reassurances about denuclearization. China’s Xi Jinping did much the same over trade, getting Trump to pause his tariff hikes in return for a promise to buy U.S. goods that proved entirely empty.

In short, Trump’s performance in office was feeble — especially compared with that of his successor.

And he thinks that being a "stable genius" qualifies him for office?

Monday, November 14, 2022

Beware Those Who Would Use The Not Withstanding Clause

In 1970, Pierre Trudeau used the War Measures Act -- a harsh and blunt instrument -- to put an end to the FLQ Crisis. Eleven years later, he inserted the Charter Of Rights and Freedoms into a repatriated constitution. To get the premiers to agree to the Charter, he crafted the Not Withstanding Clause. We have come to believe that no premier would ever use the clause. But, Marcus Gee writes:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has waved this blunt club in the air no less than three times since taking office in 2018: once to threaten to bypass a judge who ruled against a vindictive law to nearly halve the size of Toronto City Council; once to overrule another judge who dared to question a new election-spending law; and then this month to try to impose a settlement on education workers threatening to go on strike.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault has used the override just as casually. He rolled it out to protect a bill that toughens the province’s language strictures and again to fend off judicial scrutiny of his infamous religious-symbols law – the one that forbids teachers from wearing hijabs and cops from wearing turbans.

The symbols law was just the sort of plainly discriminatory measure the Charter was created to prevent. Using the notwithstanding clause to ram the legislation through showed, in the most graphic manner possible, how wrong the don’t-worry-be-happy crowd were when they told us the clause would be used only in “non-controversial” cases.

If either Mr. Ford or Mr. Legault felt any shame for how they acted, they did not show it. Our faith in the restraint of our leaders was misplaced. It’s clear now that they, or others like them down the road, will resort to this constitutional dodge more often, and for worse ends, than we thought.

When that happens, Gee writes, we must "shout from the rooftops:"

The only way to stop them is to make them pay. Those who care about the Charter – and that is most of us – have to shout from the rooftops when they threaten to override it. Mr. Ford faced unexpected fury when he hauled out the notwithstanding club against the education workers. Chastened, he went back to the bargaining table. That shows all is not lost.

There is a lesson here for all of us.

Image: SlidePlayer

Sunday, November 13, 2022

No Simple Answers

This week, healthcare negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces broke down. When it comes to federal-provincial relations, Justin Trudeau takes a lot of slack. And Pierre Poilievre has skated away, scot-free. Chantal Hebert writes that, in the next election campaign, Poilievre will have a lot of explaining to do. Here are the kinds of problems he will have to deal with:

The Conservative leader will have to tell francophone voters in Quebec and elsewhere in the country whether he shares the unsupportive approach of New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs towards official bilingualism.

Just this fall, Higgs lost an education minister over his wish to do away with French immersion classes. More recently, he appointed Kris Austin, an MLA who once advocated for the elimination of the province’s official bilingualism status, to cabinet and to a committee that is tasked with reviewing the government’s language policy.

In Quebec, the minorities are reversed:

Talking about Quebec and minority rights: Poilievre’s two predecessors assiduously courted Premier François Legault in the (vain) hope of bolstering their standing in the province.

The latest Conservative leader has abandoned the party’s hands-off approach to the ongoing court challenges to Quebec’s controversial secularism law. A CPC government would join an eventual appeal to the Supreme Court.

But where does Poilievre stand on Quebec’s demands for more immigration powers and how will that stance jibe with the CPC’s need to make inroads in the diverse suburban belts of the GTA and the greater Vancouver area?
In Ontario, Poilievre will have to deal with Doug Ford's fondness for inserting the notwithstanding clause into provincial legislation:

Over the course of his leadership campaign and in the two months since his leadership victory, Poilievre has cast himself as a champion of the working class, pushing the narrative that the Liberals are first and foremost looking out for the so-called elites.

But how will that pitch play with union members now that the Tory premier of Canada’s largest province has tried to use the Constitution to take away the leverage workers bring to the negotiating table?

In the event of a labour conflict at the federal level, would a CPC government entertain the notion of suspending Charter rights to impose its will on a group of public service workers?

And if not on the labour front, is there any policy that Poilievre would pursue even if it meant circumventing the Charter?

And, in Alberta, premier Danielle Smith has virtually declared war on the federal government:

She is finding much of her inspiration in anti-vax and/or conspiracy theories. This week, Poilievre’s Conservative party appointed a communications director who partakes in Smith’s world view. Is this the kind of philosophy a CPC federal government would condone and/or integrate into its approach to economic and social policy files?

Poilievre is a man who favours simple answers. When it comes to federal-provincial relations, the answers are never simple.

Image: the Toronto Star

Saturday, November 12, 2022

No Salvation

Republicans are lining up to blame Donald Trump for their poor showing in the mid-term election. But, Greg Sargent writes, Trump won't take the blame:

Trump will never admit that he and MAGA failed in any way. MAGA can only be failed, as Trump demonstrated when he declared Thursday that he had played his own role perfectly throughout the midterms, while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility in the actual outcome.

More important, this effort to offload blame on Trump is partly spin. Republicans are eager to erase the central role that the demise of abortion rights played in their midterm losses, because that could have ideological consequences that are much more difficult to reckon with. Pinning the outcome on Trump is one way to evade that.

No question, the MAGA movement and the profusion of radical election-denying candidates surely help explain what happened. Such candidates helped Democrats sweep governorships and lower offices in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — a big step toward rebuilding the “blue wall.”

However, Republicans are refusing to admit how much the overturning of Roe v. Wade played in the election results:

An analysis from the New York Times, for instance, demonstrates that Democrats overperformed in places where the fate of abortion rights was at stake. In the aforementioned blue-wall states, electing a GOP governor could have dramatically limited or ended them, since Republicans controlled all three legislatures. Democrats mostly won up and down the ticket.

In Michigan, an abortion rights referendum was on the ballot — and Democrats grabbed control of both chambers in the state legislature. Something similar happened in normally red Kansas, where a Democrat was reelected governor. There are other examples of this pattern, and anti-choice referendums were defeated in red states such as Kentucky and Montana.

But you can already discern signs that Republicans don’t want the backlash in favor of abortion rights to be the story of this election. In Michigan, the state GOP released a memo suggesting their gubernatorial nominee, Tudor Dixon, lost because her position on abortion (opposing it even in cases of rape or incest) was too extreme. This is an evasion: It’s supposed to suggest that a slightly less extreme anti-choice position might have fared better.

But Democrats scorched Dixon with ads warning not just of her extreme position on exceptions but also that the fundamental underlying right, and the question of whether abortions would be criminalized, were on the ballot. It worked: In Michigan, the referendum enshrining a right to reproductive freedom in the state constitution passed by solid majority.

For decades, banning abortion was the Holy Grail for Republicans. They now know that, having achieved their objective, they will not find salvation.

Image: The Washington Post

Friday, November 11, 2022

It Refuses To Die

These days, our hospitals are filling up with children who have difficulty breathing and doctors are telling us that we need to return to mask mandates. Andrew Nikiforuk writes:

Nearly three years into the pandemic, it’s clear early expectations about the behaviour of the coronavirus and its toll on our bodies have proven overly optimistic.

Recall those early days when experts broadly assumed that once we’d withstood an infection our immune systems would adjust and fully resist another reinfection.

And then hopes rose that mass vaccination would provide the path out of the pandemic. Although vaccines did reduce deaths and hospitalizations, the effort failed to produce herd immunity.

However variants emerged, capable of evading those antibodies. Many people who had been vaccinated or already had endured a bout of COVID were experiencing “breakthrough infections.” What could put the brakes on this ever-evolving virus, which can kill, damage organs and linger for months?

The answer from many scientists has been T cells — our bodies’ line of immune defence after antibodies. T cells can spot and attack viruses and even remember previous invaders. As virologist Vincent Racaniello titled one of his articles: “T cells will save us from COVID-19.”

But scientists have begun to ask, "What if COVID wears down T cells?"

That concern lies at the heart of a rolling, rancorous scientific debate, a lot of it conducted on Twitter. A person at the centre of the storm, sounding alarms about T cell “dysregulation” since the early days of the pandemic, has been a U.S. immunologist named Anthony Leonardi.

By dysregulation Leonardi means three effects of COVID:

The hyperactivation of many T cells, which can prematurely age them

The exuberant function of those hyperactivated T cells, which can then cause organ damage

The exhaustion of those hyperactivated T cells, which implies they aren’t winning the battle against viral proteins they are supposed to defeat.

In other words, argues Leonardi, T cells are becoming hyperactivated by SARS-CoV-2 and are prematurely aging, harming organs, and becoming exhausted trying to rid the body of an immune-evasive virus.

If he is right, then no, we cannot assume that T cells will save us — not as thoroughly, at least, as we’ve been led to believe.

The virus refuses to die. Meanwhile, Pierre Poilievre says that, while he doesn't support the violent behaviour of the truckers, he does support their demand to be free of vaccines.

In the face of the evidence, is this truly smart policy?

Image: You Tube

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Red Wave That Wasn't

Lots of people were expecting a Red Wave. Michelle Goldberg writes:

I mistook my own sense of dread for insight and assumed the people predicting a Democratic wipeout must know something. What I should have done was listen to those monitoring the furious political energy unleashed by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision stripping women of their right to bodily autonomy. “As it turns out, there was a lot of data, and almost all of it was pointing towards this notion that Dobbs changed everything,” said Tom Bonier, a Democratic analyst who’d tracked a surge of new voter registrations and early voting by women. 

It looks like the Republicans will still take the House -- but narrowly:

The House seems likely to fall into Republican hands, but only by a handful of seats. Democrats won governorships in the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and are ahead in Arizona, Oregon and Kansas. They’re poised to take control of the Michigan Legislature for the first time in almost 40 years. And they staved off a Republican supermajority in North Carolina that would have allowed Republicans to pass an abortion ban by overriding the Democratic governor’s veto.

There is still much more to come and it will take a while to understand what went wrong for Republicans. But Goldberg suspects that Trump's party didn't -- or couldn't -- read the electorate:

When it comes to reproductive choice, Republicans are simply out of touch with the values of a significant part of the electorate. “I do think there is a broader narrative of Republican extremism that Dobbs really connected the dots on,” [Tom] Bonier said.

There were five referendums dealing with abortion rights on Tuesday, in Michigan, Kentucky, Vermont, California and Montana. The abortion-rights side won the first four and, as of Wednesday afternoon, is leading in Montana. In North Carolina’s 13th District, the Trump-endorsed Republican Bo Hines, who said that victims of rape and incest who become pregnant should be subject to “a community-level review process” before being granted an abortion, lost a seat considered a tossup.

Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, a high-profile, anti-abortion Christian nationalist who was widely seen as a shoo-in for re-election, is currently down by several thousand votes. Her challenger, the Democrat Adam Frisch, is the son of an OB-GYN who performed abortions; Frisch told me he remembers his dad receiving bomb threats. “That whole issue has been a very personal conversation, and it certainly got as much applause as anything when I was going around on my tour,” he said on Wednesday morning.

That extremism is the most important political story in the country. Since 2020, when Democrats won the presidency and control of both houses of Congress by smaller margins than many expected, there’s been endless hand-wringing about whether Democrats turned off salt-of-the-earth, diner-going Americans by not loudly condemning calls to defund the police. In the wake of Republicans’ weak showing on Tuesday, the political press should lavish similar attention on the ways the fringe right has alienated normal people. MAGA acolytes, it turns out, are the ones trapped in a bubble, convinced by Fox News, right-wing radio, social media and their own sense of entitlement that they’re the only authentic tribunes of the American volk. “People just want the circus to stop,” Frisch said. Even if Boebert somehow ekes out a win, last night suggests he’s right.

It turns out that, if you believe God is on your side, the people may vehemently disagree with you.


Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The Price Of Ignorance

Doug Ford tried to bully one labour union into a deal. What he really did was start a fire. Heather Scoffield writes:

Doug Ford has poked the bear that is organized labour, and the impact on the national economy could be significant.

Just take a look at the stage CUPE leaders shared on Monday after the Ontario premier told them he would revoke the bill that caused so much trouble by removing the education workers’ right to strike.

The Ontario Federation of Labour was there, as was the Canadian Labour Congress. More significantly, so were the United Steelworkers and Unifor — huge private-sector unions that haven’t always seen eye to eye with each other or with the broader labour organizations. Construction unions that had backed Ford in the last provincial election were there, too.

Lana Payne, the national president of Unifor, even delivered remarks, deliberately tying the labour dispute at hand to workers everywhere.

“If fundamental rights can be taken away from public sector workers without recourse, no one’s rights are safe,” she said. “There is no question that this same tactic could have been used here again in Ontario and in other provinces.”

Ford lit a fire under the Canadian labour movement:

The mood among movers and shakers on all sides of the labour movement, such as it is in Canada, was jubilant, giddy in its rare victory and the rediscovery of solidarity in their ranks.

And that’s significant because labour action in today’s economic environment has been notable for its absence.

Yes, the Bank of Canada and many an economist have spoken about the need to do whatever it takes to avoid a wage-price spiral. The fear is that workers would demand wages to surpass inflation, employers would oblige and then have to raise prices further to compensate for the higher pay — provoking an intractable spiral.

But the reality is, wages have not been keeping up with inflation, and pay increases were not the root cause of the inflationary pressure we see today.

Wages have been growing at a five-per-cent annualized pace, while consumer prices were up 6.9 per cent in September. It means workers writ large have been falling further and further behind.

Low-wage workers are particularly out of pocket, Statistics Canada says. And unionized employees, while generally earning more than non-unionized workforces, are less likely to have seen a wage increase over the past year.

That comes after years of slow wage growth. And it comes as high prices at the grocery store and gas station persist, eating away at families’ savings.

In other words, there’s good reason for workers, and unionized workers in particular, to be upset.

Doug, however, suffers from tunnel vision and he knows nothing about labour relations. There is a price to be paid for ignorance.

Image: The Toronto Star

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

The Forest Or The Trees

Today is election day in the United States. Paul Krugman writes that, if Republicans take control of congress, things could get very ugly:

I, at least, always feel at least a bit guilty when writing about inflation or the fate of Medicare. Yes, these are my specialties. Focusing on them, however, feels a bit like denial, or at least evasion, when the fundamental stakes right now are so existential.

Ten or 20 years ago, those of us who warned that the Republican Party was becoming increasingly extremist and anti-democracy were often dismissed as alarmists. But the alarmists have been vindicated every step of the way, from the selling of the Iraq war on false pretenses to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Indeed, these days it’s almost conventional wisdom that the G.O.P. will, if it can, turn America into something like Viktor Orban’s Hungary: a democracy on paper, but an ethnonationalist, authoritarian one-party state in practice. After all, U.S. conservatives have made no secret about viewing Hungary as a role model; they have feted Orban and featured him at their conferences.

At this point, however, I believe that even this conventional wisdom is wrong. If America descends into one-party rule, it will be much worse, much uglier, than what we see in today’s Hungary.

It's a case of millions of Americans not being able to see the forest for the trees:

While I understand the instinct of voters to choose a different driver if they don’t like where the economy is going, they should understand that this time, voting Republican doesn’t just mean giving someone else a chance at the wheel; it may be a big step toward handing the G.O.P. permanent control, with no chance for voters to revisit that decision if they don’t like the results.

What strikes me, reading about Orban’s rule, is that while his regime is deeply repressive, the repression is relatively subtle. It is, as one perceptive article put it, “soft fascism,” which makes dissidents powerless via its control of the economy and the news media without beating them up or putting them in jail.

Do you think a MAGA regime, with or without Donald Trump, would be equally subtle? Listen to the speeches at any Trump rally. They’re full of vindictiveness, of promises to imprison and punish anyone — including technocrats like Anthony Fauci — the movement dislikes.

And much of the American right is sympathetic to, or at least unwilling to condemn, violence against its opponents. The Republican reaction to the attack on Paul Pelosi by a MAGA-spouting intruder was telling: Many in the party didn’t even pretend to be horrified. Instead, they peddled ugly conspiracy theories. And the rest of the party didn’t ostracize or penalize the purveyors of vile falsehoods.

In short, if MAGA wins, we’ll probably find ourselves wishing its rule was as tolerant, relatively benign and relatively nonviolent as Orban’s.

So the question is: Do Americans see the forest or the trees?

Image: The New York Times

Monday, November 07, 2022

A Nasty Fight

We're headed for a nasty fight in Ontario. Global News reports that:

Mass protests and widespread disruption — that’s what Ontario’s labour movement is promising, as multiple Canadian unions plan to take part in sympathetic strikes to protest Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 28.

Multiple sources told Global News a coalition of unions is planning a mass demonstration at Queen’s Park on Saturday, Nov. 12 and a massive multi-sector strike on Monday, Nov. 14.

The aim, sources said, was to bring the province to a standstill and apply maximum pressure on the Progressive Conservative government to repeal Bill 28, which invoked the notwithstanding clause to impose a contract on CUPE’s 55,000 education-support workers.

Today, the drivers who operate the GO Bus Service went on strike.

Doug Ford's education is very limited and his experience is very thin. He inherited his father's company. It was a family business and it did not have to negotiate with a union.

Perhaps it was inevitable that things should come to this.

Image: CP24

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Feeling Their Oats

How are things going in Alberta? The Calgary Herald reports that:

A former Trump administration adviser who pushed for a herd immunity approach during the COVID-19 pandemic has been invited to speak to Alberta’s governing body, Premier Danielle Smith said this week.

During a forum ahead of the Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection this week, Smith said a group of doctors who are advising her has reached out to Dr. Paul Alexander, a Canadian researcher and former adviser to a member of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. Alexander pushed for a herd immunity approach in 2020 and had previously sought to have greater control over communications from apolitical communications, according to reporting from U.S.-based news outlets.

Smith’s remark came during a forum held this week by the Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce in response to Independence Party of Alberta candidate Bob Blayone. Blayone said he learned about the COVID-19 pandemic by reaching out to Alexander as well as several other doctors who have become popular throughout the pandemic for spreading what has since been deemed to be misinformation.

Blayone said those figures want to come to Alberta and meet with the government.

“I’ve got a group of doctors advising me and I know that they’ve already reached out to Dr. Paul Alexander. So, I’m interested in hearing what he has to say,” said Smith in response.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford declared that CUPE's right to go on strike was illegal -- the day before they had the legal right to do so. He is arguing before the Ontario Labor Relations Board that allowing the strike would undermine Ontario's Labour Relations law. This is from a man who refuses to answer a summons to appear before the Public Inquiry looking into February's occupation of Ottawa.

The nutbars are feeling their oats.

Image: Greg Southam

Saturday, November 05, 2022

No Vacation Cruise

Chrystia Freeland released her fall economic statement this week. Kevin Page and his colleagues write that she is forecasting a rough road ahead:

There are three overarching strategic messages in the fall statement.

On the economy: global economic uncertainty is high. High inflation must be addressed. The Canadian economy is headed for a slowdown. Inflation is expected to have peaked. We are estimated to be a year away from having inflation rates within the Bank of Canada’s mandated target range (1 to 3 percent).

On policy: in the current high inflation environment, federal spending must be restrained. New measures must be targeted to help vulnerable people address affordability challenges. The transition to a more competitive, greener, more inclusive and resilient economy is ongoing — new measures are required to stimulate investment and growth, particularly in light of the recent US initiatives (i.e., the US Inflation Reduction Act). More will follow.

Finance officials, who crafted the fall statement, are arguing that the updated fiscal plan represents a steady hand in turbulent times. Normalized (small) budgetary deficits and a declining debt-to-GDP ratio will help ensure flexibility to address the impacts of a possible recession and will allow additional public spending in the (low-inflation) future to support growth and job creation.

Prospects for a global slowdown are increasing. High inflation and rising interest rates are expected to slow demand significantly. Prospects for growth have diminished in China (due to COVID) and Europe (due to Russia’s war on Ukraine and energy supply). Finance Canada has developed their own independent downside scenario: The recession starts early in 2023. Growth shrinks on average 0.9 percent in 2023. There is no upside scenario. This is an unusual development (i.e., risks in baseline outlook are not symmetrical) for Finance. The dark clouds are within view. 

Buckle your seat belts. This is going to be no vacation cruise.

Image: Pinterest