Sunday, October 04, 2015

It's About Labour, Not Captial


We've been told that this election is about growing the economy. But all of the parties are still focused on capital, not labour. Murray Dobbins writes:

Just three weeks before the federal election comes a report from Morgan Stanley that should remind everyone that the election is still about the economy. The message of the paper is as unambiguous as it is surprising: the era of cheap labour is over. It all has to do with demographics, which are changing, and public policy, which is not.

For thirty years, we have been living under the dark shadow of supply side economics -- which holds that governments should cater to the demands of capital. And that's what they have done, as the world experienced a surplus of labour:

The percentage of the global population who were working experienced a huge increase in recent decades due to the post-war baby boom in developed countries and the entry of China and Eastern Europe into the capitalist system. That abundance of working-age people created the conditions for the cheapening of labour and the reduction of its bargaining power. That, says Goodhart [the author of the report] is already ending, noting that "population growth in the rich world, which was 1 per cent a year in the 1950s, has fallen to 0.5 per cent and should drop to zero by 2040."

Governments eager to advance the interests of large corporations took advantage of this labour surplus by developing convenient theories to justify a broad assault on wages and salaries -- and unions. Things like labour standards, generous employment insurance and poverty-reducing welfare schemes made labour "inflexible," the argument went -- by which they meant uppity workers demanding their fair share.

The Liberals, under Paul Martin, put the squeeze on labour. And, under Stephen Harper, that squeeze has become an iron grip:

It was Liberal finance minister Paul Martin who implemented the grand plan in the mid-1990s. Insisting that inflation greater than two per cent was a threat to the economy, Martin used high interest rates to actually suppress economic growth and deliberately create high levels of unemployment. Few people recall that under Martin's reign, unemployment hovered around nine per cent for most of the 1990s -- higher than at any time following the 2007-08 financial collapse.

Artificially high unemployment was perhaps the most powerful weapon, but Martin also hit workers with draconian cuts to EI eligibility and the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP). The CAP transferred money to the provinces and was targeted specifically at establishing a minimum national standard for welfare. With its cancellation, the provinces were free to radically reduce social assistance rates. The provinces also began cutting back on the enforcement of labour standards -- dealing with things like time-and-a-half for overtime, disallowing back-to-back shifts, unpaid apprenticeships, notice of dismissal, sexual harassment, etc. Added up, it meant a dramatic reduction in the power of labour to bargain with employers.

The result of all of these policies has been the creation of the precariat:

The 25-year pursuit of cheap labour across the developed world has resulted in what has been called the "precariat" -- those working in precarious, low-paying jobs with little or no protection from ruthless employers. Paul Martin's anti-labour crusade (continued by Stephen Harper) has given Canada the dubious honour of having the third-highest percentage of low-paying jobs in any of the 35-nation OECD countries -- with 22 per cent, it is third behind the U.S. and Ireland (the average is 16 percent).

 Now, as we boomers retire, the world is facing a shortage of labour:

The Morgan Stanley paper contains a warning to employers -- that if they continue to mistreat and underpay their employees they will pay the price with an increased militancy as labour shortages kick in and workers' bargaining power increases. Goodhart recommends that employers get out ahead of the curve: "The synergies are stark: if the global economy needs a return to higher-paid work, then attacking precarity is the quickest way of achieving that." I can't see that happening any time soon and personally I'd like to see a little militancy for a change.

However, the Harper government has absolutely no time for labour. They don't see what's coming. But, then, they have never seen what's coming.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Ugly Canadian


Give Tom Mulcair credit. He stuck to his guns last night on the question of niqabs. A native son, he is well aware of the xenophobic streak that runs through Quebec society -- and which is occasionally fanned by people like Maurice Duplessis, Lucien Bouchard, Gilles Duceppe and Stephen Harper.

Mr. Harper -- in all his hypocritical arrogance -- presents himself as a liberator of women. Justin Trudeau, however, pointed out that there are "more men in your caucus who oppose abortion than there are women in Quebec who wear the niqab." He then asked Harper if he favoured abortion for women. Harper, of course, refused to answer the question.

Michael Den Tandt writes:

Given an opportunity to hedge or fudge, Tom Mulcair stuck grimly to his defence of a woman’s right to wear the Islamic veil or niqab during a Canadian citizenship ceremony — though this stance appears to have cost him his lead in the polls and may in the end deny him victory on Oct. 19.

“A prime minister has an obligation to protect all citizens, including minorities,” he told Stephen Harper during a prolonged four-way exchange about the niqab at the French-language debate. “What you are doing is unworthy of a prime minister.”

Unworthy of a prime minister and completely lacking in courage. Mulcair's stand will not help him in Quebec. Harper has touched an ugly nerve -- not just in Quebec, but in the rest of the country.

But, then, he's the Ugly Canadian.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Economy Or Security: That Is The Question


Stephen Harper  tried to boil this election down to two issues: economy and security. The economy plank hasn't worked so well for him, given the problems in the oil patch.  So now he's emphasizing security -- and railing about niqabs. Michael Harris writes:

According to senior sources in the Liberal campaign, this is nothing short of a life-and-death struggle. If the focus remains on the economy, Team Trudeau thinks it can win. Why wouldn’t they? Here’s the snapshot after a decade of Harper: a recession (his second); a dollar that has lost 12 per cent of its value since 2006; seven out of eight budgets in deficit; and an extra $150 billion added to the national debt. Not exactly an argument for staying the course. As for prudent fiscal management — raiding the budget of veterans to balance the books doesn’t count. No wonder the Grits are excited.

But if security dominates, the edge goes to Harper. The Liberals understood that coming into this joust — which is why they made the high-risk move of supporting Bill C-51. They knew Conservative strength on this file was deep, though based more on emotion than reason. The last thing they wanted was to give Stephen Harper a hot-button wedge issue to excite his xenophobic fans by making Trudeau look soft on terrorism.

Trying to innoculate themselves from the notion that they were soft on security, the Liberals voted for Bill C-51, saying they would make significant changes to the bill. But that left them open to attacks from progressives who claimed they were, once again, being buffaloed by Stephen Harper. And that shadow has been following Justin Trudeau throughout this election.

There is a way, Harris writes, for Trudeau to get out from under that shadow. In fact, before the election, the Liberals tried to get out from under it:

Before C-51 passed, Liberal MP Joyce Murray brought forward a private member’s bill, C-622, pinpointing the things in C-51 that required changes: the need for independent review of the Communications Security Establishment, for a new Intelligence and Security committee for Parliament and for a sunset clause to give the law a limited lifespan, as opposed to the Harper government’s plan to make it permanent. Murray hoped to lessen the disillusionment that grassroots supporters felt after the Liberals voted for C-51.

Murray's bill was voted down. However, she hasn't given up:

Based on her continuing interest in security matters, Murray — who finished second to Justin Trudeau in the last Liberal leadership contest — is now asking her leader to consider making further public announcements touching the national security file. She wants Team Trudeau to announce a “comprehensive” White Paper. Its purpose would be to examine Canada’s “security laws, institutions and review mechanisms” — every last scrap of it.

According to Murray, amending C-51 is only part of the job. The other part is taking current thinking on national security issues “down to the studs”. That way, if the Liberals get a chance to make good on their promise of a full review of C-51 after three years in office, there will be a solid evidentiary base for the process. Party sources tell iPolitics that the leader is mulling over Murray’s request, but the economy remains Justin Trudeau’s primary focus.

It's time for Trudeau to take on Bill C-51. And the economy is still on the ballot.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Wombat Attack


It's clear that Lynton Crosby is now in charge of the Harper campaign. How else do you explain the prime minister's railing about niqabs in the face of two court rulings? David Krayden writes:

Everything is transpiring according to the playbook, and Crosby — who probably can’t believe his luck in landing so soon on one wedge issue in the niqab controversy — is actively looking for other flashpoints to divide the voters.

Harper's turning to Crosby is bizarre. But the entire campaign is bizarre:

This isn’t just the longest campaign in modern Canadian politics — it’s also one of the most bizarre. We have the NDP campaigning on balanced budgets, hiring more police officers and retaining the much-maligned F-35 joint strike fighter for the RCAF. We have the Liberals talking up the advisability of deficits and supporting the Conservatives’ security bill. And then there are the Conservatives themselves, pitching for a renewed mandate for the Stephen Harper Corporation — even though that corporation has appeared at times to be one of the most incompetently run and unethical organizations ever to walk the political stage.

And, despite evidence of wide spread and miraculous corruption, Harper remains competitive:

It must seem slightly miraculous to the Tory team that, with less than three weeks to go, the Harper Party remains in a first-place tie with the competition. Harper walked through the Mike Duffy trial like a somnambulist; even when he was the target of Tom Mulcair’s withering cross-examination, the PM focused on the weather — or whatever else he could find to talk about. His staffers somehow appeared both evasive and disconnected from both their jobs and reality; Harper merely moved on.
If one trial wasn’t enough, Bruce Carson had his day in court too. Carson, easily the oldest man in a PMO dominated by twenty-somethings, may have brought some much-needed experience to Harper’s inner circle; turns out it wasn’t the sort of life experience that the job called for. Still, Carson has had little or no impact on the campaign.

Many Canadians don't seem to recognize an obvious wombat attack.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another Reason


The Harper government hopes that concluding the TPP deal will be its October Surprise. Constitutional convention dictates that, in an election campaign, the sitting government becomes a caretaker government. But this government is contemptuous of all constitutional conventions. Scott Sinclair writes:

This would not be the first time this government has run roughshod over constitutional convention. Prorogation of Parliament, contempt of Parliament, misleading Parliament, omnibus budget bills … the list of abuses is long.

But, more importantly, an election campaign  is no place to consider the trade deal. Even if Barack Obama gets the version of the trade deal he wants, Congress will have to put it under the microscope:

Even if an agreement is hammered out in Atlanta, the president must give Congress 90 days’ notice before signing anything, and that only starts the legislative clock ticking. Congressional consideration would extend well into 2016, making the TPP a political football during the U.S. elections.

Which means that nothing is going to happen until well after the election is over. And there are a lot of things we should be concerned about in the proposed treaty:

At the last meeting, the U.S. secretly cut a side deal with Japan to allow Japanese and other automakers to sell cars and parts with high levels of Chinese content duty free in North America, undercutting the Canadian and Mexican industries. Economist Jim Stanford estimates this could cost the Canadian auto sector 24,600 jobs.
With energy and commodity prices in the gutter, many Canadians understand it is not a good time to be sacrificing well-paying jobs or weakening struggling manufacturers that are the main hope for reviving our stagnant economy.
These high-profile issues are just the tip of the iceberg. The TPP could mean major changes in matters ranging from access to medicines to the weakening of privacy protections. Unfortunately, there is no way these and other potential surprises buried in the massive text would be properly aired in the closing days of the campaign.

The Harperites, however, will not take any of these concerns into consideration. Another reason they must be tossed from office on October 19th. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time Will Tell

                                     THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Pierre Trudeau's ghost haunted Roy Thomson Hall last night. Stephen Harper has been doing battle with that ghost since he entered public life. And, last night, Tom Mulcair tried to call it from the grave. Michael Harris writes:

Several times during this entertainment, Mulcair linked Bill C-51 to the invocation of the War Measures Act. As Tommy Douglas had stood against the War Measures Act in 1970, Mulcair’s NDP was now standing up against Bill C-51 — unlike Justin Trudeau, he insisted.

The Liberal leader stole Harper’s family values turf by standing up for his famous father, who died exactly 15 years ago yesterday. Justin defended Pierre Trudeau from the attacks of the two other leaders with whom he shared the stage. He talked about his pride in being the son of such a man as Canada’s most famous prime minister — a stark contrast to the image of Pierre Trudeau offered by NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.  “Fifteen years ago tonight he passed away," Justin reminded his audience, "and he wouldn’t want us fighting battles of the past.” 

Even committed Harperite Tasha Kheiriddin admitted that Trudeau won the night:

But even if you disagree vehemently with his positions, you couldn’t deny that he delivered them with conviction. Throughout the night, he clearly articulated Liberal policies, defended them passionately, threw in some good zingers (describing Stephen Harper’s northern strategy as “all sled, no dogs”) and, most importantly, didn’t trip up. And so, Trudeau won last night’s debate.

Perhaps, Harris suggests, that's because Trudeau -- who was supposed to be not ready for prime time -- is a better politician than either Harper or Mulcair:

It started with the arrival of his bus at the place Toronto’s mucky mucks gather to celebrate culture. While both the other leaders pulled up at the main entrance and quickly disappeared inside, Trudeau’s bus stopped 50 meters from the venerable front doors.

A cavalcade of acolytes poured out, Justin following closely behind. It had the feel of a heavyweight boxer making his way to the ring for the main event minus the hoodie and the shadow boxing. Sort of like Mick Jagger taking to the stage at the El Mocambo in another era. A rock star in the age of the rock star.

Trudeau waded into the crowd of supporters standing behind the ropes on the sidewalk with that big bear embrace that excites royal photographers. The money shot. The guy with the royal jelly embracing the great unwashed. Democracy.

Time will tell.

Monday, September 28, 2015

He Thinks They're One And The Same Thing


At tonight's Munk debate, Stephen Harper will claim that -- just as he is  a master of economic policy -- he is also a foreign policy guru. But, Michael Harris writes, Harper's foreign policy is all about milking the world for money while being guided by humanity's darker angels:

Behind the emotional appeal to the worst angels of our nature and fear mongering is a decade’s worth of diplomatic disaster.  The world has become a much more dangerous place for Canadians due almost solely to the Harper approach, and Canada has been involved in some of the darkest episodes post 9/11 – including a dubious role in Afghanistan that might yet spark a public inquiry into allegations of war crimes.

Harper's betrayal of Canada's traditional role in the world is breathtaking:

Consider some of the breathless reversals of Canadian foreign policy under Harper: While even China announces a cap-and-trade policy to reduce carbon emissions in the name of planetary salvation, Harper was the first world leader to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.

He also refused to honour Canada’s commitments at Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions. To be sure it wouldn’t come back on his watch, he then dismantled the entire climate change branch within Foreign Affairs and has yet to regulate the energy industry.

Under Harper, and without informing either Parliament or the United Nations, Canada withdrew from the UN convention to fight drought in Africa and other vulnerable countries, making Canada the only state to do so out of 193 that signed on to the convention. The rest of the world saw encroaching deserts as an urgent problem because they are so obviously tied to famine and poverty. Then foreign minister John Baird referred to the convention as a fruitless “talkfest.”

For Harper, foreign policy must -- first and foremost -- generate profits:
After a brief flirtation with moralizing against evil-doers, Harper now routinely does deals with the devil. Despite its human rights record, Harper has cut huge deals with China, including Sinopec, the giant Chinese petroleum and chemical company. That $4.6 billion deal for 9 percent of Syncrude was eclipsed by the sale of Calgary-based resource company Nexen to the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. The price-tag was $15 billion but the conditions could prove much steeper – Canadian sovereignty. That’s because Harper granted China the right to sue Canada for unlimited damages if domestic laws by any level of government in this country harmed the value of Chinese investment here.

 Once upon a time, Harper said this: “I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values. They don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.” If you are wondering what happened to the man that spoke those words, he has undergone a sea-change. The new Harper now sells out Canadian values without so much as a blink.
How else can it be explained that Canada just sold $15 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a country recently described by The Atlantic as a world champion of human rights abuse? This is a country that plans to behead and then crucify 21 year-old Ali al-Nimr for protesting against the state during the Arab Spring when he was a teenager. But I thought the beheaders were the bad guys? Now it turns out ISIS is something quite different: Saudi Arabians without money.

Harper knows nothing about economics or foreign policy. But what's worse, he thinks they're one and the same thing.