Thursday, August 25, 2016

The TFW Program

The Liberals have vowed to reform the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. John McCallum is making noises about developing a pathway to citizenship for them. But the program is a minefield because it was developed as a sop to business. Its raison d'etre was to keep labour costs low across the country. Tom Walkom writes:

The problem the Trudeau government faces is that the temporary foreign workers program in any guise is a low-wage strategy.

When businesses say they can’t find qualified labour what they usually mean is that they can’t find anyone at the wage they are willing — or able — to pay.

Appearing before the Commons human resources committee this spring, representatives of the meat packing industry said they must bring in foreign workers because native-born Canadians just aren’t interested in such tough jobs.

What they didn’t dwell on was the fact that native-born Canadians are quite willing to work in other tough manual jobs — such as the oil rigs — that pay more.

Christopher Smillie of the Canadian Building Trades Unions put the problem succinctly. “If employers can’t entice Canadians to take certain jobs (they should) raise wages,” he told the committee.

After all, that is supposed to be how the free market operates. But the Conservatives -- who proclaimed their faith in free markets -- never really believed in them. What the Liberals believe is not entirely clear. And it's not entirely clear what they will do:

At one level, their problem is a practical one. Even if they are opposed to using temporary migration as a wage suppressant, they live in a world where this is the norm. That’s why, in an attempt to pander to East Coast fish plants, they lifted the ceiling this year on the number of temporary foreign workers seasonal employers may bring in.

Stay tuned. 


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

God Help Us

In the wake of 911, it's increasingly clear that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is seminal to Canadian democracy. The latest example of the Charter's importance is illustrated by a request from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Nadar R.Hassan and Stephen Aylward write:

Last week, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a startling resolution calling for legislation that, on judicial authorization, would “compel the holder of an encryption key or password to reveal it to law enforcement.” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale invited public debate on the proposal.

Police are responding to new challenges wrought by modern technology. Encryption renders data unintelligible without the user’s password. Even with a warrant to seize and search a cellphone or computer, police cannot gain access to the valuable information stored on those devices unless they can guess the password (or hack into the device, as the FBI recently did with a locked iPhone in the San Bernardino case).

Police worry criminals are “going dark”— i.e., using encryption to evade detection and prosecution. Compelling suspects to surrender their cellphone and computer passwords is an enticing solution to this problem. But it is one that ought to be unacceptable in a free and democratic society.

What is at stake is a basic principle of British Common Law:

The police chiefs’ proposal would lead to a radical erosion of our constitutional rights protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the state accuses us of a crime, we are entitled to say, “prove it.” The Supreme Court of Canada has said this right — the right against self-incrimination — is the organizing principle of our criminal justice system. An accused person is under no obligation to assist the state in her or his own prosecution, whether by answering questions about where she was the previous night or by revealing passcodes.

Canadian law jealously protects the right against self-incrimination for reasons that are both historical and principled. The right against self-incrimination has its roots in the revulsion towards the 17th century courts of the Star Chamber, which would detain supposed enemies of the state on mere suspicion, compel them to swear an oath, and then require them on pain of punishment to answer questions.

Our constitutional law protects the right against self-incrimination because we recognize there is a power imbalance in criminal prosecutions, which frequently pit a single (often marginalized) individual against the overwhelming power of the state. The right against self-incrimination is the great equalizer. It ensures an individual is put through the criminal process only once police have built a case. It also protects the dignity of the accused and limits the risk that state officials will abuse their power.

Since the 1970's, economic power has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Since 911, there has been a push to concentrate judicial power in fewer and fewer hands. We've seen the effects of the so called economic revolution. God help us if a similar judicial revolution takes hold.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

That's What Leadership Is About

Elizabeth May has announced that she will stay on as leader of the Green Party. That will make Linda McQuaig happy. She had advised May to stay put. But she's also advising May not to walk away from the BDS resolution which the party passed at its recent convention:

Whether you agree with the boycott strategy or not, it is a peaceful way to protest a serious violation of human rights: the fact that millions of Palestinians have been living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza for almost 50 years, with Israel effectively annexing their land.

Some commentators have suggested that it’s OK to criticize Israel, but a boycott goes too far.

In the end, words will not change things. Action is required -- the kind of action which Brian Mulroney took against South Africa's apartheid regime: 

Back in the 1980s, it was divisive when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney imposed sanctions against the white-minority regime in South Africa.

Today, everyone agrees that Mulroney’s stance was laudable. But at the time it was highly controversial, with Mulroney acting in defiance of business leaders, members of his own cabinet and caucus, as well as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. 

Some are uncomfortable comparing Israel to South Africa. Not so Desmond Tutu:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu considers the comparison valid. In a 2010 letter to students urging the University of California to divest from Israel, Tutu wrote: “[D]espite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing…I have been in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid.”

May is in a difficult position. But that's what leadership is about. 

Image: Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press

Monday, August 22, 2016

House Of Cards

Deep Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein to follow the money. In the case of Donald Trump, reporters are beginning to take the same advice. Michael Harris writes:

Suzanne Craig of the New York Times reported in the paper’s international edition that Trump’s heavily-marketed self-image is as phoney as a degree from Trump University. Trump-owned companies carry a debt of $650 million, which, as the Times reports, is “twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House.”
It’s pretty clear why he won’t disclose his income taxes, and why he will never allow any independent valuation of his net worth. It kind of looks like he’s up to his assets in debt?

They followed the same advice when they looked into the finances of Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager:

What kind of a dude was he? The kind whose name showed up on a secret ledger in Ukraine that listed $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort from the political party of deposed Ukrainian President and Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych. When the New York Times reported that, Manafort still thought that he could hold on.

But then the second shoe dropped: the Associated Press reported that in 2012, Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, had secretly channeled $2.2 million to a pair of Washington lobbying firms to boost the image of the Kremlin-backed Ukrainian president in a way intended to circumvent disclosure requirements.

So, Manafort had to go. But, then, Trump made a name for himself by firing people. Still, all this merely underscores a point which should have been clear from the beginning: Trump -- and Trump Tower -- is a House of Cards.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Not Good Days

Jack Layton was a perpetual optimist. But Chantal Hebert believes he'd find it hard to be optimistic about his party's current state of affairs. Perhaps that's because the party under Layton made the Harper government possible:

At the last national convention Layton presided over, less than two months after the party’s historic breakthrough in Quebec, he was rightly celebrated for his election performance. But it was not all rainbows and roses. Among NDP members, elation over the party’s accession to the rank of official Opposition was often tempered by dismay at the advent of a Harper majority.

Just as the Conservatives are having a hard time living down the stain of the Harper years, the Dippers have to contend with a public which holds the NDP responsible -- at least partially -- for Harper's ascension.

But there is a bigger problem. Unlike the Liberals, the next generation in the party is in no mood to take the reins:

The reluctance of the next generation of New Democrats to step up to the leadership plate would trouble him. He would not be particularly thrilled by speculation that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May could or should jump ship to come lead the NDP. She always seemed to click more with her Liberal counterparts (and vice-versa).

And the enthusiasm Layton generated in Quebec isn't there any more:

I live in Laurier-Ste-Marie, a riding the NDP twice won against no less than then-Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe. This week something that looked like an in-store raffle ticket was slipped into my mail slot. It was MP Hélène Laverdière’s latest correspondence.

It would be an exaggeration to call it a householder for it gave no sense of the NDP’s plans for the next sitting of Parliament. Instead it was a straw poll designed to produce a list of priorities for the party to tackle. One can only wonder what Layton would make of the NDP turning itself into a blank slate.

These are not good days for the New Democrats. 


Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Orange Id

On Thursday, Donald Trump apologized -- sort of. James Hohmann writes:

Parsing the speech, which was read from a teleprompter, veteran campaign strategists and historians noted that Trump sounded much more like a conventional politician than he has all year. In their view, he’s following a path of rhetorical evasion that has been well trod by candidates in both parties.

Linguists and relationship experts, meanwhile, said Trump’s comments were ineffective and that his words cannot accurately be described as an “apology.” In fact, the GOP nominee did not specify exactly who or what he was talking about. The targets over the course of his campaign are plentiful, including the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Megyn Kelly, New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, Mexicans and Muslims.

Trump said he regretted any slips of the tongue he might have made. That one word -- regret -- signals that his apology is a non-apology:

New York University historian Tim Naftali, who previously directed the Richard Nixon presidential library, heard Nixonian echoes as he watched the tape of Trump’s speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday night. Two men who Trump talks to – Roger Ailes and Roger Stone – worked for the former president.

“An apology involves contrition. Neither Trump, so far, nor Nixon showed real contrition,” Naftali said. “Nixon, at least, believed apologies were a sign of weakness, which exposed him to more attacks from his real and perceived enemies.”

The only apology Trump is capable of is a non-apology. He is the Orange Id -- a rolling wrecking ball whose prime product is toxic waste.  If he weren't so dangerous, he'd be pathetic.


Friday, August 19, 2016

No Reason To Reject The System Outright

As Canada moves towards proportional representation, the Cassandras are wailing loudly. Andrew Coyne gives two examples -- from opposite ends of the political spectrum:

Here, for example, is Bill Tieleman, B.C. NDP strategist, writing in The Tyee: “How would you like an anti-immigrant, racist, anti-abortion or fundamentalist religious political party holding the balance of power in Canada? … Welcome to the proportional representation electoral system, where extreme, minority and just plain bizarre views get to rule the roost.”

At the other ideological pole, here’s columnist Lorne Gunter, writing in The Sun newspapers: “PR breaks the local bond between constituents and MPs … In a strict PR system, party leaders at national headquarters select who their candidates will be, or at least in what order they will make it into Parliament …” 

To the sceptics, Coyne writes, look at the countries where PR has been adopted:

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, all of whose parliaments are wholly or partially elected by proportional representation. 

We can at least describe accurately how their political system actually works, rather than rely on caricatures born of half-remembered newspaper clippings.

At one end, you have countries such as Austria, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden, all with six to eight parties represented in their legislatures — or about one to three more than Canada’s, with five. At the other, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, with 10 to 12. 

Virtually all of these countries have some element of local representation: only the Netherlands, whose total area is less than that of some Canadian ridings, elects MPs at large. And none uses the “strict” form of PR Gunter describes, known as “closed list.” Rather, voters can generally choose which of a party’s candidates they prefer, so-called “open lists.”

How unstable are these systems? Since 1945, Canada has held 22 elections. In only one of the PR countries mentioned has there been more: Denmark, with 26. The average is 20. It is true that the governments that result are rarely, if ever, one-party majorities. But, as you may have noticed, that is not unknown here. Nine of Canada’s 22 federal elections since 1945 have resulted in minority parliaments. 

The sceptics like to point to two countries -- Israel and Italy. But both countries are outliers:

The Israeli parliament has 12 parties, Italy’s eight. By comparison, France, which uses a two-round system, has 14, while the United Kingdom — yes, Mother Britain — now has 11. More to the point, there are circumstances unique to each, not only in their parliamentary systems — Israel uses an extreme form of PR, while Italy’s, which has gone through several, defies description — but in their histories and political cultures. 

So, yes, it's important that the system be designed with care. But the fact that two countries have designed their systems poorly is no reason to reject the system outright.