Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Newbie on the block

Hi, allow me to introduce myself, I am Zed and will be filling in the occasional article while The Analyst is tackling a hectic time schedule.  His external commitments will bring him back to writing semi-regularly in a couple of months and until then, I will be willing in to resume some sizable shoes


Given upcoming heavy outside commitments, posting will be very taxing and lower on the priority list than usual. To help ease the work load of keeping a blog updated regularly enough, I've recruited another contributor - Zed. Depending on some other people's decisions, more contributors may be added as well. I hope this serves to transition The Winnipeg RAG Review into a new stage, as a collaborative blog, still committed to cutting through the real RAG narratives perpetuated in this city, this province, and this country. Collaborative blogs, to the best of my knowledge, are relatively rare in Winnipeg - so it'll be fun to see how this experiment turns out.

I will not necessarily agree with everything Zed, or other potential future co-contributors, write. But, regardless, The Winnipeg RAG Review will continue to be an outlet for well-thought analysis, from a more varied perspective from now on.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Represented Workers are "Unworkers"?

Winnipeg General Strike of 1919: Rooted the labour
movement in Winnipeg. Conducted by many
hard-working Canadians who do not "stand for the
interests of everyday hard-working Canadians"
according to Stephen Harper & his country club
Conservative pals.

Image Source: Wikipedia
The country club Conservatives, the candidates they finance, and the people who fall for their hogwash have a deep-seated hatred of worker representation. Hard working Canadians united by certified unions just burns the CONS and the Harper Government. So much so, in fact, that they try to smear the NDP due to their support for workers' rights and exclude hard working Canadians represented by labour organizations from the category "everyday hard working Canadians". The latest hatchet job from CON HQ testifies to this.

The shadow of Mr. Mulcair’s team is long indeed. With 55 critics, the NDP now have significantly more critics than the actual Cabinet charged with running the government – and nearly half are former union bosses or employees.


In the coming days, we will continue to help Canadians get to know Mr. Mulcair’s team and highlight those he has chosen and ways in which they do not stand for the interests of everyday hard-working Canadian families. 
("Thomas Mulcair's NDP Team". Conservative Party Press Release. My emphasis added.)
This reveals a truly despicable attitude of Harper and his country club Conservative buddies. The notion that represented workers don't really count as hard working Canadians. I mean, you might be a Safeway cashier in Winnipeg's North End who has worked long hours, done heavy work, and had heated encounters with disgruntled customers. However, you aren't an "everyday hard working Canadian", though some suburban Tory fratboy who gives money to Harper might be. If you're one of the many Thompson, Manitoba residents who work in the mine, you aren't an "everyday hard-working Canadian" either.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Found a new blog

There's a University of Manitoba Economics Group (UMEG) blog, just found it. While it seems that the posting is infrequent, it's still worth checking out.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Abolish Manitoba's Blue Laws

Okay, I've been busy - so busy that I haven't had the time to comment on a pretty important event in Manitoba politics - the release of the 2012 Provincial budget. My longer posts take a lot of research and I fear that they crowd out more institutionally recognized activities due to their greater interestingness. But I have to comment on this Province's stupid sunday shopping laws and the smart move to extend the hours of sunday shopping.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The joys of cheap Green Tea

Dollar Stores in this city are friggin awesome, especially if you drink copious amounts of tea.

There's pretty much two ways to get cheap green tea - snag complimentary samples from parliamentary committee rooms or go to a dollar stores. Given that I don't work on Parliament Hill, I opt for the latter.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Federal Dippers have another Leader Defining Ad Out

The English language Tom Mulcair ad is out. Overall, it does a decent job at painting him as "safe" and more even-tempered than his reputation lends itself to. A National Post headline (to an article I've yet to read) declares the ad "boring", so I had low expectations going in - but it exceeds them. There's been a lot of leader defining ads out that have been anything but flashy (Harper had one a few elections ago declaring his love for Canada wearing a sweater vest - it seemed to work). It's also good for dipper fortunes that the ad's out on English language Canadian TV before the Conservatives start saturating the airwaves with anti-Mulcair attack ads. Thus far, Mulcair (or the people staffed with running the NDP campaign) are living up to his reputation as a skilled campaigner.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Federal Dippers have leader-defining ad out

Well, the Federal NDP has an ad out that seeks to define Thomas Mulcair before the CONS can. Thus far, they've only released French versions of the ad. This seems to be something of a tactical error, as the CONS will likely try to paint him bad in the Rest of Canada before moving into his home turf of Quebec. The youtube video disallows comments, which sucks as well.

It's good to see the Official Opposition getting a jump on things, though, as Harper's successfully swift-boated Opposition leader after Opposition leader. Now's a good time, as the piling scandals finally seem to be sticking to Harper's CONS. The Federal NDP is statistically tied with the Conservatives in polls, as of now, and have been on an upward trend for some time.

Mulcair's "honeymoon polls" show another statistical tie with the CONS in this province and Saskatchewan ("the Prairies"). It might just be a fluke, but if Mulcair maintains the momentum to e-day while fighting off CON attacks he might just align Winnipeg's federal representation with it's provincial one. NDP in the core, the north, the west, the east, and excluded from the south - if Mulcair could do that, it would be very impressive.

The CON Machine will be very rough, though.


The Black-Hearted Rod

The Black Rod, IMHO, is this city's most grossly overrated blog. Despite the virtues it may have in breaking stories, it displays seldom matched vile and cowardice in every post I've had the stomach to read. Take, for instance, The Black Rod's take on Gordon Sinclair's take on the values of the 2012 Federal budget:

Well, what do you know? The Mayans were right. 
It is the end of the world---if you're a bleeding heart liberal. 
We've gotten used to the weekly screech from Frances "Red" Russell declaiming the end of civilization at the hands of Stephen Harper, but on Saturday past her squishy colleague Gordon Sinclair Jr. (still suffering daddy issues) joined her for a chorus of Auld Lang Syne.
This is nauseatingly painful to read. I'm not some namby-pamby politico who thinks politics should occur by joining hands and singing "the more we get together" or that polarized polemics are some great evil. This blog itself is fashioned in the polemical style of blogging, as I'm sure a brief glance at the blog description will tell. I've criticized the Free Press before and have sketched some ideas as to why Bob Cox distrusts statistics, but "The Black Rod" goes too damn far here. "Daddy issues"? Are you seriously going to bring up somebody's personal life when attacking their view on public policy so blatantly and irrelevantly? 

It appears to be "the beginning of the end of the truly caring Canada," he wept. 
"Say goodbye", he declared, to the Canada "personified by caring..." 
The cause of this gloom? The federal budget. "We will be expected to take more personal responsibility," wailed Sinclair. 
Huh? Like that's a bad thing?
Yeah, I sure as hell bet that taking personal responsibility is everywhere and in all circumstances absolutely paramount. I guess "The Black Rod" will now advocate that we slash all police services and tell Winnipeggers to "take personal responsibility" for treating fractured bones after car crashes. Or, for that matter, demand the abolition of the CDIC - after all, us depositors should just take personal responsibility by making sure we pick a bank/credit union that'll never, under any circumstances, go bankrupt.

 Or maybe this wingnut is all for societal responsibility and cooperation so long as it's not for programs that mainly help the poorest, the neediest, Winnipeggers. What this wingnut needs to know is that personal responsibility is all good and swell, so long as one has a good measure of effective equality of opportunity - and that requires many of the social supports Harper is keen on slashing to spend billions on stealth fighter jets instead.

Incidentally, the concentrated bile that is "The Black Rod" left out the full context of Sinclair's statement about responsibility. In proper context, it read "...we will be expected to take more personal responsibility, and expect less of almost everything else". 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

CCPA on Community Housing

Policy Fix has a post on community housing projects in this project as well as the high amounts of poverty in Winnipeg's inner-city. Worth checking out.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Speeding Tickets Payable online

UPDATE: Foolishly, I didn't see that Policy Frog also pointed out that there are bugs in the system. So continues the slow and unsteady pace of E-government ...

Policy Frog points out that one can pay speeding tickets online in Manitoba, despite the failure of the Province to advertise this service. As a road commuter cyclist, I haven't gained any tickets yet (and, no, I'm not one of those ill-informed people who think road cyclists are exempt from stop sign laws), but for anyone eager to have some time saved you can go to the link below.

Oh, and PASS IT ON!

Harper's deforming of OAS

Policy Fix takes down a lot of the OAS fear-mongering used by the Harper Government to weaken the program.

Changes to the OAS/GIS are completely unnecessary. There’s a lot of fearmongering around how OAS/GIS payments will increase, but spending will only increase from 2.3% of GDP in 2010 to 3.1% in 2030. After 2030, the ratio will go back down to 2.6%. This small, temporary increase is very manageable.  

Canada’s greatest success story on the poverty front has been the reduction of seniors’ poverty. Changing OAS/GIS access will begin to reverse that significant gain. This move will see healthcare costs increase: low-income seniors who have to choose between buying medicine or food will end up using the healthcare system more.
Harper's "reforming" of OAS is more an irrational deforming of it. Working class youth who will be the seniors of tomorrow are the most affected by this policy - as shown here. While in nominal dollars, rather than adjusted for some hypothetical future level of inflation - it's still a heavy cut and amounts to a mix of class and intergenerational warfare.

The whole "unsustainablility of state pension systems" is a scare tactic that's heavily used by rightwing government-wrecking crews in various English speaking countries. It is fundamentally unsound, as economist Dean Baker makes clear:

The debate over the demographic trends in the United States and other wealthy countries can be described a debate between those who care about our children and those who want more of them. This is apparent once a little logic is applied to the tales of demographic disaster being hawked by those concerned about declining birth rates and greater longevity.
The basic story is that we are seeing a declining ratio of workers to retirees. This is supposed to mean that our children and our grandchildren will have an unbearable burden supporting us in our old age. In the United States, the story is that we now have about three workers for each retiree. In 20 years' time, this ratio is supposed to drop to 2:1. In countries like Germany and Japan, the decline is somewhat greater, since they have lower birth rates, and in the case of Japan, less immigration. They also have somewhat more rapid gains in longevity.

This basic story has managed to make otherwise sane people seriously fearful about their country's and the world's future. A quick statistic that should alleviate the fears is that the ratio of workers to retirees in the United States was 5:1 back in the 1960s, far higher than the current 3:1 ratio.

That's right: ageing is not new. As a result of modern medical technology and high living standards, life expectancies have been increasing for a long time. And, just as no one now blames our current economic problems on the larger percentage of retirees in the population, there is no reason to believe that, in 30 or 40 years, that it will be an important factor depressing living standards.

The reason that we are on average much wealthier today, even though we have a much larger population of retirees is productivity growth. Productivity growth has averaged at over 2% annually for the last 50 years. (It has averaged 2.5% over the last 15 years.) If productivity growth averages 2% a year, then, in 20 years, workers will, on average, be producing almost 50% more in an hour of work. In 40 years, they will be producing 120% more in an hour of work. Such gains in output will allow our children and grandchildren to enjoy much higher living standards than workers today, even while supporting a larger population of retirees.

... no serious economist would doubt the basic arithmetic ..." 

Stephen Harper is either a lot less serious an economist than one would expect from his Master's Thesis, or he is shamelessly fear mongering. Harper uninhibited use of the "debt crisis" he says was caused by excessive public social investment - yet is probably more accurately a trade imbalance crisis unaided by an incompetent central bank - is just precious. 

And, yes, there will be another OAS post with more original content coming up.

Winnipeg's nascent BRT

Well, after decades of procrastination, the city is finally taking steps towards a preliminary Bus Rapid Transit system. This year's municipal operating budget represents a glimmer of hope for this city. The decision not to hike the cost for an essential public service that would disproportionately affect poor, working poor, and lower middle class Winnipeggers. If the network is completed - and maintained better than Winnipeg's rushed, nascent active transport network - there is a solid chance for this city play its small role in mitigating the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

Now is not the time to cork the champagne bottle - or non-alcoholic look alike - just yet. This essential public capital investment is still being done in a half-hearted manner and that the country club conservative of Tuxedo still holds delusions of Light-rail Rapid Transit. The city needs to push ahead with expanding the system and activists can provide an impetus for this.  A rich mayor can afford the inadequate public transit on his car rides from the suburbs, but North Enders and West Enders can't. Sam Katz needs to get to work.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Another note on Harper spending

The data from OPEC that I used to construct the government spending as a percentage of GDP graph - much more meaningful, btw, than Andrew Coyne style lamentations over "how much" Harper is spending in nominal or even real terms - used combined levels of expenditure from all levels of government. There are some provinces that are probably pressing down the figure, but there are others that are pushing it up - the Canadian social safety net is heavily administered at the provincial level thanks to section 92 of the Constitution.

The link below shows federal program expenditures as a percentage of GDP. 

While program expenditures under the government are a higher percentage of GDP than they were right after the Chretein-Martin austerity measures, they're still not as a high as they were in the mid-1990s or during earlier decades. The rise in government spending as a percentage of GDP is likely the product of slower private sector growth due to the global downturn and and the (small) stimulus response via Canada's Economic Action Plan.

The "big spending" Harper meme that Andrew Coyne and Calgary Grit perpetuate is unfounded. Not that conservatism every was about "small government" - it's more about "big plutocracy".

Monday, 2 April 2012

F-35 cost more than StatsCan

Note: Originally, the diagram possessed the typo "5-35" instead of "F-35". This was corrected on April 4, 2012. 

Well, back in 2010 Statistics Canada started off with a $400 million budget which it was requested to cut $7 million from. StatsCan is a world renown agency that makes the efficient operation and thoughtful designing of many social programs possible, it's real value for $400 million. As you may recall from a previous post, the F-35 deal will amount to $9 Billion. Time for another graph, isn't it?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Stephen Harper: Fanning the flames of xenophobia

Stephen Harper, to his credit, is a shrewd political observer. Some of the stuff he's written from the 1990s on Canada - his more descriptive as opposed to prescriptive pieces - are pure brilliance. Just look at this passage from one of Harper's 1997 works:

In a single national party,compromises have to be defended as party policy, which tends to drive dissenters out of the fold.If cooperation is ever to work, the fragments of Canadian conservatism must recognizethat each represents an authentic aspect of a larger conservative philosophy. Reformers will have to realize that there is something genuinely conservative in the Tory penchant for compromise and incrementalism. Tories will have to admit that compromise, to behonorable, must be guided by underlying principles, and that Reformers are not extremists for openly advocating smaller government, free markets, traditional valuesand equality before the law. And both will have to recognize that Quebec nationalism,while not in itself a conservative movement, appeals to the kinds of voters who in other provinces support conservative parties. The Bloc Quebecois is strongest in rural Quebec, among voters who would not be out of place in Red Deer, except that theyspeak French rather than English. They are nationalist for much the same reason that Albertans are populist -- they care about their local identity and the culture that nourishes it, and they see the federal government as a threat to their way of life.
This is a penetrating point and one that I've realized for quite some time - take away the language barrier, and rural Quebecois blue nationalists are quite like rural Albertan blue Tories.

Harper's attention for detail is also noticeable when it comes to public messaging to new Canadians or "very ethnic voters" - as his party tactlessly new Canadians and first or second generation descendants of new Canadians. Winnipeg's own Elmwood-Transcona was listed as a "very ethnic" riding - due to a high Ukrainian Canadian population.

While the strategy resulted in marginal improvements, it's at the margins where the difference between strong minority and majority is made.

Harper - solely among the leaders, defended multiculturalism against Gilles Duceppe's shameless attempt to pander to the more prejudiced blue nationalists in his province. After the election, when inroads with new Canadians were made, CON minister Jason Kenney typecasted the Liberal Party as the party of "flippant secularism of the Annex" . The Annex is a sorta Wolseley-esque, professional class, politically progressive neighbourhood in Toronto, FYI.

Aside from the stupid anti-secular government comments, one could applaud Harper for accepting immigration and avoiding the typical rightwing tactic of pandering to bigots. Until one sees this Quebec-only radio ad the Conservatives ran.

 Stephen Harper is fully aware that - for all it's ups - cultural pride can also lead to a dark side, a side of xenophobia. His party is shamelessly taking advantage of the fact that prejudice can motivate blue nationalists. Moreover, the immoral yet savvy tactics displayed by Harper says something about the ugly side to certain conservative separatists in Quebec.