Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ontario's new Premier: the poisoned chalice

The Ontario Liberals have chosen a new leader who will within days become Ontario's Premier.  She sets precedents as the first female and first gay in that post. Her victory was clearly a product of Wynne's excellent political skills.  She will need them. The weekend convention was greeted by a new Forum Research poll putting support for the Liberal party in third place.

Bob Rae once joked that he had always wanted to be Ontario's premier in the worst way and he got his wish. He was alluding to a situation that also confronts Kathleen Wynne, who politely refers to "facing challenges". Ontario's economy experienced a severe recession in the early years of the Rae NDP government in the early nineties. As a consequence the province's finances suffered a severe setback. There were political and media pressures to follow a program of  spending cuts to achieve a "balanced budget". Rae resisted at first but later became a strong convert to cutting spending. Wynne enters office facing a similar situation. However, the McGuinty government has already committed the province to make deficit reduction a priority. Rae's fate should have served as a warning. It is no accident that third place beckons.

In addition, the party has encountered a series of headline-grabbing scandals. TC's view is that the political damage from the Liberal government's program of austerity and the general sense of malaise that comes from economic stagnation are the greater problems. The confrontation with teachers whatever else it entails, ultimately stems from an effort to cut spending.

In addition, although we live in a world where many have difficulty recognizing it, austerity causes the economy to contract not expand. See this excellent post on "The Austerity Delusion" from the economics blog Not the Treasury View. It is true that Canadian provinces are subject to the international trade winds, and can see their own efforts to stimulate offset by recessionary forces from abroad. However, Ontario actually trades principally with a jurisdiction, the United States, now experiencing at least moderate growth as a consequence of the Obama stimulus - not large enough but producing far better results than the UK or Europe (see Austerity Delusion above). Getting the economy really moving again should be our top priority not deficit reduction.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Crime: real causes can get overlooked. Think lead.

Stephen Harper has made crime a key legislative and political priority.

No need to review that fact that crime rates are dropping and his solutions, which are all variants of "get tough" (with the exception of getting rid of the gun registry) are stupid, irrelevant, and a product of the over-reporting of crime by local TV news causing people to be unduly fearful of becoming victims (see here and here and here).

However, the other day I saw this tweet from blogger Matt Yglesias, which told me to stop what I was doing and read this Mother Jones article by Kevin Drum.  Titled "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead" it is about the links between lead in the environment and crime rates over time, but a lot of other bad stuff too. Yglesias was right: read it now.

Canadian Guns

In reacting to the gun issue that arose out of Newton, an old friend but non-blogger sent me the following about Canada:
In February 2012, when the Conservative government passed legislation that killed the long gun registry, I disapproved but said and did nothing. I thought: this is what Canada gets by electing a conservative and populist government dependent on rural seats.
Now, I’m very ashamed of myself and regret my silence.
When children were slaughtered in Connecticut in December, my friends and I engaged in conversations about the deplorable state of US gun regulation and the failure of morality in that society. But we also realized we cannot be smug in relation to our neighbours. Within the past year, Canada’s government had also rejected a policy of gun control. We had rejected an effort to become a more civilized society and resolutely turned backwards.
The Government of Canada should be ashamed of itself.
The only people who have had the courage to protest the regressive end to the gun registry are Quebecers, and we should thank them and give them credit for their stance.
Belatedly, I have contemplated writing to the Prime Minister to express my shame and dismay at the decision taken last year. But I realized that is a waste of paper – I live in an urban riding and my voice is irrelevant to the current government. But I think Canadians everywhere should recognize their basic humanity and the importance of striving always to form a more civilized society. Canada appears to be 12th in the world in per capita possession of guns. What conceivable excuse have we for this status?
None I think.