Conservative convention bodes badly for Canada

The Conservative Party will kick off its biennial convention Thursday. With the media microscope focused squarely on the Senate scandal and the frayed integrity of the Prime Minister’s Office, Canadians aren’t likely to pay much attention to what transpires on the convention floor.

They ought to. The policy resolutions that pass provide as good an indication as any of how Prime Minister Stephen Harper will go about deflecting the heat and shoring up support for his government among the party’s base.

There is a persistent view that Mr. Harper has pragmatically governed in the centre, in a way that, if anything, has alienated the hard-right of the party. Under this interpretation, Mr. Harper has moderated his Reform ways and largely kept his “base” in check. Wacky resolutions at Conservative conventions are therefore so much meaningless hot air.

The Conservative's record, however, tells a different story.

Though the list of right-wing “accomplishments” is long, several demonstrate how out of touch Mr. Harper is with mainstream Canadian values: brazen attacks on labour groups and collective bargaining rights; tax cuts that benefit the wealthy; the erosion of public programs and cuts to services; the dismantling of environmental regulations for resource extraction; evidence-averse “tough on crime” policies such as building more prisons and instituting mandatory minimum sentences.

Mr. Harper has incrementally but methodically shifted Canada’s politics towards the hard-right of his party, breaking with Canada’s strong and cross-partisan tradition of progressivism in the process.

Little wonder many former Progressive Conservatives deplore this government's record on the environment, its attack on evidence-based policy making, and as former prime minister Joe Clark recently argued in the Star, its near complete disregard for the norms of international co-operation.

For clues about Harper’s next steps, let’s look at some of the policy proposals and amendments up for debate at the convention:


One resolution calls on the government to “resist any domestic or international pressure” that threatens the “legitimacy of private ownership of firearms.”

History suggests we ought to take this resolution seriously. During the 2005 convention, the Tories voted to repeal the long-gun registry should they ever be able to do so. Seven years later, the program is dead. Meanwhile, the government has still yet to sign a UN Arms Trade Treaty even the gun-loving Americans have endorsed. All of this reflects the disturbing and growing influence of the gun lobby on party policy.


Another resolution calls for the “elimination of all public funding” from the CBC. Full stop.

We’ve already seen this government impose substantial cuts to the public broadcaster and introduce new and unprecedented policies to directly control its internal management. It’s not a trend that inspires trust for those worried about further cuts and censorship, let alone the end of the CBC.


A third resolution calls for a commitment to “bring public sector pensions in-line with Canadian norms by switching to a defined contribution pension model.” Defined contribution models, preferred by the private sector, tend to yield less for retirees than do defined benefit plans. It seems it wasn’t enough for the government to cut public pensions by stealth in the 2012 budget — party activists now want to further erode Canadians’ retirement income security.


Incredibly, one proposal states explicitly that the Conservative party should advocate for a “less progressive tax system.” The rich, in other words, should pay less of their share. This is precisely what the Conservatives’ proposed income-splitting tax scheme will do: transfer more of the tax burden onto single-parent, and lower- and middle-income families.

Further eroding the tax base would mean less money for new federal programs or for critical investments in infrastructure, health care, jobs training or clean energy research and development. Should the government make the tax system less progressive, one wonders what current programs Harper will put on the chopping block to cover for the lost revenue.

The notion that Mr. Harper has governed in the centre simply doesn’t hold up. Instead, his government has steadily dismantled the progressive state Canadians of diverse political leanings proudly built.

You only need look at the Conservative record to date, combined with the party’s current political need to fire up its most ardent supporters, to be concerned with where Harper might take Canada from now until 2015.

A version of this article was published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: primeministergr Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-2.0 license

PressProgress launches

The Broadbent Institute today announced the launch of PressProgress, a new project to advance progressive solutions for Canada with hard-hitting news and analysis. cuts through the day’s political spin with facts and an informed point of view. From punchy blog posts to a daily web roundup of progressive news and views, PressProgress is a must-read to spur positive change.

“As the policy debate heats up in advance of the 2015 federal election, PressProgress will be one of the ways the Institute contributes to that debate,” said Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith.

The launch of PressProgress continues to build on the Institute’s work, including the rapidly expanding training and leadership program.

“PressProgress is another avenue for the Institute to press for progressive change,” said Smith. “With a strong voice and blunt analysis, people can count on PressProgress to be hard-hitting, progressive, and always focused on the facts -- whether talking about the economy, the environment, or democratic renewal.”

Visit PressProgress: www.pressprogress.caFollow PressProgress on Facebook and on Twitter. 

Stephen Harper's bogus 'consumers first' agenda

Let me get this straight.

The Conservative government is looking to pivot from growing corruption and scandals with a Throne Speech later this month that talks about a “consumers first” agenda, including the latest proposal for an airline passenger bill of rights. At least that’s what Conservative sources are telling reporters about what to expect from the Parliamentary reboot on Oct. 16. Aside from some improvements to product safety brought about during their minority rule, the Conservatives boast a consumer-protection record that only partisans would try to laud. Guided by the idea that Ottawa needs to get out of the way of business, Harper has been trumpeting the mantra of red-tape cutting since first elected in 2006.

What this has really meant are cuts to safety inspections and costly adherence to the wisdom of deregulation. Hardly the building blocks of a “consumers first” agenda.

Take food safety. Who could forget Canada’s largest-ever beef recall last fall. People across the country became sick from the E. coli outbreak after consuming tainted meat produced at a federally regulated facility in Brooks, Alberta. The government’s own post-mortem of the XL Foods Ltd. recall shone the light on a food-safety system that had failed.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency failed to notice during routine inspections that the plant had not properly implemented or regularly updated its own plan to control risks. The massive facility — 430,000 square feet in total — slaughtered between 3,800 and 4,000 cattle daily.

The beef recall came months after the Conservative government tabled a budget that cut $56 million from the food agency’s operating resources over a three-year period. The union representing food inspectors estimates this will mean as many as 100 fewer inspectors, effectively reversing staffing measures put in place in response to the deadly listeriosis outbreak in 2008.

Remember that one? Twenty-two Canadians died after eating tainted meat from a Maple Leaf Foods facility in Toronto. In the wake of this massive outbreak, an independent investigation found multiple safety gaps in the food-safety system and a “void of leadership”

This same line could describe Ottawa’s approach to rail safety. Though more the inheritors than the architects of Canada's reckless rail-safety deregulation, the Harper Conservatives ignored repeated warnings about the folly of allowing the railway industry to police itself.

A Canada Safety Council report issued in 2007 called the deregulated industry "a disaster waiting to happen" and criticized the government's abrogation of its responsibility to public safety and the environment. And disaster did strike, when aging rail cars with inaccurately labeled hazardous materials exploded in Lac Mégantic, Quebec claiming 47 lives, eviscerating the core of the town at immeasurable cost to the community and at a monetary cost of close to a billion dollars.

With their single-minded focus on getting oil to market, Canada has seen massive increases in the amount of oil being shipped by rail — from 500 carloads in 2009, to a projected 140,000 this year. The Harper government is apparently content to continue to expose Canadians and our environment to unnecessary risk.

In the wake of the horrendous disaster in Quebec, we don’t know if the Conservatives will try to trumpet rail safety in the Throne Speech. But we do know from partisan leaks that they want to push an airline passenger bill of rights, which would protect flyers in cases of arbitrary delays or lost baggage.

This takes nerve.

Since winning power in 2006, the Conservative caucus has opposed the introduction of similar charters not once — but twice. In a minority government, Conservatives banded together with enough Bloc Québécois MPs in 2009 to kill an NDP plan. The Opposition tried again after the 2011 election, but the Conservative majority torpedoed that initiative earlier this year.

In fact, the Conservatives have tried to have it both ways. Back in 2008, they publicly supported a Liberal motion to entrench in law an airline passenger bill of rights. Behind the scenes, though, a senior policy adviser to the Transport Minister privately pressed Canada’s big airlines to step up their lobby campaign to make sure the motion failed.

“I don’t want us to be forced into regulating passenger protection issues,” the Conservative advisor wrote in an email released to the media under Canada’s access to information law.

Consumers first? Sure – when it’s politically convenient.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP.

Ed Broadbent: are the dreams of social democracy still affordable?

This post originally appeared on

On September 24th, 2013, Broadbent Institute Chair Ed Broadbent gave the 2nd annual Jack Layton Lecture at Ryerson University. In this speech, Ed Broadbent connects the philosophy and historical successes of social democracy with today's social and political challenges.

Over the past fifty years, social democrats  both in government and out  have achieved great progress. The creation of the middle class, the extension of new rights to previously disadvantaged groups like women and gays and lesbians, and an openness to new movements like environmentalism are some of the many advances that social democracy can claim credit for.

But what now? Are the dreams of social democracy and the cherished social programmes of Canadians still affordable? Broadbent's answer is yes. And he urges a confident reassertion of the social democratic values cherished by Canadians and a political leadership that will take us beyond indifference and cynicism to build a better Canada for us all.


Broadbent Institute announces green economy initiative

The Broadbent Institute today announced the launch of its Green Economy initiative, an ongoing project focused on tackling the increasingly-urgent need to build a sustainable economy that offers Canadians good jobs.

Accompanying the launch of this new initiative is an expanded online home for the Institute's training and leadership program and a new brand identity that reflects the organization’s expanding role as a catalyst for progressive social change.

"Canadians are rightly concerned about the daunting challenges that threaten our long-term health and prosperity," said Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith. "Unfortunately, successive Canadian governments have spurned pressing ecological concerns and focused instead on narrow, short-term growth policies and the dismantling of the laws and regulations created to protect the environment."

Instead of making policies as though economic imperatives and environmental sustainability are at odds, the Broadbent Institute is calling for a better focus on the development of new green industries to create good jobs and globally competitive companies that can fuel Canada’s long-term economic growth.

"The creation of a sustainable, productive economy will necessitate investments in renewable energy and clean technologies and the regulation of harmful pollutants -- including and beyond carbon," said Smith. "We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to show sustainable economic leadership."

Yahoo! News: left-leaning Broadbent Institute mocks Harper’s ‘enemies list’ with ‘frenemies list’

Andy Radia, Canada Politics, Yahoo! News

Earlier this week, media outlets reported that government staffers were directed — by the PMO — to compile "enemy lists" of bureaucrats and stakeholders to be included in transition documents for incoming cabinet minsters.

The reports — and particularly the use of the term 'enemy' — have a created a media frenzy with some evoking the memory of Richard Nixon.

In an interview with Postmedia News, even Environment Minister Peter Kent called the use of the word enemy "juvenile."

Well, the left-wing Broadbent Institute is jumping on the bandwagon with a new social media campaign:


As Stephen Harper rolled out his 'sort-of-new' Cabinet on Monday ( with a little help from his frenemies, his office asked staff to include lists of "friend and enemy stakeholders" in each Minister's transition binders ( That's right, the PMO wants 'binders full of enemies'.

With so many adversaries out there (scientists, statisticians, environmental radicals, perhaps kittens – wait, he likes those: the Broadbent Institute is convening a contest to help the PMO's office come up with a robust short list of frenemies.

Who do you think should be added to Ministers' frenemy binders? Leave your ideas in the comments. We'll pick from the best posts and create a 'frenemy wall' in our head office. We'll also create a binder of your top frenemies on tumblr.

The enemies' list controversy — which it has now become — is an embarrassment for the Harper government which was hoping for some good news stories following their major cabinet shuffle.

Read the entire article on Yahoo! News.

Begin by hiking tax credits for working poor

Last September, the Broadbent Institute issued a major discussion paper, Towards a More Equal Canada, on rising economic inequality. We followed up in April with a brief to the Commons finance committee on what income tax and transfer changes could promote a fairer Canada.

Extreme economic inequality undermines democracy and the common good. Very unequal societies do much worse in terms of social and economic performance, in health and life expectancy, social mobility (equality of opportunity for children), crime levels, the quality of democracy, and levels of social trust.

While it is true that rising inequality is due in significant part to economic factors such as globalization and technological change, it is equally true that some advanced countries have remained much more equal than others. In the final analysis, the level of inequality in a nation is a matter of political choice.

Research shows Canada used to do quite well at striking a balance between a growing market economy and a fair distribution of the fruits of growth. But cuts to social programs and public services as well as changes to income support programs and personal income tax since the mid-1990s have compounded inequality.

Recent income tax changes have disproportionately favoured the rich. Providing a basic income-tested guarantee to all citizens through a fairer personal income tax system — a negative income tax — would be a powerful force for greater equality.

Our brief to the finance committee argued we should start by significantly increasing the federal Working Income Tax Benefit, which provides a very modest tax credit to Canadians who work but still have very low incomes.

The greatest gap in Canadian income support programs is for workers and families who do not qualify for welfare but remain in poverty since they are employed in precarious and low-paid jobs.

More than one-third of working Canadians do not have permanent, full-time paid jobs. Many fall below the poverty line due to low hourly wages and/or not enough weeks of work in a year.

The working poor and near poor — who move in and out of low-paid jobs but often fail to attain a decent standard of living — is disproportionately made up of recent immigrants, especially those belonging to racial minorities, persons with disabilities, female single parents, the single near-elderly, aboriginal Canadians, and young people trying to get into secure employment.

Credit should be given to the present federal government for creating the Working Income Tax Benefit, a new form of benefit which in the U.S. and elsewhere has reduced poverty while promoting employment.

But the benefit is modest (less than $1,000 for a single person and less than $1,800 for a family) and is lost completely at low levels of employment income ($18,000 for a single person, $27,000 for a family).

The maximum benefit should be increased significantly and phased out more slowly as income rises so recipients are always better off if they find more work or better-paying jobs.

Increases to the Working Income Tax Benefit should be matched by incremental increases in minimum wages to ensure supplements for the working poor do not become subsidies to low-wage employers. Minimum wage levels should ensure a single person working full-time for a full year does not live in poverty.

Improving conditions for low-wage workers will also involve raising minimum employment standards for hours of work, rights of part-time workers, pay and employment equity, enforcing such standards, facilitating access to unionization, and greatly expanding training for unemployed and under-employed workers.

Hopefully, the Commons finance committee will be able to achieve all-party agreement to assist the working poor by expanding the Working Income Tax Benefit. This would be an incremental but real step towards a more comprehensive negative income tax system.

This article originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald as part of a series on inequality.

Photo: Just a Prairie Boy. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

It's World Environment Day and Canada's Not Doing so Hot

Today is World Environment Day, an appropriate moment to reflect on the state of our nation's journey towards sustainability.

In a nutshell, we're not doing so hot.

Measured against other OECD nations, Canada continues to rank near the bottom of the barrel for environmental protection. Once viewed as a constructive, conscientious partner, Canada is now a sort of pariah on the international stage, uninterested or downright unwilling to work with other countries to tackle major global environmental challenges from desertification to over-fishing, deforestation to climate change.

So singularly focused is our current federal government on oil-fuelled growth, for example, the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. referred to our Natural Resource Minister, Joe Oliver, as Canada's "Minister of Oil."

Our reputation in disrepute abroad, environmental degradation continues at home. We can't solve everything all at once, so if we were to really focus, what is the most important thing threatening the Canadian environment? Is it the destructive power of climate change? The cancer-causing effect of unregulated toxic chemicals? The downward spiral of water quality across the country?

In my view all of these challenges are symptoms of a larger problem: the unrelenting, aggressive hostility of our country's Conservative parties to environmental progress.

I once participated on a panel for the magazine Corporate Knights that voted Brian Mulroney "the greenest Prime Minister in Canadian history." That seems like a long time ago now. And many of Mulroney's signature environmental accomplishments -- such as the creation of the respected National Round Table on Environment and Economy -- have since been killed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

This is the same federal government that has recently questioned whether global warming is really as bad as everybody says it is, has used the Canada Revenue Agency to make life as difficult for Canada's environmental charities as possible, and presided over what is -- objectively -- the most significant rollback of environmental protections since Confederation.

At the provincial level, in a little-noticed speech during the last provincial election, Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak promised to abolish Conservation Authorities -- a creation of Tory governments dating back to the 1950s, and he has been uniformly hostile to environmental notions ever since. In Brad Wall's Saskatchewan, the David Suzuki Foundation has recently noted that "it is difficult to imagine any jurisdiction taking the threats of climate change less seriously."

And though some days it's hard to focus on his actual policies through the haze of circus-like shenanigans, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has targeted green initiatives with a laser-like precision, making it very clear that in his world "green" and "gravy" are synonymous and equally deserving of elimination.

There once was a proud Tory environmental record: Brian Mulroney's battles against Acid Rain, and Bill Davis's protection of the Niagara Escarpment come to mind. The Canadian Conservative circa 2013, however, has not only turned their back on this legacy, they are busily dismantling it.

Conservatives today are of a different ilk. They view the environment through a distorted and Manichean lens, one where environmental policy is inevitably at odds with sound economic policy.

Yes, there are voices -- like that of Preston Manning -- calling for a renewal of a Conservative green ethic. But these voices make little impact, drowned out as they are by the chorus of pro-industry voices, granted privileged access to lobby Conservative ministers for changes to environmental regulations. Meeting so often with oil and gas sector executives, it's little wonder "Environment" Minister Peter Kent focuses on promoting "Ethical Oil" rather than environmental stewardship.

A commitment to reconciling environmental and economic priorities is now without a doubt one of the single greatest differences between Conservatives and non-Conservatives in our country. For progressives, the task is to demonstrate to Canadians that there are alternatives to the ecologically destructive and economically uncertain path we are on.

This op-ed originally appeared in Huffington Post Canada.

Photo: itzafineday. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

Canadian demographics may not favour the Conservatives

Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star
Parliament Hill, May 24 2013

There are two ways to become a former Conservative in Canada these days.

You can get tossed out, like senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

Or you can leave the party of your own volition, as voters in Labrador did earlier this month when they elected Liberal MP Yvonne Jones, handing Conservative Peter Penashue a resounding defeat in the federal byelection.

So is it time to revisit this idea — put forward not so long ago — that Conservatives stand to be the natural governing party of the 21st century?

Earlier this year, journalist John Ibbitson and pollster Darrell Bricker released a book called the Big Shift, in which they argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party was best positioned to reap the gains of Canada’s changing demographics.

Conservatives, they said, had done a better job of shaping their party’s platform to meet the demands of new Canadians and all those people living in the rapidly expanding West.

This week, amid all kinds of other bad news for Conservatives, the Broadbent Institute released a reply to that Big Shift assertion.

“We decided that notion deserved some testing,” Rick Smith, director of the institute, said at a Wednesday lunch gathering at the Chateau Laurier.

Smith released the results of a comprehensive Environics poll showing that Canadians were actually more “progressive” than conservative and, more significantly, that newcomers to Canada were no more conservative than people who had lived in this country longer than 10 years.

On an array of large questions, such as whether people trusted government more than corporations and their willingness to pay more for social programs and government-run health care, Environics found no significant differences in opinion between new Canadians and “old” Canadians.

About 72 per cent of people born outside Canada believe their taxes should support a strong pension system, compared to 76 per cent of people born here, the poll found. About 69 per cent of new Canadians believe the best way to fight crime is by treating its “root causes” of poverty, racism and addiction, compared to 63 per cent of Canadian-born people.

“On issues ranging from taxation and trust in public institutions, to social values and views regarding Canada’s role on the world stage, progressive ideals are supported by strong majorities in the largest urban/suburban areas across the country, which are increasingly the hardest fought battlegrounds for federal elections,” the institute declared in the summary of the Environics results.

Smith was speaking to a room filled with New Democrats and a smattering of Liberals. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was at the head table, sitting with Neera Tanden, head of the U.S. Center for American Progress.

Tanden had just finished a speech that was also intended to buoy the spirits of non-Conservatives in Canada, explaining how progressives had captured American hearts and minds from the clutches of Republicans over the past decade.

Thanks to President Barack Obama and a determined, sustained outreach to minority communities in the U.S., she said, Democrats had built an enduring, progressive coalition.

“We’ve come a long way... the country’s come a long way,” she said.

Barely a week since the election in British Columbia, however, it may not be the right time to talk to New Democrats about polls. Many of them believed the polls predicting that B.C. would be swearing in a New Democrat premier, Adrian Dix, around about now.

Smith acknowledged that progressives in Canada face “challenges,” alluding to the B.C. election surprise. But he said the Environics poll still showed that Canadians were more open to progressive ideas than they were to conservative ones.

If nothing else, the Broadbent Institute poll and the Big Shift are evidence of where political minds are focused these days.

When the next election rolls around in 2015, Canada will have 30 new ridings, half of them in Ontario, filled with suburbanites and new Canadians. Every political party is scrambling, even now, to secure a foothold in those places.

This is why new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau keeps talking about the middle class — 24 mentions of that phrase this year alone in the House of Commons.

It’s why Immigration Minister Jason Kenney keeps logging all those miles on the road and is not seen as likely to be among those who will change jobs in Harper’s big cabinet shuffle this summer.

Though it may be getting more dangerous to make predictions in Canadian politics these days, one forecast is safe: in the next two years, everyone will be vying for the votes of the newcomers — the new Canadians, young, first-time voters and the people in those 30 new ridings.

So while our attention is focused on who’s leaving various political parties, voluntarily or not-so-voluntarily, future fates will be shaped by the newcomers on the Canadian political landscape.

This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Progressive values are on the rise in the U.S. and Canada

A luncheon speech by Center for American Progress (CAP) President Neera Tanden underscored that success for progressives depends on a strong, sustainable progressive movement, driven by idea generation and solid policy. Tanden was director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden presidential campaign and served as Hilary Clinton’s policy director on her presidential campaign. 

“Our experience since creating CAP in 2003 has reinforced the lesson that gearing up for highly expensive elections every four years is wholly insufficient for achieving real progressive change,” said Tanden. “In the end, the money and energy spent winning elections will be for naught if it is not followed by the organizing, policy, and communications work necessary to keep the Obama coalition in permanent motion between elections.”

“The Center for American Progress has built an engine of progressive change in the United States and provided policy and communications support for an effective progressive movement,” said Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith. “I am delighted that today we were able to learn some lessons about how we can build the progressive movement in Canada.”

Following Tanden’s speech, Smith expanded on her conclusions with the release of exclusive new polling data. The Broadbent Institute-commissioned Environics Research Group poll reveals important trends in support for progressive values in eight of Canada’s largest urban and suburban areas – the battlegrounds where federal elections are won and lost. The national poll reveals that Canadians, both new immigrants and Canadian-born, overwhelmingly support progressive values such as reducing income inequality, better pensions, and stronger environmental regulations.

“These results provide an important contribution to our understanding of what socio-economic attitudes and values prevail in urban Canadian society, as well as the impact of the influx of new Canadians on our political climate,” explained Derek Leebosh, Vice-President, Public Affairs at Environics Research Group.

“When it comes to a number of important issues, we have found that there is no significant statistical difference between the attitudes of Canadian-born and non-Canadian-born Canadians,” said Smith. “This is contrary to recent reports that have portrayed the political trend lines of the country as moving in a small “c” conservative direction.  If anything, the opposite would seem to be the case.”

Download the new report.