#SOTU: "It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode"


NCAA football players are trying to unionize


Are duelling ads a sucker punch to Keystone XL?

The Conservative government has a lot riding on the U.S. government's coming decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, so it's been pitching the project with Ottawa's "Go With Canada" ad campaign blitz in D.C.'s metro system.

Too bad the facts don't help the government's case. The GoWithCanada.com pitch boasts that the "province of Alberta is the first North American jurisdiction with mandatory GHG reduction targets for large industrial GHG emitters, including the oil sands."

What it doesn't say is emissions are rising in Alberta. Historical emissions jumped from 166 megatonnes in 1990 to 228 in 2005 to 242 in 2011, and the stated 2020 target is 11.7% above the 2005 baseline.

Alberta is projected to miss this 2020 target by producing 285 megatonnes that year, not the target of 255. This information is found in government documents. Take a look at this graph in a June 2013 memo to the Deputy Environment Minister, released under Access to Information law.

Provincial and Territorial Progress on GHG emissions 

Now, the federal government will have to contend with a new television ad as a counterpoint to its Go With Canada campaign, timed to air on Tuesday night during Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

The ad, produced by billionaire environmentalist's NextGen Climate Group, plays up China's involvement in Canada's tar sands, calling it a "sucker punch to America's heartland."



Photo: YouTube

Pete Seeger: this man surrounded hate and forced it to surrender


Conservative income splitting plan is tax gift for wealthiest families: study

The Conservative government's plan to extend income splitting to families is skewed heavily in favour of the wealthiest, with the vast majority of families receiving no benefit at all, a new study has found.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives analysed the Conservative plan to allow parents with children under 18 to split up to $50,000 of income with their partner.

Senior economist David Macdonald found that 86 per cent all families would gain no benefit at all from the tax loophole, expected to be the centrepiece of the Conservative Party's re-election campaign in 2015, after the federal budget is balanced.

Other key findings include:

  • "The bottom 60% of families (those making $56,000 or less) would receive, on average, $50. Most families in this group would receive no benefit whatsoever.

  • In contrast, the richest 5% of Canadian families — those making over $147,000 — would see an average benefit of $1,100, with one in 10 of this elite group gaining more than $5,000 from this loophole.

  • The top 5% of families would see more benefit than the bottom 60% of families.

  • In fact, none of the bottom six deciles would receive anywhere near 10%, its equal share; whereas each of the top four deciles receives far more than 10% of the total benefit, or far more than their equal share....

  • 4% of families would gain less than $500.

  • 1% of all families would get more than $6,500. Most of those $6,500 gainers are already among Canada’s richest."

"Income splitting creates a tax loophole big enough to drive a Rolls Royce through. It’s pitched as a program for the middle class but in reality it’s an expensive tax gift for the rich," said Macdonald.

He added: "Income splitting is a policy choice that would purposely exacerbate already high income inequality in Canada. This is inequality by design, not by accident."

The program would cost the federal government $3 billion in lost revenue to implement, the study found. This does not include an additional $1.9 billion in lost revenue provincially.

Macdonald analysed the pension income splitting program already in place, and found a similar pattern. Seven out of 10 families get no benefit at all from pension income splitting while the richest 10% of senior families receive more than the bottom 70% combined.

By 2015, the cost of the pension income splitting program is expected to reach $1.2 billion federally and $500 million provincially. "In contrast, it would cost $1.5 billion a year to lift all Canadian seniors out of poverty," the study states.

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

Do you think it's easy being super rich?


BC's income inequality problem: by the numbers


Grammy Awards get behind gay marriage, cue the conservative outrage


Canada: meet our smug and belligerent Immigration Minister

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is on a roll, attacking anyone who challenges the Conservative government's decision to cut refugee health care.

Cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program in 2012 reduced access to health care for most refugees, and some lost all health coverage except for treatment of conditions classified as a threat to public health or safety.

On Monday, Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar bore the brunt of Alexander's snark. The minister didn't like Goar's most recent column about Alexander's "callous side," so he went on the attack.


Canada's top medical journal better be careful. The Canadian Medical Journal's latest editorial, authored by deputy editor Matthew Stanbrook, lays out the problem with the policy.

In addition to being medically irrational and essentially unfair, these cuts are economically irresponsible, because refugees are presenting to emergency departments with acute conditions that could have been prevented or treated in primary care at an earlier stage and at a lower cost.

Ontario's Health Minister, who said the province will be treating people in need and sending Ottawa the bill, already got a "scolding" from Alexander last week. Listen here.

To all you health groups that disagree with the refugee health cuts: be careful. You may be next on Alexander's list.

Photo: YouTube

Welcome back, Harper

Now that the House of Commons is back in session after an extended winter break, watch to see how the Conservative government handles problems they've created and fights they've picked.

1. Stephen Harper's bagman

Will Senator Irving Gerstein stay on Harper's good side, despite being knee-deep in the Senate spending scandal and cover-up in the Prime Minister's Office? The RCMP allege Gerstein agreed to have the party pay off Senator Mike Duffy’s bogus expenses, but withdrew the offer when he found out the bill topped $90,000.

The Mounties also allege Gerstein tried to influence an external audit into the Senate expense scandal by calling up a buddy at Deloitte to encourage the auditing firm to drop Duffy, a Harper appointee, from its probe. Did we mention Gerstein is the Conservative Party's chief fundraiser?

That may be why he's still standing, but watch to see how Harper defends the indefensible.


2. The loyal soldiers

With Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau gone from the Senate for now, how do you solve a problem like this trio of Conservative senators: David Tkachuk, Marjory Lebreton and Carolyn Stewart Olsen? Their version of events of the Senate spending scandal are being challenged by the RCMP, so will Harper finally throw them under the bus? It could get even trickier, now that Canada’s auditor general has wrapped up the first part of his investigation into Senate spending that touched all three senators. Michael Ferguson's results are expected to be released within weeks. Yikes.


3. Mr. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Clear

Speaking of the Senate mess, will Harper keep MP Paul Calandra front and centre in Question Period as the PM's point man on scandal-related questions? If he does, it won't be pretty. Watch Calandra repeat how "very clear" he's being 24 times in under an hour, and you'll see why Calandra’s broken record line quickly became meme-worthy. A website popped up, mocking his go-to lines to deflect from the Senate scandal, including the one about his dad's pizza shop and two young daughters.

4. The Minister for seniors fitness and rail disasters

Expect Transport Minister Lisa Raitt to be on her feet to answer a lot of questions. She was so fortunate last month when Canada Post went public just one day after the House of Commons rose for an extended Christmas break with its plan to kill door-to-door mail delivery in Canada's cities, part of a sweeping five-point plan to slash services and raise prices. Raitt, the minister responsible for the file, defended the move, pitched by the president of Canada Post as a way for seniors to get exercise.
We'll no doubt also hear that rail safety is a "top priority" for the Conservative government, even as Canada's Transportation Safety Board issued three urgent recommendations last week to fix huge safety gaps in the system in the wake of last year's Lac Mégantic rail disaster.


5. The job-killing, tax-hiking Finance Minister

Jim Flaherty has lots of explaining to do. He'll be tabling his budget in February on the heels of some dismal economic news that has undercut the Conservatives' "we're awesome at managing the economy" line: 60,000 full-time jobs were lost in December, translating into a loss of 46,000 jobs overall. That means Canada's jobless rate increased to 7.2%, up from 6.9%, the "biggest one-month increase in the rate since May 2009." And on average, Canadian employers created a "measly 8,500 jobs per month last year – just one-third of the moderate rate of employment growth experienced in 2012." Oh, and about that tax-cutting talk? Read this and this.

6. The anti-union surrogates

The anti-union bill (C-525) authored by Conservative backbencher Blaine Calkins resurfaced in the last session, building on a similar union-busting bill (C-377) of caucus colleague Russ Hiebert. The bill proposes to change certification and decertification procedures, shifting the current majority process to minority rule, where a threshold of 45 per cent could dissolve a union. With the pending retirement in June of Senator Hugh Segal, who led a rebellion against bill C-377 last session by gutting it and sending it back to the House of Commons, will Harper put these bills back on the front burner?
Photo: loneprimate. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.