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JOHN DEMONT: Local politics hit at the heart of our daily lives – SaltWire Network



Tip O’Neill, the fabled Boston pol, only lost one election in his life: his 1935 campaign for Cambridge City Council.

As he recounts in his autobiography, after the ballots were counted O’Neill’s dad pointed out that, perhaps, he had taken his own neighbourhood’s support for granted.

O’Neill had to agree: he had received plenty of votes in other parts of Cambridge, but hadn’t worked hard enough in his own backyard.

At this point I imagine the father clasping his hands on his son’s shoulders and looking him right in the eye.

“’Let me tell you something I learned years ago,’ he said, in words now emblazoned on the brain of every operative in every subsequent campaign. “All politics is local.”

The pair were talking from the perspective of the candidate. But I think the reason those words still matter all these years later is that their meaning resonates outside of the political backrooms: they are as true for the voter as they are for the politician.

And never more so than on Oct. 17, when most of our towns and regional municipalities elect their councillors and mayors, the folks who have real impact on our day-to-day life.

Oh sure, an MP, particularly if they sit around the cabinet table, can help deliver a big government procurement project or ensure that your region is not forgotten about when new federal legislation is being drafted.

But that is the high-level, big-issue, macro stuff.

Your member of the legislative assembly will fight for you to keep a school, ferry or mill open. If they are part of the government, they will go to bat to ensure that when the budgetary cuts come, the pain is softened in your region.

In a perfect world, your MLA, like your MP, will reflect the collective will of their riding on a whole range of issues.

Except do you want to get the potholes in your street filled, ensure that the garbage truck goes all the way down to the end of your block, and that your street gets ploughed?

Want the water coming out of your tap to lose its brown hue, and the skateboarders in the schoolyard next door to stop keeping you up at night?

Dearly need someone to investigate all the traffic going in and out of your neighbour’s home at funny hours of the day or night?

Need help getting a permit to build an extension on your house, to hold a fundraiser at the local community centre, to erect some lights in a dark corner of a walking trail?

Need to deal with an issue that falls under provincial or federal authority, but no idea how to deal with the folks in Halifax, or faraway Parliament Hill?

That’s where the folks on the ballots on Oct. 17 come in.

“Mayors and councillors deal with people on a day-to-day level on stuff that really matters to their lives,” Don Downe told me Friday.

As a longtime MLA for Lunenburg West, and Liberal cabinet minister who served eight years as the mayor of the municipality of the District of Lunenburg, he knows of what he speaks.

So does Cecil Clarke, now running for his third term as mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, who, as a Conservative, represented Cape Breton North in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, where he sat at the provincial cabinet table.

“As an MLA and cabinet minister the focus was always on what we could bring in terms of big announcements,” Clarke said Friday during a break from the campaign trail.

“In municipal government you get to see the curbside realities that those announcements deliver.”

In other words, municipal politics is visceral and real. The issues are close to people. That is why those who choose to tackle them can have such an impact.

They solve your problems. They look after your interests. When need be, they even act as your link to the faraway MLAs in Halifax, and MPs on Parliament Hill.

Graham Steele, the author and former provincial cabinet minister in Darrell Dexter’s NDP government, has written that “a good councillor is gold. A good mayor can lift a whole town.”

There is nothing distant about these people. You run into them at the coffee shop and filling up at the service station, because, unlike those in the more rareified levels of politics, councilors and mayors seldom stray far from home.

“You can always get a hold of them,” said Downe. “You just call them at home.”

So get out and vote on the 17th in person in Halifax, or before then electronically or by telephone. It’s like O’Neill senior said, all politics is local, particularly the local kind.


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The return of austerity politics – Washington Post



Here is a prediction that you can take to the bank. I’m not in the business of handicapping, but if anyone offers to bet against the following proposition, don’t just take the bet. Double down on it.

Should Joe Biden win the election, the moment he puts his hand on the Bible on Inauguration Day, the Republican Party will suddenly remember that there is nothing more threatening to America than budget deficits.

Note that I label this the return of austerity politics, not economics. Although garments will be rended and dire warnings will be made, this isn’t about the economics of debt. At one level, it’s about blocking Democratic priorities. At a deeper level, it’s about kneecapping a Biden presidency before it has a chance to take off. (Disclosure: I informally advise the Biden campaign.)

This outcome must be avoided and not just because the evolving economics of fiscal debt — one of the most interesting, evolving and inherently progressive areas of economics — says so. The main reason the return of austerity politics must be resisted is its human cost.

The equation couldn’t be simpler: Austerity equals human suffering. And such suffering will not be equally distributed. It will fall on those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and the economic damage it has unleashed.

The new economics of public debt underscores the urgency of this equation. The old argument that public borrowing competes with private borrowing, leading to higher interest rates and slower growth, has lacked empirical support for decades. Right now, we have a historically huge budget deficit of 15 percent of GDP (over $3 trillion) and debt about the same size as the economy. Yet the yield on the 10-year Treasury bill is below 1 percent (its average since the 1960s is 6 percent). More to the point, because these are unusual economic times, interest rates on government debt have been uncorrelated to the magnitude of that debt for decades now, as I discussed in recent testimony on the topic.

In fact, this has been the case in most advanced economies, regardless of debt levels, with Japan as the most notable example (its public debt has long been multiples of its economy). One reason is that these economies have operated below capacity, with both low inflation and excess savings relative to investment putting downward pressure on rates. That dynamic has drawn central banks, like our Federal Reserve, into the mix, trying to close output gaps by aggressively holding down the benchmark rates they control.

Inequality also plays a role. When growth flows disproportionately to those who are already wealthy, they tend to save, not spend, marginal dollars relative to middle and lower-income households. This, too, has boosted savings and lowered interest rates, while restricting the spending and the living standards of lower-income families.

But whatever the reason, the fact of persistently low rates offers new opportunities for near-term relief to those who need it and longer-term public investment to meet the existential challenges we face right now, from climate change to racial injustice.

One strong piece of evidence for this contention of ample fiscal space is that the most recent Congressional Budget Office forecast of what it will cost the government to service its debt has gone down, not up, since its previous forecast. And that earlier forecast didn’t include that $3 trillion of new debt incurred to offset the pandemic. How can we have more debt yet pay less to service it? Lower rates, of course.

This doesn’t mean that deficits never matter. They do, not least because when we carry such high debt levels, we’re a lot more vulnerable to an unforeseen spike in interest rates. So piling on wasteful debt is as economically wrongheaded now as it has ever been, which is why the highly regressive, deficit-financed Trump tax cuts were such a mistake. This also implies that the suddenly hawkish Republicans will be guilty of two fiscal crimes: piling on bad debt while refusing to countenance good debt.

But isn’t bad and good debt in the eye of beholder? No, because good debt does three things that bad debt doesn’t: It promotes growth, relieves hardship and advances racial equity. Investing in affordable housing for racial victims of housing segregation: good debt. Cuts in capital gains taxes: bad debt. Enhanced benefits for the unemployed and nutritional support for the millions not able to meet this basic need: good. Tax breaks for profitable corporations: bad.

Still, even with low rates and the ensuing low debt service, it is essential to raise the necessary revenue to pay for permanent measures, such as lasting investments in clean energy, standing up an affordable child-care sector and providing universal pre-K and free college for those of limited means — all of which are Biden proposals. Especially as these programs are both growth- and equity-inducing, paying for them through deficit financing is better than not doing them at all, but to stop there would severely undercut their political sustainability.

Should the election outcome break our way, how can progressives achieve these goals in the face of the forthcoming fiscal flip?

First, we must ignore the phony caterwauling of the deficit chicken hawks. One rule to be aggressively enforced is that anyone who voted for the Trump tax cuts has zero credibility on deficits and should be summarily ignored, if not ridiculed.

Second, we must help politicians with austere muscle memory understand these new dynamics. Here again, that’s not just an economic argument; it’s a political one. If conservatives ignore austerity when they’re in power but Democrats embrace it when they take control, then conservatives will consistently meet the demands of their constituents in the donor class while Democrats consistently fail to meet the needs of their constituents.

That is a not just a recipe for facilitating reckless fiscal policy and wasteful debt. It’s also a recipe for losing progressive support and political power — something no Democrat should want.

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The Real Divide in America Is Between Political Junkies and Everyone Else – The New York Times



The common view of American politics today is of a clamorous divide between Democrats and Republicans, an unyielding, inevitable clash of harsh partisan polarization.

But that focus obscures another, enormous gulf — the gap between those who follow politics closely and those who don’t. Call it the “attention divide.”

What we found is that most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all. Just 15 percent to 20 percent follow it closely (the people we call “deeply involved”): the group of people who monitor everything from covfefe to the politics of “Cuties.”

At the start of the year (i.e., pre-pandemic), we asked people to name the two most important issues facing the country. As expected, we found some clear partisan divides: For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to cite illegal immigration as an important issue.

But on a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.

Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.

These gaps extend beyond issues to feelings about the other party. Hard partisans are twice as likely as people who pay less attention to politics to say that they would be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposing party.

Hard partisans are also more likely to speak out about these political likes and dislikes. Almost 45 percent of people who are deeply involved say they frequently share their views on social media — in some cases, daily. It’s only 11 percent for those without a politics habit. To put this in perspective, a Pew study finds that 10 percent of Twitter users are responsible for 97 percent of all tweets about politics.

This gap between the politically indifferent and hard, loud partisans exacerbates the perception of a hopeless division in American politics because it is the partisans who define what it means to engage in politics. When a Democrat imagines a Republican, she is not imagining a co-worker who mostly posts cat pictures and happens to vote differently; she is more likely imagining a co-worker she had to mute on Facebook because the Trump posts became too hard to bear.

We see this effect in a study we did with three other political scientists, James Druckman, Samara Klar and Matthew Levendusky. We asked a group of over 3,000 Americans to describe either themselves or members of the other party. Only 27 percent of these people said that they discuss politics frequently; a majority consider themselves moderates. But nearly 70 percent of these people believe that a typical member of the other party talks about politics incessantly and is definitely not moderate.

For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.

How can politics better match the opinions of a majority of Americans? The fact is, it’s not an easy problem to solve. We can try to give the hardened partisans less voice in the news. Featuring people who exemplify partisan conflict and extremist ideas elevates their presence in politics (though of course by definition, it is the partisans who are most closely watching the news who are also most likely to give their opinions). This is particularly true of social media: What a vocal minority shares on social media is not the opinion of the public. Yet such political tweets, as the political communication scholar Shannon McGregor finds, are increasingly making their way into news coverage as stand-ins for public opinion.

There might be an advantage for politicians who focus less on the demands of partisans and more on tangible issues. Yes, hard partisans are more likely to reward ideological victories, but they are also a minority of the electorate.

Each day, partisan Democrats wonder whether that day’s “outrage” will finally change how people feel about President Trump. Partisan Republicans wonder the same thing about Joe Biden. But most “regular” voters are not paying that much attention to the daily onslaught. It turns them off.

And the major scandals that do break through? Well, to many of them, that is “just politics.”

Yanna Krupnikov (@ykrupnikov) and John Barry Ryan (@ryanbq), associate professors of political science at Stony Brook University, are the authors of a forthcoming book about polarization and disengagement in American politics.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email:

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre retires from politics – Saskatoon StarPhoenix



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I knew what I was getting into, minus COVID-19. I’ve had some personal impacts when it comes to tragedies. Strong support from council and the community’s belief in my leadership helped us get through those moments. Without those supports, and of course the support of my family, it’s very challenging.

When I proceeded to become the mayor of La Loche, I thought I’d be able to step up to the plate and do what I needed to do. I think I was successful considering all the challenges that came my way during that time. Having good staff is (also) key to any successful leadership.

Healing, as individuals and as a community, was a common theme during your term. How is La Loche doing in that process?

We’re still struggling with a lot. There’s a lot of mental health capacity we need to work with and individuals and families that were directly impacted by that incident, and the community as a whole.

But with COVID-19 coming into the community, isolated people weren’t allowed to visit. (It was a challenge) putting on those measures and restrictions in the community, especially when we hit the pandemic and the numbers started to soar.

All those have an impact on an individual’s psyche. Getting those measures put in place, and getting some of these mental health positions filled to support individuals is going to be paramount in the years to come.

What went into La Loche’s COVID-19 response and how it affected residents there?

A lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of time. I was on the phone from 8 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. each day. … Everything has to be clear to point where we can relay those messages to the community.

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