My Internet connection will be rather sporadic for the next little while as I take another break from blogging.
See you soon!
Yesterday, over at Northern Reflections, Owen Gray wrote a post entitled A Lost Generation, a reflection on the discouraging prospects our young people face in establishing themselves in gainful employment, and the fact that their plight does not seem to be a factor in the Harper regime's decision-making.
I left the following comment on his blog:
Not only are our overlords ignoring the problem you describe here, Owen, but they are in fact compounding it by recruiting young people from Ireland to come work in Canada.
This inexplicable policy, apparently spearheaded by Jason Kenney, should outrage all of us, after which I provided a link to a story from the Star detailing Jason Kenney's efforts to recruit young people from Ireland to come to Canada for jobs.
Owen replied with the following:
It's all about driving down everyone's wages, Lorne. That was one of the items on the agenda when Mr. Flaherty met with the movers and shakers two summers ago.
Put that together with this government's preemptive moves on unions before a strike starts, and it's clear who this government serves.
It's not we, the people. And it's certainly not the young.
Owen's insight, it seems, is spot on. In his column today, The Star's Thomas Walkom looks at how Canada is using imported labour to do just that, keep everyone's wages down:
... the Vancouver Sun has reported, four brand new coal mines in the province’s northeast are bringing in just under 2,000 temporary Chinese migrants to do most of the work.
The ostensible reason, a spokesman for Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc. is reported as saying, is that not enough Canadians are skilled enough to do underground mining.
Let me repeat that. Not enough underground miners. In Canada.
Those who spent their working lives underground in Northern Ontario, or Quebec or Saskatchewan or Cape Breton would be surprised to hear this.
Walkom goes on to point out that the B.C. situation is hardly an exception, that the number of visas granted to temporary foreign workers is exploding; these workers, ranging from coffee shop staff in Alberta to those employed at XL Foods, hardly meet the criteria under which the foreign workers program was established, i.e. to do jobs for which they are uniquely qualified.
Walkom's conclusion? That they are being permitted entry because they are unlikely to complain of low wages or join a union. Their presence thus sends a strong message to the unemployed in Canada: Work for less, or others will take the jobs from you.
It’s one thing for the Harper Conservatives to return us to the status of a resource economy. It is another for them to insist that we become a low-wage resource economy.
And, of course, while such a policy may be a boon to our corporate masters, it is just one more obstacle that our young people have to face in their efforts to establish their careers.
An update on his status is provided by Peter Scheer on Truthdig. As well, there is a link on the site to an interview of DeChristopher that Chris Hedges conducted in 2011.
Worthwhile reading for those seeking examples of principled behaviour in these times.
Given the level of odium in which the public holds politicians, the title of this post probably seems redundant. However, it is also appropriate given an article written by Lawrence Martin yesterday and a not-so-surprising revelation made in today's Toronto Star.
First, Martin's article, published yesterday in iPolitics, posits that our elected officials, and those vying for office, regularly lie because it works, one reason being that journalists let them get away with it:
In the news business anything that is expected, that happens often, is of declining news value. And so the media over time has lost its sense of outrage when politicians willfully distort or lie. The media don’t hold politicians to as a high as a standard as they used to.
And until they do, expect the bald-faced lies that pass for informed discourse to continue unabated.
Which segues nicely into one of the front-page stories in this morning's Star. Entitled Cost to move gas plant may reach $700M in the print edition, it reveals the lie that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has been propagating that $40 million would be the cost to taxpayers/electricity users for his cancellation of a gas-fired generator in Oakville to purchase a Liberal seat in the last election.
The plant, already well-under construction during the waning days of the provincial contest, is to be moved to the site of the Lennox generating station near Bath, 210 kilometres east of Toronto.
Energy consultant Bruce Sharp, who pegs the cost of the move at $700 million, says earlier estimates haven’t taken into account several huge items.
...the biggest hidden cost in the deal is the province’s agreement to accept the cost of what’s known as “gas delivery and management services” costs, which he figures could add $346 million to the bill.
And a further $200 million or more comes from the decision to move the plant hundreds of kilometres to the east.
Then factor in about $250 for the extra cost of transmission upgrades.
This will not be the first time that Premier McGuinty has played fast and loose with the electorate's money in his bald pursuit and exercise of power.
With more diligent journalism, however, perhaps it will be his last.
Much rhetoric has been uttered of late about the need for everyone to 'share the pain' as Ontario's McGuinty government attacks the provincial deficit in a manner that many think is counterproductive, stripping away teachers collective bargaining rights being but one example.
However one may feel about such moves, those in the public service are at least positioned fairly well to weather this strategy. The same cannot be said for many others. Not all targets are created equal.
One such target of McGuinty's fervour are the poor. As Carol Goar reports in today's Star, a program called the community start-up and maintenance benefit (CSUMB) will be cut off at the end of 2012.
For 20 years, this program has served as a lifeline for people at risk of homelessness. It’s an emergency allowance, available every two years, worth a maximum of $799. It enables the homeless to move into an apartment. It helps low-income tenants who can’t pay their utility bill keep the lights on; job applicants buy suitable clothes; families fumigate bedbug-infested apartments; and people facing eviction pay their rent arrears.
According to Naomi Berlyne of Houselink, it keeps a roof over hundreds of heads every year. “Without it, we’re going to have a disaster on our hands.”
I don't care how venal or self-centred people might be, I expect that most will be as outraged as I am over this development; I know I will be writing my MPP a letter protesting it.
Shame on the Premier for targeting the most vulnerable amongst us.
It is something that I will neither forgive nor forget at the next election.
I have written two previous posts about Alex Himelfarb, Director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University, former Clerk of the Privy Council, and fellow blogger. He is a man whose passion for democracy and societal fairness I deeply admire.
I was therefore pleased to see him sharing his thoughts on the state of our democracy in today's Star as part of a series that began yesterday with a piece by Allan Gregg entitled In Defence of Reason.
Today, Himelfarb begins with an observation with which I think most of us would agree:
We ought to be outraged. Almost daily our media provide new accounts of the decline of our democracy: the inadequacies of our electoral system and allegations of electoral fraud; the high-handed treatment of our Parliament through inappropriate prorogations and overuse of omnibus legislation; a government ever more authoritarian and opaque, resistant to evidence and reason, and prepared to stifle dissent.
But he also cites a sad truth when he asks why so many Canadians do not seem to care; it is one that I know many of us have pondered in frustration as the abuses of democracy under the Harper regime continue to occur on an almost daily basis.
Himelfarb goes on to discuss how the market mentality, the notion that material gains made under a philosophy of minimal government 'interference' has, in many ways, supplanted traditional notions of democracy, resulting in large benefits for the few and growing inequality for the many.
However, he does see some hope for change and renewal in the Quebec student protests:
Student leaders from Quebec have launched a cross-Canada tour to promote activism and the creation of social movements that provide a richer democratic experience than offered by contemporary politics, but also to explain to those who feel disenfranchised why voting and political participation still matter. They understand the dangers of leaving any government to its own devices, unconstrained by a vigilant citizenry.
Himelfarb's article, as was Allan Gregg's piece yesterday, deserves to be read and disseminated widely.
Pollster Allan Gregg, now spending much of his time offering critiques of the Harper regime and its dangerous demagogic inclinations, has written a followup to his talk “1984 in 2012: The Assault on Reason.”
Writing in today's Star, he discusses public reaction to his speech, which essentially went viral, and offers some thoughts on where we can go from here in channeling our dissatisfaction with the dangerous anti-intellectual approach to government embraced by Harper and his acolytes.
I encourage anyone who wants better for this country to spend a few minutes with his ideas.
H/t Sol Chrom
You might also be interested in reading this article dealing with the issue of growing income inequality.
A good letter by David Collins appears in today's Star advancing that discussion. Since it makes eminent sense, expect it to be ignored by educational authorities.
I reproduce it below for your consideration:
Re: Unplug the digital classroom, Opinion, Oct. 7
When many whose level of education should make them know better are towing the party line equating use of the latest technological devices in the classroom with “progress,” professor Doug Mann's straightforward account of the actual effects of this thinking in education is most welcome.
Having been both a TA and a college instructor over the past 10 years, I can confirm there has been a dramatic drop in literacy, numeracy, critical thinking and basic verbal comprehension among college and university students in that time, coinciding with the rise to ubiquity of mobile/digital devices.
While no cause can be definitively proven, the amount and type of use of such devices by students in the last few years is the only real demographic difference between them and students eight to 10 years ago.
More important than proving a cause is the recognition that mediating education through computerized devices is actually less engaging, more passive (students become mere users of programs, while the programs do the work!) and, by reducing education to content delivery, promotes the uncritical acceptance and regurgitation of information far more than traditional approaches.
To say today’s learners learn differently is a cop-out; if students show difficulty understanding via listening, reading and in-person discussion, the answer is surely to give them practice in these skills. Handing them computerized crutches to make up for lack of ability while ignoring the fact they're using them to surf the Internet and “chat” in class is not helping — it's manufacturing artificial disability.
David Collins, Toronto
Does anyone remember that quaint notion?
During the lead-up to the Falkands War, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrignton, and two junior ministers resigned. They took the blame for Britain’s poor preparations [for the war]and plans to decommission HMS Endurance, the navy’s only Antarctic patrol vessel.
Since those days, the concept of ministers taking responsibility for what is going on in their departments has been largely ignored, never more so than since the Harper regime assumed power, operating, I assume, pretty much on the principle, "Apologize for nothing, admit nothing, and wait for the public to go back to sleep."
So far, it is a strategy that seems to have worked very well for our federal overlords.
In his column today, Government’s reaction to tainted beef scandal the real crime, Tim Harper resurrects the notion of ministerial responsibility in looking at the pathetic example of Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz, missing in action since the XL Foods tainted beef scandal broke:
When it became clear there was a problem, he disappeared.
He was not in the House of Commons to rebuild confidence in consumers, or take questions, he blithely defended meat quality at a Saskatchewan luncheon as the crisis grew, he cut short a briefing in which he referred to anything that knocked him off his talking points as a “technical question.’’
Despite the calls for his resignation, Tim Harper concludes that Ritz is safe for the time being, yet another example, in my view, of the contempt in which Harper Inc. holds the Canadian people and their health.
In the latter part of my teaching career, I had the feeling that those in charge of education, especially on the local level, were suffering from a kind of drift that was largely absent when I started my career. More and more, administrators were embracing technology, and the next 'big thing' that it promised on a regular basis, as the solution to student underachievement.
The process started off mildly enough, with the introduction of video (reel-to-reel was actually the first format used in the classroom) as a supplement to instruction, but by the time I had retired, whiteboards, school wi-fi networks, etc. were starting to gain currency. As my last administrator said, we have to hold their interest with new technology, a statement I took as sad evidence of pedogogical bankruptcy.
All the while, I was dubious of each new marvel; any reservations I openly expressed were readily dismissed, the assumption being that I was some kind of Luddite naturally resistant to change. And of course, for those who harboured notions of advancement, objecting to any new 'paradigm' would have been tantamount to career suicide, the institution of education quite Machiavellian in imposing its own brand of control on critical thinking.
It was therefore with some satisfaction that I read a piece in today's Star entitled Let’s unplug the digital classroom. Written by Doug Mann, professor in the sociology department and in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, it argues that the ubiquity of digital technology in educational settings is not an unalloyed good, and suggests what some would regard as drastic measures in an effort to curb the distractions students fall prey to whilst in the thrall of that technology.
Cross-posted at Education and Its Discontents.
Oh yes, I am in a bit of a scolding mood this morning, and the object of my vituperation is that substantial group of Canadians who demonstrate their apolitical natures by sitting out elections.
You know who you are: the ones with an array of excuses for not rousing yourselves from the couch - I'm not a political person, I don't understand politics, there's no one to vote for, they're all the same, they get elected and then forget their constituents, they're only in it for themselves, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
All of these trifling justifications for apathy and indolence ignore one very important fact: politics is not an arcane science accessible to the few; politics, in fact, permeates almost every aspect of our lives, and the decisions of those who don't have the time of day to consider voting influence everything from the minimum-wage job they or their son or daughter or spouse may be working in to the healthcare they receive to the livability of the community they reside in. Ultimately, as Tip O'Neil once said, "All politics is local."
My reflections were prompted by two stories in today's Star, both of which are shown side-by-side in the online edition. One is about how Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is faring in the polls, and the other details preposterous allegations that the latest job figures released in the U.S. showing a decline in joblessness is attributable to Obama's people 'cooking the books.'
First to the Ford poll. While the majority feel that Ford is doing a bad job, a whopping 97 per cent of hardcore Ford fans — those who voted for him in 2010 and plan to do so again — think the mayor is doing a good job providing leadership.
If you think about the implications of that figure, you may come to the conclusion that if those enthusiasts turn out in the next Toronto election and those who 'aren't interested in politics' stay home, the man epitomizing magisterial ineptitude may very well go on to a second term in the city that once called itself 'world class.'
At this juncture, one can't help but think of the hardcore true believers who gave Stephen Harper his majority, just 39.7 percent of those who bothered to go to the ballot box. Of those eligible to vote, about 40 percent stayed at home, presumably to watch the Shopping Channel or similarly diversionary 'entertainment.'
The second story, Team Obama accused of ‘cooking the books’ over employment figures, deals with accusations from the usual suspects, again those who are put into office by zealots who also subscribe to notions such as 9/11 conspiracies, faked moon landings, and underground alien bases on earth. And doubtless, as the presidential election comes every closer, this impossible manipulation of jobless figures will become gospel with that crowd who will almost certainly turn out at the ballot box to put an end to such rank government cabalistic deception.
While I realize most readers of political blogs are not likely to be the benighted souls I have described above, I have to admit this rant felt good.
And the choice of whether to embrace or ignore their duties as citizens rests, of course, with everyone.
Comedians like Don Rickles, whenever he felt slighted, would turn to host Johnny Carson and ask, "What am I, chopped liver?"
I couldn't help but think of that line when I read this story in today's Star, which reveals the following:
[The Canadian Food Inspection Agency] stopped allowing XL Foods to export its beef to the U.S. on Sept. 13, but did not inform Canadians about the health hazard or the voluntary recalls until after it had completed an in-depth investigation at the plant on Sept. 16.
It would seem the Harper government is not the only body that holds the Canadian public in contempt.
“XL Foods is committed to producing high-quality beef products and the safety and well-being of our consumers is our number one priority. We will continue to act in their best interests throughout the implementation of the enhanced food safety systems. Food safety is simply too important to our customers, our employees and our business.”
It issued no apology to those who have fallen ill – four cases, none of them fatal, have been linked to the recall, with more under investigation. Instead, echoing its previous statements, XL Foods said simply it’s committed to food quality.
With their tendency toward passivity and indifference, will the Canadian public deem this platitudinous public relations effort sufficient?
[Former Ontario Premier Mike] Harris assumed that small Ontario towns like Walkerton would have the good sense to keep their drinking water clean.
[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper assumed that profit-making companies would make sure that their consumers received safe products.
In both cases, they were wrong.
This excerpt from Thomas Walkom's Star column is a sobering reminder of the potentially deadly consequences of the deregulation mentality embraced by the right-wing in conjunction with its credo that business can do things better and more efficiently than government.
The shortcomings of such naive faith in industry self-regulation becomes obvious as more information is revealed about the XL Foods tainted meat scandal that has prompted the biggest recall in Canadian history. As reported earlier, three weeks elapsed between the discovery of E.coli in XL Foods' Lakeside Packers plant in Alberta and the actual meat recall. The responsibility for the time lag appears to rest solely with the company.
As reported by Joanna Smith in today's Star,
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture both discovered E. coli O157:H7 ... on beef products originating from the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alta. on Sept. 4.
A request for full documentation of the problem was made on Sept.6 by the frontline staff of CFIA stationed at XL, but the documentation was not forthcoming.
The following statement is probably the most damning evidence of the failings of industry self-regulation:
“There was a delay in getting it . . . We have limited authority to compel immediate documentation,” George Da Pont, president of the food inspection agency, said during a news conference in Calgary on Wednesday.
Now in crisis mode, expect more fatuous assurances by the Harper regime of the safety of our food supply, even as its latest budget reduces the funding required to keep Canadian foods safe by 27 per cent.
But at least Harper Inc. is sending out a clear message to potential investors: Canada is open for business as it continues to reduce red tape and the 'heavy hand' of government 'interference.'
P.S. You might want to pack your own lunch.
So goes the title of The Star's editorial this morning as it raises some very pressing questions about how over three weeks elapsed between the discovery of E.coli in the XL Foods' Lakeside Packers plant in Alberta and the meat recall that will likely be the largest in Canadian history.
In a stunning display of ministerial incompetence, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's claims that Canada’s food inspection system has done a “tremendous job”. To make matters worse, at one point he thought that no potentially tainted beef had made it to store shelves.
As I noted yesterday, we can expect no accountability in the foreseeable future from a government that had largely delegated our food safety to industry self-regulation. However, perhaps a sobering understatement by Bob Kingston, president of the food inspectors’ Agriculture Union, puts things into their needed perspective:
Ottawa has put too much faith in private companies to do their own testing.
Unfortunately, I suspect those words will fork no lightning with the ideologically-driven Harper regime.
In light of the widespread dissemination of tainted beef by XL Foods, one has to ask the role changes made by the Harper regime in Canada's food inspection process played.
According to a Globe report,
The list of stores and products affected by the recall is now so long that consumers are advised to inquire at the point of purchase whether the beef they’re buying came from XL Foods.
Exactly how could this have happened? Despite the fact that it was September 4th when E.coli was first detected in the plant, it wasn't until three weeks later that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency acted.
The answer seems to lie in cost-cutting changes implemented by our government 'protectors' in Ottawa which naively (or is it ideologically?) place a great deal of faith in the industry's capacity to self-regulate.
As noted in the preamble on the CFIA website,
The CFIA and industry both have roles to play in achieving safe, wholesome products for consumers. The CFIA conducts inspections, tests products and verifies that industry is complying with the regulations that the CFIA enforces. Industry plays an important role in keeping Canada's food safe by identifying and managing food safety risks and by complying with all of Canada's food safety regulations.
A far more detailed breakdown of the responsibilities of industry can be found on the site, but amongst the most noteworthy is the following:
It is in the food industry's best interest to comply with regulations. In fact, industry works to:
Identify potential sources of food contamination
Update production practices to eliminate risk
Comply with the inspection and testing protocols
Pull unsafe products from the marketplace
Clearly, this did not happen with XL Foods, whose list of recalls now numbers over 33 pages, recalls that were not initiated until CFIA suspended its licence three weeks after the discovery of E.coli.
But don't expect the Harper cabal to admit their complicity anytime soon. When questioned in the House of Commons by both Thomas Mulcair and Bob Rae, misdirection was the order of the day. I won't bother reproducing the lies here, but please do check them out on the Macleans website.
All of the political jockeying amply demonstrates one thing: our representatives are very adept at protecting themselves; it is unfortunate that they are unwilling to do the same for us.
That's who Calgary West Conservative M.P. reminds me of. You know, like the slightly off uncle who says embarrassing and inappropriate things at family get-togethers that cause the rest of the guests to cringe, stare off into the distance, and quickly try to change the topic.
This kind of lunacy must give pause to even the staunchest of believer.
Oh, and in case you forgot, Anders is also infamous for his short attention span in the House of Common:
To suggest that the Harper regime is working relentlessly to diminish the Canadian soul is hardly a remarkable insight. Examples abound of its flinty resolve to undermine traditional Canadian values and virtues, compassion and fairness apparently at the top of its 'hit list'.
But while the Conservatives seek to remake Canada in its own morally impoverished image, it is important for all of us to see the human victims of such a governance model.
A number of such faces come into stark relief if one explores the consequences of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's changes to health care coverage for failed refugee claimants and those from a yet-to-be defined list of "safe" countries [who] will only receive medical care if their condition is deemed a risk to public health or safety.
Here is one example of a woman who, ultimately, did qualify for care but, thanks to the widespread confusion created by the bill, suffered needless stress during a very vulnerable time in her life:
The call came 35 weeks into her pregnancy, right around the time her abdominal cramps began. It was the receptionist from her gynecologist's office saying the government's changes to the Interim Federal Health Program meant her prenatal care was no longer covered.
That's when Tiffany started to panic.
"I asked, `What am I supposed to do?'... I got scared," recalled the 27-year-old originally from the Caribbean.
"She told me that if I come and see the doctor I would have to pay the doctor a fee."
Unfortunately, even sympathetic and compassionate medical personnel are reaching the limits of help they can provide. As reported in today's Star,
Both the Scarborough Community Volunteer Clinic and Muslim Welfare Centre Clinic — the city’s two mainstays for uninsured patients — have reported an influx of refugee patients as a result of the cuts. “Our clinic is at a sustainability crisis point. Everybody is under the gun here and we are swamped. Some nights, it’s being crowd control,” said Dr. Paul Caulford, who operates the Scarborough clinic with seven other family doctors.
The article goes on to detail that many of the patients have chronic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, and the clinics are their last hope to receive medications that are covered by donations.
Anna Elumah is another of the human faces of this story. when her two-year-old daughter received stitches after a fall at the shelter where she, her brother and her mother are staying, Elumah was told to go to a community clinic to have them removed.
“We went to a clinic on Morningside. They looked at my paper and said, ‘It’s no good anymore. Go somewhere else,’” recalled Elumah, who also was suffering a nagging headache after she ran out of her medication for high blood pressure.
Her caseworker referred her to the Scarborough clinic, where she receives free drugs for her hypertension and asthma inhalers for her 8-year-old son, Davids.
In answer to all of this, there is the noble lie:
“The changes ensure bona fide refugees continue to receive comprehensive health coverage, while illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers from safe, democratic countries no longer receive health insurance that is superior to what is generally available to taxpaying Canadians,” said Alexis Pavlich, a spokesperson for Jason Kenney.
So, our choice as citizens is clear. We can, as the government wants, turn our backs on the most vulnerable, failed refugee claimants who will eventually be sent back to their own countries, or we can treat them with compassion and care while they are here, something every human being deserves, and something well within even our weakened economic means to provide.