Monday, December 10, 2018

The High Price Of Willful Ignorance

The other day I wrote a post entitled The Cost of Disengagement. Today's post might be considered a companion piece, inasmuch as disengagement and ignorance often go hand-in-hand. And sadly, much of that ignorance is willful.

I have been a lifelong reader of newspapers; my first memory of them is when my mother would read the comics to me. As soon as I mastered reading, because our house always had a newspaper, I naturally gravitated toward them, initially only in a superficial way that, over the years, grew to include reading stories on local, provincial and federal politics. At about the age of 12 I started what became a lifelong habit of writing letters to the editor. Engagement for me was never a problem.

It therefore pains me that this latter stage of my life has been witness to the decline of news journals. Many have abandoned them in favour of newsfeeds on social media that reflect rather than expand their worldview; others feel there is no need to pay for the news, that it somehow materializes out of the ether, gratis. And still others say that their lives are so busy, they have no time for either politics or any form of news, a complete cop-out for most, in my view. (Even at my busiest as an English teacher, I always took time for papers, either at breakfast, at school, or after work - it is the price of responsible citizenship.)

These sorts of thoughts go through my mind almost every morning over breakfast as I read my print edition of The Toronto Star. Almost every day there are stories in it that are of importance on either the provincial or the national level. Today is one such day, as the implications become clearer of the impending Bill 66, the so-called “Open for Business” act that, in typical Doug Ford hyperbole, will create all kinds of jobs. They are jobs, however, that will potentially come at a very high cost.

Jennifer Pagliaro reminds us of an earlier period of deregulation that led to disastrous results in Walkerton, Ontario:
The tainted-water scandal in Walkerton in the spring of 2000 devastated the community, with thousands falling ill and seven people dying. It was one of the worst health epidemics in the province’s history.

According to the conclusions of an inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy, in May 2000, some 2,321 people became ill from two types of bacteria, including a type of dangerous E. coli, after heavy rainfall caused flooding that flushed the bacteria from cow manure near a farm into one of three groundwater wells that was the source of water for Walkerton.

The number of people who fell ill represented about half the town’s population.

It was concluded after much investigation that the water coming out of the taps in Walkerton had not been properly treated so as to kill off the deadly bacteria, and the tragedy could have been prevented if proper monitoring, protections and oversight had existed.
And now, history seems prepared to repeated itself under Ford's Bill 66:
The stated purpose of the proposed bill, called the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, is to cut “red tape” around planning approvals for businesses looking to invest in local communities.

Under the proposed legislation, if a development has the support of both the municipal government and the province and can demonstrate it would create 50 new jobs in areas with populations under 250,000, or 100 jobs for bigger cities, it could get the green light despite possibly being detrimental to the environment.
One of the key problems with the bill is that it will roll back protections legislated in the Clean Water Act, which came about as a direct result of the Walkerton tragedy.
On Friday, Theresa McClenaghan and Richard Lindgren, respectively the executive director and counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) ... said the attempt to prevent a particular section of the Clean Water Act from applying to certain types of new development is both “objectionable and risk-laden.”

The particular section of the act that would not apply to new developments approved under the “open for business” rules is not some “obscure” provision in the law, but the key part of the act that requires land-use planning decisions in the province to protect safe drinking water, they said.
So that's what I got today from reading a newspaper to which I subscribe. I could go on and tell you how Bill 66 also imperils Greenbelt protection, as Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, writes in the same paper today, but I'll let you read that for yourself.

That is, if you are one of those willing to pay for the news.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Cost Of Disengagement

I have reached a point in my life where I hold out little hope for our collective future. It is one of the reasons I post less frequently these days. Writing about the word's ills often seems futile.

But that is not to say that I have lost my capacity for outrage. And outrage is what I feel today.

While today's topic pertains to what is happening in Ontario, there is an issue here that has a much wider application: the cost of political disengagement.

It seems to me that Ontario serves as an object lesson for what happens when people either completely ignore politics and don't vote, or vote on the basis of ignorance, anger or the seductive nonsense offered by a demagogue. The typical result is what we see in the Doug Ford majority government, a government purportedly "for the people" that is systematically stripping away workers' rights, French language rights and environmental protections, to name but three, while operating in a way that is costing taxpayers billions of dollars in lost cap-and trade revenue and hundreds of millions owing to its ineptitude.

The occasion of my current outrage is the impending Bill 66, “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act” an omnibus bill that will do tremendous damage on a number of fronts, damage that the people Ford is 'for' will have to contend with. Writes The Star's Edward Keenan:
The omnibus bill quietly plans to amend dozens of pieces of existing legislation affecting 12 different ministries, all to “cut red tape that’s standing in the way” of “making Ontario competitive again.”

Sounds harmless enough.

Until you read about what is actually being cut: labour regulation, child protection, clean water safeguards, even the greenbelt legislation the provincial Progressive Conservatives promised on the campaign trail they would protect “in its entirety.”
And the damage it will inflict is extensive:
Child-care protections: Bill 66 changes the number of babies — children under the age of 2 — that can be cared for by a single adult in an unlicensed home-based daycare from two to three. The existing regulation came into effect in 2015, after children died in unlicensed daycares.

Environmental and planning protections: The bill would allow municipalities to pass bylaws under the Ford government’s beloved “Open For Business” slogan (literally, they would be called “open for business planning bylaws”) that would exempt developers of commercial or industrial uses such as factories from a whole slew of regulations. Among them are those contained in the Greenbelt Act and the Places to Grow Act, the environmental protection anti-sprawl legislation that Ford famously promised not to touch [after he was caught on video promising developers that he would open it up] during the election campaign.
Also at risk under this bill is our drinking water:
... it could exempt developers from are those that protect the Great Lakes and other sources of drinking water, including the Clean Water Act, which was brought into force after the Walkerton tragedy that killed seven people and sickened thousands of others through contaminated drinking water. The bill also repeals the Toxics Reduction Act meant to reduce pollution by preventing industrial uses of certain toxic chemicals.

Labour protections: Among other changes weakening employee protections, this bill would exempt municipalities, hospitals, universities and other big public institutions from rules requiring them to use unionized contractors for infrastructure projects. If the government wants to debate the merits of collective bargaining, it can do so, but it shouldn’t sneak big changes to worker protections through on the misleading premise that it is just clearing away red tape.
I could go on, but I think you get the emerging picture, one that immorally imperils the people Ford claims he is 'for', all in the service of uncontrolled development and deregulation that will serve the interests of the people he is really for.

And I don't think you need me to spell out who that is.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

Not to mention a once-proud country.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Refusing To Go Along To Get Along

The stench of corruption and cronyism that permeates the Ford government here in Ontario is hard to ignore. (See Martin Regg Cohn's column on the latest example, the appointment of Ford pal Ron Taverner as the new and egregiously unqualified head of the OPP.) And while the times are indeed dark in this once proud province, with Ford cabinet members such as Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney regularly prostituting themselves, it is heartening to know that some people will not go along to get along, refusing to surrender their integrity, even when that refusal comes at a high cost.

One such person is Cindy Veinot. She deserves both our attention and our respect.
The Ontario government’s chief accountant resigned earlier this fall because she refused to sign off on Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s inflated $15 billion deficit, the Star has learned.

Cindy Veinot, the provincial controller, quit in September because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”
The issue revolves around the purported size of the provincial deficit, team Ford contending it is $15 billion, while others regard the government co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as assets, lowering the deficit by about $5 billion.

It would seem that Ms. Veinot is well-qualified to offer an informed assessment:
Veinot, a leading expert on pension accounting who finished first among 63,000 candidates in the 1998 certified public accountants exam in the U.S., contends the holdings are an asset.
So afraid are the provincial Tories of her truth that they have blocked her from testifying at the 'transparency' standing committee examining the state of the province's finances:
Tory sources, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, admit there has been concern over what Veinot might say under oath.
And so it goes. Corruption and cronyism continue apace at Doug Ford's hectoring hands, with most willing to do what they can to curry and maintain his favour.

How it must gall the premier and his disciples that not all souls can be bought.

Monday, December 3, 2018

UPDATED: An Incisive Medical Assessment

This needs no commentary from me.

UPDATE: And here's further proof:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

How Many People Really Care?

Tony Burman writes that worldwide, democracy is dying:
In October, a Stockholm-based international institute updated its report on “The Global State of Democracy” — a study of the performance of 158 countries since 1975. It reported an “alarming” decline in the past year in the health of democracy worldwide, warning that “democracy’s global rise has come to a halt.”

According to the study, “the number of countries experiencing democratic decline is now greater than the number experiencing democratic gains,” the first time that’s happened since 1980.
Some of the key features of democratic societies are being unraveled by the state:
... its basic tenets — including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press and the rule of law — came under attack around the world.”
One of the worst offenders is Hungary, as The New York Times reports:
In many ways, Hungary has foreshadowed the democratic backsliding now evident in different corners of the world. Since winning power in 2010, Mr. Orban has steadily eroded institutional checks and balances, especially the independent media. His government now oversees state-owned news outlets, while his allies control most of the country’s private media sources, creating a virtual echo chamber for Mr. Orban’s far right, anti-immigrant views.
The results have been devastating for democracy. A leading news website called Origo, once one of the Orban government's most incisive critics, is now one of its biggest boosters:
“Let’s look at the affairs of Laszlo Botka!” a headline blared this month in a salacious take on the only mayor of a major Hungarian city not aligned with Mr. Orban’s party, Fidesz. “Serious scandals, mysteries surround the socialist mayor of Szeged.”
Taken for granted, democracy has always been fragile. The need to nurture and protect its traditions has never been greater. Unfortunately today, both internationally and domestically, far too many are content to ignore the depredations of government as long as their own backyard is tended to. People ignore their responsibilities as citizens. Voter turnout is poor. The free press in North America struggles for relevance and revenue as more and more seek their news for free from Twitter and Facebook feeds, both notoriously susceptible to manipulation and fake news.

All the signs of impending democratic disaster are there, but ultimately, the question becomes, "How many people really care?"