Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Harper Budget's Attack On Charities

Although hardly surprising, given both the ideological bent of the Harper regime and earlier warnings from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, there is little doubt that the provisions of the new federal budget authorizing an $8-million special audit by Canada Revenue Agency to see if charities are adhering to the 10-per-cent political advocacy limit is aimed directly at the 'enemies' of this regime.

While the charitable status of overtly political foundations such as the C.D Howe Institute, The Fraser Institute, and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy seem to enjoy a special immunity from scrutiny, those whose vision of Canada run counter to Harper's are undoubtedly in for a very rough ride.

Paul Waldie has an interesting piece on the implication of this new measure, suggesting that a kind of chill will now permeate environmental organizations, precisely the intention, I am sure, of the Harper regime that has no interest in respecting differences of opinion, an intolerance typical of extreme right-wing thinking and its refusal/inability to comprehend nuanced thinking.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thomas Walkom's Budget Analysis

Earlier today I wrote a post congratulating The Toronto Star for its journalistic integrity and the crucial role it plays in helping to keep citizens informed of the important issues affecting our country. Columnist Thomas Walkom, who epitomizes that integrity, has written his analysis of the federal budget, reminding us all of the subtle yet undeniable strategy being utilized by the Harper regime in altering (my word would be 'perverting') the ideological landscape of Canada, elevating the interests of private profit over the collective good. It is an article I highly recommend.

Disappointing Reaction to OAS Changes

Yesterday, I was deeply disappointed while watching televised 'person-in-the-street' reactions to the changes in Old Age Security ensconced in the federal budget. One young person expressed his approval of the change, another said he never really expected a pension by the time he retires anyway, a middle-aged woman approved because people at the age of 65 are now healthier than in the past and should therefore keep working and, perhaps most surprising of all, a 61-year-old woman employed in a restaurant said it made no difference to her, since she will not be able to afford to retire when she is 65 anyway.

At first I attributed this strange reaction to a lack of critical thinking skills, combined with the power of Harper government propaganda, but that probably is only a partial explanation at best. Reading Rick Salutin's column this morning shed additional insight on that reaction, suggesting as it does that people under the age of 40 or so only know the neo-conservative agenda that has been so vigorously promoted since the time of Reagan and Thatcher, and therefore they lack a larger context within which to evaluate government policy.

I highly recommend the article, as it is the last column Salutin will be writing for awhile as he takes time off to write a series on democratic renewal.

Congratulations to The Toronto Star

Since jettisoning my subscription to The Globe and Mail, the self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record,' and replacing it with one to The Toronto Star, I have been consistently impressed with both the scope and breadth of the latter's coverage, coverage that has resulted in many important investigations and changes. I was therefore very pleased to read in today's edition that The Star now has more than 1 million readers per day, making it the most widely read paper in Canada.

I think a large part of its success is attributable to its mandate to cover social issues, as well as the fact that during a period of print journalism contraction, the Star is spending the resources necessary to cover the issues that people need in order to make informed decisions. Unlike the Globe, which promotes a very conservative agenda and seems to have a target audience of the corporate elite, The Star makes no apologies for writing to a broader audience with the goal of promoting the kind of dynamic debate, change and accountability that is essential to a healthy democracy.

I will close by saying that the existence of The Star and its socially responsible agenda provides me with at least a modicum of hope for a better future.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seismic Activity Reported In Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, England

In one of the best examples of doublespeak I have encountered in a long time, Ontario Finance Minister had this to say about wage freezes and bargaining rights yesterday:

“Bargaining in good faith is not only the right choice to make, the Supreme Court of Canada requires it,” the finance minister said, emphasizing the goal is “not about demonizing teachers or nurses.”

“Where agreements cannot be reached that are consistent with the government’s plan to balance the budget . . . we are prepared to propose necessary administrative and legislative measures to protect the public from service disruptions — and also to protect jobs for teachers, education staff, and health-care workers,” he said.

High-placed Liberals insist that seismic disturbances detected in Sutton Courtney, Oxfordshire, the burial site of George Orwell, at the time of Duncan's announcement are mere coincidences.

The Ontario Budget: Andrea Horwath's Dilemma

Being the leader of an opposition party in Ontario just got a lot more difficult for one person yesterday. No, I'm not referring to young Tim (not ready for prime-time politics) Hudak, whose response to the Ontario's austerity budget was both swift and predictable:

“It fails to address the job crisis or runaway spending … and we can’t support it,” Hudak said, but he stopped well short of threatening to dethrone the minority Liberals.

The translation of young Tim's response? The cuts weren't deep enough, and taxes weren't lowered to create jobs, hardly a surprise given the Tory leader's simplistic world view and faith in magical thinking.

No, the real problem is for NDP leader Andrea Horwath who has deferred judgment on the budget in order to poll Ontario residents to see whether they believe Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s budget is so unpalatable that they would be prepared to see the minority government fall.

“We are going to be having a very serious discussion with Ontarians as to how far short it falls,” she said.

On the one hand, political realities being what they are, Horwath's party cannot afford to seem too cozy with the public sector unions who will bear the main brunt of this budget through wage freezes and pension reductions. On the other hand, of course, the NDP cannot afford to abandon its support of working people, no matter how reviled by other working people certain segments are.

For Horvath to opt to support the budget on the morsel tossed to her by McGuinty, the freezing of further reductions in the corporate tax rate until 2017-18, would seem too small to earn her approval. How can that freeze balance out what essentially is the abrogation of public sector bargaining rights for the next two years?

Will she approve the budget after consultations with the public, the outcome of which is predictable? (Ontarians have told us they are not happy with the budget, but do not want another election over it.) Will she stand on principle and defeat the budget?

But wait, there is a third, though hardly honourable option.

I may be dead wrong here (it wouldn't be the first time) but Horwath, after a suitable period has elapsed, could announce that she will not be supporting the budget but, taking a page out of the playbook of the federal Liberals, ensure that two members are not in the Legislature on the day of the vote, thereby ensuring its passage.

It is a maneuver I neither advocate nor favour. It was that same repeated practice by the Liberal Party in the House of Commons that convinced me that they really stand for nothing except the bald desire for a return to power.

While the outcome will be fascinating to watch, I do not envy Andrea Horwath the choices that await her.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vic Has A Warning For All of Us

Our alleged Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, issued the following warning today:

Online hacker group Anonymous a threat to us all

Maybe. Or perhaps it is a threat only to those who seem to have an unhealthy, intrusive, and/or pruient interest in our Internet lives.

The Pleasures of Ford-Spotting

Were I a fully actualized human being, I would no doubt lead an exemplary life, the proud possessor of a heart filled with love for both friends and enemies. Alas, I am not such a person, and so I freely confess to the on-going delight and pleasure I take when things go awry in the fantasy world of the right-wing.

I suspect that is at least part of the explanation for my ongoing fascination with the 'mind' of Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, about whom I have written several times already. The latest source of my impure pleasure is the Chief Magistrate's total obliviousness to (or absolute indifference to) the caricature of administrative competence that he conveys to the world, at the same time heedlessly dragging down with him any notion of Toronto as a 'world-class city.'

His latest contribution to my merriment came in an article in today's Star, where the big boy threatens to unleash the "Wrath of Kong" against a former MPP under Mike Harris, Councillor John Parker, for falling to support his one-track mind on subways.

As a consequence of this failure of fealty, the ungentle giant is saying he will turn the 2014 election into a de facto referendum on council’s transit votes, ... hinting publicly he will support an effort to defeat Parker.

Nothing I enjoy more than a good cat fight among right-wing extremists.

Ontario's Impending Austerity Budget

Reading my morning Star, I learned that there is wide-spread support among the public for austerity measures to reduce Ontario's deficit. I suspect that there will be a particular appetite for the following:

Hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses and all other public employees face higher pension contributions or reduced payouts to keep their plans sustainable, the Ontario government will announce Tuesday.

Although I am a former teacher receiving one of those 'lavish pensions' that come with no benefits (I pay about $3,000 per year for supplementary health insurance), I shall not use this space to offer a defense of them, except to observe that the money for that pension comes from a hefty percentage deduction of my salary over the years, along with the government's contribution.

No, what I really want to say is that the reaction of the various public sector union leaders to this austerity program with be a telling barometer of the health of the union movement provincially and nationally.
Conventional wisdom is that unions in North America have been under attack for some time, and the success of that attack is clear in the erosion of union membership over the years; however, unions have to take part of the responsibility for that decline, frequently serving the members with the less-than-sterling leadership they deserve, a topic I have written about on more than one occasion.

For example, after the divisive and hateful reign of Mike Harris and his comrades came to an end in Ontario, the leadership at OSSTF, my former federation, embraced Dalton Mcguinty and his policies uncritically, and I believe it was at that point, to borrow a thought from Chris Hedges and his Death of the Liberal Class that the union, a traditional liberal institution, failed to hold true to its values, instead essentially giving its stamp of approval to everything the government did, thereby selling out to the corporate agenda.

So, in what looks to be a major budgetary attack on the public sector, how the unions respond could give a very good indication of their future health and viability.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Agitation At The Globe and Mail Continues

In the throes of some form of political delirium tremens since Thomas Mulcair's election as leader of the NDP, the Globe and Mail has apparently lost its lexicographical grasp, describing three resignations from the party with the following hyperbole:

Communications director joins NDP exodus under Mulcair

Expect more of the same as panic continues at Canada's self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record.'

Rob Ford Continues to Embarrass Himself

'Mayoral ineptitude' is probably only one of the many terms that could be used to characterize Toronto's Chief magistrate, Rob Ford. Not only has he regularly demonstrated his unfitness for municipal leadership over his inflexible position on public transit (subways, subways, subways), but he continues to embarrass himself and demean his office through the vehicle of his and brother Doug's weekly radio show.

Apparently happy to burn all bridges with councillors who don't share his monomaniacal enthusiasm for underground transit at any cost, Ford used his show to try to recruit candidates for the next election. Declaring a 'fatwa' against those who have a different perspective, one based on reason and cost analysis, Mayor Rob intoned:

“But you know what? We need to run a slate next time,” Ford said. “We have to get rid of these other 24 councillors.”

He was referring to the 24 councillors who backed light rail over Ford’s proposal to extend the subway system.

Continuing in the demagogic and absolutist vein so loved by the right-wing, he continued:

“You’re on our side or against us. You’re on the taxpayer’s side or against them. There’s no mushy middle. It’s left or right down there.”

Thus the campaign for the next municipal election in 2014 has begun. But what becomes of Toronto in the interim?

Harper Inc. Continues To Deform Our National Ethos

While it is probably impossible to define the soul of a nation, one aspect of the Canadian psyche must surely be a generosity of spirit and a concern for the collective that is absent in many other nations.

It is the relentless attack upon this very spirit, with the intention of minimizing its influence in policy formulation, that I find the most reprehensible aspect of the Harper regime. While I have written before about these efforts, I was reminded of them in reading Tim Harper's column this morning in The Star. A few excerpts follow:

Mulcair had barely made his way to the stage late Saturday when the Conservative party fired off a release, branding him “an opportunist,’’ a man with blind ambition and a divisive personality.

There was Maxime Bernier, a minister of state from Stephen Harper’s tiny Quebec team, branding Mulcair a socialist, a man who will raise your taxes, take away your freedom and intervene daily in your life.

Then Heritage Minister James Moore entered the fray, bringing the attack up yet another notch, referring to Mulcair’s “vicious streak,” then repeating that he was “vicious and personal’’ in his approach to politics.

While these attempts at character assassination can be dismissed as simply reflections of the gutter politics with which Harper and his acolytes are intimately familiar, their costs can be high indeed, as pointed out by a Star reader this morning:

Re: PM disgusts voters with attack ads, Column, March 22

I am really concerned for the Canadian psyche. Here we go again with negative ads even though we are not in an election. What a message for every child in the schoolyard — name-calling, half-truths and demeaning another person's character are okay. Politics is destroying our civil society instead of providing much-needed leadership. The Conservatives should be inspiring us to work together for a better country. They should be talking about policies that will lead to a better, more cohesive society rather than attempting to humiliate the opposition.

They need to stop the negative ads and start focusing on their own party platform. Continuing that negativity will serve as a wedge in our country that can only get bigger and bigger.

Bonnie Bacvar, North York

It is a point well-taken, but one which this Harper Conservative government, I suspect, doesn't give a damn about.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Globe and Mail Pronounces on the NDP

Well, I guess the rest of us can stop thinking, now that John Stackhouse and the lads over at the Globe and Mail have done it for us.

NDP: still not a credible alternative reads the title of their editorial.

Could it be that 'the paper of record' which consistently and unabashedly endorses Harper each election is feeling just a trifle nervous?

From The Bottom Of The Swamp: Conservative Reaction to Mulcair's Victory

Why does the Conservative Party's classlessness never really surprise me?

On Saturday, before Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a chance to congratulate the new leader of the Official Opposition, the Conservative party had already released a statement attacking the New Democrat.

"Thomas Mulcair is an opportunist whose high-tax agenda, blind ambition and divisive personality would put Canadian families and their jobs at risk," said a statement by Conservative spokesperson Fred DeLorey.

"Mulcair has said he would bring back a risky, job-killing carbon tax which would raise the price of everything — even though Canadians overwhelmingly rejected carbon taxes," warned DeLorey.

How can any thinking Canadian have any respect for these people?

Rob Ford and Subways

While I know that the selection of Thomas Mulcair is the major topic of discussion today, I shall defer to those more knowledgeable than I and return to a topic of regional interest, but a topic that also, I think, sheds light on the right-wing mentality: Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford.

While I have previously written about the benighted mayor and his minions, they continue to fascinate me, providing as they do a window into the alternative reality they apparently inhabit, the best example being their dogged insistence on subways over more practical, less expensive forms of urban transit such as LRT.

What is especially striking in the entire debate that culminated in the humiliating defeat of Ford's vision is a) the ideological footprint behind the obsession (cars, as emblems of individual freedom, must have precedence over the collective good), and b) the refusal to accept that it is too expensive without raising taxes and/or user fees (Ford's insistence that once 'shovels are in the ground', private money will magically appear).

For me then, the politics of Toronto sharply parallel our national government, insistent as it is on measures that have no utility or are not needed (think omnibus crime bill) and the frank insistence that continuing to lower tax rates for corporation in light of massive deficits, naively and without empirical proof insisting that they create and maintain jobs in Canada (think Electro-Motive Canada or Vale Inco).

Finally, today's Star has a letter that prompted some of these Sunday morning reflections; I am taking the liberty of reproducing it below. it provides a logic and reasoning seemingly absent from the Ford Inc. worldview:

Re: Ford transit agenda buried by council, March 23

Rob Ford is right about one thing regarding the current transit issue. Generally, people do want subways. They are faster, they have a higher capacity than LRT and, let’s face it, those new trains running on the Yonge line are pretty cool. I love subways and wish we could have more of them. But I also want to live in the penthouse of the new Trump hotel, eat out every night at expensive restaurants, and travel the world and never have to work again. But then, reality hits. I simply don’t have the money for that kind of lifestyle.

Rob Ford will likely take Thursday’s council decision as a direct personal attack, when all he really had to do was show council the money. All this could have gone the other way if he didn’t act like a schoolyard bully so often. So much of being the mayor is in the approach you take with the other elected council members and the citizens you represent. Even Adam Vaughn would have supported a continuation of the Sheppard subway if the Fords were able to present a viable business plan on how to fund it.

On this particular issue, it’s all about the money. Subways simply cost much more than LRTs and take longer to build. It seems like we’re just compromising with LRTs, but we’re not. They will be great because they will be in their own dedicated lanes. Despite what you may have heard, zero car lanes on Sheppard are being sacrificed. However, there might have been a way to fund the subway even it was just one kilometre a year. But an eleventh hour parking tax proposal, which seemed to have little or no research behind it, came across as the act of a desperate child who isn’t getting his way. If there had been a well-studied new levy or a tax that went directly to new subway construction and progress was being made, most people would have probably been okay with that. Had Ford done his homework before declaring Transit City dead, rescinding the vehicle registration tax and promising subways while freezing property taxes, he would be in a much better mood today.

Joel Zigler, Toronto

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shelagh Gordon's Influence Lives On

Shelagh Gordon, the woman recently profiled in The Star after her sudden death at the age of 55, continues to exert a pull on the thousands of readers who were touched by the story of a life so well-lived. The Star's Catherine Porter has written a followup that deserves to be read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jack Layton vs. Stephen Harper

I've just spent about the last 45 minutes watching the tribute to Jack Layton at the NDP leadership convention. The heartfelt praise about Jack's humanity, his real love of and interest in people, suggests a life well-lived, despite its tragic shortness.

That got me thinking of what a tribute to Stephen Harper would look like, and I can't imagine anything but a very staged and forced production, the reason summed up very nicely in Act 5 Scene 3 of Shakespeares's Macbeth, as the tyrant nears the end of his life and frankly assesses its emptiness, recognizing that he has no friends, only sycophantic followers:

I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. (5.3.22)

A Video Rebuke of Rob Ford

Thanks to sol chom for posting this. I couldn't resist passing it on:

Rick Salutin Today

While the CBC's Peter Mansbridge may often pronounce ponderously and authoritatively on issues, there is another source of information that should, in many ways, be taken more seriously, says Rick Salutin in his column today.

Well worth the read.

The Consequences of Expressing An Opinion In HarperWorld

Just a brief post here. Apparently airport groundworkers in Toronto and Montreal are out on a wildcat strike as a result of three members expressing an opinion of Labour Minister Lisa Rait:

Strikers accused Pearson airport security of heavy handedness after they said three of their fellow ground workers were suspended for clapping derisively when federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt came through the airport on a flight Thursday evening.

“Workers started clapping and saying, ‘Thanks for taking our right to strike,’” ramp worker Geoff Ward, 52, said.

“Corporate security were trying to provoke us,” said baggage worker Pascal Leroux, 43. “The reaction was heavy-handed.”

Full story here.

Police Chief Bill Blair Well-Rebuked

Oh, there is much in the news today to report and comment on, but I'll start with something close to my heart: Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, whom I regard as an unindicted co-conspirator in the police violence that erupted during peaceful protests at the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto.

In a previous post, I reported how the Chief was offended by the phrase 'the banality of evil' used by a criminal lawyer in an article on the propensity toward racial profiling of the Toronto Police. Today, a Star reader, Paul de Groot, takes him to task:

Re: Arendt reference is offensive, Letter March 16

Police chief Bill Blair justly faults criminal lawyer Reid Rosonik for his comparison of the disproportionate arrests of blacks in the GTA to the “banality of evil” as demonstrated by the Nazis. He is on shaky ground, however, when he levels the charges of intellectual laziness and unpersuasiveness.

Chief Blair’s stonewalling and intellectual indifference in the face of overwhelming and endless evidence of police wrongdoing during the G20 fiasco, hardly qualify him to make these charges. Given his newfound fondness for intellectual rigour, I assume we can expect him to make a full admission of the egregious police malfeasance during the summit that continues to taint this city’s police force?

Paul de Groot, Toronto

It is so good to hear the voice of the people.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Discouragements to Democratic Participation

The litany of abuses, even crimes, against democracy committed by the Harper government is indeed long. Probably the gravest damage done by this regime, and I believe the damage is intentional, is to alienate increasing numbers of citizens from the electoral process.

In his column today, Bob Hepburn, in writing about the renewal of attack ads Harper is so famous for, has this to say:

Indeed, since he became Prime Minister, Harper has lowered the overall standard on what is acceptable in Canadian politics. He has allowed his attack dogs to operate with impunity, taking his cue from poisonous American campaigns. With his new ad, Harper is clearly signalling he believes “going negative” is the only way of winning and he is not about to stop.

For years, political scientists in Canada and the U.S. have argued that the growing use of negative ads, which topped 60 per cent of all ads in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, fosters lower voter turnout and a loss of trust in governments.

While others may seek a deeper strategy behind these despicable ads, I sincerely believe that their main purpose is to do just that, foster lower voter turnout so that a strong turnout by their own rabid supporters ensures a Conservative majority in perpetuity.

I have said this before, and I'll say it again: the damage this regime is doing to our democratic traditions renders it roundly and manifestly unfit to govern.

A New Call For a Return to Progressive Taxation

I suppose one has to be of a certain age to remember that progressive taxation has been a mainstay, until fairly recently, of our taxation system. Little by little over the past two decades, probably starting with the introduction of the GST, that principle has been on the wane, to the point where we have flattened the tax brackets and derive much of our revenue from consumption taxes and business growth, both of which have their obvious limitations.

Today, it is very rare for politicians of any stripe to even broach the subject of tax increases, as opposed to spending cuts, as a means of helping to address deficits. That is why I was so pleased to read Thomas Walkom's column in today's Star. Using a group called Doctors for Fair Taxation, Walkom examines the case for a return to true progressive taxation.

I highly recommend it for your consideration.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Are Police Too Sensitive Or Simply Arrogant?

For some time now I have been closely following abuses of power, with special interest in instances involving our politicians and our police. Because both groups wield so much power, I believe that they need to be held to a very high stand which, unfortunately, they often fail to achieve.

I suspect that because both arenas involve a level of public trust that most of us do not enjoy, the temptation for participants in those arenas to see themselves as separate and above the public they serve must be very great; there is certainly no shortage of distressing events that attest to that hubris.

Recently, a criminal lawyer, Reid Rusonik used the term 'the banality of evil' to describe the widespread 'carding' of black males in Toronto. Rather than address the issue at the heart of the article, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, in a letter to the Star, expressed how he found the use of that term offensive, castigating the newspaper for allowing it to find its way into print.

Personally, I have never forgiven Blair for the pivotal role he played in the police violence that marred the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto, a role that he has consistently refused to acknowledge or show any contrition for. It is for that reason I find his umbrage at the term 'banality of evil' a bit difficult to swallow.

In a column well-worth reading in today's Star, Heather Mallick takes Blair to task over his arrogance/sensitivity.

The Scourge of Rogue Elements

Following Canadian Tire's conviction for gasoline price-fixing in Kingston and Brockville, a spokesperson for the company, Liz Hamilton, had this to say:

"... the company’s participation in the price-fixing ring was the work of a single regional business manager, who is no longer with the company after an internal investigation."

Will the scourge of rogue elements never end?

Toronto Library Strike

As a lifelong user of public libraries (I can still remember the very first book I took out as a child) and one who aspires to practise critical thinking on a regular basis, I feel for the people of Toronto who are now without this invaluable resource.

Despite the inability of the brothers Ford to appreciate their importance, the central role played by libraries in people's social and intellectual lives is addressed in a column today by The Star's Joe Fiorto. I hope you will take a look at it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rob Ford's Absolutism

In a report carried on CBC, Toronto's monomaniacal mayor issued the following pronouncement regarding support for subways:

You are either with us or against us. There is no middle ground.

Hmm, now why does that absolutist assertion sound so eerily familiar?

Are You Afraid of Clowns?

The only ones who frighten me are the ones holding political office. But, just to show you that I have a sense of humour and don't spend my entire life anguishing over the erosion of our values and our democracy, allow me to provide you with this link which, if you ever enjoyed Seinfeld and Crazy Joe Davola, you might find amusing.

I like to think of it as an example of what happens when clowns go bad.

Michael Ignatieff on Syria

The former Liberal leader and professor has a thoughtful article analyzing the situation in Syria with an interesting solution to the problem of Bashar al-Assad's demonic destruction of his people.

Today's Star Editorial Cartoon

I trust this needs no further comment from me:

Monday, March 19, 2012

We Need To Free Ourselves From Our U.S.-Dominated Perspective

I have always thought that one of the biggest tragedies for Canadians is the fact of our proximity to the United States. Not only is our cultural perspective heavily influenced by that closeness, but so too is the way we view economics, which helps to explain the inroads in the past many years that the right-wing has made in our country.

There is an excellent essay in today's Star, written by McMaster Professor David Gouter, who argues that there is much to be reminded of in the economic successes of Northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden, socialist nations that are still thriving despite the economic meltdown brought on by unfettered capitalism in 2008.

You can read his piece here.

A Tale of Two Cities

Yesterday, while my wife was in the store, I, the ever-dutiful chauffeur, waited patiently in the car, first listening to my favorite station, Jazz FM, and then tuning into the CBC news. A story about the impending closure of bookseller Nicholas Hoare's Ottawa store caught my attention.

According to the story, the National Capital Commission, the Crown Corporation that administers federally-owned land and buildings in Ottawa, told Hoare that it was raising his rent 72%, from $84,000 to nearly $145,000 annually, the reason being that it had received complaints from private landowners that its rents were too low. I'll return to this in a moment.

The news from Toronto, under the inept leadership of its bumptious mayor, is even more grim. The city's library workers are out on strike, last-minute talks having failed to secure an agreement to afford some job security for the 50% of library workers who have only part-time hours.

So what does this tale of two cities have in common? In my febrile mind, they both bespeak the often pernicious influence of the right-wing mentality that pervades these times. For example, the NCC is allowing its decisions on rentals to be influenced by the demands of private landowners, while in Toronto, two things occur to me: first, the library situation would likely not have escalated into a strike were the city not led by people with palpable contempt for the social contract, the one that stipulates the primacy of the collective good over individual wants. Indeed, my 'gut' tells me that Toronto civic 'leaders' have little appreciation of the importance libraries have for so many people; secondly, I have a strong suspicion, judging by the rightward drift we are all aware of in the world today, that if public libraries did not exist and were just being proposed now, the concept would be dismissed as too expensive and unfair competition to bookstores.

Without question, our world would be far poorer. Costs cannot always be measured in simple dollars and cents.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Thomas Mulcair's Stance On Israel

Thomas Mulcair, who has just been endorsed by The Star as the best candidate to lead the NDP to power, is an MP I became familiar with during the lead-up to the last federal election. A frequent guest on Evan Solomon's Power and Politics, the member from Outremount impressed me with his fierce intelligence and cool demeanour (contrary to all this talk about his 'legendary temper'). There is, however, one thing about him that I find both disappointing and troubling, and that is his stance on Israel.

As reported in Canadian Dimension, Mulcair made the following statement in 2008:

“I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.” [“…je suis un ardent supporter de toutes les instances et de toutes les circonstances d’Israël.”]*

~Thomas Mulcair, quoted in Canadian Jewish News, May 1st, 2008

I am troubled by anyone who takes an unflinching, doctrinaire position on any subject (although I readily admit that probably describes me when it comes to my view of the Harper regime), and most especially when it comes to nation states. For example, the popular misuse of Stephen Decaur's line, My Country, right or wrong, favoured by American 'super-patriots' and jingoists, implies that unquestioning support must be given to one's country, no matter the circumstances. While unquestioning acceptance may be something the corporate state cheerfully encourages, it is unhealthy in the extreme, demanding as it does an abdication of critical-thinking skills in favor of blind obedience.

This, to me, is what Mulcair is saying in the aforementioned quotation, and while he is by no means unique in that perspective (look at Stephen Harper and his crew, for example), it is a position I can never endorse, not because I am anti-Semitic (I am not), but because I believe that it is extraordinarily dangerous to remove the actions of any country from critical scrutiny.

That kind of hubristic notion, history shows us, can have dire consequences indeed.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Who Watches Sun News Network?

Still in the mood to gloat, I am happy to report that the answer seems to be almost no one, although it is hard to pin down numbers with precision, owing to the fact that the Bureau of Broadcast Measurements only measures the top 30 shows in Canada, a criterion which the aforesaid network's offerings do not meet.

It seems that Canadians aren't as easily manipulated as Ezra Levant and the lads thought.

Another Victory for the Star: The Harper Government Blinks

The Globe and Mail arrogantly proclaims itself to be 'Canada's national newspaper' and 'Canada's paper of record.' It is a self-proclaimed designation that I have longed disagreed with, so much so that I eventually cancelled my long-standing subscription to it some time ago, substituting the Toronto Star, Canada's largest-circulation newspaper. And I have never regretted that decision.

Unlike the Globe, which is happy to make facile and incomprehensible endorsements of Stephen Harper whenever an election is pending, The Star has a solid record of success in a diversity of situations ranging from prompting the Ontario government to investigate the scandal-plagued Ornge medical helicopter service to being responsible for the initiation of a restaurant inspection system in Toronto that has become a model for cities across Canada.

The Star's latest achievement is getting the government to change its mind on the case of Sayed Shah Sharifi, the brave Afghan interpreter whose life was at risk from the Taliban due to the help he extended to our troops in Afghanistan. His application for a visa under a special program to grant visas to Afghans “who face exceptional risk or who have suffered serious injury as a result of their work for the Canadian government in Kandahar province” was rejected, and after 18 months, he is finally getting justice, thanks to The Star and the dogged efforts of reporter Paul Watson exposing this injustice at the hands of the Harper regime generally, and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in particular.

The public outcry has been loud and sustained. As a result, the Harper government, as they say, blinked, and while I am usually not one to gloat, victories of any kind with this regime are so infrequent that I do believe I shall indulge myself a bit. You can read the full report of this victory here.

Perhaps there is also a lesson here for all of us about what can happen when we shed our cloaks of indifference and disengagement and fight for causes truly worth our passion.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Funeral of Shelagh Gordon

For anyone who believes that it is the size of your wallet, the house you live in, or the title of your job that gives your life worth and meaning, I strongly suggest a viewing of this video from The Star.

As well, you can read the story of Shelagh Gordon, written by Catherine Porter, here.

Patrick Brazeau - Now Why Does that Name Ring A Bell?

I don't know whether the 37-year-old is the youngest to be rewarded by the Harper regime with a Senate seat, but a Google search led me to this 2009 posting about his, ahem, 'creative' fiscal practices.

F-35 Lies From The Department of National Defence

Much to my surprise, the National Post has been doing a good job lately in covering Conservative misdeeds. While the Canadian taxpayer has been subjected to so many falsehoods and a great deal of subterfuge about the true cost of the F-35 jets over the past year-and-a half, The Post's John Ivison offers information about next month's report on the jets from Michael Ferguson, the new Auditor-General, that promises to shake up some people.

We can only hope that the report finally 'shoots down in flames' the Harper lie that the jets will only cost $75 million each.

The Smoke From That Gun Is Turning Into An Overpowering Stench

Despite the Harper regime's steadfast denials over involvement in the voter suppression crimes and their attempts to divert suspicion onto the Liberals and NDP, evidence is mounting suggesting their complicity in the felonies:

An investigation by CBC News has turned up voters all over Canada who say the reason they got robocalls sending them to fictitious polling stations was that they'd revealed they would not vote Conservative.

Although the Conservative Party has denied any involvement in the calls, these new details suggest that the misleading calls relied on data gathered by, and carefully guarded by, the Conservative Party.

You can read the entire story here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is Liuna Local 183 Trying To Stifle Dissent?

As I have indicated in past posts, Liuna local 183 seems to be the poster boy for bad union behaviour. Not only has it made some very questionable decisions that work to the detriment of the union movement as a whole, but now, it seems it may using the strongest measures possible to stifle discussion and dissent.

As revealed in a Star story today, the union leadership is seeking the expulsion of 13 workers who disrupted a meeting while asking questions but getting no satisfactory answers over the employment of John Manadarino, a disgraced union employee who still retains employment through his management of the Canadian Tri-fund.

If the members are expelled, they will lose their livelihoods as they will no longer be able to work on unionized construction projects.

The question people have to ask themselves is if this sanction is justified, given the physical disruption that occurred at the Mandarino meeting, or whether this is the union equivalent of corporate libel chill.

Crass Manipulation About Iran's Nuclear Intentions

Those who believe that the public is being as crassly manipulated about Iran as it was by the lies that served as prologue to the Iraqi invasion will find two recent articles of interest.

The first, entitled No defensible reasons to attack Iran, by Gwynne Dyer, pierces many of the fallacies being used to incite fervour for a war with Iran, while the second, Are We About to Get Embroiled in a Nightmare War With Iran? by Noam Chomsky, suggests who the real renegade states are.

For those who believe in the importance of critical thinking, I recommend both for perusal.

UPDATE: Click here to read Fareed Aakaria's thoughts on Iran.

Now Here's A Budget That Makes Sense

Although largely shut out of the public discussion on government budgets, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released its alternative to the upcoming federal budget. While the Harper government is fixated on massive cuts that will only produce more unemployment, this budget contains some eminently practical ways to help restore fiscal health while at the same time benefiting the majority of Canadians, not simply the minority who are now so advantaged by the neoliberalism of our current political masters.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Courage of the Few, The Cowardice of the Many

This story of how a Syrian refugee risked his life to post and smuggle video of atrocities to the West should make us all feel just a bit ashamed as so many of us seem to treat our democracy so lightly.

More G20 Police Brutality Justice Pending

One of the Toronto police officers identified in the G20 beating of Adam Nobody has now been identified in another incident occurring the same weekend.

Const. Oliver Simpson's employer, the Toronto Police Services Board, is being sued by Nikos Kapetaneas and Caitlin Morgan for the injuries they sustained at the hands (or rather, the feet) of the overzealous officer in an area at Queens Park that had been designated an official protest zone.

As far as I can determine, both Toronto Police Chief bill Blair and Premier Dalton McGuimnty still stand by their men.

You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hot Off The Presses!

I trust this needs no explanation.

An Epochal Moment in Toryland

While there has been a long and sustained objection to Canada's planned purchase of F-35 jets, today marks the first time that the Harper regime has, even for a moment, taken its head out of the clouds.

Associate Defence Minister Julian (the dour and humourless) Fantino has raised the possibility of abandoning the purchase of the troubled jets.

Of course, I won't be so crass as to suggest that this is in any way a diversionary maneuver, despite the bad odor both the Tories in general and Fantino in particular have been experiencing of late.

I'll let more astute observers do that.

Tuesday Recommended Robocall Reading

Both Lawrence Martin and Linda McQuaig have columns well-worth reading today on government misdeeds both present and past.

McQuaig suggests that it is only our national modesty that prevents us from likening the voter suppression crimes to Watergate, while Martin chronicles misdoings of the past and concludes that what the Harper regime is suspected of is much more serious than anything the Liberals ever did.

Toronto Too Frightening A Venue For War-Mongerer

Suggested twenty-first century update for that old grade-school primer: See Dick Run

Monday, March 12, 2012

Toronto's Voter Suppression Protest

If you live in southern Ontario, you know that yesterday was a gift, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching about 15 degrees Celsius, surpassing normal highs by about 11 degrees.

A crowd of maybe 1000 gathered in Toronto's Dundas Square to protest the threats against our democracy epitomized by the voter suppression crimes of the last federal election, crimes that the ruling Harper Conservatives seem strangely indifferent to as they consistently impede and mock all efforts to uncover the truth.

As you will see in the pictures that follow, both the protest signs and the range of ages attending the protest bespeak a real concern on the part of a cross-section of Canadian society. After the pictures I have posted two links to local coverage of the event:

Click here to see how CTV covered the protest.

Click here for Star coverage, including viedo.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Latest On The F-35

While the militaristic Canadian Conservative regime, led by flyboy fan Steve and aggressively supported by his Defence Minister, the dishonourable member from Central Nova, continue to champion the acquisition of the F-35 as Canada's next big toy, it is apparent to almost all who keep themselves informed that the plane is both inappropriate for our needs and experiencing huge cost overruns in its pre-production phase. Those are facts that no Harper-led denials and progaganda can change.

The latest information about the plane from a rational source suggests a surprisingly inexpensive alternative to what will become a financial albatross if the Harperites get their way. You can read Peter Morton's thoughts here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vaughan M.P. Has Some Splainin' to Do.

My my my. It looks like Mr. Law-and-Order, the dour and humourless M.P. Julian Fantino, may not have been playing by the rules in the last election.

An Update On Canada's Export Of Death (Asbestos)

While I have written many posts on Canada's indefensible export of asbestos to third-world nations, I am pleased to report that the latest news seems to suggest that this hideous and immoral practice could soon be coming to an end.

Despite the ardent and ongoing efforts of the Harper regime and Quebec premier Jean Charest, which include a $58 million loan guarantee to the mines, Gerald Caplan reports that the other $25 million required in private investment money is not materializing, probably due to widespread, indeed, worldwide, public exposure of this odious export.

You can read the full story here.

What Did You Expect?

Our capacity as a species for delusional thinking and rationalization seems to have few limits, our sad record on climate change and our cheering on of oppressive and anti-democratic government measures when our convenience is at stake but two examples.

In today's Star, Heather Mallick, with whom I frequently lose patience for her self-indulgence, has written a column that merits our attention. Entitled Well, what did you expect,Toronto? she examines everything from Toronto subways to our election of the renegade Harper government in her exploration of this theme.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Robogate: Another Explosive Revelation From The Star

As I noted in my last post, a pattern is emerging in the voter suppression crimes owing to the consistency of the telephone script received in upwards of 30 ridings in the last federal election.

The Star has just made another startling discovery: Automated phone calls that directed people to the wrong polling stations in the last federal election overwhelmingly targeted older voters, all born between 1947 and 1949, directing them to the wrong polling station.

Even more damning, most of those who received the misdirecting calls say they were previously contacted by the Conservative Party and indicated that they would not be supporting their local Tory candidate.

As noted in the article, this kind of information suggests the existence of a database that goes far beyond the names and addresses provided by Elections Canada to all political parties and campaigns.

And of course everyone knows which political party is obsessive in maintaining databases that go well beyond the norm.

Voter Suppression Crimes: A Pattern of Centralization Emerges

While the Harper regime has been busy casting aspersions on those who are claiming foul over their alleged tactics during the last federal election, a pattern is beginning to emerge that makes their protestations of outrage and innocence especially suspect.

According to the latest news, voters in the Toronto-area riding of York Centre say they received misleading robo-calls before the 2011 federal ballot with the same script as the ones that Elections Canada is investigating in the Southwestern Ontario city of Guelph.

That brings to a total of almost 30 ridings where voters allege receiving fraudulent calls with the same basic script as Guelph, reports compiled by the NDP and Liberals suggest.

Meanwhile, the ever-truculent Tories, trying desperately to maintain their offensive against these allegations, have arranged for a party spokesman to label these crimes as “exaggerated allegations” ... warning they “demean millions of voters who cast legitimate votes in the last election.”

In fact, it is the entire democratic process that has been demeaned, not the citizens who cast their votes in good faith. Sadly, that will continue until the government comes clean about what it is responsible for.

Election Fraud Rally

For those living in or around the Toronto area, please consider attending Sunday's rally to protest both the voter suppression crimes committed during the last federal election and the 'strange' unwillingness of the Harper government to support the search for the truth.

It begins at 2:30 p.m., Yonge-Dundas Square. We will then march to the cenotaph at Old City Hall on Queen Street at 3:30pm.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Criminal Activity in Joe Oliver's Campaign?

The Star is reporting that Natural Resources Minister Joe ('radicals are threatening the tarsands') Oliver's riding of Eglinton-Lawrence may have been the scene of another electoral crime, this one involving the last-minute rush of previously unregistered voters who cast ballots in the last federal election.

Veteran Liberal MP Joe Volpe lost the riding to Conservative Oliver by 4,062 votes, but the problems is that at least 2,700 applications for late registration to vote... failed to provide addresses or gave false or non-residential addresses. Nonetheless, contrary to Election Canada rules, they were allowed to vote.

With this latest evidence of well-organized electoral fraud, one wonders when the revelations will end, and if they can ever be successfully and definitively investigated and resolved.

A Tale of Two Newspapers

The Globe and Mail and its sundry propagandists (excepting the principled Lawrence Martin, of course) continue their Sisyphean task of defending the indefensible by issuing almost daily dismissals both of the seriousness of the voter suppression crimes and of those who see those crimes as part of the pattern of Harper malfeasance evident since dear leader assumed office.

By contrast, The Toronto Star has consistently displayed its journalistic integrity and independence through relentless coverage and commentary that doesn't insult the intelligence of its readers. The latest example is to be found in Bob Hepburn's piece entitled Brian Mulroney: I owe you an apology, in which the writer argues that many of the ills of our democracy are directly attributable to Stephen Harper, who has so lowered the level of Canadian politics through his crimes and misdemeanours that huge numbers of citizens have opted out of the political process entirely.

It is an article well-worth reading, as Hepburn demonstrates what happens when an individual and his party puts winning above all else, including the good of the country.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

While The Globe and Mail Is Busy Doing PR for The PM ... appears that The Vancouver Observer is actually doing some journalism as it unearths the details of the campaign school that John Fryer wrote about last week in his letter to the Globe and Mail.

As far as I know, the Globe did no followup of Fryer's explosive allegations. Hardly surprising for the self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record'.

H/t @yvonne4tn

A Little More G20 Justice

In one of the more despicable acts of police brutality during the G20 Summit in Toronto in June of 2010, a paraplegic man, Gabriel Jacobs, was “dragged” from his motorized wheelchair, thrown into the back of a police cruiser and left on the floor of a temporary G20 detention centre where he defecated on himself because guards refused to help him.

Jacobs, who had been seeking $100,000 for his mistreatment and humiliation from the Toronto police, has reached a settlement which, like so much else about that notorious weekend, must remain confidential. And of course the police are not about to shed any light:

When asked if the settlement could be seen as an admission of guilt by the police, Mark Pugash, the director of corporate communications for the Toronto police, said “settlements, by definition, do not involve any admission of any kind.”

So much for openness and transparency, eh, Chief Blair?

The Latest Drivel From John Ibbitson

But they went a long way to containing the damage when Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the House, and the election campaign chair Guy Giorno, on television, declared emphatically that the central campaign did not authorize or know of any deceptions, including alleged harassing calls from people purporting to speak for the Liberal Party who were in fact Conservatives. Unless new evidence emerges to suggest they are not telling the truth, reasonable people will give them the benefit of the doubt.

I suspect the article, excerpted above from the Globe's most prolific robo-call apologist, John Ibbitson, would have been more aptly titled The Truth, According to Me and My Bosses.

Guess Who Doesn't Support Our Troops?

If you guessed Stephen Harper's Conservative Party, you are correct. While dear leader and company pull out all of the rhetorical stops about supporting the troops when it serves their ideological purpose, they are decidedly niggard when it comes to helping them when they are no longer fodder in distant lands.

The most recent insult to those brave men and women (I don't dispute their valour, only the cause that so many gave their lives for) comes from that national disgrace, Calgary West MP Rob Anders (yes the same Anders who embarrassed all of us when he voted against making Nelson Mandela an honorary citizen, decrying him as a communist and a terrorist) when he dozed off while vets were making a committee presentation on homeless vets. Caught in his act of somnolence, he lashed out at the vets, calling them “NDP hacks” and supporters of Vladmir Putin.

Just another of the many reasons Harper and his troops are unfit to govern.

You can read the entire sad tale about Conservative hypocrisy and demagoguery here.