Monday, April 30, 2012

I Am Mayor, Hear Me Roar!

My question: Is anyone listening?

The Harper Perversion Of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program

In what looks like yet another invitation by the Harper regime to corporate thievery in Canada, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley last week announced that employers will now be able to pay temporary migrant workers less than would be paid to Canadians doing the same job.

What is especially alarming about this, beyond the obvious exploitation of foreign workers, is how migrant labour is being defined these days. As reported by The Star's Thomas Walkom,

The temporary foreign workers program began as a stop-gap measure in 2000, specifically to deal with a shortage of software specialists. But under pressure from employers — particularly in the Alberta oil patch — it has vastly expanded.

By 2011, there were some 300,111 temporary foreign workers of all kinds in Canada — 106,849 of them in Ontario.

He goes on to discuss how these workers are now doing a variety of jobs ranging from serving coffee to working in Maritime fish-processing plants, and of course, in Alberta's oil fields. Coupled with the latest changes in the rules governing Employment Insurance, the implications are worrying. Walkom writes:

[Jason]Kenney has warned that unemployed workers who refuse to take low-wage jobs will have their EI benefits cut off. If Canadians agree to work for less, he explains, Ottawa won’t have to bring in as many low-wage outsiders.

If the great Canadian slumber continues, watch for more regressive legislation from this 'Prime Minister.'

UPDATE: Here is a sector that appears to heartily approve of this downward pressure on wages.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Congratulations To The Harper Government

May the Prime Minister and his party enablers wear this award with distinction!

P.S. Check out some of the readers' comments on the site as well.

The Star Continues To Shine A Light On Some Very Dark Places

A taser to the scrotum 10-15 times. A 'rear naked choke hold' (an arm around the throat, another behind the head and a knee in the back). A beating in a ditch. The suspect's 'crime'? Leaning out his window and shouting “Hey, baby!” to several Niagara Regional Police officers.

Thus begins the third part of the Star's investigation into police officers who abuse their authority and subsequently perjure themselves in court, usually with no subsequent punishment from their departments.

You can read all of the sordid details here.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Troubling News On The Police Front

I have the feeling that if I had both the time and the narrowness of purpose, I could devote this blog entirely to police and their abuse of authority and the citizens they are sworn to protect. It seems that one doesn't have to look far, be it on YouTube or the daily papers, to find new outrages committed by the constabulary.

The unfortunate pitfall of all of this, of course, is the danger of slipping into the fallacy of gross over-generalizations. The fact is, of course, that the majority of police do not abuse their powers (except in special circumstances such as the Toronto G20 Summit of 2010); it just seems that way thanks to a sometimes-vigilant press and some intrepid citizen journalists.

If you have the stomach for it, read about a Windsor police detective, David Van Buskirk, who has just been found guilty of viciously assaulting a visually-impaired doctor, Tyceer Abouhassan, and lying to cover up the assault. The Windsor Police Association, of course, is falling all over itself explaining away his aberrant and abhorrent behaviour and calling for understanding of the stresses he was under at the time of the beating.

No word yet about the stress Dr. Abouhassan experienced as a result of the assault.

Why The Star Is The Real 'Newspaper Of Record'

Those who regularly read The Toronto Star will hardly be surprised to learn that it has just won five National Newspaper Awards for the excellence of its reporting, reporting that often results in some real benefits to society. A new benefit appears to be emerging as a result of its two-part investigation into police who lie under oath.

While its response to the investigation could be cynically dismissed as a political one, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police now says that

... the justice system should report police officers who are found by judges to have lied, misled the court or fabricated evidence.

“If a judge perceives that an officer has not fulfilled his oath of honesty, a judge should report it to a police service. The national association would naturally support mechanisms that would ensure this happens,” said association spokesperson Timothy Smith.

Despite the dismissal of the series by Mark Pugash, who has basically said that The Star doesn't know what it is talking about and can't be taken seriously, the chair of the civilian oversight Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, told the Star he is troubled by this “serious issue” and wants something done to stop the lies from eroding the public’s trust in his police force.

At a time when the majority of mainstream media seem to be constrained by the agenda of their corporate masters, it is reassuring that The Toronto Star continues in unfettered fashion to pursue important work leading to a better Canada.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Sky Isn't Falling (The One-Percent Just Pretend It Is)

One thing you have to hand to the monied class - they are shameless and unconscionable in their hyperbole. Reacting to the imposition of a 2% surtax in Ontario on those making over a half-million per year, they are pulling out all the stops, even invoking the Holocaust as they shamelessly fight against paying a little more in a country and province in which the inequality between the rich and the poor is increasing with each passing year.

For a full accounting of this despicable tack, take a look at Gerald Caplan's piece in The Globe.

Who Looks More Dishonourable Here?

I suppose some would say it is simply canny politics on the part of Dalton McGuinty here, and that Elizabeth Witmer sold herself to the highest bidder. On the other hand, I hope the Premier's strategy fails, and Kitchener-Waterloo elects an NDPer in the byelection.

Police Who Lie Under Oath - Part 2

Part 2 of The Star series on the problem of police lying under oath is available on its website. Today's coverage examines the lack consequences for such behaviour, many departments seeming to prefer a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil kind of approach. And as per his function, the always pugnacious Mark Pugash, Toronto Police spokesman, accuses the Star of not knowing what they are writing about.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Police Who Lie Under Oath

The following suspects have walked free after officers lied in court: an accused pimp of a teenage girl, possessors of child pornography, a major ecstasy manufacturer operating out of a Scarborough house, members of an international data-theft and fake-credit-card ring, marijuana growers, and drug dealers carrying loaded handguns.

Judges have discarded as evidence at least $40 million worth of cocaine, meth, ecstasy and weed in recent years.

The above is just a brief excerpt from the start of another investigative series from The Star, the only Canadian newspaper, to my knowledge, that is upholding the best traditions of journalism in pursuing stories that really should matter to an informed populace, stories that have led to some very significance changes and reforms both locally and provincially over the years.

In reading the account in today's issue about police who lie in court about the circumstance leading to the arrest of criminals, I admit to feeling just the smallest amount of ambivalence, inasmuch as the lies were used to justify the arrests of some very bad people. On the other hand, I am very mindful of how easy it is for the police, in whom society have invested a great deal of authority, to abuse that authority. Countless videos by citizens, and the terrible violations of our Charter rights that took place during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, are ample testaments to that abuse.

I look forward to The Star's next installment tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Have you Seen TED? The Possibilities of Enlightenment

We all lead busy lives (yes, even retired folk like me). Our desire for information and knowledge to allow us to intelligently interpret the world around us is limited by many factors, not the least of which are time constraints. Certainly, we may try to keep abreast of things by reading daily newspapers, pursuing ideas and imagination through books, even watching intelligently-designed television programs. Nonetheless, we really can grasp onto only a minuscule portion of the ideas and knowledge that pervade our world.

Nevertheless, there is a way to explore a wealth of ideas, within those constraints, in a fairly systematic and efficient manner. Recently introduced to it by a friend, I have found that TED Talks offer an opportunity too good to pass up.

The following blurb offers a good description of TED's mission:

Our mission: Spreading ideas.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other. This site, launched April 2007, is an ever-evolving work in progress, and you're an important part of it. Have an idea? We want to hear from you.

Offering an amazing array of subject matter, the videos are of some of the best teachers and communicators in the world. I hope you can take some time to check it out.

Spring Signs of A Thaw In Our Political Passivity?

It's been a long time since I've seen in print the term 'Red Tory', used to describe an economic conservationism balanced by a social progressiveness. Yet it is included in columns today by The Star's Thomas Walkom and Chantal Hebert as both reflect upon the significance of Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative victory in Monday's Alberta election. Walkom goes so far as to suggest the term is also applicable to both Dalton McGuinty and Andrea Horwath, given their recent budget deliberations that yielded some real results.

As well, public editor Carol Goar writes on the growing backlash against the outrageously inflated salaries paid to so-called 'captains of industry.' A shareholders' meeting at one of Wall Street’s biggest banks, Citigroup, rejected the pay package awarded to Vikram Pandit, its CEO, a move she attributes in part to the growing awareness of the gross disparity that exists in North America between the privileged few (the 1% identified by the Occupy Movement) and the rest of us.

One can only hope that the movement for a more equitable distribution of wealth to restore and maintain some of the traditions and values Canadians hold dear will gain real momentum.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This Is Most Gratifying

I suspect that Adam Carroll, the Liberal staffer who established the Vikileaks Twitter account revealing embarrassing yet publicly-available information about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was speaking for many of us today during his voluntary appearance before the Commons ethics committee today.

Despite the predictable bullying from member Dean Del Mastro, who insisted that Carroll must have been part of a Liberal conspiracy, Carroll said,

“I disagree with everything Mr. Del Mastro has said. To use his words ‘baseless smears’ or, in the acronym, B.S.”

You can read the entire satisfying account here.

A Solution to Our Political Apathy?

I would like to think that one needn't be a political junky to have at least a reasonable awareness of what our federal government is doing 'on our behalf.' Yet the fact is that we have political disengagement in this country that is reaching historic lows, if election turnouts are any indication. And we are confronted with the consequences of that disengagement on an almost daily basis with the Harper regime regularly showing its disdain, even contempt, for the citizens of Canada through its lies, profligate ministerial spending, and outright incompetence.

Of Harper's ongoing muzzling of our Environment Canada scientists, decried internationally, I will not even speak.

Some pundits suggest it is the very fact of these myriad abuses of democracy that have turned off many people from the entire process, something that I have opined on this blog is very much a part of the Tory agenda. In today's Globe Lawrence Martin, one of the few writers for Canada's self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record' that I have any respect for, has a suggestion that might address this problem, as well as give the federal NDP some staying power in its current momentum. Martin suggests the following:

The New Democrats need to show Canadians a new way, something at which the Liberals failed. Mr. Mulcair needs a far-reaching plan to reshape the way Ottawa works. A “restore democracy” charter that curbs absolute prime ministerial power, that clearly sets out checks and balances, that returns credibility to the committee system, that removes the Kremlin-like muzzle on government communications, that gives the Speaker new powers to end the Question Period farce, that limits patronage, and so on.

You can read his complete article here.

The Art of the Possible

People have to give Andrea Horwath full marks for putting into practice the famous quote by Otto von Bismarck: Politics is the art of the possible. Through her willingness to compromise during negotiations with the McGuinty government, not only has she avoided an election that few wanted, but she has also managed to extract some significant concessions from the Premier, not the least of which is a surtax on those making over $500,000 each year, thus resurrecting a discussion that has been off the political agenda for some years now.

And my own political cynicism stands to be corrected. Wearied and jaded from watching the federal Liberals repeatedly debase themselves during the Harper minority years when the party would condemn and vote against confidence measures but always ensure there were sufficient members absent from the House to ensure the passage of the odious measures, I had erroneously predicted the same behaviour for Horwath.

The biggest loser in this entire process is, of course, young Tim Hudak, the increasingly hapless leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives who, in a reflexive move that yielded all of the power of the opposition to Horwath, rejected any possibility of compromise when the budget was introduced by flatly stating that his party would vote against it, once again demonstrating that he just doesn't have what it takes to be a political leader.

On a related note, while Hudak is busy recycling rhetoric from his Mike Harris years, advocating for smaller government, more tax cuts and a 'business-friendly climate,' the Wildrose Party suffered a crushing defeat in Alberta, despite all of the advance polls showing them on the way to forming a majority government.

One wonders if there is a message there for our Prime Minister?

BTW, for an insightful analysis of the Ontario compromise, take a look at Martin Regg Cohn's column in today's Star.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Victory

Every once in a while, there is a win for the good guys and gals. I don't know about you, but it is enough to keep me going.

Meanwhile, the predictable response from young Tim Hudak, who once more amply demonstrates that he just isn't ready for prime time politics.

A Short But Not So Sweet Letter

Here is a copy of the letter that I just fired off to my Conservative Member of Parliament, David Sweet:

Dear Mr. Sweet,

Although I am sure you are only too aware of the hypocrisy involved, it seems more than passing strange that your government should suddenly cancel the Katimavik program, leaving in the lurch young people who had opted for the program over university next fall ( ), ostensibly in the name of austerity, while your International Development Minister, Bev Oda, has no compunction about profligately spending the taxpayers’ money for her own comfort (

Any thoughts on the matter, or should I just rely on the usual spin your government puts on all of its embarrassments?


Lorne Warwick

Tempering My 'Enthusiasm'

Despite postings I have made on both critical thinking and avoiding fallacies of reasoning, I am well-aware that my own thinking and writing sometimes fall far short of the standards they demand. In my deep and abiding contempt for the neoconservative agenda and the simplistic, uni-dimensional thinking of its adherents, I realize that I at times resort to the same kind of demagogic tactics they employ, and while finding it hard to apologize for those lapses, I realize that little is accomplished by such outbursts other than a measure of ephemeral personal satisfaction.

I started thinking about this topic today after reading an article in this morning's Star entitled Connecting with nature is the key, activist learns. Unfortunately, the article is not on the Star's website at this time, so I will briefly summarize the salient points.

The piece, written by Stephen Bede Scharper, revolves around environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill who, in the 1990's, spent more than two years on a platform atop a thousand-year-old redwood tree in an effort to save it and some of the surrounding area from a clear-cutting operation. She ultimately succeeded in reaching a deal with the Pacific Lumber Co. that achieved her goal, but the journey to that achievement was both an arduous and instructive one.

Enduring the worst from both Mother Nature and human nature during her two-year battle atop the redwood, she went from being regarded as a kook by the workers to someone they developed a respect for. How did this happen? The turning point seems to have occurred shortly after a hail of gunfire whizzed around her platform, and Hill asked the workers if they felt better for venting their anger. This led to a discussion about how she ate and how she secured her food, after which the workers apologized for the fusillade and left.

Three weeks later they returned, this time with gifts of organic fruits and vegetables which they loaded into her rope-lifted basket. The lesson learned here? It was a seminal one for Hill: constructive engagement. Instead of being self-righteously strident, she began to see there was more value in being 'effective', i.e., learning to connect with those who opposed her.

Is this approach possible in the political battles we face in Canada against the forces of neo-conservatism? I don't know. My gut tells me there is little chance of success with that tact, but on the other hand, what are we accomplishing right now with simple denunciation and denigration, both of which, I readily admit, feel very good to practise?

Are there, indeed, better ways to try to achieve our goals?

Should this story later be posted on the Star website, I will provide a link.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Facing Death With Grace

I have a good friend who suffers from a chronic health condition for which he receives treatments that mitigate the symptoms. He faces very real limitations in his daily life as a result of his illness. I had a brother-in-law who died about three-and-a-half years ago from brain cancer. I also just finished reading Roger Ebert's memoir, entitled Life Itself, part of which reflects upon his life-altering illness.

What do these three have in common? Each of them, amidst consider suffering, have shown great fortitude and grace. I am fascinated and inspired by the strength of character they found within themselves to cope with their illnesses without self-pity or a sense of cosmic injustice, while at the same time, quite truthfully, I am sometimes haunted by the question of how I would/will react if and when I am put to the test.

From their examples I derive a sense of awe at what human beings are capable of, as well as the hint of a transcendent truth about our natures. Unfortunately, our world today pays scant attention to those subtle intimations, but I suspect they are everywhere if we care to really look.

My reflections were prompted by a touching story of a woman named Jackie Smith, who is facing a fairly imminent death. Her story is available in today's edition of The Star.

Sunday Reading Recommendation

For an insightful analysis of the choices facing both Andrea Horwath and Dalton McGuinty as they negotiate over changes to the Ontario budget that will win the support of the NDP, check out Martin Regg Cohn's piece in today's Star.

As he points out, there is considerable risk for both, but also potential benefits if neither is too doctrinaire in the final two days left in what could be an exercise in brinkmanship.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Some Blather From Gerry Nichols: Your Mother Wears Army Boots

Earlier this week, Gerry Nichols, self-described on his website as One of Canada's Top Five Political Minds, wrote an opinion piece in The Start entitled, In praise of negative political ads. In it, the former head of the National Citizens Coalition asserts that positive political ads are a far greater offence to the body politic than negative ones.

However, in reading his piece, it becomes very obvious very quickly that his thesis is merely a thinly veiled excuse to attack Thomas Mulcair and the upbeat ad that is intended to introduce him to the electorate:

Complaining that the ad is vacuous and provides no information to help the voter make an informed decision, he goes on to extol attack ads:

Ironically, it’s the much maligned negative ads that are much more likely to focus on the nitty-gritty of where a candidate stands on policies.

Just think about your typical attack ad: “Candidate Jones wants to raise taxes on everything!” or “A vote for candidate Smith is a vote to destroy our public health-care system”.

In short, attack ads often raise issues people actually care about. And this is one reason why, like them or not, negative spots resonate with voters.

Oh really? I have said it before and I'll say it again: attack ads, in my view, have a twofold purpose: the most obvious is to denigrate a political opponent, as evidenced in the latest Tory effort to discredit Bob Rae; the second and more insidious effect is to discourage citizens from participating in the politcal process, especially at election time, leaving the field open to the 'true believers, the die-hard supporters of Stephen Harper.

And it is for the latter reason that I will never be able to forgive Harper for the damage he has done and will continue to do to the soul of our nation.

UPDATE: For a cross-section of Star readers' views on Nichols' piece, click here.

Margaret Wente Scores Another Win For Superficial Thinking

I suspect that with the exception of her employer, few believe The Globe's Margaret Wente is a subtle thinker who deserves a forum in the self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record.' Her capacity for cartoonish characterization is especially apparent in her latest column where, borrowing liberally from a secondary source, as is her wont, she professes to explain the difference between the conservative and the liberal mind.

Replete with stereotypes, absolutist examples and fallacious thinking, the article will have a certain entertainment value for those who take the time to see through her usual banal superficiality.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Progressive Taxation Is Not An Obscenity

I have expressed many times on this blog my concern that the notion of progressive taxation has been almost relegated to the status of a historical curiosity. Acceptance of the current myth that taxation is bad, that lowering taxes is the only way to promote economic growth and well-being, is dependent both on the well-financed propaganda of the right-wing and a kind of collective amnesia from the rest of us about how progressive tax rates have led to the society we enjoy today, where the collective good takes precedence over individual greed.

However, trickle down economics, the idea that wealth at the top trickles down to all of us, has proven to be an abject failure for all except the wealthy, judging by record-high unemployment rates, deficits, etc. It is for this reason that I was very pleased to read Linda McQuaig's column this morning in The Star, in which she gives high praise to Andrea Horwath for getting the topic of taxation back on the agenda.

She does observe however, that it would be an easier battle had she a billionaire or two on her side championing the cause, as does Obama in the U.S. in the person of Warren Buffet.

I hope you will take the opportunity to read the entire piece.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

PROOF of Tory Election Fraud

Today I received an email from The Council of Canadians which includes a link to a sworn affidavit by Annette Desagne, a former employee of Responsive Marketing Group, attesting to election fraud through the misdirection of voters to the wrong polling stations. When you read the actual affidavit, you will see that she was clearly under the direction of the Conservative Party, and that her calls were not the actions of a rogue employee nor an isolated incident, both of which 'explanations' have been offered by the Harper regime.

First, an excerpt from the email:

You may have heard claims from the Conservative Party of Canada's lawyer earlier this week that our legal challenge is 'frivolous' and a 'publicity stunt'. The evidence the Council has obtained clearly counters any such accusation in revealing that voters were deliberately misled...

The first piece of evidence is a sworn affidavit from Annette Desgagné, a former Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) employee who initially made calls on behalf of the Conservative Party. Three days before the election, however, she was instructed to make calls about polling location changes and was given a new script that did not indicate that she was calling on behalf of the Conservatives.

In her affidavit, Ms. Desgagné states that she specifically recalls contacting voters in the riding of Nipissing-Tamiskaming (one of the seven federal ridings being legally challenged), as she needed help with the pronunciation. The second piece of evidence, from Elections Canada, however, states that no polling location changes occurred in Nipissing-Tamiskaming. Only one polling location was changed out of all seven ridings.

You can see the actual affidavit here. The second piece of evidence, from Elections Canada, is here.

The Uphill Battle to Save Democracy in Canada

At the risk of appearing tiresomely repetitive, I am posting once again on the problem of political disengagement. The fact that only about 30% of Canadians bother to follow politics, as if it is a sphere of activity totally separate from the lives they live, is troubling, and one that is being regularly exploited by the Harper regime.

In today's Star, columnist Bob Hepburn writes about The uphill battle to save democracy in Canada, pointing out the two main obstacles to achieving that objective: both the isolation and transitory nature of groups that try to promote democratic renewal, and the blind eye that the Harper government turns to every and all complaints.

About the latter, Hepburn writes:

Their (the general public) letters are ignored or receive innocuous replies, backbench MPs dismiss them as cranks, media commentators pay no attention to their petitions, and apathetic friends and neighbours tell them they’re crazy to think they can change the political culture in Ottawa.

He adds,

That’s just the way Harper wants it. Although he initially vowed to increase government accountability, he has shown zero interest in improving our democratic institutions since coming to power six years ago.

He seems convinced he can get away with it because only about 30 per cent of Canadians regularly follow politics and public policy issues. The rest of us are either turned off, fed up or have given up. Harper is counting on that indifference to continue through the next election.

I hope you will read the entire piece and send an article link to those you feel might benefit from it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Surprise Here: Rob Ford Fails in His Civic Responsibility Again

Not that I expected any better of the brazen buffoon wearing the chain of office in Toronto, but Rob Ford once more amply demonstrates that he is not the mayor of everyone in his once-proud city.

How To Vent Your Frustration with Stephen Harper

Ever felt like knocking a little sense into our contemptible Prime Minister? Visit this website for an unusual and cathartic opportunity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Unbearable Pain of Being

For those who have never been quite certain of the true meaning of existential angst, may I recommend the following?

And for your further discernment, Henri 2 Paw de Deux:

Foolish Consumers, Kneel Before Me!

Perhaps my sense of human is on the wane, but if you really think about it, the implications of this story are deeply disturbing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cost of Political Disengagement

Thanks to LeDaro's link, I was able to catch up on the At Issues panel that I missed on Thursday night. While the discussion revolved largely around the F-35 debacle, the point I found most discouraging was the statistic that only 30-35% of Canadians follow politics at all. It is a shockingly low number for a democracy, one that, of course, has allowed Harper and his acolytes to begin to wreak havoc on our traditional way of life.

It is indescribably sad that the majority of Canadians see politics as something distinct from and essentially irrelevant to their lives, rather than one of the main determinants of its quality. Those of us who write political blogs are very much aware of this fact, but the conundrum with which we perpetually wrestle is how to communicate that to the wider population.

Perhaps part of the answer is implied in Tim Harper's column today in The Star. Entitled Conservative government fights to keep budget cuts in the ‘back office’, the piece examines the ramifications of the elimination of civil service jobs while the government paradoxically insists that no front-line services will be affected. This past week, both the public service unions and Tom Mulcair have rather effectively attacked this risible assertion.

Perhaps if enough scrutiny is given to the issue, we can see an increase in the abysmal statistic I mentioned at the start of this post.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Government's Three Wise Men?

I thought you might enjoy this editorial cartoon courtesy of The Hamilton Spectator:

Thomas Walkom on Fair Taxation

Long a taboo subject, increasing tax rates for the wealthy is back on the agenda, in no small part due to the Occupy Movement and, more recently, Andrea Horwath. In today's Star, Thomas Walkom presents an interesting perspective on the issue. You can click here to read it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Administration of Justice In Disrepute

While I have nothing especially insightful or profound to say about Rick Vaive's acquittal on drunk driving charges, I must confess to a certain perplexity pertaining to the following:

All considered, [Justice] Hourigan said she believed Vaive when he said he was exhausted, not drunk, the night of July 14, 2009. So despite the fact a breathalyzer test — administered outside the required two-hour time frame — showed Vaive had twice the legal limit in his system that night, Hourigan acquitted him of impaired driving charges in Newmarket court Thursday afternoon.

Has a new legal standard or precedent been established? If impaired individuals truly believe, when getting behind the wheel, that they are in complete control of their faculties, do they now have a legitimate defense against impaired driving charges, objective breathalyzer results notwithstanding?

For the sake and safety of all of us, I sincerely hope that the Crown appeals this verdict.

The Politics of Education

After I retired from teaching, my first blog was devoted to matters of education, including the institutional politics that frequently deform it. Now, more than five years into retirement, I spend most of my writing energies on this blog. However, today I would like to write a post in which the two subjects are very much intertwined, the politics of education.

Since the announcement of the Ontario provincial budget, Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, have become fascinating studies into what Orwell called the political use of language. It is language frequently involving demagoguery, fueled in this case by the knowledge that teachers are widely envied and despised, despite the vital role they play in society.

Take, for example, the Premier's call for a 'voluntary' pay freeze and elimination of the retirement gratuity. How 'voluntary' can it be when the province promises to legislate it if teachers don't capitulate? (BTW, although I suspect that no one really cares, the retirement gratuity is usually seen by teachers as partial compensation for the fact that they have no benefits in retirement and must purchase expensive private coverage).

My own former federation, OSSTF, has had a very muted reaction to these ultimatums, not surprising since it has essentially devolved into an opportunistic political entity itself. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, on the other hand, has shown real spine; it walked away from the 'negotiating' table. After all, since government by fiat seems to be McGuinty's choice, what is there to negotiate?

It is this principled move that has led to the government's use of some of the demagogic arrows in its quiver. Designed no doubt to both shame teachers and inflame the public, Laurel Broten, Dwight Duncan and Dalton McGuinty has all very publicly proclaimed they will not sacrifice full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes to the implied greed and selfishness of the teachers.

The latest escalation in this campaign of intimidation is reported in today's Star, as Broten threatens elementary teachers with 10,000 layoffs unless they accept a pay freeze..

So can a government really have it both ways? Can it claim to be negotiating while very clearly telegraphing that there is nothing to negotiate? Are McGuinty and company afraid of the loss of support from the education sector, or do they feel that loss will be more than compensated for by a public that sees teachers as rather tiresome and perhaps even disposable commodities?

Time will tell.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

And For Those Who Still Have Faith In Barack Obama...

Read this and, as they say, weep.

On Corruption and Political Disengagement

Last night I had a long telephone conversation with my good friend Dave, who lives in Winnipeg. Like me (and probably more so), Dave has a keenly developed sense of justice and fair play, and when those values are violated, he is outraged. Last evening, as he was telling me about the latest developments in what seems to be a deep well of corruption, cronyism and conflict of interest infecting Winnipeg municipal politics, I asked him how the malefactors, who barely seem to be making an effort to conceal their nefarious deeds, escape civic accountability.

A good part of the answer, and the part I feel I can discuss here, is voter apathy and disengagement.

I have written previously on the problems our democratic traditions are experiencing these days under a federal government that displays egregious contempt for what the electorate thinks or wants. My own theory is that the Harper regime is doing everything it can to disillusion and estrange citizens from participation so that only the true believers (right-wing ideologues, for example) turn out at the polls while most others remain at home. That surely explains, at least in part, what happened in the last federal election when a minority of Canadians gave Harper the majority he so long coveted.

And it explains Harper's refusal, to take any responsibility for having lied to the public about the true costs of the F-35 jets. Equally damning and shameful, he refuses to require any ministerial responsibility, in this case from the incompetent and dishonest Minister of Defense, Peter MacKay.

However, this is one small speck of light on the horizon, as explained by Bob Hepburn, who writes about Harper’s cynical assault on democracy in today's Star. I hope you will find the time to read his piece.

Appreciation of Small Pleasures

In this life, filled as it is with so many vicissitudes, I firmly believe that we have to enjoy small pockets of pleasure that come our way, whether it is a sumny day, a walk in nature, a good book or, in this case, the return of David MacFarlane to the newspaper. MacFarlane, a gifted writer, once had a regular column in Canada's self-proclaimed 'newspaper of record', but like countless other incomprehensible management decisions of the Globe's past decade, was terminated several years ago, a fate he shared with the likes of Heather Mallick and Rick Salutin, both of whom now have permanent places with The Toronto Star.

It is also where you will find MacFarlane's new weekly column, debuting in today's edition. Although he is ostensibly writing on the arts, if this is your first exposure to him, after reading today's piece, you will realize that he is writing about much much more, something I always appreciated in his past work.

Witty and gifted, MacFarlane's writing is not a bad way at all to start off your Thursdays from now on.

How Concerned Is The Harper Regime About Your Safety?

If you are one of those people who regularly eats, apparently not too much.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Sad Tale of the Bumbling, Prevaricating Defense Minister Continues

I was feeling just a tad depressed today until I read this story.

Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man?

The above question, first asked about Richard Nixon as he ran against John Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential race, was designed to underscore the seemingly untrustworthy nature of the candidate - his shifty, evasive gaze, heavy perspiration, and his 5 o'clock shadow all seemed to suggest a man hiding something.

In the half-century since that race, we rarely feel the need to ask that question anymore, our assumption being that politicians by and large can't be trusted, that they are in fact hiding a great deal from those whose electoral support they are seeking.

Thomas Walkom's excellent column in today's Star takes a look at Stephen Harper's abuse of the public trust, suggesting that once it is lost, it is very very difficult to regain.

After all, would you trust this man to buy an F-35 jet for you?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How Long Before This Lynch Mob Mentality Comes To Canada?

As someone who is a regular visitor to Cuba and has seen both the good and bad of its society through friends that we visit there, I know that it has very real problems, but also very real benefits, under its dictatorial communist system. However, I can't help but wonder how long it will be, thanks to the reactionary dictatorship (aka the Harper regime) we in Canada are currently chafing under, before we adopt the 'lynch mob' mentality evident here.

Linda McQuaig on Harper Austerity

In case you missed it, today's Star has Linda McQuaig's latest column in which she opines on the Harper austerity program, juxtaposing the P.M.'s insistence that we live in challenging fiscal times and thus must cut spending with his government's apparently cavalier attitude about the extra $10 billion that they now admit will be part of the true cost of the F-35 purchases.

She mentions a certain picture at the beginning of her column, which I am reproducing below:

An Inconvenient Truth For The Right Wing To Digest

Over the past several years, most notably since the ascension to power of the Harper regime, taxation, especially the concept of progressive taxation, has fallen into bad odour, Thanks to the ethos espoused by the right, we have been consistently bombarded with messages that we are unfairly burdened with oppressive tax rates, that we have the right to keep more of our money, etc. etc. ad nauseam. At the same time, of course, as has been amply demonstrated by the Occupy Movement, the very wealthy have benefitted most, while the rest of us have been witness to the insidious erosion of the social fabric.

Finally, the inconvenient truth that many of us believe is held by the majority of Canadians is emerging: most agree that a moderate increase in income taxation is both acceptable and desirable.

While I am sure that there are, even now, strategies afoot in the PMO to discredit it, The Broadbent Institute, the progressive analogue to the Manning Institute, has released the following poll results:

...a majority of Canadians — including most Conservative voters and wealthy individuals — would support higher taxes to fight income inequality.

Higher taxes are supposedly political dynamite but the poll — the first major survey for the newly founded left-leaning Broadbent Institute — suggests the toxicity of taxation has been exaggerated and is the product of a concerted “ideological” campaign, says Ed Broadbent, the institute’s namesake.

You can read the entire story in this morning's Toronto Star.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Conservative Mind Equated With 'Low-Effort' Thinking'

Following up from an earlier report establishing a relationship between low intelligence and racism, prejudice and conservatism, The Huffington Post reports on a new study equating conservative politics with 'low-effort' thinking.

For those of us who have been following closely the antics of the Harper Conservatives and their supporters, there are few surprises in the report.

UPDATE: Closely related to this study is an article on AlterNet etitled, The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed.


The Remaking of Canada in the Neo-Conservative Image

In the world of unfettered capitalism, everything has a price and nothing is sacred. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the neocon knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I was reminded of that this morning as I read Christopher Hume's latest column in the Star entitled The great public sell-off continues, in which he explores the consequences of trying to commercialize our public assets.

It begins, From sidewalks and schools to the CBC, the public realm is under siege at every turn.

He later offers the following observation about the consequences of the frantic effort to make money off of our public intstitutions :

But once that happens, it no longer belongs to us. Organizational needs will be served, but not those of the user. And as institutions are forced to turn themselves into businesses, our connection to them becomes a variation on the relationship between consumers and corporations. They act on their own behalf, not ours.

Federally, under the Harper regime we bear witness to the gradual and probably irreversible dismantling of the Canada that we have known for so long. In other jurisdictions, both provincial and municipal, the same process is apace.

If any of this concerns you, I hope you will spare a couple of minutes to read the rest of Hume's thoughts on the matter.

More Fabrications from MacKay

The Indefensible Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, continues to insult the intelligence of all thinking Canadians. As one who has followed the F-35 jet issue somewhat closely for the past year, I am astounded by his latest contemptible 'explanation' that he says proves there was no intention on the part of his government to mislead anyone on the acquisition costs of the jets: an accounting nuance explains the $10 million discrepancy between the real cost of $25 billion and the $15 billion the government adhered to.

I won't even bother wasting my time or yours in pointing out the absolute inadequacy of his explanation. The moral bankruptcy surrounding this issue and indeed the entire Harper regime is obvious for all to see, as is their contempt for all of us.

One more note: As pointed out recently by the always thorough Sixth Estate, throughout the election campaign the Tories referred to the inviolate contract they had for the purchase of the F-35 jets at $75 million a pop. Recent weeks have seen those same Tories claim no contract has been signed, and so no money is in jeopardy. In today's Globe, MacKay warned there would be a cost to cancelling a multi-billion-dollar purchase deal with Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor.

You figure it out. I'm going to pour myself another cup of coffee and get on with my day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Where Do Justice and Morality Reside?

On this Easter Sunday, when many turn their thoughts from the secular to the sacred, it is perhaps a propitious time to remember that the elusive goals of justice and morality, so often seemingly absent from the world, can and must be pursued, however imperfectly, only by those living in the world; it is a heavy obligation that each of us must bear, no matter how busy our lives may be, no matter what social or economic tier we may occupy. To simply shrug off that responsibility and let others with baser motivations decide for us is to surrender a major component of what makes us human.

My reflections were in part prompted by an excellent piece by Martin Regg Cohn in today's Toronto Star about the Ontario government's addiction to gambling, or, more accurately, the putative profits that arise from it. Says Cohn,

We’ve lost our moral compass in recent years — not by embracing gambling, but eschewing taxes. We have been contaminated by the anti-tax compulsions of American political culture that prevent governments from maintaining a progressive taxation system. This pathological aversion to taxation has driven the explosion of casinos everywhere, as governments rely on gambling to take money from the poor while sparing the rich.

Something to think about as we contemplate the dismantling of Canadian values and traditions currently underway at both the federal and the provincial levels.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

And Because I Hold Harper In Such Contempt ....

I thought I would share today's Star editorial cartoon. Enjoy:

Canada's Interest In Burma Explained

Those of us who think within a certain political context were probably struck with the irony, if not the outright hypocrisy, of John Baird's visit to Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma last month. After all, here was the Foreign Affairs Minister for what is probably Canada's least democratic government in history calling upon an icon known worldwide for her selfless fight for democracy in her home country, a fight that has exacted a price few of us would be willing to pay, including being separated from her family for over 16 years and not being able to see him when her husband was dying.

However, it appears that Baird's brazen visit was prompted by more than a desire for a photo-op with this martyr. Thomas Walkom explains all in his column today.

Hint: Burma is resource rich and has a population willing to work very cheaply.

Is that the sound of corporate predators I hear howling at Burma's door?

Friday, April 6, 2012

CBC Truculence: Too Little, Too Late

About a year ago, I lamented the fact that the CBC, through Peter Mansbridge, seemed to be following a policy of appeasement toward the Harper government, probably in the forlorn hope of avoiding further decimation of its funding. Quite predictably, as we learned last week, that policy has proven to be an abject failure.

It is perhaps that realization that produced some 'fire in the belly' of last night's At Issues panel, which saw pretty much a uniform condemnation of the Harper regime over its gross and intentional misrepresentation of the true cost of the F-35 jet procurement program. The issue of ministerial responsibility got a pretty good airing on the panel.

I do, however, continue to be troubled by the presence of Bruce Anderson on the panel. Anderson, a senior 'spin' advisor, er, I mean public relations consultant, is described in his profile as 'one of Canada’s most experienced advisors specializing in issue, marketing and reputation management'. And it is through that lens that he evaluates the Harper regime misdeeds; as I noted in an earlier post when, on Tuesday's special panel, he wondered whether the issue will resonate with the public. He sang much the same tune last night, and while I truly hope that issues of public morality and basic democratic expectations cannot be reduced simply to public opinion, part of me fears that in this age of superficiality and a disengaged electorate, there might be some truth in his observation.

In any event, I hope if, on this Good Friday, you have about 15 minutes to spare, you will view last night's edition. As well, if you have an additional 3 minutes and 40 seconds to spare, I highly recommend for your delectation Rex Murphy's withering assessment both of Harper and Defense Minister Peter MacKay, describing the latter as an 'honourary cabinet minister' and an 'ornament.'

It is sad, however, that the CBC was unable to find its fortitude and integrity earlier, when it might have made a difference. I'm afraid that now, all of this 'sound and fury' does indeed signify 'nothing.'

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The World We Are Willfully Destroying

Last year, I wrote a post on the power of the documentary. In it, I discussed how a good nature documentary can very powerfully help us to see both the wonders of the world and how we are destroying that world.

Last night I watched the show Nature on PBS. The particular episode, called Ocean Giants: Deep Thinkers, focused on the extraordinary inner lives of dolphins and whales, positing that both not only display both curiosity and high intelligence, but also the kind of self-awareness that we have traditionally assigned only to ourselves. In addition, it is clear that they have a complex language through which they communicate.

The implications of this are staggering, and once more reinforce the magnitude of the crimes that we are committing against nature, propelled by a short-shortsightedness and greed that will probably condemn us as a species. I firmly believe that only by immersing ourselves in the amazing world around us do we have any hope of salvation.

I would urge you to watch this video to understand that despite our bedazzlement by our technological achievements, they really are shallow and insignificant in the larger scheme of things; we really have no reason to feel the hubris we do that gives us an absurd sense of entitlement and the right to do as we please as we exploit and despoil earth's resources. Ironically, however, that technology is crucial in watching this show online, not only because of its use of the Internet, but also due to the fact that copyright restrictions do not permit access to Canadians. The only way to obviate that restriction is to employ i.p. masking software, such as the free Hotspot Shield.

Andrea Horwath's Dance With Dalton

While I continue to remain dubious of what will happen when the Ontario Legislature votes on Dalton McGuinty's budget, I give the leader of the Ontario NDP, Andrea Horwath, top marks for what she says are her demands for NDP support.

It is, however, interesting to note how her plan, especially regarding a two-point increase in the marginal tax rates for those earning more than $500,000 per annum, is being met. Today's editorial in The Hamilton Spectator is a case study of the reactionary mind. The writer, Howard Elliott, while claiming to endorse her noble goals of increasing day-care spaces and boosting social assistance rates, decries her methodology, dismissing any prospect of raising taxes on the rich as "blatant wealth redistribution and social engineering," code words undoubtedly designed to appeal to and provoke the extreme right-wing.

A much more mature and nuanced assessment is offered by The Star's Martin Regg Cohn. While giving approval of her initiative to put "taxes back on the agenda," he does offer an additional suggestion for the use of some of the monies raised - defraying the deficit.

A tale of two newspapers, and a telling distinction between the bush league and the major league players.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The F-35 Debacle: Will There Be Fallout?

Not counting this post, in the past year I have written nine times on the F-35 jet controversy. I point this out, not to claim any particular perspicacity on the subject, (many others have written much more and in much greater detail than I have) but only to demonstrate how obvious to anyone with even a modest interest in the issue that the jets were going to cost significantly more than the Harper regime repeatedly claimed they would.

That is why it is so distressing to see the liars who govern Canada try to hide behind the Auditor-General's report which not only stated the obvious, but also, because Auditor Michael Ferguson's access was limited to the bureaucracy, was only able to lay the blame at the feet of the Department of National Defense. While Ferguson hinted that political oversight was lacking, his detailed analysis of the absence of due diligence in the information being supplied to the government, and the fact that no questions were asked, bespeak a gross incompetence that cries out for correction.

Unfortunately, that cry will likely result in no changes at all, partly because of the indifference of a woefully disengaged citizenry, and partly because there is little incentive for Harper to do the right thing. After all, he has a majority government, he is aware of the short attention span of the public, and I suspect that when he convinced Defense Minister Peter McKay to betray the Progressive Conservative Party by merging with the Reform Party, a certain immunity from Cabinet termination or demotion was conferred upon him. How else to explain the fact that his exceptional record of incompetence has gone unsanctioned for so long?

Finally, I watched the At Issues Panel on The National last night, with Andrew Coyne and Bruce Anderson. While both agreed that firings are warranted in this situation, Coyne going so far as to say McKay should be 'wearing' this issue, they both seemed to be giving the government a certain benefit of the doubt over the paucity of accurate information it received from the DND . While one of them suggested there might have been some willful ignorance on the part of Cabinet, there should be no question that government heads need to roll, given the tradition of ministerial responsibility and the fact that so much information was so widely and so publicly available to alert them to problems in the procurement assessment.

Anderson weighed in with the question of whether or not this entire debacle will even register with the larger public. On that gloomy prospect, I will end this post.

UPDATE: If you are interested in further analysis, Bruce Anderson has a piece that just appeared in the Globe in which, among other things, he laments what appears to be the end of ministerial responsibility and accountability.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Socialism and Happiness - A Coincidence?

I don't know what the extreme right-wing will make of this, but the fact that the top five countries on the Happiness Index either have socialism at their core or sufficient elements to ensure the general well-being of their populations should give the rabid advocates of unfettered capitalism some pause. For the record, the happiest countries on earth are:




The Netherlands


That bastion of free enterprise, the United States, ranked 11th out of 156 countries. My instinct is to say that Canada should bask in the glow of being fifth, as I suspect that soon, given the agenda of dismantling the underpinnings of our society at the heart of the Harper regime's ideology, we have will have nowhere to go but much further down on the list in future rankings.

Gwynne Dyer on Our Future

I have been writing lately about environmental degradation and the bleak future that seems to await us. On that theme, (and because I have a busy morning ahead of me) I am providing a link to an article by Gwynne Dyer, who argues that because of our huge global population and our interconnectedness, there is only one way to stave off total collapse: using our technological and scientific abilities to radically reduce the pressure we are putting on the earth's natural systems.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vic Toews In Hospital

This just in from The Star:

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was rushed to hospital by ambulance Monday morning.

A spokesperson for the minister’s office, Mike Patton, told the Star the minister has been battling a seasonal flu for the past number of weeks, and was take to hospital for observation “as a precaution.”

Patton asked that the media respect Toews’ privacy in the matter.

I trust I am not the only one who sees the irony in this request.

We are All Complicit in Environmental Degradation

Recently I wrote a post about the chilling effect that the federal budget will have on charities, especially those devoted to environmental activism. Unfortunately, I chose to ignore another reality that is equally grim - the fact that all of us (forgive the sweeping generalization) are to blame both for the current dire environmental situation we are in and for the future horrors that will ensue from that complicity.

In today's Star, columnist Christopher Hume reminds us of a few 'inconvenient truths':

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s move to “streamline” the environmental review process and muzzle the environmental movement was deeply disturbing, but Canadians will happily turn the other cheek.

Licking our lips in anticipation of tarsands trillions, Canadians, let alone Canadian politicians, are cheerfully signing up as our corner of the planet is plundered beyond recognition....

We can no longer see beyond the next fix....

As shrill as the deniers might be, we all know that the current path leads to degradation and devastation. Despite mounting evidence, including our own winter that wasn’t, we prefer to keep our collective head buried in the tar sand....

His depressing assessment of our own shortsightedness notwithstanding, I hope you will find time to read Hume's entire piece.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Departure of Mike Harris

Mike Harris, for whom I have everlasting contempt thanks to his divisive and disastrous time as Ontario's Premier, is leaving his directorship of Magna International under a cloud. I couldn't be happier.

Star Readers' Reactions To OAS Changes

In an earlier post I expressed both my bewilderment and disappointment at the muted 'person-in-the-street' reactions to the the Harper regime's change to Old Age Security that will require people currently under the age of 54 to wait until age 67 to begin receiving their benefits. That I may have been premature in expressing that bewilderment is reflected in some letters in this morning's Toronto Star, which I am taking the liberty of reproducing below. As always, Star readers' messages are both pointed and perspicacious.

Re: Tories add years to working lives, March 30

I “planned” for my retirement. I have been working since I was 17. That was until I became permanently disabled and unable to work five years ago. I receive a Canada Pension Plan Disability pension, which makes up 1/3 of my income, and long-term disability, which makes up 2/3 of my income. As a result of my disability, my income and benefits decreased to about 40 per cent of my pre-disability income.

I now spend thousands of dollars a year on medication and health-care providers delisted by the provincial Liberal government. I can no longer afford to live independently; I had to move in with my parents.

Tell me Mr. Harper, since my long-term disability benefits cease in 13 years at age 65 and my CPP-D decreases, how will I financially survive until the age of 67 when you are taking away OAS and GIS benefits for those two years?

Dawn Wylie, Mississauga

Increasing the eligibility for old age benefits from 65 to 67 is cruel at best. Most Canadians are living on low-wage jobs with no pension plans and struggle to pay the bills, let alone being able to contribute to RRSPs. Making Canadians work longer when some may be in dangerous jobs or have health issues is unfair.

As NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said, Stephen Harper informed Canadians last June that the Conservatives would not touch the pensions of Canadians and they misled us all. Although CPP was not touched, most Canadians rely on the OAS to top up the measly $12,000 a year the CPP pays out.

Jim Flaherty should have tackled the MPPs’ platinum-plated pension plan first and then looked at the OAS. Better yet, MPPs should live on the equivalent of CPP for a month to better understand the struggles of average Canadians.

Avery Thurman, Oshawa

Many Canadians do not understand what the change to the OAS means. It does not affect me now as I am too old but I understand what it means to people on a low income. Many single women and other Canadians who have no company pension to supplement the old age pension depend on the OAS. To take money away from this group of seniors is like taking from the poor. Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty should be ashamed. This change is despicable and an eye-opener. It shows me finally what Harper stands for and who he really is.

Elizabeth Richardson, Toronto