Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Change of Heart, Or A Change In Political Winds?

Much has been written and discussed about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, both on this blog and in various other media; consequently, I suspect that the majority of well-informed Canadians will look with deep cynicism upon the announcement that the Harper regime intends to crack down on widespread employer abuses of the program that has seen Canadians displaced by immigrants being paid up to 15% less in wages.

Those whose acquaintance with Canadian politics is limited only to being able to name the Prime Minister of Canada and perhaps one opposition leader will doubtless feel that the Harper crew is being responsive to the needs of Canadians, now that these wholly unanticipated abuses of the program have become known.

In this, of course, they would be completely deluded.

Consider this about the TFWP:

Critics say it has been misused to recruit foreigners for many low-skilled positions that could have gone to Canadians. With 1.3 million Canadians out of work, the Conservative government was facing charges that it was making it too easy for companies to go abroad for their labour needs.

The article reminds us that the problem was well-known to the government, adding to the suspicion that its purpose all along was to lower labour costs for business. For example last year, HD Mining International Ltd. a Chinese-backed coal mining operation in British Columbia, brought in 201 miners from China under the plan.

Or Consider this observation:

NDP MP Chris Charlton said government’s record so far on the file makes her skeptical they have fixed the problems.

“The reality is that they have made an absolute mess of the temporary foreign workers program,” Charlton said.

“They have systematically loosened the rules to make it easier for employers to hire cheap foreign labour at the expense of Canadian workers.”

Advocates groups are similarly cynical that the Harper regime has experienced a sudden epiphany:

“We have little faith that they would result in anything meaningful,” said Naveen Mehta of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada. “It’s just (smoke and mirrors).”

Using Ottawa’s bad employer list as an example, former live-in caregiver Kay Manuel, whose story of exploitation sparked off new migrant worker protection laws, said the federal government has yet to name a bad Canadian employer on its website since its 2011 launch.

Mehta's doubts are shared by many others:

“The changes announced today are mostly about rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship,” said Chris Ramsaroop, a member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a coalition of grassroots advocacy groups.

Calling Ottawa’s reforms “political jockeying,” Deena Ladd, executive director of the Toronto Workers’ Action Centre, said Ottawa could enhance the migrant worker program’s transparency by publicizing Canadian employers using the program and the jobs migrant workers they are bringing in to fill.

Perhaps the final word should go to the business community which, quite predictably, is warning that the sky may fall as a result of these changes:

“One of the worst decisions this government has ever made,” said Dan Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said of the new rules. “They’re completing ignoring the needs of small firms and the needs of employers who are in need of entry level workers.”

“I’m very, very unhappy with this government for this decision,” Kelly added.

Or how about this apocalyptic morsel from a former Progressive Conservative politician:?

“It’s going to drive up costs and make it more difficult to use the program,” said Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“Nobody benefits from that,” Beatty said adding it could force come employers out of business.

One might tartly add, Mr. Beatty, that no Canadian workers have benefited from the TFWP in its current configuration.

Welcome to the real world, sir.

Monday, April 29, 2013

More Much-Deserved Mockery

From the folks at Canadians Rallying To Unseat Harper:

Revisiting The Past

In this blog, I try as hard as possible not to repeat myself. True, that is often a difficult objective to achieve when, with the same fascination that train wrecks and natural disasters exert over some people, I have an ongoing obsession with the political outrages embodied in people like Stephen Harper and Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.

But for this post, I have to revisit my teaching career, something I rarely do because it is part of the past, a completed chapter of my life. In today's Star, there is a story on a report from People for Education, a group that has been headed for many years by Annie Kidder that works toward monitoring and improving public education.

While the report admits that the roots and patterns of inequality are complex and interconnected, it makes the following observation:

... teens from low-income homes make up the bulk of those taking non-academic credits ... The numbers show the lower the average family income at a particular secondary school, the higher the percentage of students taking “applied” math.

In schools where families earn an average of $110,000 a year, fewer than 10 per cent of students take that course.

While I have no reason to question these statistics, they really do not tell the full story, rife as it is with the implication of some kind of class discrimination colouring the advice students receive from educators on their course selections:

Charles Ungerleider, an education professor at the University of British Columbia, said the government must pay attention to the findings. “Mathematical ability, like other abilities, is normally distributed across the population …. Why are youngsters being slotted into applied courses in disproportionate numbers?” said Ungerleider.

As my policy-analyst son has reminded me on more than one occasion, issues and problems are never simple, outward appearances notwithstanding. And it is this truth, I think, that needs to be applied to the above report.

A constellation of factors influence a student's academic performance: language skills (for example, whether or not the student is a newcomer to English), general intelligence, behaviour, attendance, home situation, and social-economic status are among them. In my own experience, although not invariably true, those whose parent are reasonably affluent can better advocate for their kids, but that doesn't mean that none of them are in the applied courses. Yet it seems to be true that those from homes of poverty or little affluence are over represented in applied programs, but one of the reasons for that is that they tend to be homes where parents, having less education, value education less themselves and transmit that attitude to their children, and often provide little oversight of their study habits, etc. Again, this is not intended as a gross over generalization, but merely an observation borne of my own teaching experience.

When a respect for the goals of education is weak, there are consequences that combine to detract from student achievement: lack of self-discipline, low completion rate on assignments, tardiness and absence, and disruptive classroom behaviour. Despite the public perception that teachers are trained and competent to deal with all of these variables and still deliver the desired educational outcomes is more myth than reality. Some teachers are better in such situations than others; in all frankness, I rarely felt that I did a particularly good job in the applied classes that I taught.

Hence, the problem itself becomes one of not only addressing the problem of growing poverty and income inequality in our society, but also of how to impart an appreciation of the importance of education to recalcitrant families and their children, and motivating them accordingly, no easy tasks, I can assure you.

Sadly, in my mind, there are no simple solutions to this problem, but I write this post only as an effort to balance what seems to me to be the temptation of People For Education to interpret the issue as a form of class warfare.

On Harper's Cyberbullying and Hypocrisy

Since I arose uncharacteristically late this morning, I am still working on today's post. In the interim, I take the liberty of reproducing some letters from Star readers on a topic dear to the heart of progressives: Harper's attack ads:

Re: Tory ad war drowns out debate over free speech, April 25

The federal Conservative party professes to decry the repugnant act of cyberbullying. Definition: “when the Internet, cellphones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” The recent Conservative attack ads against Justin Trudeau seem to fit this definition. Considering that we are not in the midst of an election campaign, these spiteful attack ads on a fellow Member of Parliament sure look a lot like cyberbullying to me.

Garth Dynes, Unionville

Bravo to Justin Trudeau for leaving the Conservative attack ads in his dust by taking a positive approach to his campaign strategy. I’ve always wondered if in my lifetime I would ever see a politician promote his or her (party’s) own worth through positive ad campaigns based on integrity.

While the Harper government considers implementing changes to federal laws that address and prevent cyberbullying, would it not be a good time for it to reflect on its own negative and extremely juvenile bullying tactics when it comes to the direction that its “promotional” material is taking?

Anne Chisholm, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Tim Harper suggests that the Prime Minister's “softer side” was on display in his recent meeting with the Nova Scotia mother of a victim of cyberbullying. Your columnist can't be serious. For the man ultimately responsible for the repulsive attack ads that are relegating Canadian political conversation to the sub-basement to commiserate with anyone on the subject of bullying surely redefines hypocrisy.

Ray Jones, Toronto

So Justin Trudeau took his shirt off in public for a charity — so what? The Tories won't let Stephen Harper take off his shirt because the stuffing would fall out.

Stephen Adams, London, Ont.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

More On The Online Community Experience

Earlier in the month, I wrote a post in which I reflected upon the affinity and sense of community I feel in the 'progressive blogosphere.' Prompted by the Internet connectivity problems I was having at the time, I wrote about how I felt a surprising sense of loss in not being able to read the people I follow, and discussed how I derive comfort and strength from the knowledge that a community of shared values exists, and that I am by no means alone in my desire for a better society.

This morning, I made a rather rare foray to church, accompanying my wife in her usual Sunday attendance at a local United Church service, prompted by the knowledge that the minister, a very progressive former Baptist, was going to talk about his recent trip to the Middle East occupied territories. While waiting for him to talk, I perused the church bulletin, and found something that I think is relevant to my deliberations about communities. The writer, Matthew Heesing, who is serving in Columbia, offered his reflections on the importance of 'presence,' something of real significance for me, I think, in the online community of which I am a part.

I reproduce the piece below, with no further comment.

April 28-Not Alone

When people ask me [why I am here in Colombia], I usually respond by saying that I'm here to build solidarity with the people and United Church partners of Colombia. But the phrase "build solidarity" seems to leave people with more questions than answers. And I understand why-it's more of an abstract concept than a tangible response ....

But now I realize that simply having someone stand with you can make all the difference in the world. And if you've ever been through an extremely rough time, or had someone close to you go through a life-shattering experience, you know what I mean. When you are going through a divorce, or have lost your job, or have had to say farewell to a loved one, or have been through any number of similar experiences ... you don't need someone with all the answers ....

There is such a power in presence. In just being with someone, whether it means standing with them, or walking with them, or sitting with them in silence, or just being with them, sharing life. Presence is powerful. When I arrived at the office of CEP ALC, my first full day in Colombia, I found a sign waiting for me in my office: "MATTHEW HEESING: Welcome to Colombia. Welcome to CEPALC. Thank you for your presence."

I don't for a moment pretend like I fully understand the complex realities of Colombia .... I can't even fluently speak the language. But, many times in life, that's not what is needed. Many times in life, what's needed even more is presence. Someone standing with you, walking with you, being with you ... helping you to know that you are not alone.

Some Thoughts From An Ontario Perspective - UPDATED

While acknowledging that Ontario politics is likely of little interest to those living outside the province, I think there is much wisdom in former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill's observation that "All politics is local." If it affects a constituent 'where he or she lives,' either in the physical or the mental/philosophical sense, I regard much of what occurs in our country politically as local.

For example, it was local politics when, in his ongoing attempt to hobble scientific study and muzzle voices of reason and expertise that demonstrate his policies to be fraudulent, retrograde and dangerous, Stephen Harper ended federal funding for the Experimental Lakes Area. A world-renowned facility conducting peerless research on global threats to the environment and to ecosystems, its defunding/closure affects all of us due to its negative impact on most people's values and the pervasive nature of environmental degradation.

And it is here that the Ontario connection becomes relevant. This week, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that Ontario will provide funding to keep the research facility open for the rest of this year, and is reaching out to Manitoba and others to try to ensure its long-term viability.

With this context in mind, I am taking the liberty of reproducing a letter from a Star reader found in today's edition that I think speaks for many across the country:

Premier Kathleen Wynne cautions NDP, Tories against ‘unnecessary’ election, April 24

I was moved to write for the first time to Premier Kathleen Wynne on Thursday. I wished to congratulate and thank her for her intention to spearhead the saving of the Experimental Lakes Area research facility from death by federal funding cuts. I’m sure there are many thousands of people across the country who, like me, are greatly relieved to hear this news.

Stephen Harper’s decision to cut off funds to this invaluable research facility has been widely denounced in Canada and abroad. The federal government’s foolish (and dangerous) move comes as no surprise, following as it does upon the heels of a lengthy list of examples of the wilful gouging of Canada’s environmental protections. The apparent reason for shedding responsibility for any part of the ELA research facility is so the Conservatives can save money to be returned to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada, both of which have been robbed by the Conservatives in the first place. But in this decision our Prime Minister’s motive is transparent. We all know that he will not allow successful scientific projects, especially those connected to the study of effects of climate change, to carry on with any kind of government support.

So thank you, Premier Wynne.

As reported Wednesday morning in the Vancouver Sun, the founding director of the Experimental Lakes Area facility, David Schindler, expressed his thanks by saying “the premier’s intervention is ‘like a ray of sunshine in the Dark Ages.’ ” How true.

Patricia Morris, Toronto

UPDATE: This morning's Toronto Star has an interesting editorial on the situation, which you can read by clicking here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Leading Climate Scientist Responds To Joe Oliver And His 'Neanderthal Government' - UPDATED

The other day I wrote a blog post on one of our national disgraces, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. While in Washington recently promoting the proposed XL Keystone pipeline through the United States, Oliver took the opportunity to insult and denigrate one of the world's leading climate-change scientists, James Hansen.

In an interview with the CBC's Evan Solomon, Hansen uses the occasion to set the record straight and offer his own opinion on our federal government, which he terms 'neanderthal' on the topic of climate change. The video of that interview is available below:

UPDATE: Read Sorry, Jim: Apologies from Canada about Oil Minister Joe Oliver, written by John Bennett at rabble.ca.

H/t Penny Mills

A Classy Apology

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of my almost boundless enthusiasm for The Toronto Star. I deeply admire its progressive mission, and I find its roster of excellent columnists informative and thought-provoking. I have come to regard it as a trusted source of news and opinion.

It was therefore a bit of a shock to realize how badly below acceptable journalistic standards it recently fell when it published a story about Ontario Liberal MPP Magaret Best who, after being dropped from her cabinet position in the new Wynne government, took a medical leave, which she is still on. The story was accompanied by a photo of Best and her daughter vacationing in Mexico. As I supposed most readers did, I drew what seemed to be some obvious conclusions about Best's behaviour.

There was only one problem, however, with the story; the photo in question was taken, not recently, but in 2008, from a picture posted on Best's Facebook page.

Upon realizing the error, the Star printed a full correction, directing readers on Page 1 to go to A2 for the complete apology. In this morning's edition, there is a full column by The Star's Public Editor, Kathy English, explaining and apologizing for what she calls the paper's egregious error; without any equivocation or self-justification, English makes it very clear how far below standards the paper fell.

I have to respect the fact that the paper is holding itself fully accountable for this terrible mistake, and has even gone so far as to remove the offending article from its website. In my mind, this contrasts sharply with the temporizing and vague explanations issued by The Globe and Mail's Sylva Stead and editor-in-chief John Stackhouse when Margaret Wente's plagiarism became known.

If anyone wants to see an apology that really isn't an apology, read the Globe links above, or better yet, look at Wente's own 'explanation' for her failure which, it turned out, was only one of several instances of plagiarism, all of which the Globe has excused.

Despite the decline of the print medium, in my view it still plays a vital role in protecting our increasingly precarious democracy. Showing disdain for that public trust, as I believe the Globe did, does nothing to advance that mission. Because of its unequivocal, classy and very public mea culpa, the Toronto Star retains both my trust and my subscription.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Some Well-Deserved Ridicule

I suspect only the party faithful and the 'true-believers' would find these pictures objectionable:

Is this A New Crime In Harperland?

While the word commit has several meanings, when it is used without the preposition 'to' (as in, He is committed to her cause), it is invariably associated with something heinous (John committed arson; Shelley committed fraud; Lorne committed murder). It is therefore not likely a slip of the tongue when the man who heads our government (sorry, I can't bear to refer to him as our Prime Minister) says, at about 1:20 on the following video, that this is not the time to "commit sociology" when asked about the arrests of two men this week who are accused of conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack on a Via train:

Never one to miss an opportunity to denigrate a political rival, in this case, of course, Justin Trudeau, who last week talked about the need to find the 'root causes' of terrorism, something very much a priority for the United States, Harper apparently sees such concern as only fodder for scorn, ridicule, and political opportunism.

And then there is Harrper's faithful pet parrot Pierre Poilievre, never one to add an original thought to political discourse, content to simply repeat what he has been told to promulgate by his master. Take a look at the following video where he is in full plumage; especially noteworthy is what he says at about 2:20, which seems to leave interviewer Evan Solomon almost speechless:

Stephen Harper and his minions have always been quite adept at offering simple solutions to the simple-minded and those who prefer their thinking and world-views to be uncluttered by nuance.

For those sufficiently reflective to understand that complexity is a part of the very nature of existence, the man and his machine have nothing to offer, and can expect nothing from us except our continuing contempt.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Embodiment Of The Transcendent

Adrianne Haslet and Beth Roche are two faces of the human spirit I was trying to talk about the other day.

I am in awe.

Something To Make You Smile

Apropos of nothing except that I am a huge jazz fan and today would have been Ella Fitzgerald's 96th birthday, an event being commemorated with a Google Doodle, I invite you to take a few minutes to watch one of her renditions of Mack the Knife. I can almost guarantee it will make your day better, and it will probably also make you smile:

A Bit More About Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver

Late yesterday afternoon, I wrote a post on one of our more shameful politicians, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and the embarrassment we all should feel over his performance in Washington in a speech to a carefully-screened audience pushing the XL Keystone pipeline. In it, he rebuked and ridiculed leading climate-change scientist James Hansen for his warnings about the Alberta tarsands.

In a comment on yesterday's post, which you can read in by clicking the above link, The Salamander offered his usual penetrating analysis, this time assessing the Natural Resources Minister and providing a link to Franke James' site. An environmental activist, writer, and game designer, James provides a transcript of a meeting she had with Oliver on March 3/12 at his riding office in Toronto.

I hope you will take some time to peruse the transcript, as it offers even more insight into the man who, in my view, has a decidedly twisted view of what his role as Natural Resources Minister is.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oh, Joe Oliver, Have You No Shame? UPDATED

In denouncing a leading climate change scientist, the coward, Resources Minister Joe Oliver, showed his complete lack of character, insisting that his message be delivered to a carefully screened audience to avoid any embarrassment from those who favour truth over propaganda.

As Canadians, we should all feel ashamed by the way we are being misrepresented in other countries by this man and his government.

UPDATED: Perhaps you will agree that this interview with Oliver by Evan Solomon can only compound our collective embarrassment over his lies/ineptitude:

This Can't Be Healthy

As deeply suspicious and cynical as I am about institutions, it is probably not surprising that I view with a jaundiced eye the events surrounding the arrest of two terror suspects accused of a plot to blow up a Via Rail train. Many have asked questions about the sudden urgency of Harper's rearranging the parliamentary agenda so that his terror bill could begin to be debated on Monday, coinciding with the RCMP announcement of the arrests.

Coincidences happen, but I am always suspicious when they do. And given the well-known politicization that the RCMP has undergone in recent years, any person with a modicum of critical-thinking skills is bound to wonder if this is not yet another example of our national police force allowing itself to be used by its political masters, something undoubtedly unhealthy both for democracy and general trust in government.

In his column today, The Star's Tim Harper implies an element of manipulation:

Governments have long used fear to their advantage.

The former George W. Bush government in the U.S. used to change the colour of its “terror threat” if it was marching into headwinds on other matters. In this case, by abruptly changing gears last Friday and deciding to move on its long-neglected anti-terrorist legislation, Conservatives immediately faced charges of using the Boston Marathon bombings for political expediency.

Security expert Wesley Wark believes there was a degree of opportunism in the Conservative move to bring the anti-terror debate to the Commons floor Monday...

But no one Tuesday wanted to try to connect the other dots. It had become too perilous with two terror suspects in custody.

The Star's Heather Mallick is less opaque in her accusations, stating bluntly about the RCMP,

I do not trust them, just as I no longer trust Toronto police after the G20 debacle and do not trust a Harper majority government. Its calling card is to warn us non-stop of “Muslim terrorists,” which might not offend were this government neutral on religion.

Mallick reminds us of the terrible erosion of civil liberty the Conservative's anti-terror bill entails:

... “preventative detention” would mean that any Canadian could be arrested and held for three days on suspicion of terrorist involvement with no charge being laid.

“An investigative hearing” means that someone suspected of knowing about a terrorist plot could be imprisoned for up to a year if they refused to answer questions.

She points out that another provision of the bill is that it makes it a crime to leave Canada to commit an act of terrorism, and raises the specter of a false arrest abroad:

Do you trust Stephen Harper and the Conservative government and the RCMP to do the ethical, informed, reasonable thing in your case? Or do you expect them to follow a hard-right ideology, to overreact as the Americans do?

The answer for many of us to that question is sadly negative. And such a complete loss of faith and trust in one's government can't be healthy, either for individuals or for our democracy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Union Betrayal At Nanticoke

Threatening to withhold strike pay, The United Steelworkers International is forcing the members at Nanticoke to vote on a contract demanding concessions to U.S. Steel. Surely this is an illustration of what Chis hedges has to say in his book, Death of the Liberal Class.

On FIPA, Justin Trudeau, and Chauncey Gardner

Last night while checking my Twitter feed, I noticed several people expressing their deep disappointment over the fact that Justin Trudeau led his Liberal Party to vote with the Harper regime against an NDP motion to inform China that it will not ratify the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). While much has been written about the pact, the chief objections seem to revolve around the following:

- it will severely circumscribe our ability to regulate our environment, since any such measures that lead to loss of corporate profit would result in compensation demands from the aggrieved businesses;

- lawsuits will take place in secret tribunals outside of Canada;

- the negotiations have been conducted in secret, completely devoid of transparency;

- as opposed to NAFTA, which can be cancelled with six months' notice, FIPA will have a lifespan of 31 years

- China will be able to circumscribe local preferences on suppliers and employment.

To be fair to Trudeau, the Liberals are on record as saying they oppose some of the provisions of the deal, but were not prepared to side with the NDP motion to definitively declare the deal dead, banking instead on the possibility of changing some of the treaty's terms.

Nonetheless, the reaction of disappointment toward Trudeau's vote got me thinking about his dearth of policy pronouncements and the fact that in the run-up to the leadership convention, so many were projecting their own hopes and interpretation onto the blank canvas that he touts as a strength, since he claims to want to talk to Canadians about their concerns and priorities. Indeed, all we know about where he stands comes from his announcements about concerns for the middle class, youth unemployment, and similar platitudes.

Which got me thinking about a book I read several years ago, later made into an outstanding film featuring the peerless Peter Sellers in his last performance. Entitled Being There, it told the tale of a simple man, Chauncey Gardener, a gardener who is forced out into the world upon the death of his employer. In some ways a savant, he knows nothing except the world of gardening, but is mistaken for a well-educated, affluent upper class man, and ultimately his 'counsel' is sought by the high and mighty of society, who infer deep meaning, never intended by the speaker, from his literal and simplistic observations.

Clearly, Justin Trudeau is no savant. But then, the movie was not so much about Chauncey than it was a sendup of the credulity and shallowness of the people around him, searching for meaning and wisdom where there was none.

Perhaps these two clips best demonstrate my point:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Finding The Light Amidst Despair

During my teaching days, in the aftermath of 9/11 a student came to see me to discuss her feelings of helplessness and despair in the face of such monumental evil. While I had no special wisdom to offer her, I did say that although I had been witness to some terrible world events in my lifetime, I had never lost complete hope for one particular reason: if evil truly prevailed in this world, we would have destroyed ourselves by now. The fact that we haven't attests to something that the truly vile and depraved amongst us never acknowledge or admit to themselves – the human capacity for goodness, selflessness, and resilience.

I reminded her of the literature we had studied that attests to those qualities. John Steinbeck, in his best-known novel, The Grapes of Wrath, explored the concept of Manself, his term for the human spirit, a spirit that may certainly suffer setbacks, whether through violence in its many forms, beaten strikes or economic injustice, but remains alive, even in defeat, as long as people continue taking the steps necessary to oppose oppression in its many forms:

... Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live- for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died. And fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live – for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken.

And this you can know- fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.

During the recent bombings in Boston, that spirit was very much in evidence. People, despite not knowing where or when the next bomb might go off, instead of fleeing to the safety of shelter, tended to those who had sustained such grievous injuries. Whether doctors, passersby or marathon watchers, they thought of others before themselves:

This is why, whether we are talking about evil on a large or small scale, whether we are talking about suffering that seems to arbitrarily visit us either collectively or individually, hope remains alive, reminding all of us that every one of these moments of grace point the way to something greater, something that some would call transcendent, or to paraphrase Steinbeck, distinctive in the animal kingdom.

Scrutinizing the NDP

I am well past the age where I expect very much from our politicians, especially given the current level of disengagement among the Canadian electorate; because of that disengagement, the notion of electoral accountability has become merely a quaint and rather remote ideal. While I hate to admit it, for me the practice of voting, which I shall never abandon as long as I have both my faculties and my life, has become an exercise in trying to choose the party that will do the least damage to the country.

It is from this perspective that I look skeptically at all of the parties, not the least of which is the NDP, which I shall likely vote for in the next federal election, despite grave misgivings over its drift toward the centre (perhaps even the centre-right?)

This morning's Star editorial cartoon is worth pondering:

Also worth consideration is this letter from Michael Dale, of Stratford Ontario:

NDP removes socialist language in its constitution, April 15

The recent choice by the NDP to discard the word socialism from its constitution comes as no surprise to those of us who genuinely strive for a better, more equitable system.

The NDP was born an opportunistic party and now it has openly shed any pretense of principle. I applaud this move. Now perhaps socialists within the party who have long made excuses for its behaviour will come to their senses and leave.

Some issue was made of the appearance of U.S. Democratic party functionaries at the recent NDP convention. This should not have been a surprise. The NDP derived its very name from that American institution as it opportunistically attempted to catch the wake of another flashy young U.S. president who lacked substance. History does repeat itself.

I ask only one thing of the NDP. Please stop claiming a lineage from the CCF. That historic party was a socialist party. The NDP in no way shares its goals or ideals.

It shows a lack of respect for the women and men who risked all to stand up against the established political and financial power of Canada. Let the CCF remain a noble historic symbol of working class determination. And may its torch someday be raised again by socialists across the country.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Harper's Thuggish Contempt For The Environment

This video probably speaks for itself, but for its full context, click here.

H/t rabble.ca

Our Inconvenient Civil Liberties/Charter Rights

It may be that I am overly sensitive to the reactionary agenda that seems to dominate society today. It may be that I am misinterpreting a public statement made by a Canadian professor who teaches at both the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University. It may mean nothing at all. Or it could have very dangerous implications.

Ever since the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001, there has been a steady erosion of civil liberties in the United States. Illegal renditions by that country, aided and abetted by many other jurisdictions, targetting American citizens for assassination, and denying suspects their Miranda rights are but three examples.

Lest we think we are beyond such practices in Canada, we need only think of the infamous case of Maher Arar, whose rendition to Syria for torture and imprisonment was aided and abetted by our government.

So it was with real interest that I read in this morning's Star the fact that two years ago, Russia warned the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the 26-year-old bombing suspect killed earlier Friday after a firefight with police, was a follower of radical Islam” and that “he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”

The question naturally arises, of course, as to why, with that warning, nothing was done to prevent the deaths and grievous injuries that occurred last week at The Boston Marathon.

Canadian professor Christian Leuprecht addresses that question in the following way:

“Is there anything in the way that the law is written that prevented intelligence agencies from doing the job they need to do?”

“It points to the difficulty we’ve put intelligence services in,” he said. “On the one hand we expect them to pick out all the radicals and rein them in and make sure they don’t do anything crazy. On the other, we live in a society where we agree that just having marginal ideas is not illegal.”

Again, I am perfectly willing to admit the possibility that I am misinterpreting Professor Leuprecht's comments, which may simply be observational in nature. However, if they are, instead, prescriptive, he and everyone else who may see our rights and freedoms as inconvenient or unnecessary fetters to law enforcement need to be reminded of one inconvenient truth: those rights and freedoms exist to protect citizens against abuses from the state; they are not there to make anyone's job easier, even for those charged with the responsibility of rooting out terrorism that may reside in our midst.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

An Economist Who Opposes Austerity - UPDATED

Unfortunately, I did not have time to write the blog post I had in mind, but fortuitously a friend alerted me to this video, a discussion between TVO's Steve Paikin and Mark Blyth, an author and Ivy League professor who discusses why the current austerity mania is a bad idea.

Coupled with the fact that two grad students detected a fundamental error in the spreadsheet calculations of the two Harvard professors upon whose shoddy work the justification for austerity largely rests, perhaps it is time for a larger consideration of its wisdom?

UPDATE: Here is solid evidence to support Mark Blyh's warning about the circular effect of widespread austerity efforts.

More On Harper's Attack Ads

I hope to write an actual blog post on an entirely different topic later today, but since the latest poll shows a very strong reaction against the Prime Minister's puerile attack ads directed against Justin Trudeau, I can't resist reproducing a few of the letters from Star readers in this morning's edition expressing their thoughts on the issue. Be sure to check out this link if you want to read all of them :

Tories attack Trudeau on first day in new job, April 16

These ads are pathetic. What an awful was to instill the values of leadership to the youth of our country. When kids see it on after dinner you’re showing them that it’s OK to bully to get what you want. High school teens running for school council see that in order to win they should bash their opponents. And to think this cost upwards of $600,000 for production and media time?

As an undecided voter I find this absolutely disgusting and an awful waste of money and time. Get your stuff together. We don’t want a bully, we want a confident, bright leader with integrity who leads through respect and inspires us.

I was undecided about Justin Trudeau until I saw the Conservative Party attack ads. I’d like to thank Harper’s crew for making up my mind for me. They’ve pushed me right into Trudeau’s arms. Maybe they should revert back to a party name suggested a few years ago. The Conservative Reform Alliance Party. The acronym is certainly appropriate.

Lesley Chalmers, Toronto

Stephen Harper’s Regressive Conservative Party has truly sunk to new lows in its recent attack ad on Justin Trudeau. It is completely beside the point that Mr. Trudeau took his shirt off in the context of a charity function. Attack ads are contemptuous, juvenile tactics that we as Canadians should be disgusted with, period — especially in non-election years. Mr. Harper must feel terribly threatened to stoop to such levels.

Jenny Tsao, Thornhill

The prime minister should be ashamed of approving and standing behind such infantile, idiotic, grade-school bully style, expensive and totally useless attack ads against Justin Trudeau. Is this something an adult professional organization can be proud of?

I hope the people of Canada realize in the next election how absolutely shallow this political party really is!

Peter Buck, Coldwater

Friday, April 19, 2013

'Is There No Honour In This Man?'

So asks MP Charlie Angus about the subject of this video report, Mike Duffy, who, as we learn, has even less integrity than it would be thought possible for any person to have:

UPDATE: Unbelievable - now Duffy claims he repaid the money in March.

Is Harper Just A Big Bully?

These Star readers seem to think so:

Tories attack Trudeau on first day in new job, April 16

It is fair to criticize opposing politicians for their political beliefs and policies. It is right to deplore bullying in all its forms. Now we find that the usual unfair, unjust and bullying attack ads of the Harper Tory’s are aimed directly at the new leader of the Liberal party.

They do not attack Mr. Trudeau’s politics but childishly attack him and only him. This takes the usual Harper cyber-bullying to a whole new level. Given the example this sets for other cyber bullies, we should no longer tolerate these unprovoked personal attacks.

Is it time for the Conservatives to find a new leader and a new path?

Bob Sture, Innisfil

Any survivor of sexual abuse knows that the effects last a lifetime. And then there are the victims who don’t survive.

Recently, young perpetrators of rape have added new horrors to their crime, taking pictures of their victim and circulating them in their community as if the photos were trophies celebrating a kill. No wonder the resulting name-calling and degradation lead some girls to commit suicide.

What is happening to our society when vicious attacks on individual integrity, physical and/or psychological, are celebrated as some sort of victory? We have to look to the highest levels in our society for at least part of the explanation.

I refer to the “attack ad” mentality of the Conservative Party in Canada, and of political strategists in other countries as well. They are not to be dismissed as merely tiresome or childish. These chilling, contemptuous, and arrogant messages are casting a shadow over the population that condones and even encourages brutality as legitimate self-expression.

Any society that fails to respect its own and protect its own, that tolerates a government bent on degrading and eliminating those honourably serving as the Opposition, will not survive for long. Our young are already reflecting the harm such a toxic political environment causes.

It’s time Canada’s citizens took more responsibility in demanding a better example from its elected representatives.

Dianna Rodgers Allen, Parry Sound

I am shocked by the Conservative attack ad on Justin Trudeau I just saw on television.

At a time when we are saddened by the suicides of teenagers who have been humiliated and bullied after demeaning representations of them have been posted publicly, at a time when we wonder how teenagers can be so cruel, at a time when we ask what we can do to stop this, we are faced with the same practice at the very highest level of our country.

Terribly sad that all those involved in planning, shooting, approving and subsequently running this ad thought it was OK.

Yvette Laezza, Mississauga

Harper Hypocrisy on Full Display

In his column this morning, The Star's Tim Harper points out something that I think many of us are all too aware of: Stephen Harper is a hypocrite. There really is no other way to describe the despicable partisanship that permeates our Prime Minister's deformed soul, most recently on display in London when he took the opportunity to exploit the tragedy of the Boston Marathon deaths and grievous injuries from a terrorist bombing.

As Tim Harper tartly observes, the usual protocol of not criticizing one's own country while abroad depends on who’s talking. There is one rule for Stephen Harper and another rule for everyone else.

The columnist reminds us of how Tom Mulcair, during his recent trip to Washington, offered some trenchant criticism when responding to questions by Canadian reporters:

When Mulcair questioned Canada’s commitment to fighting climate change, raising the Conservative decision to abandon Kyoto and its inability to meet its Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission targets, the government went apoplectic.

Mulcair was accused of “trash talking’’ Canada, killing Canadian jobs, ignoring Canadian interests, refusing to, as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver put it, “leave politics at the border.”

Yet, of course, while in London on Wednesday to attend the Thatcher funeral, Harper refused to 'leave politics at the border'; even though he was not even asked by reporters about Justin Trudeau's remarks to Peter Mansbridge, our national disgrace launched into a broadside against him in an attempt to score a few political points.

While most of us were taught to show some respect when death and serious injury occurs, apparently Stephen Harper sees such occurrences as opportunities to promote his political 'brand,' one that, I sincerely hope, is becoming increasingly odious to more and more Canadians.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Harper Becomes An International Embarassment

Time to cut our losses?

Allan Gregg on Attack Ads

I have written about Allan Gregg on this blog before; probably his most noteworthy recent contribution to political discourse came in his speech to Carleton University’s School of Public Affairs, in which he denounced the Orwellian bent of the Harper regime in its promotion of ignorance in place information and knowledge.

Gregg offers his thoughts on attacks ads in this morning's Star. In contrast to the blood sport that it has become under the Harper regime, Gregg defines politics this way:

For good or ill, politics is the process by which we organize civil, democratic society. It is used to allocate a nation’s scarce resources. Through it, we confer a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Because of it, we are able to represent the wishes of the majority and at the same time protect the rights of the minority. And at bottom, politics creates a state that has the potential to do immense good or infinite harm and, as such, we all have a vested interest that the best and brightest and only those who are motivated by the public good are encouraged to enter public life.

By this definition, the Harper government has abjectly failed the public whose interests and well-being they were charged with protecting and promoting. Gregg readily admits that attack ads do work because they play to people's innate cynicism about politicians. And as I have asserted before, I believe that the additional purpose behind Harper's 'politics of denunciation' is the discouragement of people from voting, thereby allowing the 'true believers' (whoever those benighted souls may be) to have disproportionate influence at the polls.

I consider Gregg as one who knows of what he speaks. The 'brains' behind the 1993 campaign ad ridiculing Jean Chretien's facial deformity, he must have at some point experienced a Damascene conversion, no doubt facilitated by the Harper regime's relentless practice of politics that bespeaks a depraved indifference to the health of our democracy, of which attack ads are only a small part. Gregg now seems to be spending much of his time trying to atone for those past mistakes, and today's Star article seems very much a part of that process of penance.

So I will leave the final word with the former pollster:

... those who believe that this (the public good) is “what politics are really about” have a responsibility to draw attention to its virtues and not just its shortcomings.

Incoming Editorial Cartoon

Oh, I do so savor The Toronto Star.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Is Nothing Sacred?

Apparently not to Stephen Harper, who used the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings to try to attack Justin Trudeau.

Apparently the Prime Minister discourages any rational consideration of crime in favour of his well-known modus operandi, knee-jerk reactions and demagoguery.

Watch the following and decide for yourself:

For Your Further Consideration

Pondering The Dark Arts

For those as weary of political attack ads as I am, The Star's Carol Goar has an interesting column in today's edition. Entitled Debating ‘dark arts’ of political campaigning, Goar relates her experience of moderating a panel over the weekend comprised of

... Jaime Watt, the primary architect of former Ontario premier Mike Harris’s two election campaigns in the ’90s; David Herle, co-chair of former prime minister Paul Martin’s two election campaigns a decade later; and Chima Nkendirim, the strategist behind Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s victory in 2010.

While each had his own definition of his role during a political campaign, Herle and Watts defended the use of what they called 'negative ads'. While averring their distaste for attacks on a person's personal life, and agreed that mocking physical appearances/disabilities, they both feel it is fair game to question a candidates motives and fitness for office, which, to me, despite their rationalizations, is tantamount to endorsing character assassination, probably in many ways much worse than mocking of physical attributes. Nkendirim was the only one who felt his prime duty is to defend his candidate vigorously.

Rather disingenuously, Herle professed to being deeply troubled by low voter turnout:

“When 40 per cent of the population isn’t voting, the results are wildly unrepresentative of the people,” he acknowledged. “But we don’t know what the driver of that is.” He suggested it might be the reduced relevance of government in an age of globalization and market economics.

I suspect a bit of willful ignorance on Mr. Herle's part. As political observers far more astute than I have observed, there is little doubt that political attack ads, by the very fact that they lower political discourse to the level of schoolyard taunts, are a disincentive to voter participation.

And as I have suggested before, that is precisely the outcome desired by those who have proven to be such adept masters of these dark arts, the Harper Conservatives.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Harper Hate-Mongering

The latest attack ad, this one against newly-appointed Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, serves as a timely reminder of the Harper government's seemingly endless capacity for hateful and divisive propaganda. In this, I make an all-too obvious observation. But I have, for some time, wondered about the audience for those ads, and searching my blog archive, I don't think I have commented upon this aspect previously.

No matter which Conservative attack ad one chooses, and there have been many, it seems that a standard template for the imagery and the narration predominates, both always out of context and derisive in tone. Designed to inspire fear, resentment and mockery towards their targets, they reveal something very significant about their collective architect, the Harper regime: a morally bankrupt and debased view of the electorate.

I have often wondered whether the target audience, the general electorate, has ever stopped to think about the implications of having a government that regards them as little more than Pavlovian dogs, deficient in intellect, general awareness, and sensibility, poised to respond to the latest offering from their 'master'. Consider the ad against Justin Trudeau, which I posted yesterday. There is a kind of carnival music playing in the background, suggestive of frivolity and lightness, the image they are trying to instill of Trudeau in the viewer's mind. The Liberal leader is shown doing a kind of striptease and behaving in an exaggerated, almost effeminate way. Cue the contempt.

The other ad released yesterday listed Trudeau's experience as a camp counsellor, rafting instructor and drama teacher for two years, the later delivered with particular derision (the message: a real leader has contempt for the arts). While its message is blunt and obvious, that very bluntness makes the intended audience manipulation more than obvious, something that Canadian citizens should be offended, outraged, and disturbed by, inasmuch as it is a bald admission that power is the regime's only raison d'etre.

And yet we are told that attack ads are very effective. I can only hope that more and more people begin to exercise their innate critical faculties and see these ads for what they really are: a blatant expression of contempt for the voters of Canada.

Pernicious Effects of Harper Politics on the Young

This, I assume, requires no further comment:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Conservative Attack Ad - UPDATED

I suspect many will agree that this ad says more about the Conservative Party behind it than it does about its subject:

UPDATE: This Star editorial provides some useful context for and analysis of this attack ad.

Jesus Christ, Still a Figure of Controvery

Many years ago, the iconic writer and broadcaster Pierre Berton wrote a book entitled The Comfortable Pew. Yapdates gives the following summary of the book, commissioned by the Canadian Anglican Church in 1965.

... the author accuses the church of forgetting its main identity and what it first stands for. Broadly speaking, there are two main issues with church. Firstly, the church has become institutionalized in the sense that it is more concerned about conformity and keeping the status quo. Secondly, the church is in danger of being fossilized because of its inability to stay relevant to the people and the society at large. Both of these contribute to the crisis of the church.

Those who visit my blog regularly may be aware of how highly cynical I am about institutions. Whether we are talking about bodies that exist to protect us, educate us, spiritually revitalize us, represent us politically, etc., all seem to inevitably fall victim to a kind of self-promotion, complacence, conservatism and careerism that ultimately subvert their primary purpose. Indeed, such decay was probably best explored in Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class.

I couldn't help but think of these things yesterday when I read a story in The Star entitled Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches.

Sculptor Timothy White created a piece depicting Jesus as a homeless person, an outcast, sleeping on a bench:

It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite [the] message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Initially it was enthusiastically embraced by the rectors of the two churches, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, feeling that it might be too controversial or vague. The artist was told that “it was not an appropriate image.”

I can think of no more damning an indictment of institutional cowardice than the previous sentence. But perhaps the last word on how the message of Jesus has been so distorted and perverted over time should best be left to Wood Guthrie:

On Insincere Apologies

I'll probably have more to write later, but for now, here are some always reliable insights by Star readers on the 'apology' from RBC CEO Gord Nixon:

Royal Bank chief executive makes public apology, April 11

An open letter to RBC President and CEO Gord Nixon:

Don't outsource jobs at your Canadian operations at the expense of your Canadian employees. That's the message we RBC customers want you to get and act upon. Your Canadian customers and shareholders are the ones who made your bank rich enough to expand around the world. Show us and your loyal hard-working employees some respect by not jumping at every strategy to enhance your profits even further. It's not like the bank is strapped for cash. How much is enough for you?

John Bruce, Niagara Falls, Ont.

Businesses have a right to find ways to reduce operating costs, and if it means lowering labour costs, so be it. However, displacing local workers and shifting them onto the ranks of the unemployed will increase the number of recipients and the cost related to the EI benefits program. It is well known that governments in Canada have being gifting banks and many other corporations with all kinds of largesse at our expense. So perhaps now is the time for them to shoulder some of the responsibilities to support the resulting social and economic upheaval that their choices have caused. All levels of government should levy a hefty tax per job lost on those businesses that choose to farm out jobs.

Frank Arturi, Etobicoke

Why would anyone consider a formal apology from RBC acceptable when the jobs in question are still being outsourced? There is something morally wrong with a business model that financially rewards executives for taking good jobs away from Canadians under the guise of exceeding shareholder expectations. Outsourcing decisions to drive corporate profit and executive compensation come with a significant ongoing cost to our society.

Jean Binns, Burlington

Sunday, April 14, 2013

So Typically Classless

But then, why would anyone expect anything different from the Harper regime?

H/t Sol Chrom

Appeasement at the BBC

Whenever I travel, especially when a Canadian television station is not available, I tend to tune into the BBC, which generally practises the kind of hard-hitting journalism that the CBC was once known for, before embarking upon a policy of trying to appease the right-wing. Sadly, that virus of appeasement now seems to have been caught by the British national broadcaster, reflected in its decision to air only a five-second clip of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, the song which, in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's death, is likely to rise to number three on Sunday, in time for BBC Radio One's The Official Chart show.

The BBC has apparently been influenced in its decision by the howls of outrage from the British right-wing, upset by the implied disrespect of their patron, St. Margaret, that airing the full song, the usual practice of the show for rising songs, would demonstrate.

Compounding the craven capitulation is this disingenuous and self-serving remark by Tony Hall, the BBC's director general (italics mine):

"I understand the concerns about this campaign (the massive purchasing of the song to celebrate the week's major event). I personally believe it is distasteful and inappropriate.

"However, I do believe it would be wrong to ban the song outright as free speech is an important principle and a ban would only give it more publicity."

So in Mr. Hall's world, a little betrayal of public trust and integrity is okay. Hmm, sounds like just another politician ascending the ladder to me.

For those who cannot muster any sorrow for Maggie's passing, enjoy the following video which, I think, rather effectively captures the animus the Iron Lady was so adept at fostering:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Two Blogging Recommendations

With so many things of note to comment on, today is one of those days when, if I had the time, I suspect I would spend most of the day writing blog posts. Instead, allow me to direct your attention, if you haven't already read them today, to Alison over at Creekside, and Owen at Northern Reflections.

Alison has been doing an excellent job tracking the murky details surrounding outsourcing. In today's post, she lambastes the CBC's Amanda Lang for her enthusiastic and disingenuous endorsement of outsourcing practices in The Globe and Mail.

As I noted in my comment on her post,

Thanks for following this issue so closely, Alison. The fact that Amanda Lang is staunchly defending the bleeding off of Canadian jobs does not really surprise me, nor does it surprise me that hers is a voice given prominence on the CBC, which has capitulated to the forces of the right in a misbegotten effort at appeasement - all of course, under the rubric of 'balanced reporting.'

There is a similar apologia written by The Globe's Doug Sanders, who suggests xenophobia and wage fears are at the root of the opposition to these abominable practices, and laments the fact that foreign workers have no easy route to citizenship in our country.

Over at Northern Reflections, Owen does his usual excellent job, this time exploring the dark side of outsourcing, aided and abetted by compliant politicians, through an article by Michael Harris.

These are but two of the many excellent and conscientious bloggers who help me retain some hope for a better tomorrow.

Remembering Jonathan Winters

If you are of a certain age, you will remember Jonathan Winters, probably the most nimble comedic mind that the twentieth century produced. As a lad, he was one of the few people that could make me genuinely laugh out loud. The inspiration for people like Robin Williams, another comedic genius, Winters had a long and successful career. It ended yesterday when he died at the age of 87. For those who enjoyed his work, below are some video compilations that I hope you like

As with so many others who have recently passed away, we shall not look upon his like again:

But wait. There's more! Here is his famous skit from an appearance on Jack Paar, here Winters extemporizes with a simple prop - a stick:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Puncturing Right-Wing Mythology

I hope everyone will take five minutes to watch this video, originally considered too controversial for TED Talks. The speaker, entrepreneur Nick Hanauer, very deftly cuts through the mythology perpetuated by the right wing that the super-rich are our job creators and hence must be treated with taxation kid gloves.

And Now, A Word About Kellie Leitch From The Salamander

The question of personal integrity is one that is very near and dear to my heart. Since literature at its best is a reflection of some of the deepest truths about human nature, during my teaching career, it was a topic I explored with relish every time the curriculum permitted it. In so-called real life, questions of personal honour and adherence to principle become central to the conduct of our society, especially because of its presence or absence (the latter all too often the case), in public life.

Yesterday I posted a video from Evan Solomon's Power and Politics featuring the comments of Kellie Leitch, a physician before she embraced the Conservative banner, and now a Conservative M.P. and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour. Like a good and faithful servant of Harper, Leitch, in response to Solomon's questions, was content to parrot the party lines about the Temporary Foreign Workers Program that has been so much in the news of late. This is the same Dr. Leitch who, after her election, staunchly defended the government's position that exporting asbestos to the developing world was just fine, much to the consternation of her former medical colleagues and millions of Canadians.

So the surrendering of principle for political expedience and power both fascinates and appalls me. In this vein, I am, with permission and thanks, reproducing an analysis of Leitch that The Salamander offered on yesterday's post:

Kellie Leitch is a dead end .. Her political psychosis is likely identical to that of Stephen Harper. She is a classic over achiever, with salt of the earth roots, in Manitoba and Alberta.. Fort McMurray fer gawds sake ! A medical and clinical exemplar, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who fixes little kids injuries and broken bones. Probably a Mensa level brain or higher.

There's a huge lesson to be learned by looking at this woman's professional arc. But then there's huge lessons to learn examining other Conservative arcs.

At the risk of being extremely blunt.. she may be no different than ethical and moral losers such as Harper, Oliver, Flaherty, Kent, Clement, Ashfield, Baird etc ad infinitum. After all, she defended asbestos exports to construct third world schools, even when 300 fellow clinicians requested that she honor her Hippocratic medical oath to do no harm.

She comes across robotically on TV/Web like a female version of Pierre Poiievre but without the smug conceited sneer. But her pedantic defense and sidetracking evasions of un-defendable ethics and twisted policies is certainly common to all the anointed Harper spokespersons.

Do you want her in the emergency room when your child has a severe fracture or worse? Yes. Do you trust her to do what's right for Canada ? No .. There's that Conservative Conundrum .. the nasty aspect that makes any sane person question how these people get elected.

Ms Leitch is OK with asbestos, Grassy Narrows mercury poisoning, denying Fort Chipewayn's poisoned fish and water, good with exterminating boreal caribou, fine with electoral fraud, mingling with Rob Anders & defending Peter Peneshue or Dean Del Mastro, closing the Experimental Lakes Area, comfortable with gutting environmental laws .. Does she have an ethical or moral line in the sand ?? If so.. what is it ?

Does anyone in the Harper Government or Conservative Party have such a line in the sand ?

Apparently not ...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Outsource Canada

I'm not sure who is actually responsible for breaking down these outsourcing statistics according to province and company, but we certainly owe him or her a real debt of gratitude.

Speaking of Political Integrity ...

See if you can detect even a modicum of it in Kellie Leitch, who starts talking at about the 9-minute mark of this video dealing with the massive abuses in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program:

Somehow, I don't think this is what Judith Timson meant when she talked about authenticity.

H/t Sandra Harris

More Reflections on Leadership

The other day, in my post on political leadership, I chose Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as the figure to contrast what I consider to be the much more mature and thoughtful approach of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. My exclusion of the more obvious figure of comparison, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, was intentional, given that I have written so much about him in the past, each post essentially observing the same thing: his addiction to ideological bromides as substitutes for real policy.

That dearth of vision was much in evidence in Hudak's fundraising dinner in Toronto the other day. Saying all the 'right' things to those for whom real thought on policy issues is not an option, young Tim trotted out the usual 'solutions' to all of Ontario's woes, including:

...bringing unions to heel, getting rid of “expensive gold-standard” public pensions, new subways, introducing performance levels for bureaucrats, freezing public-sector wages for two years, and giving tax breaks for employers.

“We will modernize our labour laws so that no worker will be forced to join a union as a condition for taking a job. And no business will be forced to hire a company solely because it has a unionized workforce,” he said.

To regard Hudak as anything more than a tool of the business agenda is difficult, and I am only taking a bit of time to even refer to him here because of a column in today's Star by Judith Timson on how we crave what she calls authenticity in our leaders, which she describes in the following way:

Authenticity does not seem to be about being someone voters want to have a beer with, or even one with whom people always agree. It is about being a leader who comes across as authentically in his or her own skin, not spouting platitudes or panaceas, but one whose words and actions, in a very cynical age, people can believe.

While I don't agree with all of the candidates she cites for their authenticity (Rob Ford, Margaret Thatcher, Justin Trudeau), her other choice, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, resonates with me, for the reasons I gave the other day.

Here is what Timson has to say about her:

Ontario’s new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has brought a different kind of authenticity to her office. For one thing, she has an extraordinary voice — one that is intimate and knowledgeable. Asked about public transit during a CBC radio call-in show not long ago, Wynne first launched into an affecting anecdote about riding Toronto’s brand new subway system back in the 1950s with her grandmother, wearing her “little white gloves.”

It was not only touching but brave, because Wynne dared to come across first as an ordinary person with memories others might share and not as a politician with a spiel about transit. Mind you, she’s also not afraid to deliver the bad news — if citizens want better transit, they will have to pony up in taxes.

So while others are content to talk about gravy trains, union bosses and the need for the euphemistic workplace democracy in their appeals to the passions and prejudices of the masses, Wynne is trying to set a higher standard for political discourse based on reason, fact and guilelessness.

Let's hope she succeeds.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More Corporate Arrogance From Porter Air -UPDATED

I recently wrote a post on Porter Air and its shameful treatment of its fuel handlers, most of whom start that crucial position at about $12 per hour and are currently on strike while the airline uses scabs in their stead. Its corporate arrogance was once again on full display in Toronto today as it announced its desire (intention) to begin flying jets out of the Billy Bishop (or as it is known regionally, the island) airport, despite this inconvenient fact:

an existing tripartite agreement, signed in 1983 by all three levels of governments, which runs until 2033. That agreement prohibits the use of jet aircraft at the island except in certain circumstances such as medical evacuation flights or during the CNE.

The above agreement was put into place for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to avoid having noisy jets flying directly over downtown Toronto. As well, the airport itself in its current configuration is too short to accommodate jets. And much has transpired in terms of extensive albeit aesthetically questionable condo development along Toronto's waterfront, the owners of which will be obviously negatively affected by an amendment to the agreement.

And yet that is exactly what Porter president and CEO Robert Deluce expects, saying that Porter will ask three governments “shortly” to amend the tripartite agreement — to allow jets and permit a “modest 168 meter” extension at each end of the existing main runway.

Predictably, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has never met a development he hasn't liked (casino, casino, casino!) is enthused over the prospect, as is his always-present brother, Doug (he who explains away every criticism of Rob as 'a left-wing conspiracy'). Where the rest of Toronto's City Council stands on the issue remains to be seen.

Whether or not one cares about Toronto is largely irrelevant here. More germane is whether or not this situation will turn out to be just another rubber-stamp of the corporate agenda. Indeed, will the wishes of the taxpaying citizens of Canada's largest city fork any lightning at all? The answer could provide a template of things to come for the rest of us.

UPDATE: There are two columns in this morning's Star on the issue, one moderately in favour of Porter's plan, (Royson James), and one vehemently opposed, Christopher Hume. Each make some interesting points, but given my own bias against corporate arrogance, I find myself more disposed to Hume's piece. Take a look and see what you think.

More On RBC's Outsourcing From Star Readers

I have a busy morning ahead, so for now I take the liberty of reproducing two letters from this morning's Star that make some excellent points as to how to apportion blame for the outrageous corporate practice of outsourcing Canadian jobs, most apparent in the current RBC imbroglio. As well, if you have the time, check out this column by Heather Mallick, who writes on the same topic.

Royal Bank faces heat over foreign worker plan, April 8

The outsourcing by the Royal Bank of Canada of work done by Canadians to foreigners is the logical outcome of the Conservative government's policy of allowing temporary workers into Canada and generally supporting the large-corporation agenda put forth by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and their ilk. The bankruptcy of these policies is brought into sharp relief when one of the most profitable corporations in Canada enhances its already huge profitability a little bit more at the expense of Canadian employment.

The government's Economic Action Plan should be retitled “Corporate Welfare Plan.” The government has no coherent approach to dealing with the twin job-reduction forces of globalization and technology, other than tax cutting, cost cutting and making Canada safe for corporations.

As for RBC, shame on you. Their stated defence for their action is the usual meaningless corporate blather about “reducing cost to reinvest in initiatives that enhance the customer experience.” Really? When did any of the large Canadian banks put customers ahead of profits?

John Simke, Toronto

RBC's decision to replace Canadian workers with foreign workers under the faulty new federal legislation is an affront to Canada and Canadian workers. Profits at all costs shows a disrespect to Canadian workers.

Since RBC is doing quite well financially, this move is troubling. With five unemployed workers in Toronto for every job, many of them low paid, this is a further slap in the face.

It is clear that RBC shows no moral responsibility to the country and its people, who made them rich. While the executives of this company make millions, they have lost touch with the rest of the population.

Joan Dolson, Toronto