Friday, January 31, 2014

UPDATED: More On The Minimum Wage

There has been very much a predictable reaction from business to the Wynne government's decision to raise the Ontario minimum wage to $11 per hour as of June 1. Even though this modest increase will do little to lift the working poor out of poverty, the commercial sector is running about shouting that the sky will fall, prognosticating a loss of jobs as they take up a defensive position against something that will, they claim, eat away at their profits.

The following video from City TV offers a smattering of a debate over the issue; unfortunately, I no longer seem able to play video from the CBC, where much more detailed discussion has taken place, so this will have to do. Following the video, I turn to Joe Fiorito's latest observations about working poverty as his column today returns to the story of Doreen, whom I discussed yesterday.

As noted previously, Joe Fiorito has pointed out what a hardscrabble existence Doreen, a personal care worker, leads. Today, he adds to that portrait:

She said, “I broke my glasses last July. I can see, but fine stuff I can’t read.” You guessed right. She has not replaced her glasses. This is the kind of poverty that hurts deep in the bone, dulls the senses, and strangles hope. She has not stopped trying.

Compounding Doreen's problems are the expenses involved in keeping her qualifications current; she recently received a letter from one of the agencies for whom she is on an on-call list:

The letter advised Doreen that, if she wanted to stay active on the agency’s list and be eligible for work in the future, then she had to renew her first aid and CPR certificates.

Trouble is, the course preferred by that agency costs $115 and is only offered on weekends. Doreen works on the weekend for an elderly couple. What this means is that, in order to take the course and renew her certificate, she would have to cough up a day’s pay out of pocket to attend, and she would have to miss two days’ work on top of that.

There are more details about Doreen's travails in Firotio's piece, but I think you get the picture.

As I suggested yesterday, unless and until we are willing to put a human face on the working poor, their plight will never be addressed with any real justice.

UPDATE: Andrew Coyne and business representatives have recently suggested that minimum wage increases are a blunt instrument with which to attack poverty, and that a guaranteed income might be preferable. The cynic in me suggests this could be yet another way that business wants government to subsidize their operations; should they ever express a willingness to give up some of the generous corporate tax cuts that have come their way over the past several years as a show of good faith, perhaps then I will take them seriously.

A Little Something For The Cinephile


Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Way To Address The Problem of Restaurant Poverty Wages

Although this is an American solution, I don't see why it wouldn't work in Canada as well.

Click here if you would like more information about The National Diners Guide.

Putting A Face On Minimum-Wage Poverty

Last evening I watched a fascinating documentary on PBS' Nature* about the black crested macaque, a monkey that is endemic to rainforests in Indonesia, which includes the island of Sulawesi. The monkeys are a badly endangered species whose numbers have dropped 90% over the last 25 years thanks to hunters who sell them as bush meat in local markets, this despite the fact that such hunting and sales are illegal. The film showed the almost human side of the monkeys, with their elaborate social interactions and hierarchies.

Wildlife cameraman and biologist Colin Stafford-Johnson, who first recorded them 25 years ago, had a purpose beyond merely acquainting viewers with these riveting creatures. Working with area groups and biologists, the plan was to show local populations the film in the hope that they would see the monkeys as fully-alive beings not so different from themselves, thereby engendering an empathy that might deter them from eating them. Early results suggest some success with this strategy.

Being able to relate to issues, problems and plights on a human and humane level, being able to see beyond arid statistics, is, in my view, essential if, as a society and species, we are ever to confront and solve some of our most pressing issues. It was in this spirit that I appreciated a recent piece by The Star's Joe Fiorito entitled Life on minimum wage is not a decent living.

Certainly we know the statistics: one in eight foodbank users in Canada are the working poor; 500,000 Ontarians, one out of nine, work at minimum wage jobs. But what is the human face of such poverty?

Looking through the eyes and experience of Doreen, a personal care worker, Fiorito offers that human face:

She is single. She is in her fifties. She has a bum knee and a bad back. She also has some trouble with her vision; a brain tumour, benign, she isn’t worried.

She lives in a rent-geared-to-income apartment in midtown Toronto. While we talked, she was waiting for her church to deliver a grocery voucher so she could afford to buy some groceries. Why?

Because Doreen can’t always afford to feed herself on the money she makes for the hours she gets.

But wait, there's more!

Dorren is an on-call worker, and if she is lucky, she will work nine-hour days, four days per week, thereby clearing a mere $1,240 per month.

Her rent is subsidized; she pays $592 a month, which leaves her with $648. A Metropass costs her $133. Her phone costs close to $20. She buys phone cards to talk to her mother, who lives in another country. Her cable and Internet cost $68 a month.

She also owes $900 on her credit card; yes, she sometimes uses her credit card for food.

She also takes certain medications which are not covered by the provincial health plan. “I had a knee replacement. My back is out. I still have to work. Sometimes I go without pain medication because I can’t afford it.” I repeat: She sometimes goes without her pain medication because she can’t always afford it.

Not a very pretty picture, is it? And not one that will in any measurable way be improved by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's decision to raise the minimum wage by 75 cents on June 1. The grinding face of working poverty continues to confront us and, thanks to a lack of political will, confound us.

* If you want to view the PBS show on the macaques, you will need a VPN such as Hola, free software that will mask your I.P. address so that it looks like you are an American viewer. (The PBS show is not licensed for viewing in Canada.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

UPDATED: Never Bait A Veteran

For those of us sickened over the years by the Harper cabal's hypocrisy of wrapping itself in the flag of patriotic support for 'our troops' while essentially abandoning them when they return home either physically or psychically maimed, it was a sweet moment, to be savored and shared widely.

Yesterday, veterans who travelled to Ottawa to lobby against the planned closing of eight more of the regional centres serving their needs were most unhappy with the meeting they had with Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino; Ron Clarke, a 36-year veteran of the Forces, said the meeting was "unbelievable, unacceptable and shameful.

Fantino, a man who bears the look of one on a perpetual visit to his proctologist, was not only very late for the encounter, but also, in his usual arrogance, was unwise enough to start lecturing the vets about their deportment. As you will see in the accompanying video, the former soldiers would have none of that, putting Julian in his place and later, in a news conference, describing the encounter as 'bullshit.'

In their fury, they are calling not only for the termination of Fantino, but also the defeat of the Harper government in the next election should it carry out the planned closure.

All in all, the entire episode was reminiscent of Brian Mulroney's "Goodbye Charlie Brown" encounter in 1986 with Solange Denis.

UPDATE: If the video fails to load, here is the URL for it: UPDATE #2: NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has weighed in, calling for Harper both to apologize to veterans and to fire Fantino.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Raising The Minimum Wage: Countering The Right-Wing Propagandists

Given the disappointing news about the minimum wage coming out of Ontario, and the relentless propaganda from the right about wage increases being job killers while conveniently ignoring the experience of other jurisdictions, perhaps the following video can provide some balance:

Crumbs From The Table

Poverty in perpetuity. That is what Ontario's 'socially-progressive' Premier, Kathleen Wynne, has condemned the working poor to.

After waiting more than six months for what turned out to be a very timid report from a provincial minimum wage advisory panel that ended up recommending increases tied to inflation, the premier has announced the new wage will be $11 per hour, with future increases tied to the inflation rate.

With one out of nine currently earning the minimum, this is hardly cause for celebration. Yielding, as usual, to the 'concerns' of business, Wynne had this to say:

“I know that there’s a call for $14 (but) we have to move very carefully, because this is about making sure that we retain and create jobs.”

“At the same time, we need to have a system in place that has a fairness to it, that I think has not been the case for many years.”

While few would argue that an immediate jump to the much-requested figure of $14 per hour would be too much for many small businesses to bear, the truly discouraging fact is that the premier makes no mention of further increases other than those tied to inflation. If $14 per hour would have put those working 35-40 hours per week just 10% above the poverty rate, one needn't use a calculator to know that the working poor will continue to be mired in poverty.

Today's Star editorial makes the following observation and suggestion:

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government can do better. It should, at the very least, follow the Ontario Liberals’ earlier trend of raising the minimum wage 2.5 times faster than the rate of inflation. As part of its “war on poverty” the previous Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty raised the provincial minimum wage by 50 per cent between 2004 when it was $6.85 an hour and 2010 when it topped out at $10.25 – a period when prices rose just 17.5 per cent.

If the same formula was followed now, it would mean an immediate jump in the minimum wage to about $11.65 an hour.

Hardly the stuff of revolutionary thinking, perhaps, but at the very least, a start on the road to economic justice.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I Shop, Therefore I Am

First and foremost, how do you see yourself? Are you a citizen more than a consumer, or vice-versa? Are high-minded principles and vision your defining characteristic, or is how to get the best value for your money what drives you?

The questions that I just posed are, of course, on one level ludicrous, inasmuch as they suggest an either/or answer. Realistically, or at least ideally, we can be both. Yet to examine the rhetoric of our political 'leaders', our lives are defined by angst over cable selection, gasoline prices, and cellphone bills, and little else.

One of the books I am currently reading is Susan Delacourt's Shopping For Votes: How Politicians Choose Us And We Choose Them, which examines the kind of 'retail politics' that has been shaping the political landscape for decades. Beginning in the 1950s with early polling and focus groups, the process has become so refined that groups are now targeted in political campaigns with their 'issues' at the forefront.

Here is an excerpt from the inside cover of Delacourt's book:

Inside the political backrooms of Ottawa, the Mad Men of Canadian politics are planning their next consumer-friendly pitch. Where once politics was seen as a public service, increasingly it is seen a a business, with citizens as the customers. But its unadvertised products are voter apathy and gutless public policy.

One needn't look far to see egregious evidence of political debasement. As recently noted by The Mound of Sound, neither Justin Trudeau nor Thomas Mulcair offer any distinct difference to Harper, other than perhaps in style. Neither has the political integrity to question the tarsands, nor, to my knowledge, are they heard to ever offer an opinion on or strategy for dealing with climate change. In answer to Mound's question of why either of them wants to be Prime Minister, I opined that they perhaps just think they should be. No passion, no vision, just the politics of expedience seems to be their political raison d'être.

In his piece today in The Toronto Star about the upcoming federal budget, Les Whittington says it will be consumer-oriented:

The government says it wants to take aim at cable-TV packages that don’t allow consumers to pick and choose, payday loan companies, lack of competition among wireless providers and price differentials on the same goods between this country and the U.S.

And while Justin Trudeau sings an amorphous tune about the middle class struggling, Thomas Mulcair has this to offer:

He says the Harper government raises consumer issues but hasn’t followed through with action.

“So we’re going to talk to Canadians about how we can end the rip-offs at ATM machines, at the gas pump, and how we can ensure more Canadians have access to a low-interest credit card”.

Not a word about climate change. Not a word about carbon. Not a word about poverty. Not a word that reflects the semblance of a vision.

I'll close on a note that I hope demonstrates I am not some sort of ethereal idealogue. Yes, I think we get ripped off on cable, and I don't like it. Yes, more should be done to ensure fair business practices. But those concerns do not exclude larger ones, like growing inequality, the plight of the working poor, and a world in real climatic peril. No amount of political legerdemain can alter some larger, very inconvenient truths.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Tea With Bertolt Brecht

A little something to share with those nearest and dearest who are disengaged, so to speak:

A Day Of Rest

Once again in my neck of the woods, we are experiencing punishing cold, cold that is predicted to remain throughout the week, so it seems like a propitious time to take a day off, get caught up on my newspaper reading, and complete a really interesting book by Oliver Sacks called Hallucinations.

In the absence of a real post, I thought you might find interesting the fact that Kellogg's is not restricting its contempt for its workers to Canada. Apparently, things are not going too well for its workers in the U.S., something detailed in this Truthout article.

To contradict Tony the Tiger, things are not Grrrrrreat!

I somehow doubt that this commercial from the 80s would be embraced by Kellogg's today:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Guest Post From John B.

Click here to read an unflattering magazine profile of this 'titan'.

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote a brief post on Kevin O'Leary, the fatuous, obnoxious self-promoter the CBC, likely in its futile efforts to appease the Harper government, keeps in its stable of right-wing cranks.

In response to the post, I received a thoughtful commentary on O'Leary from John B, which I am featuring here to ensure a larger readership than the comments' section normally affords:

Is it part of Mr. O’Leary’s deal with the CBC that his daily commentary as chief business analyst be introduced with a mention that he is also the “Chair of O’Leary Funds”? I’ve wondered about that for some time.

I think that the important story here is that "the Chair of O'Leary Funds" is getting media exposure that may help him market his shtick internationally. Look at the sly little grins and the glint in the eye obvious in the video as he spews his nonsense. I think he knows that it's nonsense. It’s been designed to beg for attention.

This guy doesn't believe in anything besides running his business. And for several years one of his main businesses seems to have been marketing himself as a caricature of the iconic greedy capitalist. Now they're writing about him in the Independent. That's the scoring play - his money shot. That's why he likes to mention his U.S. show when being interviewed - international exposure. In the U.S. ‘they call him Mr. Wonderful’. Yes - that's probably because someone told them he was known by that handle in other circles without mentioning that it’s likely he made it up. It's how you create and sell a product. And the product is the act.

The act may have taken over the person and the act may have started long before the advent of O'Leary TV; but it's still just about making the sale, whether it's dog food, a worthless corporate asset or a cartoon character.

The Lang & O'Leary Exchange isn't a business news programme; it’s third-rate entertainment with a little synergistic libertarian propaganda along for the ride. And the worst part of it is that you can’t escape exposure to its juvenile propaganda efforts by not tuning in. At every station break the network is sure to broadcast one of their promotional spots for the show featuring inserts of still close-ups of Mr. Wonderful’s wonderfully-manicured digits posed in that silly configuration that he seems to have come to prefer. In each of these spots his sidekick, Amanda, stumbles into a staged ambush that Mr. O’Leary can accomplish by rhyming off some line that could have come from the Market Libertarian’s Handbook for Disturbed Teenagers: “If you want a share, become a shareholder” or “The market will decide.” God has spoken.

O'Leary is serious about what he's doing - getting a paycheque and getting exposure for his fund and his comedy act. But his sparring partner provides the best comedy on the show. She presents herself in a manner that suggests she considers herself to be a journalist, while she actually just plays one on a boring TV show. Maybe it’s just part of her “straight-man” act. Whatever the case, she does it very well.

I’m still puzzled about one thing: did he come up with the thing with the hands or did he have to pay a personal stylist to do it?

Friday, January 24, 2014

UPDATED:The Most Obnoxious Blowhard?

Many of you have probably already heard of this, but I can't help but wonder if Kevin O'Leary is in some kind of competition with Donald Trump for the title of world's most obnoxious blowhard.

UPDATE: Thanks to ThinkingManNeil, who offers this comment and the video that follows:

Mr. O'Leary needs to learn how to work a real job earning and honest living like 3.5 billion others try to. May I suggest he go try mining sulfur by hand in the crater of Kawah-Ijen? Maybe then he'll get some perspective...

Self-Interest Versus The Public Good

We Canadians talk a good game. We want our unemployed to be able to find jobs, we want those with the need to be able to readily access the social safety net, and we think the plight of the working poor is pitiable. But a question that we must confront is this: Are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?

My question is prompted by two topics: the decline of the Canadian dollar and the push to increase the minimum wage to $14 (in Ontario).

First, the decline of the loonie. Even though its decreasing value is likely being encouraged by the Harper government to boost employment numbers going into the 2015 election, the fact is that a lower dollar is good for job creation, increasing as it does exports of our products and tourism from abroad.

Yet what seems uppermost on the minds of many? - the fact that imported goods will cost more, trips to sun destinations so popular with chilled Canadians are getting more expensive, and cross-border shopping trips will no longer be such a source of delight for so many.

This is just a thought experiment, but I can't help but wonder what choice people would make if they had the power to affect the trajectory of the Canadian dollar. Would they see the larger good that will be served by its current decline, or would they say that's none of their concern, and that their priority is to get the most value for their hard-earned dollars?

On a similar note, we profess our enthusiasm for a significant increase in the minimum wage, a subject upon which I have written many times. Indeed, there is some good news on that front from the United States, where, for example, Seattle's new mayor, Ed Murray, has boosted the wages of municipal workers to $15 per hour, and Seattle's suburb of Sea Tac has done the same for the 1,500 hotel and rental car agency workers.

Putting aside the usual objections raised by the usual suspects that wage increases are job-killers, there are compelling reasons for increasing the minimum wage, not the least of which is the boost to the economy that ensues when more money is put in the hands of more people. As an entrepreneur in the documentary Inequality for All says, "Just because I make $10 million a year doesn't mean I spend $10 million a year on goods and services. It's better that money should be put in the hands of many people so they spend." He went on to explain that his money is invested to earn more money, not necessarily to create jobs.

Add to that the fact that, for example, raising the minimum wage in Ontario to $14 per hour would put raise the working poor 10% above the poverty line, assuming, of course, that they are working 35-40 hours per week. Economic stimulus effects aside, that is a pretty compelling reason to support an increase.

But returning to our thought experiment, what choice would people make if they knew that any such increase means we would all pay a little more for our groceries, our fast foods, our services, etc.? Would we turn our collective backs on the greater good, or would we embrace the fact that everyone has to make some sacrifices, both business in the form of slightly lower profits and consumers in the form of slightly reduced purchasing power, if we want a more equitable society and a slightly lower disparity in incomes?

We all like to get the best value possible for our money, and I am no exception. Yet, even though I am hardly a paragon of virtue, the logic of increasing the minimum wage is compelling, one to which I readily accede.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Measure Of The Man

Sounds like Rick Mercer has the Harper cabal's number:

Want To Experience Faux Poverty On Your Next Holiday?

This seems so wrong on so many levels.

Engaging Community: Some Thoughts From The Salamander

The other day I wrote a post about the Harper cabal's systematic efforts to re-engineer Canadians' critical thinking capacity through the gutting of science libraries and their resources. No books=no concern over climate change=cheerleading for tarsands development. It is up to each of us to combat this drift into darkness.

I received a number of comments on the post, including those of The Salamander, a passionate and articulate Canadian who shares the grave concern many of us have over Canada's direction under a regime that has consistently shown little but contempt for the nation's traditional values. I am reproducing below the exchange that he and I had in the hope that people will read his ideas and suggestions and offer additional commentary and ideas:

The Salamander:

.. the question of our times, in Canada today.. is certainly one of our national identity.. and a related question must be.. do 'we' care.. PM Harper is trying to permanently embed the bizarre notion that he reflects (or is) our national identity and we should ensure our values, emulate his.. or lack of..

Here's a short list for the pollsters .. and ideally the questions to the Canadian public * of all ages * would be framed in positive ways, accommodating blunt intuitive responses..

Here's a sample or two..

- Q - Do you care if Canada lets other countries control the development, mining/harvest & sale and delivery of our natural resources, energy, fish, lumber, grain etc .. or if the cost for that decision is the extinction of species like salmon, polar bears, caribou, eagles or killer whales because we eliminated the habitat, waters, forest etc they lived in.. or if certain regions have no safe drinkable water or useful soil, breathable air as a result?

- Q - Do you see any value in letting partisan political parties gain further control or direct how Canada moves into the future.. in particular by their secretive use of databanks, election funds, robo & live calls, or questionable election campaigns or electoral fraud to manipulate, gain on maintain power?

- Q - Do you care if to a great extent, Parliament and our political process is simply posturing and its the religious beliefs, greed or immorality of the Prime Minister or his complicit MP's, corporate sponsors & controllers that define policy, legislation and secret economic agreements?

- Q - Do you care if Members of Parliament, unelected anonymous public servants ie in the PMO or many or any of the consultants hired or contracted by the Federal Government end up in jail for fraud, illegal lobbying, graft, lawsuits or have relationships with their babysitters or nannies or parliamentary pages and secretaries?

- Q - Do you know what 'The Rapture' is? Do you know what religions believe the ultimate fall of Israel is the biblical key for good christians to rise triumphantly by the hand of god up into the rosy clouds

- Q - Do you have better questions for your fellow Canadians, that might help improve the situation? Or do you trust folks like Tony Clement, Dean Del Mastro, Senator Gerstein, Ray Novak, Ezra Levant, or Arthur Hamilton or Julian Fantino to look after the important stuff for you ?

Me: These are very provocative questions, Salamander, that, if ever asked, would likely provoke some serious thought and discussion among Canadians. While it is safe to assume such a poll would never be commissioned by any of our 'leaders,' it could prove a potent weapon in the hands of a group dedicated to improving public policy, if it had sufficiently deep pockets to underwrite it.

The Salamandar: .. I'm not certain there is much hard cost to such a poll, Lorne

To a certain extent, such a poll. with exceptionally well developed questions & criteria would generate its own inertia.. driving on as a Q & A reflection of true concerned Canadian spirit, identity and response..

In their own way, the indy blog items from yourself, Mound, Beav, Lautens, Whirlpool, Owen at N Reflections, Kinsella, Simon etc.. all have driven thought, process, review and spread knowledge.. and in fairness so have some mainstream media.. as well as the unique ones like Kady and Rick Mercer etc.. or a truly heavy battlewagon like Neil Young

In a unique progressive and unique way.. you.. and me.. are a poll.. a reflection of ideas and thoughts of real people

I guess what I am driving at is to identify or refine what really matters to Canadians, First Nations, immigrants, the aged, the young, the workers, teachers, artists, mothers, grandparents, miners, farmers, fishermen, clerics, students & newborns..

I truly don't give a f off to what greasy spokes-dwarts like Joe Oliver or Jenni Byrne 'think' or are told to say.. or what a fatuous self absorbed dick like Harper trots out to dweeb political weasels in Israel.. I care what the pulse and reality of this gigantic country called Canada is..

A 'running poll' .. non partisan .. tabulating, reflecting .. observant, reactionary, abrasive, honest, simple, blunt & clear, Canadian .. could be just the nurse or doctor that Canada needs.. taking our temperature, listening to our concerns or fears, investigating & identifying pathogens and infections, treating us for.. or suggesting simple remedy for the ills of a modern society, threatened by toxic, rabid, dishonest political animals

So there you have it. I hope this exchange provokes some further discussion as we continue to direct our efforts and our passions toward a better Canada for everyone.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

UPDATED: Like A Scab: Tim Hudak

Like a scab (not the metaphorical kind so beloved of the extreme right) that I can't resist picking away at, once more Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak looms large. Although I wrote about him again very recently, the magnitude of either his ineptitude or his arrogance, depending on one's perspective, is worthy of further examination.

As noted in my previous post, young Tim recently announced his Million Jobs Act, one that promises untold riches in the form of 'good-paying jobs with benefits' for Ontarians if only we reduce corporate taxes and enact free trade with the other provinces. Not a word during this announcement about his previous panacea, 'right-to-work' legislation that would make union membership optional, leading, of course, to their ultimate demise.

Young Tim has refused to state whether a war on unions is still part of his overall strategy and cure for what ails us. Nonetheless, I think it is safe to assume it is still very much on the table.

Despite maintaining a 'strategic' silence on the issue, the Wile E. Coyote of Ontario politics yesterday fired one of his candidates in the upcoming byelections. Essex candidate Dave Brister was terminated because of his public opposition to Hudak's anti-unionism. He had posted recent “unacceptable” tweets slamming the party’s anti-union push, raising questions as to whether the policy is being downplayed to increase Tory chances in another Feb. 13 byelection in blue-collar Niagara Falls.

Apparently, young Tim had thrown him a lifeline:

Brister, who was running in a riding now held by the New Democrats, said he refused to change his stance.

“I was asked to recant my opposition to RTW legislation in exchange for retaining my position & I refused to do so,” he tweeted under his handle @davebristerpc.

A Tory candidate who stands on principle? What is the party becoming?

Meanwhile, in today's Toronto Star, Carol Goar has a column in which she asserts that once Tim's rhetoric about that million-jobs plan is stripped away, there is little of substance to be found. You might want to read the piece, especially if you live in Ontario or have an interest in politicians who show such egregious contempt for the electorate.

I'll leave you with a brief clip of Wile E. Coyote in freefall:

UPDATE: Martin Regg Cohn says, It would be a complete misreading of the emerging Progressive Conservative election platform to conclude that Hudak is backing away from “right-to-work.” You can read his thoughts on the subject here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ford Nation Probably Thinks This Is Their Idol's Best Video Performance Yet

You decide. The video was taken early this morning.

Refusing To Become What The Harper Government Wants Us To Be

While Stephen Harper's trip to Israel is receiving wide domestic media coverage, coverage that I have been studiously avoiding out of deference to my at-times delicate sensibilities and constitution, the following Harper encomium strikes me as both chillingly ironic and hypocritical:

Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has rooted itself in the ideals of “freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

Over time, ... this is the only ground “in which human rights, political stability and economic prosperity may flourish.”

Strange, this pronouncement of praise for a political principle that the Prime Minister and his cabal are working so hard to undermine here at home.

“Freedom, democracy and the rule of law” can only flourish in an open society, one in which citizens are treated with respect and given ready access to as much information as they want. Sadly, by this measure, Canada is quickly becoming a failed state under the ministrations of a government dedicated to suppression and vilification.

This process of re-engineering us into compliant, passive and unquestioning 'citizens' is ongoing, and has already been well-chronicled both in the media and the blogosphere. Nonetheless, it seems like a propitious time to offer a few salient reminders of what this administration has recently been doing to constrict the lifeblood of democracy, information, with such messianic zeal:

- Despite committing $22 million to an advertising blitz to promote the tarsands, 'Uncle Joe' Oliver, our Natural Resources Minister, has told Canadians they will not be permitted to know the details and ultimate cost until 2015 or 2016, after the campaign is over.

- Health Canada's main library has been closed, with some scientists being forced to squirrel away materials in their basements and borrow students' library cards to access university library materials.

- The Harper regime has been systematically shutting down Canada's national archives. Especially hard hit are those sources of environmental studies that provide a basis for analyzing the Harper assault on the environment. Amongst the casualties are:

the environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick (whose scientists Rachel Carson corresponded with when she was writing Silent Spring);

the Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg;

the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland

seven of eleven libraries operated by the Department of Oceans and Fisheries, as previously noted, have been closed.

And, as noted by Andrew Nikiforuk, the government has killed research groups that depended on those libraries such as the Experimental Lakes Area, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and the DFO's entire contaminants research program. The Freshwater Institute as well as the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research (COOGER) has lost much of their funding and staff, too.

To continue this litany of darkness would be pointless and too depressing. Nonetheless, I continue to nurture the hope that increasing numbers of Canadians will become aware of the Harper-led assaults on fundamental democracy that are taking place, not only in the very public arena and institution of Parliament (don't get me started), but also on the publicly-funded repositories of information and analysis that are part of our rich heritage.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fear And Loathing In Peace River

While the Harper cabal proceeds full-tilt with its tarsands advertising campaign, the details of which Canadians are being denied, a game of inconvenient truth versus consequences is being played out in Peace River, Alberta.

According to a report in The Edmonton Journal, Peace River may be making people sick. The suspected culprits? - its gas well emissions and its storage tanks in which bitumen is heated as part of the process of separating sand from the oil. Residents' health complaints range from dizziness to insomnia to cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, a conspiracy of silence in the medical community is exacerbating their problems:

Some Peace River area doctors are afraid to speak out about health impacts of oil and gas activity and in some cases have declined to treat area residents who wondered if their health problems were related to emissions, says one of two independent health experts hired by the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Dr. Margaret Sears is an Ontario expert in toxicology and health who will appear this week at a special hearing into complaints about emissions from the Baytex oilsands operation 32 kilometres south of Peace River. Her interviews with residents found physician care was refused when a resident suggested a connection between their symptoms and oil and gas emissions.

"Communications with public health officials and medical professionals revealed a universal recognition that petrochemical emissions affect health; however, this was countered by a marked reluctance to speak out,” wrote Sears.

As the article makes clear, physicians face tremendous pressure to conceal this possible relationship, pressure that seems to be leading some to violate their Hippocratic oath:

“Physicians are quite frankly afraid to diagnose health conditions linked to the oil and gas industry,” wrote Sears, adding she heard several times about the case of Dr. John O’Connor who was threatened with losing his licence after raising an alarm about cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan.

Although I am not a conspiracy buff, the pervasive kind of corruption this suggests is astounding, something we would ordinarily have a hard time accepting in Canada.

Perhaps equally astounding, but in a good way, is that this perversion is being seriously investigated by both the Alberta government and the Alberta Energy Regulator, which hired eight independent investigators to comprehensively explore the health problems and their possible relationship to the oil processes and emissions in Peace River. As well, the AER is going to hold a special ten-day public hearing into the entire affair.

Wonder if the Harper cabal will now take to labelling both the Alberta government and the AER as additional enemies of the people.

More Thoughts On The Minimum Wage

Although I have written several previous posts on the need to substantially increase the minimum wage so that it becomes a living wage, I have been planning an update. However, I doubt that today will be the day for that update since, once again over my morning coffee, I have come across two thoughtful letters in The Star that I feel compelled to share with you.

Although the first letter looks at the poverty pervasive in Toronto thanks in no small measure to the current Ontario hourly minimum of $10.25, the second looks at the broader provincial consequences of such paltry remuneration. I am sure that similar conditions prevail in the rest of Canada.

And, as letter-writer McAdam asks, Where is the report by Ontario’s Minimum Wage Advisory Panel? My suspicion is that Premier Wynne, with a spring election likely, will be sitting on it for a long, long time unless she is that rare, almost extinct breed of politician capable of real leadership.

Re: Time to give poorest a raise, Editorial Jan. 16

There are lots of social and public policy ideas that we can afford to take our time and have a full and long debate about before moving ahead towards a solution, but raising the minimum wage should be a no-brainer. Those who oppose raising the minimum wage to a living wage, like Tim Hudak or the Fraser Institute, obviously have neither the head nor the heart to reach this sane conclusion.

You simply cannot afford to live and eat in Toronto on a minimum wage salary, and those who are trying to do so are getting sick because of it. That’s the information provided by the brave doctors and other medical professionals who are finally speaking the truth about the impact of a society that pays its CEO millions of dollars a year while thousands of our citizens are working hard every day just trying to survive. This is income inequality in its rawest and most brutal form and anyone who condones this situation is complicit in allowing it to continue.

This is one issue that we can begin to fix today by raising the minimum wage. It will not take people completely out of danger, but it will be a sign that we still recognize and reward hard work in our society. And it will be a step in the right direction.

We will need to do much more, like taxation reform to make our system fairer, increased support for seniors, and much more investment in training and development of our young people. We can take some time and talk about those long-term solutions. But raising the minimum wage is urgent.

Katie Arnup, Toronto

The Star points out a few of the huge costs from Ontario’s poverty-level minimum wage, including damage to one’s health, as doctors and other health care providers have noted, besides the hardship and frustration of poverty. But there are many other harmful impacts.

Some 375,000 Ontarians must rely on foodbank handouts to ward off hunger. Recent studies show that about 11 per cent of food bank users in Ontario are employed, but must turn to foodbanks because of their low earnings. Imagine the thousands of volunteer hours devoted to survival programs such as these.
And what about the frustrations for families in which parents must work two minimum-wage jobs in order to make ends meet, and who thus have little time to spend with their children?

My wife teaches many low-income students in Toronto’s Flemingdon Park neighbourhood where this situation is all too common. She sees the emotional price that her students pay when their parents are missing in action, because of overwork and fatigue.
The Star rightly asks: where is the report by Ontario’s Minimum Wage Advisory Panel? When I presented to the panel last fall, a staffperson told me that its report was expected by December. Where is it?

What kind of society tolerates a situation in which hard-working people must still endure poverty? The plight of low-wage workers is a vital issue that should figure prominently in Ontario’s public life, especially as a provincial election approaches.

Anglican Church members across the GTA and surrounding region are currently debating a proposal to raise the minimum wage in two stages to $14.50 per hour by 2015, above the poverty line. If we all raise our voices, we can improve the lives of our society’s poorest paid workers.

Murray MacAdam, Social Justice & Advocacy Consultant, Anglican Diocese of Toronto

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Walmart: Skirting Around Labour Laws

Excerpted from a slide on how management should speak to employees to discourage union talk.

As reported by ThinkProgress, the above is but one of the 'clever' strategies for ensuring that the world's largest retailer keeps unions out.

As well, here is a sample of advice to management during a slideshow presentation. Entitled “Early Warning Signs” (of the union 'threat'), the bosses should watch for employees “speaking negatively about wages and benefits” and “ceasing conversations when leadership approaches.”

Kind of reminds me of what happened during my teaching days whenever administration walked into the staffroom.

The Harper Legacy: Empty Mantras And Empty Ideology

I hope readers don't think I have grown lazy or burnt-out when I reprint letters from The Toronto Star. It is just that their observations and ideas are frequently so nicely expressed that I think they merit some exposure in the blogosphere.

Today's offers a sharp rebuke to the tired Tory ideology of low corporate taxes as the path to prosperity, a mantra that has been repeatedly shown to be as devoid of value as the head of their leader and our Prime Minister is devoid of ideas and vision.

Re: Canada hit by unexpected rise in jobless rate, Jan. 10

When asked about the December job losses, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty lamely trots out his usual PMO-approved talking point that we must “keep taxes low to create the environment where job creation can flourish.” Translation: Slash government.

Not just hogwash, sir — stale hogwash!

Taxes are already low enough. It is the continual bleeding by mass employers that drive these kinds of losses, like plant closures announced by Kellogg in London, Heinz at Leamington, CCL Industries in Penetanguishine and others that have already occurred over the past several years, including the steel industry. True, many closures are in Ontario, but that’s because that province traditionally formed our industrial heartland.

Indeed, some jobs are lost because of technology but the majority are because U.S. head offices are taking jobs back to the U.S. or other firms are moving to low-wage countries that Canadians can never compete with, with labour rates as low as $1 a day, such as the garment industry.

If the Conservative government in Ottawa is serious about job creation, it will formulate and actively promote an industrial strategy for Canada, one that goes beyond the Alberta tar sands and the oil industry. Elsewhere, tinkering with a few high-tech projects may create a relative handful of well-paying work but not the thousands of jobs and steady wages that industry can provide.

The Tories demonstrated that they knew this sort of thing could work when they pumped life-saving public funding into GM of Canada and Chrysler Canada when those two industrial titans were threatened with bankruptcy. It’s that or reverse course on slashing government, the only other mass employment sector we have left.

In the end, it seems the Harper government is rendered impotent on jobs creation by its own narrow-minded ideology based on fantasy and blind to the reality of our preventable national decline.

Brad Savage, Scarborough

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Good Tim, Bad Tim

Tim's Contemplative Face

Anyone who reads this blog regularly is probably aware that I am no fan of Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak. A callow lad at best, a duplicitous mini-demagogue at worst, the lad who would be premier has always struck me as one with limited imagination and no real vision, content as he is to spout the usual right-wing bromides (unions bad, workplace democracy good).

With a spring election looking increasingly likely in Ontario, young Tim has lately shown his egregious contempt for the electorate's intelligence by attempting to reinvent himself with a private member's bill he is planning to introduce that promises the creation of a million jobs over eight years, a plan that has come under considerable criticism. For me, what is most striking is that there is no reference in this bill to Hudak's previously-touted mantra of union-busting as the path to prosperity.

Are we to take it that Tim simply misspoke on all those previous occasions about the need for euphemistic right-to-work legislation? It is indeed difficult to reconcile his anti-union screeds with this rhetoric:

“Your odds of getting a minimum-wage job – they’ve doubled under the current government’s approach, supported by the NDP. If you want a good, steady job, with benefits and better take-home pay, look at my plan. It will create a million of these good, well-paying jobs in our province of Ontario again. But we’ve got to make these choices to get on this path.”

Rather beguiling, his promises, aren't they?

As usual, Toronto Star readers are exercising their critical-thinking skills and have much to say about Tim's plan. There are a number of very good ones, and I offer the following only as representative examples:

So Tim Hudak is going to save Ontario. He is going to freeze the public service. Perhaps he didn’t notice that freezing the public service wages over the past five years to give tax breaks to corporations did not create jobs. Instead we lost 45,000 jobs last month. What did Kellogg’s and Heinz do with their tax windfall? Those two stalwarts of Ontario called the moving trucks.

He is going to create one million jobs. That would be 400,000 more than we need, or will the unemployed need two jobs to make a living at those created? His plan to reduce public sector jobs and replace them with low-paid private sector jobs will not help the economy and training for skilled trades won’t produce workers for these former government jobs.

Maybe by driving down the standard of living Mr. Hudak believes that he can lure back some of the manufacturing jobs other Tory governments helped leave Ontario. Surely cutting the green energy subsidies won’t create but will eliminate skilled jobs. Training skilled workers is a great idea if there are jobs for them to go to after the training.

Hudak has no plan for reducing energy costs even though he cites this as a reason for job losses. Too many friends at OPG?
He is from an era where cutting taxes was the mantra to create jobs. Employers who get tax cuts keep the money. They rarely invest in job creation without government welfare assistance. Families that get tax relief need the money to meet rising energy and fuel costs. Tax cuts will not now, nor have they ever, created jobs. Ideas from the 20th century that didn’t work then definitely won’t work now. Ontario has a business friendly tax structure and we are still bleeding jobs.

Do we need recycled Mike Harris ideas? I think not. Hudak’s plan is to continue the Conservative ideology of lowering the standard of living for working Ontarians and giving more to the 1 per cent will not save Ontario. We need to concentrate on the economy with 21st century solutions that will create sustainable jobs that pay above the poverty line.

Bob File, Hamilton

I am wondering what exactly Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak is referring to when he states, as part of his five-point plan for improving Ontario’s economy, that he will “end the bureaucratic runaround that inhibits job creation.”

Is he talking about lifting environmental restrictions on businesses and resource development? Is he talking about changing laws around workplace safety? Is he talking about changing laws relating to the use of part-time and temporary workers — so called “precarious employees” — who already have to scrabble to make ends meet without the benefit of job security, benefits and an employer provided pension?

Laws that favour business owners and resource developers over Ontario workers and citizens line the pockets of the rich while eroding quality of life for average Ontarians.

Brian O’Sullivan, Stouffville

Tim's Mad Face

Little Did They Know

My son alerted me to this video from 1981. After watching it, be sure to read Rosie DiManno's observations about workplace leave-taking, the second part of which deals specifically with the newspaper industry.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A World Badly In Need Of Inspired Leadership

Since he was elected to the position, I have written several posts related to Pope Francis; several of them express a renewed hope that the plain-speaking pontiff can generate some hope in a world badly in need of inspiring leadership, something almost wholly absent in our current crop of politicos, obsessed as they are first and foremost with the attainment and retention of power.

In response to a recent article by the Star's Carol Goar, readers offer their perspective on what politicians could learn from Francis:

Goar: World leaders respond to Pope’s message, Opinion Jan. 12

Carol Goar’s piece on Pope Francis highlights the amazing influence that Pope Francis musters — not only with key global political leaders but also with his unlikely admirers such as the influential gay rights magazine The Advocate, that praised the Pope’s impressive “stark change in rhetoric.”

It is befitting that this simple, humble, affable lead pastor, who has successfully focused world attention on the worsening plight of the poor and the marginalized, was placed fourth on the list of the world’s most powerful people by Forbes, the leading American business magazine.

This is clearly a clarion call to politicians, globally and especially in Canada. Such timely notice, that immediate steps must be taken to heed public opinion and address inequality in a responsive and progressive manner, will not be lost on our politicians. It is easy to see that “trickle down economics” has not worked, except for the top 1 per cent who conveniently help to promote this mantra, ad nauseum.

Let us hope that the political pendulum will swing in unison with the aspirations of Canadians going forward. The will of the electorate should result in welcome winds of change — shaping a better and gentler Canada.

As Winston Churchill famously said: “If one does not bend with the wind, one will end with the wind.”

Rudy Fernandes, Mississauga

Canada is in the final stages of creating a national holiday to honour Pope John Paul II. Yet it is Pope Francis who recently called us to pay attention to the extreme poor whose plight is often ignored. He has decried our indifference towards those who die of hunger and suffer as a result of malnutrition, while we have the tools and the resources to end hunger and poverty in a single generation.

In fact, over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, earning $1.25 or less per day. And 400 million of the world’s extreme poor are children.
We need the voice and moral force that Pope Francis and all leaders from the world’s faiths can provide. We also need an economic plan that is equal to the task.

Canada has established one leg of the stool — the Muskoka Initiative, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented in 2010. It aims to reduce maternal and infant mortality and improve the health of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries by strengthening health systems, preventing and treating the leading illnesses and diseases that kill women and children and improving nutrition.

Canada should ensure the Muskoka Initiative is extended and expanded into a legacy program deserving of a national holiday.

Randy Rudolph, Calgary

A very good article, and an eye opener to those political leaders whose eyes are still “closed” and minds shut — “fixed” on doing only what will bring them back into power.

A quick comment/suggestion I would offer is a review of our tax system. Yes, keep taxes low for the low-income earners, however, the marginal tax rate should be increased dramatically for the higher income earners — CEOs and other executives who are paid salaries and bonuses that are way, way, way beyond what they need to live extraordinarily luxurious lives.

The marginal tax rates for these people should be increased, incrementally, from the current maximum of 46 per cent up to 70 per cent (and this will not hurt their lifestyles).

And the revenue generated should be used to pay for proper child care, further education, the homeless in our society, seniors’ benefits, our First Nations and veterans benefits.

Al Mathias, Mississauga

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Some Interesting And Encouraging Poll Results

According to a Huffington Post survey, more than 60 per cent of Albertan respondents backed Neil Young's condemnation of the tarsands; as well, an Edmonton Journal online poll found more than 70% approval for his comments.

That has got to be an encouraging sign.

An Awakening Public?

I certainly applaud the spirit of this Star letter:

As the mayors of the GTA come together to ask for funds to clean up from the recent ice storm, I hope that they will recognize the likelihood that this disaster and recent GTA floods were “acts of man.” While most climate change scientists, conservative as they are, will not point at a single extreme weather event and proclaim it the result of global climate change, they do recognize the resultant increased frequency of severe weather events.

The provincial government has followed through on a promise to close coal-fired power stations as one step toward reducing CO2 emissions in Ontario. The Harper government has done little except interfere with efforts to reduce human caused climate change. Driven by the dictates of the fossil fuel industry, the federal government continues to pave the way for tar sands expansion and the transportation of dangerous and CO2 emission-rich products in the form of bitumen.

I implore the municipal mayors to seek relief funds from those who have contributed to climate change and profited (directly and/or indirectly) from the expansion of the tar sands. The costs of global climate change are mounting. Ontario citizens should not have to pay for this.

We must seek compensation from those who are increasing the risks of extreme weather events, namely the fossil fuel industry and their puppet regime, the Harper government.

James S. Quinn, Professor, Biology Department, McMaster University

With the latest Nanos poll suggesting that Canadians are awakening from their long slumber, perhaps the idea isn't as far-fetched as some might think?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Can Loyalty Oaths Be Far Behind?

In yet another development in the dangerous drift toward autocratic rule, the Harper cabal, under the guise of a private member's bill introduced by Mark Adler, the Conservative MP for York Centre, wants parliamentary watchdogs and their employees to disclose previous political activities.

Bill C-520, which has the full backing of Mr. Harper,

would require every applicant for a job with an agent of Parliament — such as the auditor general, or the chief electoral officer — to disclose if they’ve held a “partisan position” in the previous decade. The legislation would be retroactive, requiring any current employees to publicly disclose past political activity.

Here is a summary of the bill:

This enactment establishes a requirement for every person who applies for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration stating whether, in the 10 years before applying for that position, they occupied specified politically partisan positions. The enactment also requires the persons who work in the office of an agent of Parliament and these agents to make a declaration if they intend to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to occupy the position as agent of Parliament or work in the office of such an agent. The declarations are to be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament.

As well, the enactment requires an agent of Parliament and the persons who work in his or her office to provide a written undertaking that they will conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner in fulfilling the official duties and responsibilities of their positions.

The bill would also allow MPs and senators to ask Parliamentary watchdogs to investigate an employee’s conduct, should the politician suspect they’re performing their duties in a “partisan manner.” No definition of partisan activities is given in the bill, which, of course, opens the way to what many are calling a witch hunt.

For example, one can only imagine the grief the Harperites would have caused former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page had they been armed with this bill. No doubt Page's propensity for pointing out this government's myriad lies and examples of ministerial incompetence would have constituted 'partisan activity' in the twisted Tory mind.

So much for Parliamentary officers' independence.

Given the extraordinarily partisan and vindictive nature of the Prime Minister, it is yet another example of the government's contempt for the intelligence of Canadians when Harper's director of communications tells us that the bill reflects the Conservatives’ “principles of transparency and accountability.”

Can loyalty oaths be far behind?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Think This Couldn't Happen Here?

It already has, many, many times. Given the Harper cabal's abysmal record on the environment, this is surely a timely cautionary reminder for Canadians:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Inequality For All

I am a big fan of the documentary. Unlike the products of years gone by, today's films are engaging and provocative, frequently providing us with a window to a world we may previously have had only a passing acquaintance with. Whether political, social, or environmental in nature, documentaries are truly useful tools for educating us about the world we live in.

Much has been written about the decline of the middle class, that socio-economic stratum to which we were all taught to aspire. Yet, for a variety of reasons, that goal is now fast becoming unattainable for millions of people. While the reasons for this are many, a good starting point for understanding the problem is Inequality For All, a documentary by Jacob Kornbluth featuring Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labour under Bill Clinton.

In language and terms accessible to all, Reich makes an impassioned plea for a course correction in American politics that, not coincidentally, would also work well in Canada, given our current leaders' embrace of the neoliberal agenda that has caused so much misery for so many. While there is no simple solution to the woes we face because of that agenda, Reich offers a solid strategy, some of which is gleaned from other countries, for putting North America back on a solid economic footing that will benefit our increasingly imperiled populations:

Invest in Education: The countries that have fared best in the face of globalization are those that have encouraged and made accessible higher education and traning. Germany is one example cited in the film.

Strengthen Unionism There is a very interesting graphic in the film that shows an inverse relationship between income inequality and unions. When union membership is high, income inequality is low, and vice versa.

Raise the Minimum Wage This seems so obvious, but is always decried by the monied class as a job killer. The more money people earn, the more they spend, hence strengthening the economy. Henry Ford's wisdom has been forgotten.

Fix the Tax System Although we are constantly barraged with the propaganda that lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy are job creators, bitter experience shows us this is a falsehood. As one wealthy entrepreneur who makes upwards of $10 million per annum says in the documentary, "I don't buy $10 million worth of goods and services."

There are others suggestions Reich makes in his crusade to improve people's lives, but I will leave you with this poignant paraphrased comment from a woman in the film:

My wage and my benefits have been cut. I don't begrudge CEOs making millions of dollars, but why can't they leave me with a tiny slice of the pie?

Now available on DVD and ITunes, here is the film's official trailer:

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Faint Ray Of Hope?

Those of us who write blogs on a regular basis, I suspect, have a high tolerance for the uglier aspects of humanity that we regularly confront in our exploration of the political arena. Greed, deception, avarice and rampant egoism seem pervasive, concern for the collective good little more than a platitude. Yet we continue on, in part buoyed by the hope of a better future landscape where demagoguery and ideology are supplanted by reason and empiricism. One lives in hope.

Over at Northern Reflections, Owen, as usual, has an excellent post, this one on how the American politicos in their war on the poor seem to embrace an Old Testament avenging God, viewing victims of poverty and unemployment as having a moral failing.

On the other side of the coin, however, is the apparently positive effect that Pope Francis is having on some political leaders and commentators. In today's Toronto Star, Carol Goar writes the following:

Right-wing pundit Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, 2012 Republican presidential contender, inventor of workfare and forerunner of the Tea Party movement, issued this plea in a recent episode of CNN’s Crossfire: “I think every Republican should embrace the Pope’s core critique that you do not want to live on a planet with billionaires and people who do not have enough food.”

This was the man who advocated that poor people fend for themselves and Washington slash taxes on capital gains, dividends and inheritances. This was the inspiration for Preston Manning, Mike Harris, Jason Kenney and a host of other neo-conservatives.

She writes that Barack Obama gave a major speech on inequality that echoed what Pope Francis has been saying:

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Obama asked, echoing the pontiff. Within days, Senate majority leader Harry Reid pressed his colleagues to put inequality on their 2014 agenda.

Goar goes on to relate how Angela Merkel, David Cameron and others have been impressed and influenced by the Pope's direction. Notably absent, however, is any sign of a spiritual regeneration taking place within the Harper cabal:

Stephen Harper’s government shows no interest in narrowing the gap between rich and poor or reining in the excesses of capitalism.

As Parliament adjourned for its Christmas recess, its finance committee — dominated by Conservative MPs — tabled a report saying there was no need to change course. All the government had to do to address inequality was keep taxes low, remove disincentives to work (such as employment insurance benefits), boost the skilled trades and maintain an attractive investment climate — exactly the policies that fuelled the income disparities in the first place.

But as Goar also points out, with an election looming, Harper and his ilk cannot afford to ignore shifting public opinion nor their political rivals, who have made the fate of the middle class a mainstay of their rhetoric. (I can't say policies since they have none that are apparent to me.)

While the cynic in me cautions against putting too much faith in Damascene conversions changing the political landscape and conversation, the dormant optimist counsels me not to abandon all hope, either.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Motivational Video

If Stephen Harper's contempt for the things we hold dear as Canadians isn't reason enough to vote, what is?

An Unspeakably Sad Picture

But this photo of materials tossed in a dumpster upon the closure of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada library in Mont-Joli, Que. also speaks volumes about the Harper contempt for any knowledge or research that contradicts his regressive and destructive policies.

A war on science indeed.

Hudak's 'Truth' Exposed For The Lie It Is

In response to an opinion piece written by Stephen Skyvington espousing the Tim Hudak canard that mandatory union membership is one of the reasons Ontario is faring so badly economically, Hamilton Spectator readers weigh in with insights of their own:

Hudak is no friend of the workers

Spectator readers fooled by Stephen Skyvington's opinion piece should ask themselves: Who would benefit from the disappearance of the Rand formula?

Skyvington's argument for PC Leader Tim Hudak's anti-labour agenda leads to one conclusion: already-wealthy corporations and corporate bosses will reap the rewards if the last voice of working people is silenced. Workers? Not so much. Hudak has promised to gut the pensions of registered nurses and other workers and freeze their wages.

Skyvington's column is an example of the attempts to rid the country of unions and the work they do on behalf of every working person. The measures he and Hudak endorse are meant to eliminate the ability of unions to represent ordinary workers. Only corporate bosses benefit; they would be free to pay lower wages, fewer or no benefits and reap greater profits from the efforts of their workers.

Federal and provincial corporate tax cuts over the past 15 years have handed tens of billions of dollars to corporations." The billions in tax savings came with no strings — the corporations didn't feel morally obligated to expand their businesses, create more jobs or share the wealth through investments in Canada.

Skyvington misleads readers when he talks of "mandatory" union membership. Union membership is not mandatory; those who go to work in a union environment have the option of signing a membership card.

Skyvington's portrayal of Tim Hudak as "going to bat" for workers would be funny if it wasn't so dangerous. Neither are friends of working Ontarians. We shouldn't believe them when they say they are.

Deanna King, Ancaster

Mandatory taxes, mandatory union dues

The union movement benefits society at large, not just those who pay union dues to a particular local. Attacking them is not new and will never go away.

What's the difference between obligating a union member to pay dues and obligating a citizen to pay taxes? Does writer Stephen Skyvington also suggest I should have the right to renounce my taxes and the benefits they pay for? Why not? I have minimal interest in subsidizing corporate welfare if those businesses have minimal interest in my welfare.

How about a compromise? The taxpayer will continue to subsidize corporate welfare in exchange for living wage legislature? Please Big Business, may we have enough wealth to purchase your products and keep the entire economy running?

Here is a headline from the Globe and Mail in 1901: "Unions have out lived their usefulness." There is nothing new in what Skyvington espouses. It's just another round of attacks. Let's stand up together against the biggest bosses, the corporate ones. Don't forget to vote!

Ben Lyons, Hamilton

Hudak works for the Robber Barons

Stephen Skyvington would have us believe that the solution to the structural economic problems arising from neo-liberal policies of globalization, free trade, deregulation, migrant workforces, and reduced incomes is more of the same.

The solution for Skyvington and Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak could be labelled the Caterpillar Doctrine, whereby workers are offered half their wages without any benefits or their employer gives everyone the finger and leaves town.

In the wake of Caterpillar's closing in London, Ont., throwing 460 manufacturing workers onto the street, Hudak didn't "go to bat for workers." He backed the foreign-owned company that recorded $65.8 billion in sales and revenues and registered record profits.

Caterpillar didn't throw Ontario workers out of jobs because it was hurting but because it wasn't earning enough for the CEO, who raked in $10.4 million in salary for a single year. That is for whom Hudak and Skyvington are going to bat: Robber Barons. Hudak is a premier for 1914 not 2014.

Voters who work for a living ought to recognize Hudak as a class warrior for the one per cent and reject his divisive, ruinous agenda.

Sean Hurley, Hamilton

It is always encouraging to see Canadians exercising their critical faculties instead of passively accepting propaganda that advances the cause of a small, select, and grossly dishonest segment of the population known as the political class.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

How Does The Progressive World Respond To This?

I sometimes wonder about whether the term progressive calls up some kind of a stereotype. When people think of progressives, do they have a picture which I would consider reasonably accurate - people who believe in the ardent pursuit of justice, fairness and equity in society, and the breaking down of barriers to those goals? Or do they think of progressives as those who have an automatic, almost Pavlovian reaction against anything that hints even remotely at judgement or the imposition of limitations?

While I regard myself as a progressive in the first sense, the second one leaves me absolutely cold, hinting, as it does, at a kind of uncritical group-think whose tyranny means disagreements from within render one ineligible for membership.

Years ago during my teaching career, I had in one of my classes a lad from the Middle East. While he was generally a congenial enough boy, his cultural conditioning made him think of girls as inferior. This was made clear to me one day when I had a group of students, mainly girls, milling around my desk waiting to ask me questions; the lad interposed himself in front of them, fully expecting that his need for an answer would take precedence over the young ladies. I had to explain to him that in Canada, we wait in line if others are before us, a lesson that I think he found difficult to assimilate when those ahead of him were of the feminine gender.

Which brings me to my case in point. By now you likely will have heard about the situation at York University in Toronto, where an online student asked to be excused from group work with women for religious reasons:

Sociology professor Paul Grayson wanted to deny the student’s request for the online course, but first asked the faculty dean and university’s human rights centre, who said he should grant the request.

In the end — after fellow professors in the department agreed such a move would marginalize females — Grayson denied the request. The student relented and completed the required work with the women in his group.

Even though the situation resolved itself, despite the fecklessness of the institution's 'leaders', the fact that it caused such contention and controversy forces me to ask the question of what constitutes reasonable accommodation in our multi-cultural society. Indeed, should a situation as described above even be an issue in a secular institution such as a university, where openness and inquiry and exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking are its raison d'être?

To explore this further, I would encourage you to read Rosie DiManno's piece in today's Star. Entitled York University cowardly, compliant and blind to common sense, here is but a brief excerpt:

The Star headline got it wrong: “York University student’s request not to work with women poses dilemma.”

There is no dilemma here and only one proper response: No.
No to segregating males and females.

No to religious accommodation of any type at Canadian campuses.

No to the absurdity of human rights departments that turn themselves into black holes of ethical relativism.

No to academic officials who twist themselves into pretzels of gutlessness, rather than take an honorable scholastic and moral stance.

Let me know what you think.