Monday, March 31, 2014

Be Very Careful

If you see this man, be aware of the danger he poses to Canada's democracy. Take all necessary precautions to avoid direct contact:

H/t Operation Maple via trapdinawrpool

Wisdom From A 91-Year-Old

Don't worry. This is not one of those bromides on how to live a long and happy life. It is, however, a realistic recipe for social cohesion and progress. The letter, from Joy Taylor of Scarborough, was published in today's Toronto Star:

Today I turned 91. My friends and I celebrated with laughter, and good food. How lucky I am to have had such a good life. I wish that everyone could be as lucky as I.

I often think of the working poor. I think of their struggle to try to make ends meet. I think of the children not having enough to fill their stomachs and no second helpings at mealtime. Of going to bed hungry. Living in places that should be condemned. No TV, no sports or hobbies of any kind to help overcome the sadness and dreariness of their lives. They struggle with education. Some turn to crime.

I think of CEOs and bankers and wealthy people in general. They lack for nothing. Their interests lie in money. Making it, saving it and how to avoid paying taxes.

Many of them admit that they could never exist in the lives of every day people. They are not aware of how some people live — they avoid thinking about them. I cannot avoid thinking of them.

Is it a fantasy or could all Canadian families be given a chance at a decent life. Working people could earn a wage that allows them a decent place to live, good food and education for the children. Those unable to work could be well looked after and not despised by society.

If everyone paid their fair share of taxes and worked together with a major plan, just think that we could become the most perfect country in the world. The envy of people everywhere. It is possible.

Maybe this is what we were intended to do before it is too late. If not, perhaps a meteorite will carry us off to begin again until we get it right.

Millions of dollars is such a waste, lying offshore when it could be helping Canadians realize that there is a better living for us all. Why don’t we try it. We may learn to like it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

About Those 39 Pieces of I.D. Pierre Poilivre Keeps Talking About

H/t Canadians Rallying To Unseat Stephen Harper

To hear Pierre Poilievre speak, one might think that any Canadian who claims that the 'Fair' Elections Act could very well disenfranchise up to 500,000 Canadians in the next election is intellectually challenged. The ubiquitous Harper weasel, both in the House and on television, assures us that all the experts, both domestically and internationally, are dead wrong in all of their criticisms, since the bill will allow 39 pieces of I.D.* to be used at the ballot box, thus rendering vouching and voter information cards quite redundant.

But are his claims of our collective ignorance/stupidity/hysteria valid?

The CBC's Laura Payton did an investigation of the issue, with some very interesting results.

If you look at the list of I.D at the end of this post, you will see the problem. As Peyton points out, Canadians don't just prove their identity to cast a ballot: they have to prove where they live too.

I have placed an asterisk beside those pieces that do provide an address. One of the key problems with many of those forms of identification is that one would have had to have gone to the trouble of requesting such proof well ahead of an election (eg. First Nations attestation of residence, or such attestation as issued by a soup kitchen, shelter, student/senior residence, or long-term care facility); a second problem would be remembering to have it with you when going to the polls. How many would bother to line up a second time after returning to their residence to retrieve the required but forgotten piece?

But most people have a driver's licence, right? Says Payton:

... while Elections Canada says 85 per cent of Canadians have a driver's licence — based on the numbers they get from provincial licensing offices — that penetration drops in urban areas like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, where better public transit systems mean fewer people require cars to get around.

What about things like insurance policies (which you are far less likely to have if you are a renter) or bank statements? Those are fine, says Peyton,

Unless, that is, the documents are delivered by email. [Don't forget we are always being preached to about the environmental virtues of paperless billing.] A printed version of emailed documents won't suffice. Instead, voters would have to go to the bank or the hydro or insurance company — or dig through their paper files at home — to find an original copy. And they'll have to know that before they head to the polling station to cast a ballot on the advance polling day or election day.

Curious as well, isn't it, that a voter information card, which contains one's address, isn't accepted as one of the two proofs required? Does the government believe dark conspiracies are afoot not only to steal the cards, but also people's other pieces of identity as well?

Given all of the criticisms levelled against this bill, criticisms that Poilievre has facilely dismissed as without merit, there is only one conclusion, in my view, to be drawn. Given those who are most likely to be excluded from easy access to the polls (aboriginals, the poor, the homeless, renters, the 'urban elite,' the young and the very old), people who are less likely to vote for the Conservatives, the Fair Elections Act is, unquestionably, legislation aimed solely at achieving voter suppression.

*Driver's licence
Ontario health card
Provincial/territorial ID card in some provinces/territories
Canadian passport
Certificate of Canadian citizenship (citizenship card)
Birth certificate
Certificate of Indian status (status card)
Social insurance number card
Old age security card
Student ID card
Liquor ID card
Hospital/medical clinic card
Credit/debit card
Employee card
Public transportation card
Library card
Canadian Forces ID card
Veterans Affairs Canada health card
Canadian Blood Services/Héma-Québec card
CNIB ID card
Firearm possession and acquisition licence or possession only licence
Fishing, trapping or hunting licence
Outdoors or wildlife card/licence
Hospital bracelet worn by residents of long-term care facilities
Parolee ID card
*Utility bill (telephone, TV, PUC, hydro, gas or water)
*Bank/credit card statement
*Vehicle ownership/insurance
*Correspondence issued by a school, college or university
*Statement of government benefits (employment insurance, old age security, social assistance, disability support or child tax benefit)
*Attestation of residence issued by the responsible authority of a First Nations band or reserve
Government cheque or cheque stub
*Pension plan statement of benefits, contributions or participation
*Residential lease/mortgage statement
*Income/property tax assessment notice
*Insurance policy
*Letter from a public curator, public guardian or public trustee
*One of the following, issued by the responsible authority of a shelter, soup kitchen, student/senior residence, or long-term care facility: attestation of residence, letter of stay, admission form or statement of benefits

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Simple Truth - UPDATED

But one, of course, that our political overlords have no interest in considering:

Re: Polls expert fears Bill C-23 imperils voters' rights, March 26

The response from Minister Pierre Poilievre’s office that “the Fair Elections Act simply requires voters to demonstrate who they are and where they live” shows a lack of understanding of the situation that many Canadians (by some estimates about 120,000) in remote areas, seniors homes and some students find themselves in. Many of these people simply cannot prove on paper where they live.

To disenfranchise them by eliminating the vouching alternative is patently unfair and is contrary to the democratic principle that all citizens have a right to vote. This clause, along with the one that restricts the right of the Chief Electoral Officer to encourage Canadians to vote, should be removed from the Bill.

Bill Wensley, Cobourg

H/t The ChronicleHerald

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Toronto Police Are At It Again

This is what happens when you have a 'blue wall' culture, facilitated by a police chief who often seems more politician than top cop. Sure, it is unfair and inaccurate to portray all police as abusers of their authority, but when it happens again and again, with little consequence, people can be forgiven for being wary of those who are supposed to protect and serve the public.

Here is one such victim:

The above is Curtis Young, arrested in January of 2012 for alleged public intoxication obstructing justice and later assaulting and threatening police officers.

As reported in The Star,

Ontario court Judge Donna Hackett ruled there were no grounds for the accusations that Young had assaulted or threatened the officers. She also found the officers — constables Christopher Miller, Christopher Moorcroft, Joshua James and Adrian Piccolo — assaulted Young after he was brought to the 43 Division station in Scarborough and then “lied, exaggerated and colluded” in their reports of what happened.

As a consequence of this brutality and collusion, the judge stayed all charges against Young.

But the other story, that of police concealment, is ongoing. The assault was captured on cellblock video, but that video is thus far being denied a public airing.

The reason? Well, er, there doesn't seem to be one:

Lawyers for the SIU and the police service opposed the release of the video, arguing they needed more time to make submissions on their reasons for blocking access.

Huh? They don't want the public to see the video, but they haven't yet quite figured out why?

Naturally, the politician police chief, Bill Blair, has thus far offered no comment, nor any indication of sanctions against the officers, although they are currently under investigation by the SIU, and the Toronto police professional standards unit continues to monitor the situation.

Although there is obviously much to monitor when it comes to police behaviour, one can't help but wonder what is left to monitor when it comes to this particular police crime.

On Tory Intractability And Contempt

Today's blog entry is really a video one, based on the testimony yesterday of Harry Neufeld, the elections expert and former B.C. Chief Electoral Officer whose report is being consistently misrepresented by Pierre Poilievre in his zeal to suppress the vote through the misnamed 'Fair' Elections Act. Perhaps one of the most disturbing points to emerge is Neufeld's estimation that, with the elimination of both vouching and the use of voter information cards as acceptable identification at the ballot box, up to 500,000 Canadians will be unable to vote in the next election.

I am posting four videos: the first two are quite brief, and the other two are longer, taken from yesterday's Power and Politics. What ties them together, what emerges so plainly for all to see, is the absolute contempt with which Mr. Poilievre, the official face of Tory intractability and disdain, treats all expert opinion.

It is a face all Canadians should keep in mind when they go to the polls in 2015.

In this final segment, you will notice that even the usually unflappable Evan Solomon gets increasingly frustrated by Poilieve's refusal to even entertain the possibility that his bill is flawed, despite the array of experts saying exactly that:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Opposition To The 'Fair' Elections Act Grows

As a supplement to Montreal Simon's post yesterday on Jean Pierre Kingsley's appearance before the committee hearings on the 'Fair' Elections Act, you might want to spare two minutes to watch this report from The National on his concerns:

As well, here is a report that shows growing public awareness and discontent about the Tories' voter suppression efforts:

I Guess Sometimes It Doesn't Pay To Have Friends In High Places

Although I have no sympathy for those who work, either directly or indirectly, for the Harper regime, there is a story in Toronto Life entitled, With Friends Like Harper: how Nigel Wright went from golden boy to fall guy which made for some interesting reading.

Part profile of Wright and part portrait of a cold, calculating and ruthless Prime Minister willing to jettison even those closest to him, the article revealed things I was quite unaware of. For example, I did not know that Wright and Tom Long were instrumental in luring Harper back into politics after he left following his three-year stint in the House as a Reform member:

In 2000, Wright, Long and then–provincial Tory minister Tony Clement helped found the Canadian Alliance—a new party conceived to bring east and west together. This party was led by Stockwell Day, whose leadership was to be contested the following year.

Although for a long time resistant to the notion, Harper eventually decided to make a leadership run, largely through the importuning of Wright. And of course the falling year, thanks to Peter Mackay's betrayal of his promise not to merge the Progressive Conservatives with the Alliance Party, the party became its current dark incarnation, The Conservative Party of Canada.

But Wright did much more than give Harper his unreserved support:

With his deep business connections and capital market experience, he gave Harper some much-needed Bay Street cachet, making the western reformer palatable to the Ontario wing of the party.

In 2003, Wright, along with Irving Gerstein, the former president of Peoples Jewellers, and Gordon Reid, founder of the Giant Tiger discount chain, established the Conservative Fund Canada. The CFC would become Harper’s greatest weapon in his war to eviscerate the Liberal party. Gerstein revolutionized the way Canadian political parties raise money—soliciting small individual donations, at the grassroots level—and the Conservatives became far and away the wealthiest party.

The article goes on to discuss how Wright left his high-paying position with Onex to become Harper's chief of staff in 2010 - in its boy-scout portrayal of Wright, we are told he took a significant pay cut and paid for all of his expenses out of his own pocket. He believed he shouldn’t charge taxpayers for expenses if he could afford to cover them himself.

The piece paints Wright as something of a living saint - he regularly helps out at an Ottawa homeless shelter and is contemplating going to Africa to do missionary work after resolution of his current legal problems arising from his $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy. But that portrayal seems at odds with one curious fact:

His allegiance to the Prime Minister, we are told, is due to the fact that Harper's "...values align with [his] in every conceivable way.”

While we humans are a mass of contradictions, that one in particular is very difficult to reconcile.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Another Gem From Our National Treasure

Oh, Rick, may your voice never be silenced.

Defending The Indefensible - A Tory Tactic

Giving a break to Pierre Poilivre, the most public, glib, oleaginous and wholly unconvincing face of the misnamed 'Fair' Elections Act, the Harper cabal tapped good Tory-soldier Paul Calandra to be their point man on Power and Politics to defend the act. There is little doubt in my mind that Calandra has a future in Harper's cabinet, should the unthinkable happen in the next election.

Watch the following video, if you are sufficiently strongly constituted, to get a taste of the servile service he regularly renders to his dark lord:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If This Isn't An Indication Of Moral Bankruptcy And Depravity

...please tell me the term you would use. It seems that provinces are alarmed by the fact that millennials and the precariat are not so keen to throw away their money on lotteries.

The two national lottery products (Lotto 6-49 and Lotto Max) are experiencing historic levels of decline for the young adult demographic ... by anywhere from 8-31 per cent.

Perhaps that cohort realizes money, that ever-scarce commodity in their lives, could be put to better use?

Governments, which have grown addicted to the ready supply of cash realized from such gambling, will no doubt huddle with provincial lottery agencies to devise a answer to this terrible problem of parsimony.

Said Andrea Marantz, spokeswoman for the Western Canada Lottery Corp.,

"Lottery is like any other kind of consumer product. We have to expend some effort in (research and development) to just keep products relevant."

A Lesson In Language

With my flooring project continuing at a pace commensurate with my rudimentary skills, I will likely devote much of the day working on the second room, the first finally completed with only a few obvious mistakes that I think I can later conceal.

Therefore, in lieu of something of my own, I offer yet again another insightful commentary from yet another thoughtful Star reader. (They do seem to be an intelligent and perceptive group!) This one, from Toronto's J.A. McFarlane, is a very interesting meditation on the political use and abuse of language, something Orwell called the defense of the indefensible, and something the Conservatives, both federally and provincially, have proven themselves to be Machiavellian masters at:

Re: Assault on democracy: The minister’s secret, Editorial March 23

Ideologues of all stripes have long practiced the art of bending the language to their own purposes, and for some time now those on the right have been winning this war of words hands-down. At the very top of their newspeak hit parade is the word “reform.”

Its most commonly accepted meaning is to change incrementally for the better, to effect what most intelligent, fair-minded people on all sides would regard as an improvement. But the ideologues are using the word in its much more radical meaning of re-form, to tear something apart and completely remould it to suit their particular agenda. They have been mentally adding a hyphen without telling the rest of us.

Some misguided poor people voted for Mike Harris’ manipulative, demagogic Common Sense Revolution (its vague proposals could mean whatever you wanted them to mean) because he promised to “reform” the welfare system. Well, he in fact took a chain-saw to it immediately on taking power, cutting their payments by a stunning 25 per cent. His base brayed approval while kids went hungry. Some reform.

This otherwise cogent and welcome editorial falls into the Tories’ trap at one point by referring to their “democratic reform proposals.” Granted, there’s not much we can do about manipulative formal names, such as their Democratic Reform portfolio (using a qualifier like “so-called” would be too heavy handed, right?) so the proper practice of all of us, especially the media, should be to mention these formal names as seldom as possible. Surely we all have a democratic duty to resist this manipulation, to use more accurate, neutral terminology, such as “radical electoral-law changes.”

And don’t get me started on that other biggie in the right-wing lexicon, the word “fair.” In Tory newspeak it is used everywhere, a catch-all word that means simply “putting a thumb on the scales to benefit us, our backers and our base.”

The Fair Elections Act is really just blatant voter suppression, and it is anything but fair.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nothing New Here

All who find change unsettling will be reassured by the following video from today's Question Period, the House's first day back after a two-week break. Nothing has changed. Tory arrogance and contempt for Canadians is in full display:

C'Mon, We've All Been Thinking It

And now, thanks to Michael de Adder, we've got a picture to go along with those thoughts:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Do I Find This So Immensely Appealing?

No idea.

A More Realistic Appraisal of Jim Flaherty

If, like me, you were rather appalled by the hypocritical yet predictable enconiums offered to Jm Flaherty by his political foes, you will likely enjoy this letter from Ottawa Star reader Morgan Duchesney, who renders a far more realistic appraisal of the departing Finance Minister:

Re: Chance for a fresh start, Editorial March 19

As Jim Flaherty retires to “private life,” I wish him a speedy recovery from his lingering illness. Missing from the goodbye accolades is any mention of Flaherty’s greatest failure. Whether sick or healthy: Flaherty lacked the will to take any serious steps to collect the billions in unpaid taxes that sit safely in foreign tax shelters.

Flaherty’s tired excuse about not wanting to punish “job creators and innovators” is a bit threadbare in light of abysmal levels of corporate investment in Canada. If Canadian corporations are operating overseas while shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions, exactly who is benefiting and just how “Canadian” are these companies if they employ foreigners and only benefit arms-length stockholders?

I challenged Flaherty’s flimsy logic whereby pursing elite tax evaders will increase the likelihood of capital flight, higher consumer prices and corporate bankruptcies. The possibility of these eventualities raises an interesting question: what do corporations receive in exchange for their taxes?

Perhaps defenders of offshore tax shelters and corporate tax cuts forget that taxes pay for education, health care, infrastructure, public administration, law enforcement and the military. Without these programs there could be no business and large businesses benefit exponentially from tax-funded public services.

Beyond the fact that he has been busy turning Canada into a tax shelter; there is a more practical reason for Flaherty’s tax shelter reticence. I expect Flaherty, like his colleague Jim Prentiss; will resurface as a banking executive. To complete the circle; his replacement, Joe Oliver shifted from investment banking to the world of politics. Perhaps it is time for some fresh ideas at Finance?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Election Bill Sends 'Very Poor Message' To Budding Democracies

So says Andrew Reynolds, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of 18 professors from around the world who earlier this week signed an open letter about their concerns regarding the 'Fair Elections Act. Their letter came the week after an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper by 159 Canadian political science and law professors.

In the following video, the professor articulates his and his fellow-academics' grave concerns over the anti-democratic aspects of the act.

Something For Stephanie

In yesterday's post entitled The Warnings Are Everywhere, I wrote about how Canada is being critically scrutinized both domestically and internationally for the anti-democratic measures contained in the 'Fair' Elections Act. I drew heavily upon an open letter sent by an array of professors from countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Ireland.

Stephanie left the following message:

I'd really like to read the open letter by international experts, but unfortunately, it's behind the Globe and Mail pay wall. I should not have to pay for the Globe to read this open letter, intended for me, a Canadian citizen. Any other links to it? Please?

Since I could not find any other source for the letter, and since Stephanie makes an excellent point that an open letter intended for Canadian citizens should not be restricted to those willing to go behind the Globe and Mail's paywall, I offer the letter here:

We, the undersigned, international scholars and political scientists, are concerned that Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of democracy and human rights is threatened by passage of the proposed Fair Elections Act.

We believe that this Act would prove [to] be deeply damaging for electoral integrity within Canada, as well as providing an example which, if emulated elsewhere, may potentially harm international standards of electoral rights around the world.

In particular, the governing party in Canada has proposed a set of wide-ranging changes, which if enacted, would, we believe, undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process, diminish the effectiveness of Elections Canada, reduce voting rights, expand the role of money in politics, and foster partisan bias in election administration.

The bill seeks to rewrite many major laws and regulations governing elections in Canada. These major changes would reduce electoral integrity, as follows:

Elections Canada: The proposed Act significantly diminishes the effectiveness of Elections Canada, a non-partisan agency, in the fair administration of elections and the investigation of electoral infractions by:

· Severely limiting the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to communicate with the public, thereby preventing the CEO from encouraging voting and civic participation, and publishing research reports

· Removing the enforcement arm of the agency, the Commissioner of Elections, from Elections Canada, and placing it in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a government department

· Prohibiting the Commissioner from communicating with the public about the details of any investigation

· Preventing any details about the Commissioner’s investigations from being included in the DPP’s annual report on the Commissioner’s activities – a report that the DPP provides to the Attorney General (AG), and which the AG forwards to Parliament

· Failing to provide the Commissioner with the power to compel witness testimony (a significant obstacle in a recent investigation of electoral fraud)

Right to Vote: The proposed Act diminishes the ability of citizens to vote in elections by:

· Prohibiting the use of vouching to establish a citizen’s eligibility to vote

· Prohibiting the use of Voter Information Cards to establish a citizen’s identity or residency

The prohibition against vouching is ostensibly to reduce voter fraud yet there is no evidence, as affirmed by the Neufeld Report on Compliance Review, that vouching results in voter fraud. These changes to the voter eligibility rules will disproportionately impact seniors, students, the economically disadvantaged, and First Nations citizens, leading to an estimated disenfranchisement of over 120,000 citizens.

Money in Politics: The proposed Act expands the role of money in elections by:

· Exempting “fundraising expenses” from the spending limits for political parties, thereby creating a potential loophole and weakening enforcement

· Failing to require political parties to provide supporting documentation for their expenses, even though the parties are reimbursed over $30 million after every election

· Increasing the caps on individual donations from $1200 to $1500 per calendar year

· Increasing the caps on candidates’ contributions to their own campaigns from $1200 to $5000 per election for candidates and $25,000 per election for leadership contestants

· Creating a gap between the allowable campaign contributions of ordinary citizens and the contributions of candidates to their own campaigns, and thus increasing the influence of personal wealth in elections

Partisan Bias: The proposed Act fosters partisan bias and politicization by:

· Enabling the winning political party to recommend names for poll supervisors, thereby politicizing the electoral process and introducing the possibility of partisan bias

· By exempting “fundraising expenses” (communications with electors who have previously donated over $20 to a party) from “campaign spending,” creating a bias in favour of parties with longer lists of donors above this threshold – currently, the governing party

The substance of the Fair Elections Act raises significant concerns with respect to the future of electoral integrity in Canada. The process by which the proposed Act is being rushed into law in Parliament has also sparked considerable concern. The governing political party has used its majority power to cut off debate and discussion in an effort to enact the bill as soon as possible. By contrast, the conventional approach to reforming the electoral apparatus in Canada has always involved widespread consultation with Elections Canada, the opposition parties and the citizens at large, as well as with the international community.

In conclusion, we, the undersigned, ask that the proposed legislation should be revised so that contests in Canada continue to meet the highest international standards of electoral integrity.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Shaun Bowler, University of California, Riverside, US

Professor Brian Costar, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia

Professor Ivor Crewe, University College, Oxford, UK

Professor Jorgen Elklit, Aarhus University, Denmark

Professor David Farrell, University College, Dublin, Ireland

Professor Andrew Geddis, University of Otago, New Zealand

Professor Lisa Hill, University of Adelaide, Australia

Professor Ronald Inglehart, University of Michigan, US

Professor Judith Kelley, Duke University, US

Professor Alexander Keyssar, Harvard University, US

Dr. Ron Levy, Australian National University, Australia

Professor Richard Matland, University of Illinois, US

Professor Dan Meagher, Deakin University, Australia

Dr. Jenni Newton-Farrelly, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia

Professor Pippa Norris, Harvard and Sydney Universities, US/Australia

Professor Graeme Orr, University of Queensland, Australia

Professor Andrew Reynolds, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US

Professor Ken Sherrill, Hunter College, City University of New York, US

Professor Daniel Tokaji, The Ohio State University, US

Friday, March 21, 2014

TWO Judicial Setbacks In ONE Day!

I don't want to chortle; I really don't. Chortling bespeaks a certain pettiness and vindictiveness that I would like, in my more high-mined moments, to think I am above. But I am weak, and so today is a good day to indulge in some whole-hearted chortling.

First came the news this morning that Marc Nadon, the Harper cabal's selection to take one of the Supreme Court's Quebec seats, was rejected by that lofty body because he meets none of the qualifications to sit (a mere pesky detail, I suppose, to some I could name).

Also this morning, another judicial body, this one the Federal Court in British Columbia, granted an injunction against Health Canada's new law, slated to come into effect April 1, that would make it illegal for medical marijuana users to continue growing their own supply, forcing them to pay a much higher price for their medicine from a government-licensed private production facility.

No word yet on the Harper regime's reaction to the pot decision, but they are saying they are "genuinely surprised" at the Nadon rejection.

Just as I am genuinely delighted by two Harper humiliations in one day. [chortle, chortle]

Perhaps he will stay in the Ukraine?

The Warnings Are Everywhere

Canada's reputation continues to erode, both at home and internationally.

I recently wrote a post about Canadian law professors who penned an open letter pleading with the government not to proceed with the 'Fair' Elections Act in its present form because it will seriously undermine our democracy.

Now, beyond our borders, the same fears are being expressed, but also with a warning of the negative impact the act could have on new and emerging democracies.

As reported in The Globe and Mail, another open letter, this one signed by 19 professors from universities in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and Ireland, issues the following warning:

“We believe that this Act would prove [to] be deeply damaging for electoral integrity within Canada, as well as providing an example which, if emulated elsewhere, may potentially harm international standards of electoral rights”.

One of the signatories, Pippa Scott, a Harvard lecturer conducting a six-year electoral project, says the bill would weaken Elections Canada – which she typically cites as a premier agency internationally and warns that voter suppression through the elimination of vouching mirrors what is happening in her own country:

“If the U.S. and Canada both start restricting voters’ capacities to express their role, then I think other countries which are far less democratic will easily take their message … It’s a great excuse. They’ll say, if the leading countries in the world aren’t doing this, why should we?”

The letter dismisses the allegations uttered by Harper puppet Pierre Poilivre about widespread voter fraud, echoing others who have said that such allegations have almost no foundation.

As well, concerns are raised about the role money will play in the electoral process, given the changes that would exempt fundraising from campaign limits, not requiring parties to document their expenses and “increasing the influence of personal wealth” by allowing people to donate more to their own campaigns.

In addition, what the professors describe as "party bias" will undermine the electoral process by allowing parties to recommend poll supervisors, among other changes.

The warnings are everywhere. They demand to be heeded. Let us all hope that the long winter of Canadian apathy is coming to an end.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Timely Reminder About Taxation

Responding to a column the other day by the Star's Thomas Walkom, letter-writer Bruna Nota of Toronto offers us some timely reminders:

Re: Tax a dirty word in these Thatcherite political times, March 15

Yes, most unfortunately, the culture has developed in Canada, fully supported by all big media to depict taxes as evil rather than as a necessary social contribution to the community and to future generations. As the inscription on the Washington Internal Revenue Services building says: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”

We need to correct the timidity of our elected representative and strengthen their resolve to do what is right. Taxes, now or in the future, are a necessity if we still value community. And they have to be progressive taxes paid by the people and entities who can most afford them. The alternative is not a pretty one.
When we do not pay taxes our infrastructure crumbles. Our research ability disappears. Our students are saddled with unbearable debts. Our universities are beholden to the dictates of corporations. More and more of our citizens are left bereft of housing, food, education, basic services. This is not a society worth living in. We need to have more articles decrying the present regressive state of affair.

In this context, I recommend the excellent book published by Canadians for Tax Fairness: The Great Revenue Robbery. It is a series of very thoughtful and insightful essays about how the public domain is diminished because taxes are been avoided.

Perhaps the Fram oil filter man put it best back in 1972 when he talked about the folly of pursing a false economy:

Harper's Palpable, Consistent Contempt

Yesterday, fellow-blogger LeDaro posted a video from last May when Harper invited reporters to a caucus meeting to hear his speech, then refused to answer questions about the Senate scandal engulfing his government. As the reporters shouted out their questions, they were drowned out by the deafening ovation rendered by the Prime Minister's trained seals, aka his caucus.

During the 2011 election, people will recall that reporters following Dear Leader on the campaign trail were limited to asking a total of five questions per day, in total.

A report in this morning's Star reveals that Harper shuffled his cabinet in secret yesterday. Significantly, the shuffle was not announced beforehand. Journalists who did go to Rideau Hall were kept outside.

Chris Waddell, director of the journalism and communication program at Carleton University, had this to say about the secrecy:

“They are public figures and their swearing-in should be a public event,” ... adding that there was no justification for keeping it under wraps.

“As you clamp down more and more on allowing media to attend things, you make things less and less available to the public and you substitute for that public relations materials rather than actual news content.

“A big part of the media’s job in holding people accountability
is being present at events.”

And that is the biggest problem with the cabal's obsessive and paranoid hiding of the processes of government. In a democracy, the press is entrusted to be our eyes and ears, the conduits of information that ensure that we can have informed discussion and debate and make electoral choices accordingly.

So in essence, the egregious contempt the Harperites shows for the press, when you think about it, is very thinly-disguised and absolute disdain for all of us.

Hardly a revelation, of course; just a timely reminder of what contemptuous and contemptible rogues are now presiding over our collective fates.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rick Mercer Wipes Up With Pierre Poilivre

Rick Mercer does his usual excellent job in putting the smug and arrogant in their places:

More From Star Readers

Whenever I need a morale boost, I look to the letters' section of The Toronto Star. There I find regular confirmation that progressive notions are far from dead in this country, despite the best efforts of the Harper regime:

Re: Underemployment reshapes Canada’s job market, Opinion March 14

During the 2008 recession, some of my well-employed friends smugly asked, “What recession?” They would probably say that the trends in today’s job market aren’t troubling at all; they indicate that we are finally realizing the “leisure society” promised log ago by improved production and technology. This view is delusional.

Last year, our society transitioned from well-paying full-time jobs (less than 20 per cent of all new jobs), to lower-paying and “precarious” part time jobs (almost 80 per cent of all new jobs). This is not merely troubling, but cause for concern, if not panic.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ “Seismic Shift” tells us that 125,000 more Ontarians are unemployed today than before the recession, that fully one-third of part-time workers are frustrated by their inability to find full-time jobs, and we know that many Canadians are forced to take on more than one part-time job — just to make ends meet.

Unless these part-time jobs are freelancing gigs or busking at subway stations, this kind of work is not indicative of a leisure society but, rather, of slavery. We are condemning hard-working citizens to a daily grind that leaves them very little time for family, rest and recreation. This is hardly “progress.”
The golden lining on this storm cloud is that it presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to implement a guaranteed annual income. Are political leaders listening?

Salvatore (Sal) Amenta, Stouffville

We can have full employment in bad times if we adapt the German system Kurzarbeit, the largest work-sharing program in the world. The program included 64,000 workplaces and 1.5 million workers at the peak of the recession in mid-2009.

The Economist magazine, the most read magazine by CEOs and politicians, praises the German system, in which employers reduce hours rather than cut jobs in recessions: “Germany’s gross domestic product fell by 4 per cent in the two years to the end of 2009, twice as much as in America. Yet its employment rose by 0.7 per cent while America’s plunged by 5.5 per cent.”

Joseph Polito, Toronto

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It's Definitely Not Democracy

That's the conclusion fundraising expert Harvey McKinnon draws in this interview during which he discusses the Harper regime's targeting of groups that oppose the Tory policy of environmental despoliation, about which I wrote previously.

McKinnon also offers this startling information: Statistically, one in 100 charities are audited each year. This Revenue Canada has gone after seven out of 12 charities this year. According to a statistician on his staff, the odds of this happening randomly are one chance in a billion.

Draw what inference you will from that.

H/t Occupy Canada

Bye Bye, Zach

I have a busy day ahead, so for the time being I shall offer a brief update on the fortunes of young Zach Paikin, about whom I wrote earlier. It appears that Zach has bid farewell to the Liberal Party over what he perceives as Trudeau's interference in the nomination process. You can read all about it here.

Perhaps the young man will now gravitate to the party of his true ideological calling, the Conservative Party of Canada?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Another Informed Star Reader

Christine Penner Polle of Red Lake offers some observations that I suspect few but the most ardent ideologues would dispute:

Re: Ottawa plans cuts to climate programs, March 12

Have we Canadians fallen down the rabbit hole? We are living in a Mad Hatter world where our federal government is slashing funding to Environment Canada’s climate change efforts at the same time scientists are raising the alarm about the threat of an unstable climate to our civilization, and where even staid, small “c” conservative institutions such as the IMF and the IEA are urging swift action to decrease emissions from fossil fuels.

This kind of cost-cutting is false economy, for the longer we delay in addressing climate change the more expensive – and dangerous – it becomes.

The federal government could address the climate crisis by putting a straightforward and transparent price on carbon through a carbon fee and dividend policy that (finally!) charges industry the true cost of carbon pollution, and rebates the money back to Canadian households, helping us all make the shift toward the clean energy economy of the 21st century.

At the same time, the market will be allowed to pick winners and losers in the energy race, rather than government through inefficient sector-by-sector regulation. Sounds like a solution that might get Canadians back to a saner, safer reality.

Kevin Page On Canada's 'Grotesquely Wrong Elites'

Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, about whom I have written many times on this blog, is without question one of Canada's true heroes. The reason? He insisted upon doing his job with the kind of thoroughness and integrity that exemplify the highest ideals of public service. Like Munir Sheikh, who resigned his position as head of Statistics Canada rather than allow the Harper government to use him to legitimize its abandonment of the mandatory long-form census, Page deserves our respect for fearlessness in exposing the lie that is our current regime.

Presumably, once his term ended last year, Page was expected by the Harper cabal to slowly fade away like any former government employee. Happily, that has not been the case as he continues to shine a very public light on the regime's abuses of democracy and criminal withholding of information that would allow our elected representatives to make informed decisions in Parliament.

In a very recent interview in The Tyee, Page shows that he is as concerned as ever about the concealment that has become the modus operandi of our current government. At the same time, he articulates what he sees as the main reasons his office fell into the cabal's cross-hairs.

I am reproducing but a small part of the interview here; I hope you will set aside a bit of time to peruse the entire piece.

Why is an office like the PBO necessary? Why does it matter to the good functioning of our democracy?

"In our Westminster parliamentary democracy, the 'power of the purse' rests with the House of Commons. No money should be spent or tax legislation changed unless the executive gets approval from the House of Commons. We want members of Parliament to have access to financial information before they vote. An independent PBO can help level the playing field between the executive/public service and the legislature with respect to access to financial information before money is authorized. Without this information -- there is no accountability. The system breaks down. The current system is badly broken. We do not have the necessary checks and balances in place. MPs are often forced to vote without the information it needs. MPs have lost the power of the purse. They need to regain it."

On the question of the relationship between Harper's budget-cutting and silencing his critics, Page has this to say:

"I am deeply concerned about the lack of transparency, analysis and debate on the choices and impact of government programs and operations that are being eliminated and scaled back in the name [of] deficit reduction. This includes reductions in spending to support information and knowledge at Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and elsewhere.

As a consequence of information being withheld, MPs are voting on departmental spending plans without the information they need to assess austerity impacts. We are closing veterans offices in the name of efficiency but spending more on recreation trails. MPs should debate these issues.

One of the most compelling parts of the interview, for me, was Page's explanation of how the PBO ran afoul of the Prime Minister and his operatives, providing, as it does, a further window into Harper's vindictive soul. It would seem that truth, to Dear Leader, is anathema:

1. A week before a government update that offered a rosy view of the economy, the PBO projected a recession and deficit. When it became apparent the world economy was in a recession, the opposition parties started talking of a coalition government. The prime minister quickly prorogued Parliament and came back with a new outlook and budget.

2. The PBO released a report in 2011 saying the cost of the F35 fighter planes were going to be significantly more expensive than indicated by the defence minister over its life cycle. Despite rabid denunciation of the Office by Harper and his acolytes, the Auditor General confirmed those numbers, suggesting the government had purposely misled the public.

3. Mr. Harper claimed that Old Age Security was unsustainable, and thus the age of eligibility was raised to age 67. The PBO, using similar numbers as the chief actuary, prepared annual long-term fiscal sustainability reports and indicated that the program was sustainable. Harper was caught in his lie a second time when the government released its own analyses and indicated that the federal fiscal structure was sustainable and since OAS was funded by general revenues, it too was sustainable before the government changed the age eligibility requirement."

All in all, a lot for an inflexible martinet to stomach, and hence the animus that persists to this day against Kevin Page.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Petition Worth Your Consideration

Don Aitken has started a petition on the Care2petition site calling on the government to stop politicizing Canada's Election Act.

Given the abuses inherent in the Fair Elections Act, about which I have written several times, I hope you will consider signing it.

They Tell Tales Designed To Frighten Children

They, of course, are all who comprise the Harper cabal, that conglomeration of feckless, ambitious and disloyal louts who, through their lies, distortions and propaganda, would frighten, confuse and bully the uninformed into surrendering much of what it means to be Canadian.

People will recall, for example, the infamous lie told by Maxime Bernier of the thousands of complaints his office had received about the long-form census and its intrusion into people's lives. A closer analysis suggested that three complaints had been filed.

But of course, ideologues never let logic supplant hysterical distortions, and the mandatory long-form was thus abandoned.

In more recent times there was the whopper told by Tory MP and lapdog, Brad Butt, who, in loyal service to his masters claimed, not once but twice, that he saw people root through garbage and recycling in apartment buildings, then pass on voter information cards to others to be used for wrongly casting ballots. Given such a cautionary tale, the provision in the Fair Elections Act to prohibit the use of vote identification cards and vouching was clearly a justified measure to prevent widescale voter fraud.

Except, of course, Butt later admitted to having 'misspoke' (Toryspeak for lied) and had never actually witnessed such egregious criminal activity. Happily (for him) the good representative of Mississauga-Streetsville escaped unsanctioned, thanks to the parliamentary cover provided by Mr. Harper and his fellow travellers.

But, as noted earlier on this blog, he did not escape the wrath of a Rick Mercer Rant.

The fact that falsehoods are an integral part of the Harper arsenal formed a very interesting piece by Susan Delacourt in this morning's Toronto Star. Entitled Veiled voting furor’s unlikely ending, Delacorut reminds us of the furor that ensued back in 2007 when

Elections Canada ruled that Muslim women were allowed to vote while wearing burkas or niqabs in Quebec byelections.

In perhaps one of the seminal moments when the body first came into the sights of the Prime Minister,

Harper publicly chided Elections Canada (not for the first or last time in his tortured relationship with the organization.) He said he was “very disappointed” with the ruling and presented its decision at odds with the will of Parliament.

Several days ensued of wild stories of masked marauders at the ballot box and what horrors could unfold if we gave the franchise to people who showed up to vote wearing hockey helmets or Darth Vader costumes.

To counter the attempt to whip up the hysteria and anti-Muslim racism so favoured by the regime,

... [Chief Electoral Officer Marc] Mayrand pointed out that Canada’s election law actually does allow people to vote without showing their faces — voting by proxy or by mail, for instance, as tens of thousands of voters have done the past few elections. Singling out one constituency for a show-your-face voting requirement, namely Muslim women, could be problematic in a pluralist nation.

He and various Muslim spokespersons also pointed out that there was no great surge in people showing up at the ballot box with their faces covered — and no demand for it, either. Muslim women had already been removing their veil to vote.

Thus, rationality, logic and empiricism ruled the day, and that particular Tory attempt at frightening the electorate faded away.

Never one to take defeat lightly or graciously, the Harper cabal, apparently converted to the old adage that revenge is a dish best served cold, has bided its time and, with the Fair Elections Act, will be able to both mete out retribution to Elections Canada and achieve its goal of voter suppression.

A shame we can't call in the United Nations to help protect us from this rogue regime.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The CBC Ombudsman Makes Her Ruling

As reported by Andrew Mitrovica on iPolitiics, the CBC ombudsman, Esther Enkin, has finally reached her decision on the many conflict of interest complaints lodged against Rex Murphy and Peter Mansbridge.

Briefly, here is what she said:

“Given that Journalistic Standards and Practices spells out a commitment to independence, and the Conflict of Interest guidelines encompass perception of conflict as well, it is inconsistent with policy when CBC news and current affairs staff accept payment from groups that are likely to be in the news.

She has a somewhat timid suggestion for CBC management:

“But since taking money leads to a perception of a conflict of interest, CBC management might want to consider, in the review they are undertaking, whether even with disclosure, it is appropriate for CBC news and current affairs staff to get paid for their speaking engagements.

“To summarize, in the course of reviewing its policy, I hope CBC management will reconsider the practice of paid speaking engagements for its journalists and, at a minimum, consider how any relevant activity and payment can be on the public record.”

As Mitovica tartly points out,

Enkin’s ruling is a stinging rebuke of Mansbridge and Murphy — who, since the controversy broke in iPolitics, have not only been unapologetic about receiving payment from outside vested-interest groups, but have also vowed to continue the controversial practice despite mounting criticism and condemnation.

The ombudsman's full report can be read here.

Will anything change as a result of this finding? Given the fierce recalcitrance of Rex Murphy, more a legend in his mind than in anyone else's, I am dubious. But one hopes that the CBC will show a shred of its rapidly diminishing integrity and issue Newfoundland's favorite son an ultimatum.

After all, given Rex's apparent popularity with the tarsand enthusiasts, he should have no problem keeping body and soul together by continuing to be a shill for the petroleum industry.

Rick Mercer Denounces Tory MP Brad Butt's Lies

As usual, Rick Mercer offers an unsparing assessment of his target, in this instance Tory MP Brad Butt and his outright lie about being a witness to voter fraud. Thanks to the usual Conservative obstructionism, Mr. Butt escaped his lie unscathed.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Evening Reminder Of Just How Hostile Stephen Harper Is To Canada's Long-Term Interests

For more information, this link is a good place to start.

Each Day Seems To Bring A Fresh Outrage

I am someone who believes people should never be too happy or contented. Such states breed a complacency that can lead to an indifference, if not downright disengagement, from the pressing issues that citizenship demands. That being said, however, there are days when I almost wish that I could be blithely detached.

As many who read this will likely attest, being a Canadian with a government that betrays us in so many ways is at times very difficult to accept and endure.

Where to start in discussing those betrayals? Since this post would never end if I were to enumerate all of them, I shall deal with only a few of the most recent ones.

There is, of course, the Fair Elections Act, about which I have written numerous times. Despite ever increasing awareness of the real threats it poses to democratic participation and the overall health of our system, and despite increasing numbers of prominent Canadians speaking out against it, the Harper regime, through one of its favorite puppets, the contemptible and oleaginous Minister of State for Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, shows ongoing contempt for all who oppose it.

And probably the most egregious Tory contempt is reserved for the people, given the regime's refusal to hold cross-country hearing on the bill.

Then there is the arrant hypocrisy of the Harper regime.

Harper blithely and steadfastly justifies his uncritical and unwavering support for Israel by calling it the Middle East’s only democracy, surrounded by autocratic and hateful regimes that wish it ill.

But what happens to this ostensibly high-minded commitment to democracy abroad when money is involved? It is revealed as a blatantly empty and hypocritical pose.

What else can explain the fact that Canada recently signed a $10 billion arms deal with one of the Middle East's most repressive regime, Saudi Arabia? As Humera Jabir Murtaza Hussain noted in his recent Toronto Star commentary, the sale is an affront to Ottawa’s alleged commitment to human rights in the Middle East.

In his visit to the region in January, Prime Minister Stephen Harper espoused the high-minded rhetoric that Canadian values of tolerance and human rights would underpin Canada’s Mideast policy. But this unprecedented $10-billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, a known human rights abuser, makes clear that these values hold no water when there is a profit to be made.

But it gets even worse, as Hussain notes:

Last year, a Canadian Press analysis found Bahrain, Algeria and Iraq to be new buyers of Canadian-made weapons with weapons exports to Pakistan increasing by 98 per cent, Mexico by 93 per cent, and Egypt by 83 per cent from 2011 to 2012.

So what happens to Canada's oft-declared commitment to human rights? Consigned to the rhetorical ashbin of politics, I guess. Or, as Walter Dorn, the chair of international affairs studies at the Canadian Forces College, put it:

"The danger is that the almighty dollar may become the predominant motivator in trade deals and therefore weapons are more easily shipped."

Then yesterday came news of Harper's latest salvo against the environment and climate change mitigation.

As reported in The Toronto Star, Environment Canada will see drastic reductions in its funding over the next three years.

While the Harper cabal claims that the reduction in funding from the current $1.01 billion in 2014-2015 to $698.8 million in 2016-2017 is largely attributable to temporary programs that could be extended, altered, or enhanced , two statistics pierce the litany of lies we have come to expect from this corrupt regime:

Environment Canada’s full-time equivalent positions will decrease by over 1000 from the current complement of 6,400 to 5,348 in 2016-17. Most alarming and telling is the fact that many of those cuts will come from Environment Canada's climate change division, where FTE positions will be reduced by about half, from the current 699 to 338 in 2016-17.

Said Halifax MP Megan Leslie, the opposition New Democrats’ environment critic,

“Knowing what the situation is with greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, one would think they got the numbers backwards. And that we would be ramping up rather than ramping down...That is a shocking decrease, it really is.”

Shocking, obscene, indefensible... there are many words that one could apply here, none of which seem adequate, especially given the fact that the Harper government has done little to reach its goal agreed upon under the Copenhagen Accord, of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

And of course, no measures have been imposed on the oil and gas sector, which is projected to contribute 200 megatonnes of GHG emissions in 2020 — almost a third of Canada’s target under the Copenhagen Accord.

How can a government be so out of tune with the needs and demands of both its own citizens and those of most of the world?

I suspect Harper has done a cost-benefit analysis and concluded that none of these measures, or the countless others his regime has thus far undertaken, however odious, evil and contemptuous in nature, will rouse Canadians from their comfortable torpor and impel them to go out into the streets en masse.

My biggest fear is that he is correct in his calculations.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Law Professors Are Not Impressed By The 'Fair' Elections Act

Yasmin Dawood is one of 160 professors from across Canada behind an open letter to the government asking for major revisions to the 'Fair' Elections Act. Yesterday, she appeared on Power and Politics. As you will see, Dawood regards the act's provisions as posing a grave threat to Canadian democracy:

A New Post From The Salamander

In response to the letter I posted this morning, The Salamander offers some timely commentary, which I am posting below. While making his usual incisive observations, he also has some suggestions that we would all do well to take to heart:

.. don't wear a poppy .. turn your back or raise your fist.. or your voice..
when confronted by hypocrisy.. obvious deceit, cowardice & secretive government.. Find your own individual and special way to honor our heroes and exemplars and make it blinding clear how you treasure the courage, sacrifice..
the gift they gave all of us

Stand tall.. bold .. feet planted deep in the soil of this fair land
let your heart glow .. and your outraged voices grow ..

Plan a dinner for family or friends.. invite our veterans
& honor those who helped make it possible..
Hoist a mighty toast to our warriors, immigrants, ancestors
our amazing hosts, the First Nations, our forests, streams and shores
the bounty of this land, the invisible winds, the mighty storms
the incredible creatures who embody this land

On a scale of 1 to 1 million where does any Canadian rate S Harper
or one of his minions.. vs one of ours who went to Vimy Ridge ?
Lived among the deer, rode a rocket into outer space,
discovered The Northwest Passage? Ascended to The Plains of Abraham,
survived the Red River floods? Paddled canoes, built our homes

Where is the courage of Terry Fox or Ann Harvey to be found within Parliament?
In Calandra and his pizza? Del Mastro and his bluster? Baird on Israel? Butt?

The diseased tail of a rabid political construct now directs policy to a nation..
and Canadians, and proclaims its shrill values are our Canadian Values..

Excuse me Mr Harper .. you found your ascendancy in a box of cereal?
Or a sandbox.. ? Got it from Tom Flanagan conniving with you?

You find yourself in the wrong country Mr Stephen Harper .. nice try dickhead
We don't support your Queen.. whomever she or he may be..

Your quaint fake grasp on our national game.. is limp and lame
its played with contact and a ball.. lacrosse sticks, stout hearts.. brave hearts
none of which you or your porky pollster crowd could ever grasp

Since you can't recognize Canada or Canadians ..
exactly what do you see in the mirror ?
Some sort of 3rd world Euro reject poseur descendant sociopath ?
Or worse.. .. ?

Its becoming quite evident, that what you see in the mirror
is exactly what you contribute to Canada & Canadians .. disaster
and that you've discovered approx 2,000 to 5,000 dim folk failures
that think you're a genius.. or savior .. or rapture prophet savant

I know of at least 10 crappy bands with larger followings
disco, tribute, thrash.. or gospel ... or drone rant
but none of them pretend to speak for a country called Canada

A Nice Compendium Of Recent Harper Offences Against Democracy

I am preparing to resume work on my flooring, so, in lieu of my own piece, I am posting a letter from the London Community News that offers some thoughts on the 'Fair' Elections Act and other Harper government misdeeds:

Dear editor,

Much noise has been made about what the Conservatives’ euphemistically call the “fair elections act” currently being tabled in the House of Commons. CBC personality Rick Mercer announced that if the bill passes then Canada would forfeit our title as one of the world’s greatest democracies.

Mercer’s televised rant focused on the aspect of the bill that makes it illegal for Elections Canada to encourage young people to get out and vote. Some other controversial aspects of the bill include raising the limits of election donations, eliminating the practice of vouching for people without proper identification at voting stations and allowing polling supervisors to be appointed by the riding’s incumbent candidate or the candidate’s party.

Perhaps even more concerning should be Canada’s Chief Elections Officer Mark Maryland’s response that the bill as an affront to democracy.

The fair elections act, however, is just the latest in a consistent series of attacks originating from Stephen Harper’s Conservative government against the concept of a rich, competitive Canadian democratic system.

One of the first policies implemented by Harper, when he won his majority government in 2011, was to remove a $2 per vote subsidy for political parties. Between this policy change, and raising election donation limits, Harper has made it much easier for money to corrupt Canada’s democratic process.

After all, a party’s election spending budget should reflect the number of their supporters, rather than the size of the pocket books of their constituency, right?

Interestingly, Conservatives won almost 54 percent of the seats in Parliament, a majority, with less than 40 percent of voting Canadians supporting their party.

Also interesting to note is that, of the five parties who hold seats in Parliament, the Conservatives are the only party opposed to reforming our democratic system so that our elected government better reflects the popular vote. All the other parties favour some sort of proportional representation system over the deeply flawed first-past-the-post system we currently use.

For those of us who do not support the most popular candidate in our ridings, showing up to the polls on Election Day is futile. Because of the first-past-the-post electoral system we have, and the elimination of the $2 per vote subsidy, voting for a losing candidate in a riding is essentially inconsequential.

Since it is meaningless to vote for a candidate who does not win, this makes it more difficult for smaller parties to gain enough momentum to break into the scene and compete.

A central tenet of Conservative ideology is that economic competition helps improve the services that businesses offer society and, in turn, free market systems help improve society in general. Imagine what would happen to the Canadian economy if it was not possible for new, smaller companies to compete against the status quo.

So, it should be clear to Conservatives their policies on democratic reform inhibit political competition and, as a result, discourage a strong culture of democracy in this country. Indeed, the robocall scandal, conducted by Conservative Party staffers, was an explicit and illegal effort to discourage non-Conservatives from showing up to the polls.

It should come as no surprise then that the Conservatives have introduced the fair elections act that prevents Elections Canada from encouraging key voting blocks from coming out to vote.

The seemingly endless list of infractions against our democratic infrastructure committed by the Harper Conservatives also includes: unprecedented omnibus bills and other strategies to discourage debate in the house and senate, silencing scientists and suppressing information, criminalizing masks at protests and spying on activists, and a meticulously whipped cabinet.

Some downplay these controversial tactics as a winning strategy implemented by one of the most talented and calculating political leaders ever to represent the right wing of the political spectrum.

However, undermining and weakening the democratic system is a threat to all members of Canadian society no matter what political values we hold. This steady assault on the democratic process makes it difficult for all Canadians to influence the future of this nation.

With only roughly 60 percent of eligible voters showing up to the polls during our federal elections, Canadian democracy is on life support.

Many Canadians openly admit to being ignorant or apathetic about Canadian politics. Some say they are too busy. Others say that there’s nothing we can do to change things for the better and so become complacent.

When we reflect on our sad state of affairs, we should keep in mind that our democratic rights would not exist if Canadian soldiers had not defeated fascism alongside our military allies during the Second World War.

Second World War veterans dodged bullets and bombs and sacrificed limbs and life to protect a free and open Canadian democratic system. Try telling a veteran you don’t have time or don’t see a solution to this erosion of Canadian democracy. If we allow politicians to degrade Canada’s democratic infrastructure, it is an insult to their sacrifice, and an act of self-destruction.

We must become engaged in the democratic process.

Dante Ryel, London Connect event organizer

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Extreme Of Capitalism?

Anyone who reads my blog regularly and has drawn the conclusion that I am anti-capitalism would be completely wrong. I have nothing against business, entrepreneurship, nor corporations, per se. And I do believe that those who take risks should be appropriately rewarded.

What I am against, however, is extreme imbalance. I have nothing but withering contempt for the winner-take-all attitude that sees life as a zero-sum game. Such thinking betrays an unschooled mind and a woefully underdeveloped character, in my view. And that is exactly the mentality pervasive in so many realms today, be they political, economic, social, business, etc. Capitalism, yes. unfettered capitalism, no.

During the weekend I read a story in The Star about the development of drugs to treat what are known as orphan diseases, those maladies that afflict a relatively low number of people. Traditionally avoided due to high development costs and low market potential, pharmaceutical firms are now turning increasingly to them as a potential source of new profits.

Patents expire on drugs that have become standard treatments for afflictions such as heart disease, diabetes, etc., and drugs to replace tried and true therapies are not needed. The revenues arising from treating those standard diseases, while still substantial, have limited growth potential, something that is anathema in a fiscal culture that demands continual corporate profit growth.

The beauty of orphan diseases, from a profit perspective, is that the majority of them are genetically-caused, which means that those for whom the drugs are developed will be life-long customers. It is this fact that makes the development of such drug treatments not only a literal life saver for some, but also an everlasting curse for the governments that will be called upon to fund them.

“There is a big crunch coming in terms of the new (orphan) products being developed and in terms of cost,” says Dr. Michael Rieder, who holds a research chair in pediatric pharmacology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

“We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg and it’s not going to go away.”

The issue came to the forefront again last week when young Madi Vanstone and her mother, Beth, visited Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to seek assistance in getting Madi's drug, Kalydeco, listed so that her costly treatments would be covered under the province's drug plan. It was approved by Health Canada in late 2012, but costs $300,000 a year per person and works only for a certain genetic variant of cystic fibrosis. It’s estimated about 20 people in Ontario need it but do not have private coverage.

Fifteen countries cover the medication, but so far Ontario’s drug-purchasing consortium has failed to negotiate what it sees as a “fair” price with manufacturer Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Consequently, Madi's family currently must rely on fund-raising for the treatment which has left her symptom-free.

The problem, as you can see, lies in the extreme pricing that big pharma attaches to what can be sometime regarded as miracle drugs. These exorbitant rates are justified by what they claim are the high development costs of the therapies, coupled with their limited market.

Jared Rhines, vice-president of scientific and strategic affairs for the group Rx&D, which represents Canada’s research-based pharmaceutical companies, says,

“The development process from discovery to development to clinical research is the same, whether it’s a drug that treats a high number of patients or a drug that treats a rare population,” Rhines says. “And when you get to orphan drugs, it’s all those same requirements and development costs and profits spread over hundreds of patients versus what is a traditional drug that treats tens of thousands of patients.”

By the way, the industry claims, but refuses to offer any supporting documentation for 'competitive reasons,' that the average cost of drug is $1.3 billion.

This is a figure hotly contested by some:

Some experts, however, say drug companies grossly inflate their R&D costs, with the oft-cited $1.3 billion-per-drug figure out of whack with reality.

Trudo Lemmens, chair of health law and policy at the University of Toronto law school, says industry uses these claims to justify “unconscionable prices.”

He says that a credible New Jersey study claims that average drug development costs could actually be in the $45 million to $55 million range.

“The claim of $1.3 billion or higher costs of drug development is industry mantra,” he says. “But it’s based on things that the industry keeps close to its (chest) and it’s very hard to critically analyze.”

As well, such claims are misleading, if not downright untruthful, for other reasons:

Jillian Kohler, director of global health at the U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, has this to say about the issue:

... these numbers, for people who are actually in the field, are highly controversial and industry doesn’t like to be honest about what goes into their R&D.”

Kohler says drug companies may routinely pack marketing costs into their estimates as well as lost investment returns — opportunity costs — from the money they actually do sink into research.

“They (also) don’t talk about the public funding that contributes to some of the development of these (drugs),” she says.

And so to conclude, I repeat what I said at the outset: I am not opposed to capitalism, only the unfettered kind which, it would seem, the charges attached to the treatment of orphan diseases are but egregious examples.