Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In Case Anyone Cares Anymore

Rob Ford has embarrassed both himself and the city he was elected to serve yet again and again.

Is It Irony, Or Is It Hypocrisy?

It may be both. The Harper regime's penchant for withholding information from the public that should be accessible is well-known and well-documented.

As pointed out in this Star article, we are persistently denied access to the information about the dangerous side effects of drugs, how much Canada Post spent on overtime to end last year's backlog, nor how Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the company implicated in the Lac-Mégantic train disaster, assured Transport Canada it could operate a one-man crew safely.

All of that, as the article makes clear, is merely the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, the regime's penchant for keeping information concealed does not extend to Canadian citizens' right to privacy; here it is becoming increasing apparent that government wants to know far more about us than is either seemly or proper in a putatively democratic country.

As also reported in The Star,

Government agencies are asking telecoms and social media companies to turn over Canadians’ user data at “jaw-dropping” rates, with nearly 1.2 million requests in 2011 alone.

Which government and law enforcement agencies are requesting the data from the companies remains shrouded in secrecy. And the companies themselves are refusing to disclose further details, according to Canada’s privacy watchdog.

And the most worrisome aspect of this invasion is that most of these are requests, i.e., unaccompanied by warrants. Compounding the matter is that when data is turned over, the telecoms do not inform their customers:

The companies [Bell Rogers, Telus et al] say they don’t inform their customers when their information is turned over to authorities, meaning the vast majority of those customers would have no knowledge of the transaction.

Beyond that, they will not comment further, refusing requests from the Privacy Commissioner to tell her how many times they have handed over private data to the government without a warrant.

That same cone of silence seems to be enveloping the government:

The Department of Public Safety declined an interview request by the Star. Industry Minister James Moore, whose department is responsible for the telecom sector, refused to comment on the story when asked by reporters in the House of Commons.

Unfortunately, there is much worse to come:

Michael Geist, one of Canada’s leading Internet privacy experts .... warns that legislation currently before Parliament will actually expand the number of organizations that can ask telecoms and social media companies to voluntarily hand over their customers’ information, and protect those companies from civil or criminal lawsuits.

“It is a structure that allows for the massive disclosure of personal information with no court oversight whatsoever,” Geist said.

Anyone who is not disturbed by these revelations clearly places far too little value on their privacy and accords far too much faith in the benevolence of a government that has consistently proven itself inimical to the best interests of those it 'serves.'

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Failed Puppet Master?

In a withering assessment of Stephen Harper, that is the conclusion Andrew Coyne seems to draw in his National Post column:

We are so heavily invested, we media types, in the notion of Harper as master strategist, able to see around corners and think seven moves ahead and what not, that we tend not to notice how many times he has been screwing up of late. The sudden and more or less complete rewriting, on the same day as the Supreme Court decision, of the colossally misjudged Fair Elections Act, after weeks of waving off any and all criticism as self-interested or partisan or both? Merely a prudent bid to cut their losses. The unusual public goading of Barack Obama (“a no brainer … won’t take no for an answer… etc”) into making a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline project, six years after it was first proposed? Either a play to the base or a wink to the Republicans or a deliberate raising of the diplomatic stakes, anything but what it looks like: a catastrophic fumbling of a key file.

Indeed, perhaps this is all evidence of a very tired government, running only on the fumes of the hatred, dissension, and division it has sewn since 2006:

Observes Coyne:

It is reckless, not in the style of governments that overread their mandate, but in an aimless, scattershot way. It is partisan, but for no purpose other than stubbornness and tribalism. It will take every fight to the limit, pick fights if none present themselves, with no thought to the consequences of either victory or defeat but seemingly out of sheer bloodlust. Like the proverbial dog chasing the car, it has no idea what it will do when it catches it.

All but the most inveterate ideologues would likely agree that it is well past time for a change.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Reading Recommendation.

I have a deep respect for Alex Himelfarb, the director of the Glendon School of International and Public Affairs and tireless proponent of responsible, progressive taxation. The latter, as one can well-imagine, likely makes him persona non grata in many circles, but those are likely the same circles that close out responsible thought or discussion on any topics that might threaten to puncture the artificial and insular world they encase themselves in.

It is, of course, easy to take the expedient route, as have politicians like Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Mulcair at the federal level, and, here in Ontario, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath, all essentially proclaiming the evils of taxation, some more stridently than others, as they promise no tax increases. Clearly, in taking such positions, they are playing to our basest impulses.

Alex Himelfarb refuses to play that game. In his latest reminder of things our political leaders would rather we not contemplate, Without a tax debate, we risk sleepwalking into the future, Alex and his son Jordan present this thesis:

Canadians have a right to know what they’re giving up before celebrating the next round of tax cuts.

The article makes reference to the Himelfarbs' book, Tax Is Not a Four-Letter Word, a collection of essays that explores the tax question; its central purpose is perhaps best expressed here:

In the book we do try to counter the view that taxes are simply a burden from which people must be relieved. Simply, they are the way we pay for things we have decided to do together because we cannot do them at all or as well alone. Our approach has yielded reactions both positive and negative.

And this is the crux of today's Star article as they argue that we cannot have an honest discussion about taxation because we do not have a clear understanding of the relationship between taxes and what they buy:

Two successive parliamentary budget officers, whose job it is to know, admit they cannot get the information they need to determine the costs and consequences of tax and spending cuts. So how are we expected to know? And without information about the trade-offs, how do we make informed democratic decisions?

They argue that without this basic knowledge, we as a society cannot make an informed decision on what constitutes proper taxation:

Whether we’re taxed too much or too little is a perennial debate that now needs rebalancing. It’s all well and good to say that many Canadians want smaller government but that means nothing unless it’s based on some understanding of how this will affect our ability to pursue our shared goals. We ought to know what we’re giving up before we celebrate the next round of tax cuts.

That seems to me to be the crux of the problem we face today as a society. The Harper government would have us believe that the only thing we are giving up when tax rates go down is an unwarranted intrusion of government into our lives. The Himelfarbs argue that if we look beyond the self-serving rhetoric of our political overseers, what we lose in embracing that mentality is something much different and ultimately much more costly to all of us.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

This Has Gotta Hurt

Expect the Harper attack machine to ramp up its game:

And Now, A Brief Message From PROPCON

Regurgitation warning: if you have just finished eating, wait at least 30 minutes before watching this latest episode of 24/seven, brought to you by PROPCON, the Harper regime's official channel of indoctrination.

I have to admit this is the first episode I have watched; it made me nostalgic for the old Soviet cult-of-personality newsreels. It also gave me increased empathy for what the North Korean people have had to endure under their Dear Leader:

Come to think of it, perhaps our Dear Leader took some instruction from this fellow:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Less Than Meets The Eye

Were average citizens given to much political reflection, they would realize that from start to finish, the 'Fair' Elections Act has been almost exclusively about both discouraging people from voting and suppressing the vote of those who do not fit the Conservative Party's target 'audience.' Even in light of yesterday's announced amendments, that remains the case.

While the Act has provoked a flurry of steady, relentless, critical coverage, both in mainstream and social media, to view yesterday's ostensible retreat as a real victory is to misread the situation badly. Two aspects of the bill will, I think, support my thesis.

First, and less contentious in the public's mind, is the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer is still fettered when it comes to encouraging people to vote. To be sure, the amendment is less Draconian than the Harper regime originally sought:

In the original draft, Bill C-23 restricted the CEO to communicating only where, when and how to vote, raising concerns of an attempt to muzzle the independent agency.

Elections Canada advertising would still be limited to the nuts and bolts of the voting process, but the agency could continue to fund third-party education campaigns with elementary and secondary school students.

In other words, the CEO is still limited to encouraging people who can't vote (elementary and most high school students) to vote. While that may or may not bolster future civic participation, it does nothing to prompt those of voting age to attend the polls.

Secondly, the issue that received the bulk of media criticism, vouching for those without an ID with an address, continues to be a problem.

First, a slight digression. As you will recall, Pierre Poilivre et al. have consistently ruled out the use of voter information cards as an acceptable proof of address. The argument, proven repeatedly to be specious, was that it contributed to voter fraud in past elections.

But think about it for a moment. As a voter, you present valid identification, such as your birth certificate or health card, and then attempt to use a voter information card to establish your address. The card is rejected because you could be perpetrating a fraud. How? Well, even though you have proven who you are, you might have moved into another riding, but you might have also gone to your old address, either broken into your old mailbox or house to retrieve the card, with the express purpose of deceiving Elections Canada.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does.

But not to Mr. Poilivre and the rest of the cabal.

Like a dog that is regularly beaten by its cruel owner but is ever so grateful when that master/mistress gives it a few crumbs from the table, we are supposed to be ever so thankful for the following:

“The government will not support amendments to allow voting without a piece of identity,” Poilievre said in a press conference on Parliament Hill.

“(But) if someone’s ID does not have an address on it, they will have to sign a written oath of residence. Another voter with fully proven ID will need to co-sign attesting to that voter’s address.”

In other words, the voter is infantilized because he or she, lacking proof, not of identity but of address, must be in the company of an 'adult' who has the proper accreditation. Perhaps someone can explain to me how that does not just continue, in a slightly diluted form, the process of voter suppression of the young, the elderly or the homeless who may not be able to secure the proper accompaniment to the polls.

Watch the following video, as the oleaginous Minister of Democratic Reform tap dances around the truth of this bill. Unfortunately, his interlocutor, Rosie Barton, seems more interested in playing 'gotcha' than uncovering the truth about these very weak and very disappointing amendments. Start at the 10-minute mark:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Are You A Birdbrain?

Watch this video to the end, and you will realize the question is not intended as an insult:

Everyone's A Politician

At least that might seem to be a reasonable inference to draw given people's increasing capacity not to answer questions that make them uncomfortable or expose a weakness in their position.

I have listened to Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, twice recently. Like a politician, he keeps 'on-message' with something that approaches either Pavlovian or messianic proportions. Watch the following brief clip as he talks about the virtues of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program; note how he operates when Don Martin asks what seems to be an eminently reasonable question:

Political Ambition And Public Outrage

The interesting thing about political ambition and public outrage is that sometimes they work synergistically to produce positive results. Jason Kenney, whose ambition to become the Conservative Party's next leader have been widely rumoured, announced yesterday that fast food restaurants are being suspended from participation in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program after increasingly bad publicity over its misuse, resulting in higher rates of unemployment among Canadian citizens.

The following short video discusses a report from the CD Howe Institute which uncovered this disturbing fact:

However, how much of this is simply a temporary sop to the masses remains to be seen. Although McDonald's moved just prior to Kenney's announcement to suspend its use of temporary foreign workers, as the video below shows, its Canadian CEO, John Betts, regards the entire imbroglio as 'bullshit.'

Will this ban become permanent? The cynic in me suggests it won't, given that the program as administered by the Harper regime has become yet another way of assisting its corporate friends by distorting the labour market, enabling the industry to avoid paying its employees what the market demands.

However, should both the media and the public continue to be interested in the issue, perhaps a permanent solution will emerge. A big IF.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sammy Yatim's Accused Killer Back On The Job

While the presumption of innocence is fundamental to our justice system, common sense and public sensibilities are always unspoken elements of the equation. This is clearly seen, for example, in jury selection, a good part of which is designed to ferret out and exclude from participation those with prejudgments that could affect the rights of the accused to a fair trial.

With that preamble and proviso out of the way, what I express in the following is simply my opinion, a perspective informed by news coverage of the accused and the aforementioned common sense and public sensibilities.

I have written several past posts on Sammy Yatim and related matters of police abuse of their authority. Yatim, readers will recall, was the 18-year-old whose death at the hands of police on July 27, 2013, was captured on video. While holding a knife in an empty streetcar, presenting no immediate threat to the many police who were on scene, Yatim was shot to death by Const. James Forcillo, who was later charged with second-degree murder.

Now, incredibly, just a few days after the beginning of his preliminary hearing, word has arrived that Forcillo has been back on the job since February.

The decision to have Const. James Forcillo return to duty — after a seven-month suspension with pay — was made by Chief Bill Blair.

“The chief, using his discretion, made the decision to lift his suspension and since February he has been assigned to administrative duties here at headquarters,” spokesman Meaghan Gray confirmed Wednesday. “He is not in uniform and his job does not require any use-of-force options.”

A close Yatim family friend, Joseph Nazar, was stunned by the news:

This is a betrayal by the police chief,” Nazar said. “This officer is charged with murder and he’s working in a police station?

“If this is true, we’re not going to sit quiet about it,” he added.

Police union head Mike McCormick, “fully” supports the chief’s decision to lift Forcillo’s suspension.

“We encourage management to find meaningful work for suspended officers when possible, as long as any risk has been mitigated,” McCormack said. “And it actually happens quite frequently.”

He said it’s good for the officers, the service and taxpayers.

What McCormick failed to acknowledge is that it's not so good for the pursuit of justice, fosters the perception of a blue brotherhood with more contempt than concern for the public, and betrays an egregious disdain for a still-grieving family that will never again embrace their loved one.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More On The Temporary Foreign Workers Program

As noted yesterday, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program continues to cause both grief and outrage among Canadians. The latest publicly-identified victims, two former employees at a Weyburn Sask. eatery called Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza [previously called El Rancho], are receiving a groundswell of support both locally and across the country.

In an update on their website, CBC Saskatchewan, we learn that Sandy Nelson, a 28-year veteran waitress at the restaurant who lost her job to foreign workers, had tried to bring attention to her plight earlier:

"We tried going [the] government route. Never got a response," Nelson said. "Finally got a response today." That is, after the injustice became public.

Among those who are considered part of the Harper base, this comment was typical:

"I don't think that's fair," Weyburn resident Kyla Broomfield said. "We go there all the time and they treat customers well. I don't know why they would fire them."

"Why should they give foreigners more opportunities?" Jeremiah Broomfield said. "There's willing Canadians here to work. It's just not fair."

One can only assume that had this situation not been made public, Jason Kenney would not now be investigating it.

In today's Star, Tim Harper offers his assessment of the TFWP. Laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Harper regime, under whose auspices these abuses have proliferated, he says:

The Conservatives have now done what seems to be the impossible — cutting hours for Canadian workers, setting the stage for the ill-treatment of temporary workers, further alienating the labour movement in this country and fielding complaints from small businesses who play by the rules who say those rules are too onerous.

Harper suggests strong action is needed: the program either needs a complete overhaul, with caps put on the number of temporary workers in this country, or it should be scrapped and replaced with new immigration rules.

He adds that Jason Kenney has to start imposing real penalties, not suspensions. Without that, the abuses will continue and the program’s credibility will continue to crumble.

Ultimately, I guess it requires a careful cost benefit analysis by a government that has consistently shown itself to be so contemptuous of average Canadians and so subservient to the demands of business. Indeed, whose vote is most likely to be lost here?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day

I truly wish there was something to celebrate. Take a look at my previous post and the commentary from the Mound of Sound that accompanies it; then watch this short video.

Their commonality? A rapacious industry and an economic system that disdains impediments to their profits, and a federal government (a.k.a. the Harper regime) at their compete disposal.

Words Fail Me Here

Unequivocally evil is the only phrase I can think of to describe this ecological and environmental outrage. Read the story and draw your own conclusions:

Ottawa removing North Pacific humpback whales from list of ‘threatened’ species

Monday, April 21, 2014

UPDATED: The Temporary Foreign Workers Program: Yet More Abuse And Heartbreak

Although the Temporary Foreign Workers Program predates the ascension to power of the Harper regime, there is mounting evidence that the abuses occurring under the program, none of which I am aware predate 2006, have been nurtured by the current cabal that consistently elevates the interests of business over the well being of citizens.

The latest example, as reported by CBC, comes from Saskatchewan where, in March, Sandy Nelson, who worked at Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza [previously called El Rancho] in Weyburn, Sask., for 28 years, along with her her co-workers, received the following letter:

"Due to changes in operations we are currently discharging all of our staff".

Some of them were subsequently hired back, including two waitresses who are temporary foreign workers.

But Nelson was permanently dismissed.

And Nelson was not the only victim of a program gone awry. Shaunna Jennison-Yung worked for the restaurant for 14 years before meeting the same fate:

The jobs they have aren't jobs that nobody wanted. We wanted them," Jennison-Yung explained.

She said to make matters worse, as a supervisor, she was unwittingly training her replacements.

"It's hurtful to be put aside and have people that you trained to do your job now doing your job. It's heartbreaking is what it is."

Predictably, the owners of Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza uttered the standard evasions and platitudes in response to CBC inquiries:

"All obligations to any employee are taken seriously. This includes the protection of personal information."

Additionally, they offered that "employees are a valuable asset to any business."

So valuable, apparently, that they are fungible commodities to be disposed of as the owners' agenda sees fit.

UPDATE: As occurred after a recent story emerged of Canadians suffering under the TFWP at three McDonalds's outlets in Victoria, the federal government is reacting with manufactured 'outrage' over the Weyburn misuse of the program:

Employment Minister Jason Kenney has asked his department to investigate Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza in Weyburn, Sask., a spokeswoman for the minister said Monday.

The spokeswoman added:

“Our government will not tolerate any abuse of the temporary foreign worker program. Our message to employers is clear and unequivocal — Canadians must always be first in line for available jobs.”

In an expedient moment of high dudgeon, the government warns of “serious criminal sanctions,” including fines and jail time, if employers lie on their applications about their efforts to hire Canadians.

May I make so bold as to suggest that the Harper regime's interest in this case will last about as long as the media's interest in it does?

P.S. Be sure to check out Montreal Simon's excoriating post on this topic.

Two Sentiments That Will Resonate With Many

Today's Star brings two letters, one on despotic rule and the other on electoral reform, that many would find hard to argue against:

Harper’s on a lonely road to political isolation, April 15

Aristotle once remarked that all forms of government — democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, tyranny — are inherently unstable, all political regimes are inherently transitional and that the stability of all regimes is corrupted by the corrosive power of time.

To prolong the viability of democratic form of government, his advice had been constant turnover of leaderships to renew the political process.
After eight years in power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is clearly showing the signs of “the corrosive power of time,” as evident from the litany of problems outlined by Chantal Hebert.

He should, therefore, stand down, allowing a new leader to renew the political process. Time for change and renewal has arrived in Canada.

Mahmood Elahi, Ottawa

Why does anybody call Canada a democracy? It has taken nearly eight years for Stephen Harper’s stranglehold on his party and the country to start to loosen – and in all that time he has never enjoyed majority voter support.

We still can’t be sure Harper and Co. will be removed from office in 2015. It’s only a majority faint hope. Canadians will pay many millions to finance the federal election in 2015 — and then watch the pre-democratic voting system deliver, as usual, a House of Commons that bears no predictable relationship to what voters actually said and did. It could re-elect the Harper Conservatives with even less public support than they had last time.

The country needs new leaders who show real respect for citizens and taxpayers – by making a firm commitment to equal effective votes and proportional representation in the House of Commons. Representative democracy in Canada is 100 years overdue.

John Deverell, Pickering

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Guest Post: The Mound Of Sound On Oligarchy

I am pleased to present to you this second guest post by the Mound of Sound, a.k.a. The Disaffected Lib:

When the "Greatest Democracy on Earth" closes up shop and re-opens as an oligarchy every other supposed democracy, including our own, better sit up and take notice.

The United States of America has proven that the ballot box does not guarantee the health or even the survival of democracy. Citizens can vote to their hearts' content and it doesn't matter if economic and political power resides elsewhere.

Remember that old joke about the Golden Rule? He who has the gold, rules. That's not a joke any longer. It's called "political capture", the process by which political power is taken from the electorate and vested in a group of oligarchs who, through their influence over legislators, call the shots.

It's pretty dismal when you have to realize that whether you vote or how you vote doesn't matter. The day after the election those individuals that have just been 'hired' by your vote will go to work for someone else. Thank you very much. See you in four years or six years or - well, whatever. And, remember, don't call us, we'll call you.

Thanks to a study from Princeton, we now have confirmation that the United States has transformed from democracy to oligarchy. Many of us knew it at a gut level but the study meticulously documents what we suspected. Now, here's the thing. America remains notionally a democracy, one citizen - one vote sort of thing. It has a constitution and bill of rights that reflect democracy, not some other form of political organization. What that means is that the rise of oligarchy is a subversion of democracy and powerful, prima facie evidence of a thoroughly corrupted political process. It reeks of wholesale corruption and, given its once lofty perch atop Mount Democracy, it proclaims America one of the most corrupted states on the planet.

The massive and steadily widening gap between rich and poor in America is no accident. Nor is it the natural outcome of merit-based or market forces. It is the bastard child of the incestuous bedding of the oligarchs and the political classes. Government that pledges to serve the people instead serves them up on a legislative platter to its real masters.

Now we learn, via Paul Krugman and Bill Moyers, that America's oligarchy is in the process of the next stage of its ascendancy, the establishment of a perpetual, inheritance-based aristocracy.

A Brief Programming Note

Since spring finally seems to be arriving in my place on the planet, it seems like a propitious time to take a day or two off from this blog and contemplate other matters. In the interim, I recommend the following for your perusal:

The Star's Thomas Walkom writes about democracy, voting and past democratic reform measures in his column today.

A series of thoughtful letters from Star readers provides an ample basis for some serious contemplation of climate change.

And finally, on the oligarchy that has essentially subverted supplanted democracy, the Mound of Sound recommends this interview with Thomas Krugman, who discusses a new book by French economist Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Pikey argues that modern capitalism has put the world "on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy—a society of inherited wealth."

See you shortly, and enjoy the long weekend.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Slamming Harper Secrecy

The Toronto Star recently revealed the following:

Health Canada is keeping secret the vast majority of the drug reviews it conducts despite a clear promise from the federal minister to publish this critical safety information.

Only 24 of 152 drug reviews completed last year by Health Canada are being considered for public release, the Toronto Star has learned. The drug safety reviews that will be open to the public are those triggered by alarms raised by foreign regulators, medical or scientific literature or Health Canada’s routine monitoring activities.

The main reason? Wholly consistent with the Harper regime's legendary secrecy and the preeminence it accords to all things corporate, is this justification:

The information is classified in part because it was provided “with the understanding that this information is proprietary,” a Health Canada spokeswoman told the Star in an email Wednesday.

In layperson's language, corporate concerns trump citizen safety. Aided and abetted by Health Canada, safety information falls under the rubric of commercial secrets - this despite some well-publicized tragedies that might very well have been avoided had the public had access to vital information about toxicity studies and drug side effects.

As usual, perspicacious Star letter-writers offer their views of this intolerable insult to all who believe that the free flow of information is one of the crucial elements of a healthy democracy:

Ottawa keeps drug reviews under wraps, April 12

The Canadian public is once again being “stonewalled” by the Harper government. The reason that I am calling this the “Harper Government” is the fact that Stephen Harper runs this government like a dictatorship. His ministers are muzzled until Harper approves of what statements they are allowed to make to the media.

He arbitrarily releases information only when he feels like doing so, not when the public has a genuine need to know the details of situations, such as rail safety measures put in place after the disaster in Quebec, and now the federal drug reviews of 151 various medications.
According to Dr. David Juurlink from Sunnybrook Hospital, “These drugs harm people and in some instances they kill people. Frankly, shame on (Ottawa) for even contemplating not publishing them.” The doctor doesn’t realize that in Ottawa there is no shame, only secrecy.

Why all of this secrecy when Ottawa has supposedly made a commitment to being more transparent? This government is as “transparent” as the heavily tinted windows in a motor vehicle.

In 1947, there was a movie starring Danny Kaye, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This movie was re-made in 2013 with Ben Stiller as the star. In Canada, it could have been made as The Secret Life of Stephen Harper, starring our Prime Minister.

Also, Harper would have been the perfect guest on the 1950s and 1960s TV show I’ve Got A Secret. He has so many secrets that the panel would never guess to which one he was referring.

Warren Dalton, Scarborough

The reason Ottawa keeps drug reviews under wraps is the same reason Transport Canada keeps under wraps the movement of toxic materials through highly populated areas. The “conservative corporate party” in Ottawa is not about to bite the hand that feeds it. Ask yourself: who is damaged by disclosure?

Nicholas Kostiak, Tottenham

Drugs that have been developed under the sole funding of the private sector may, indeed, legitimize claims to exclusive rights to such information. Where the public has funded the research and development of pharmaceuticals, however, the public has a right to the results of such research.

Canadian taxpayers have contributed billions of dollars, under a multitude of programs, to the development of pharmaceuticals. We seem to have forgotten Harper’s Economic Action Plan and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to the research and development of pharmaceuticals in the year 2009 alone. If you follow the money, you’ll discover that the public has just as many proprietary rights to the much-guarded research.

Those who wish to have exclusive rights to research results, data, analyses, outcomes or reports should also ensure their exclusive funding of such research activity rather than looking to the public purse for support. Until then, we have a right to know exactly what our money has produced.

Stella Kargiannakis, Toronto

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The House That Ronald Built

... seems to be undergoing some serious perturbations these days. Earlier in the month came the story of three McDonald's outlets in British Columbia abusing the Harper regime's TFWP (Temporary Foreign Workers Program) by hiring temporary workers instead of available local people and reducing the hours of Canadian employees.

Now comes word from Edmonton of more abuse by the hamburger giant, this time of its temporary workers. CBC News reports the following:

Foreign workers recruited from Belize are accusing McDonald’s Canada of treating them like "slaves," by effectively forcing them to share an expensive apartment – then deducting almost half their take-home pay as rent.

Records from three employees show they made $11 an hour working at various McDonald’s locations and the company took $280 from their pay for rent, bi-weekly. Their remaining take-home pay for the same pay periods was roughly $350.

“[The apartment lease] contracts are signed by McDonald’s. All of our bills – utility bills – were billed [to us] under the name of McDonald’s,” said Montero.

“They brought us here and they are this big huge corporation. We felt that we didn’t have a chance to even voice our opinion to them because they had brought us here so they could ship us back whenever they wanted to," said Montero. "It was like modern day slavery."

You can read the full tawdry tale of corporate malfeasance here, and watch a video report below:

Kind of takes away your appetite for when the next 'Mac attack' happens, doesn't it?

This Has Nothing To Do With Canadian Politics

It is a tale of corporate indifference on the part of Porche, and how the 'little guy' attempts to rectify it:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Getting Their Tunics In A Twist

I was very pleased to read that Honey Maid has joined the 21st century, evidence of which can be seen in the following television commercial:

However, those mired in an earlier time are not so happy. You can click here to see why they have gotten their tunics in a twist, but I'll offer you just a hint from this excerpt:

Jennifer LeClaire, news editor at Charisma, an evangelical online magazine, wasn't amused: "Nabisco's brand is no longer wholesome," she wrote in a piece titled "Gay-Affirming Nabisco Is Shoving More Than Oreos Down Our Throats."

LeClaire pointed out that members of the conservative American Family Association's One Million Moms group were "up in arms": "The American Family Association-linked group insists Nabisco should be ashamed of itself for the cracker commercial that attempts to 'normalize sin.'"

"One Million Moms stands up for Biblical truth which is very clear in Romans 1:26-27 about this particular type of sexual perversion," the group stated. "Honey Maid is also using the hashtag #thisiswholesome. There is concern about the way this ad is pushing the LGBT agenda, but an even greater concern is the way that they are changing the meaning of the word 'wholesome.' This is truly sad. If this is what Honey Maid thinks is wholesome, then my family will no longer purchase Honey Maid or Nabisco products."

And below is how Honey Maid responded to those residing in that earlier time of absolutism and intolerance in the name of an apparently very angry and very limited deity:

CPC slogan 2015: “No grounds for criminal charges.” *

* H/t Dan Gardner

In the twisted morality of the Harper universe, it will be claimed and conveyed as a complete vindication of the Prime Minister.

That the RCMP has found no grounds upon which to lay criminal charges against Nigel Wright in the $90,000 payoff-to-Mike-Duffy-scandal does nothing to dissolve the deep and abiding suspicions about Harper's influence-peddling machinations was not lost on the At Issue panelists last night:

Goodbye, Jim

The other day I wrote a post on Jim Flaherty and his 'legacy,' inspired by two columns published in The Star. On this day of his state funeral, it seems appropriate to offer the views of a few Star readers on Flaherty's record, and the posthumous accolades and state funeral offered him:

Re: Tale of two tragedies reveals Flaherty’s flaws, April 14
Re: Former finance minister made sacrifices for public, April 12

Decorum suggest that we be gracious in remembering long-serving parliamentarians such as Jim Flaherty. True, he was a talented politician who impacted many people in his professional life. And as a private citizen, friends and family will greatly feel his loss.

Unfortunately for myself and probably legions of other voters, his public persona didn’t quite match all the glowing private tributes. What stands out is a hyper-partisan politician willing to take no prisoners in dealing with the opposition, any opposition.

Who can forget his public brow beating of Dalton McGuinty regarding his belief in the need for lowering corporate taxes. And ultimately, what good did lowing corporate taxes do for the greater good of the country?

The facts are, he served prominently on two of the most mean spirited regimes in living memory — Mike Harris in Ontario and Stephen Harper in Ottawa. Once in Ottawa as finance minister, he presided over the dismantling of federal government fiscal capacity and has ultimately tied the hands of future governments in instituting programs that will actually help large numbers of people.

In this regard, he played a large role in radically reshaping this country. This is joy to Conservative supporters, but not so much to the progressive majority.

Pietro Bertollo, Brampton

The passing of Jim Flaherty has been notable for several reasons. While certainly condolences go out to his family and his loved ones, the sugar-coating of his record as a public servant has been awful.

First, the greatest accolades have come from the corporate class, and why shouldn’t they: he has cut their federal and Ontario taxes ferociously. But every day Ontarians and Canadians have paid dearly for these cuts and Flaherty’s own ideology.

He wanted to make homelessness illegal, but he laid off tens of thousands of public servants in Ontario and throughout Canada. He was a key member of the Eves government that lied outright about the “balanced budget” that was really a $5.6 billion deficit, as attested to by outside auditors.

He is killing the CBC with funding cuts, and has set in motion dramatic cuts to health care to take effect soon, even as Canada spends only approximately 11 per cent of GDP on health care compared to 16 per cent by the U.S., and he has done federally what he did provincially (by association at least) and put Canadians’ lives at risk by cutting back on those government services that protect Canadians by eliminating inspector positions in certain government agencies.
This radical right wing agenda has resulted in diminished standards of living for a large number of Canadians, frittered away hard won record budget surpluses he inherited from the previous government, and added tens of billions of dollars to our national debt. He has been a champion of the hidden far-right Conservative agenda to starve government of the funds it needs to operate our cherished social programs, only to declare later that they are unaffordable because government lacks the funds to pay for them.

It’s a con game Flaherty played a key part in. I am sorry he has died, and my sincere condolences go out to his family. But let’s look at his record with clear, cold eyes.

Tony Delville, Stoney Creek

Am I the only person in Canada who finds this hyper eulogizing of former Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty over the top? It appears that the Ottawa beltway and the whole of the Canadian media are falling all over themselves to don sackcloth and ashes bemoaning the death of this man.

Maybe in life outside politics he was “a nice man.” But this “nice man” is, in part, responsible for the Conservative party’s attempt to balance the budget by their giving gigantic largesse to the big corporations right on the backs of the Canadian people.

He was present in the U.S., deliberating and consorting with primary financial elements of the Bush regime. He brought what he had learned back to Canada. With Harper, a willing disciple of the ultra-right-wing Fox News as his partner, he then proceeded to make life doubly difficult for the Canadian working people. He stuck to a right wing bullying Conservative political agenda to the bitter end. This has brought untold misery to a vast number people throughout Canada.

For the media to compare him to the great Jack Layton, a politician who really cared about the Canadian people and put his humanity into practice throughout his life, is absolutely stomach turning. And to waste the public’s money on a state funeral for this Robin Hood in reverse is a real insult to the people of Canada — and another slap in the face to Canadians who believe in honest democracy everywhere.

Laurence D. M. Marshall, Kelowna, B.C.

Click here if you would like to read more opinions of the late Finance Minister's legacy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Separate But Not Equal

That would probably pretty much sum up the religious fundamentalists' attitude when comparing science to their literal interpretations of The Bible. The people at Funny or Die decided to run with that sentiment:

Funny or Die’s ‘Creationist Cosmos’: God created everything — except for gay people (via Raw Story )

Creationists who believe God created the entire universe in six days about 6,000 years ago have been aghast at the reboot of Carl Sagan’s legendary “Cosmos” series. Some creationists have demanded their views receive equal airtime on the show…

A Tale of Intimidation At TransCanada Corporation

Despite the best efforts of the Harper government to make its own addiction to the fossil fuel agenda the Canadian people's as well, increasing numbers are voicing their concern and opposition to the expansion of the Alberta tarsands through new pipelines. And evidence is mounting that those concern are wholly justified and not simply the hysterical reaction of 'lefties, eco-terrorists and the enemies of growth' that the Harper cabal would have us believe.

The 1,047 pipeline incidents in Canada between 2000 and 2011, although only a small part of the tale, provide ample reason for that wariness and suspicion.

Now there is even more reason to worry. As reported in the Toronto Star, there has been an ongoing and concerted effort by TransCanada Corporation, the country's preeminent pipeline company, to silence employees raising safety concerns about the company’s existing and brand new North American pipeline infrastructure:

They include warnings on the original Keystone pipeline, plagued by at least 35 incidents in the U.S. and Canada since it launched commercial operations in June 2010, and they also raise questions about the company’s testing and welding procedures on its infrastructure in Ontario as well as other lines that have reported at least four separate ruptures and four separate leaks to the federal regulator, the National Energy Board, in recent months.

Records released by the Senate energy and environment committee show cases where engineers were told in internal emails to stop searching for potential pipeline defects.

Reminiscent of the O-ring alerts ignored prior to the doomed Challenger shuttle mission, the records tell a sordid but hardly surprising tale of corporate intimidation, suppression and termination. Only one target, engineer Evan Vokes, responded to Star requests for comment:

“Please stop the investigation you seem to be doing on your own,” wrote David Taylor, a TransCanada manager of materials and engineering, in a June 27, 2011, email to Vokes. “This discussion has been going on for over a month, you need to accept where we are and become aligned with where we are going as a company.”

Vokes, a man of obvious integrity, refused to heed the increasingly threatening tone of the emails, and he was ultimately fired in 2012 without cause after he informed the company he would complain to authorities. Before his termination, however, he did what any man of deep conscience would do. He persisted:

... a few months before he lost his job, Vokes sent out a written warning to managers about the dangers of allowing the installation of a pressure vessel — a pipeline component generally used in compressor stations — on a natural gas line serving the oilsands industry near Fort McMurray.

A few weeks earlier, his manager, David Taylor, warned Vokes that there could be consequences if he continued to critique safety oversight weaknesses of TransCanada operations.

Taylor had issued other warnings previously:

“Also there is no need to comment about other projects and infer that they did something wrong,” said Taylor in an email to Vokes on Aug. 10, 2009. “As we chatted on Friday those things can and generally do come back to haunt you down the road!”

You can read the full story of TranCanada's corporate malfeasance and how it thwarted the efforts of some of its other employees to promote greater safety by clicking on the Toronto Star link provided at the start of this post.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sometimes, Clicking Your Heels Does Not Send You To Kansas

This thoughtful letter explains why:

Re: Tory MP takes aim at elections watchdog, April 9

When it comes to fairness and objectivity, I have more faith in the former auditor general of Canada, Sheila Fraser, and in the current chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, than in Pierre Poilievre, the arrogant Conservative minister of state for democratic reform. Whenever I see or hear the minister denigrating an upstanding Canadian citizen who has had the courage to express a sincere concern about the government’s so-called Fair Elections Act, I can’t help imagining Poilievre clicking his heels together each time he meets with his authoritarian leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

We must not forget or forgive Harper for condoning and encouraging Poilievre’s outrageous partisan behaviour. The grassroots supporters of the Conservative party are allowing Harper to trample on the very fabric of our democracy. He is metaphorically walking over our flag with dirty boots. Harper has shed his professed Conservative-based principles and has shamelessly adopted a new doctrine: “Retain power at any cost.”

Lloyd Atkins, Vernon, B.C.

A Guest Post From The Mound Of Sound

I have missed reading the Mound of Sound since he put his blog, The Disaffected Lib, on hiatus about five weeks ago. A man of wide-ranging interests and passions, his posts on climate change and politics never failed to catch my attention and stimulate my own reading and research.

Yesterday I received an email from Mound; while he is not interested at this point in restarting his own blog, he asked if I would be open to hosting the occasional guest post from him. I responded with both alacrity and pleasure. What follows is the first of what I hope will be a regular guest feature of my blog. Mound's essay might best be described as a unified theory of our collective, global malaise, with corresponding suggested cures.


For a number of years I posed a challenge to my blog readers. I asked them to think about various woes that afflicted mankind today, among them: warming, including severe storm events of increasing frequency and intensity; droughts (both cyclical and persistent); floods; sea level rise including storm surge inundation, erosion and salination of coastal freshwater resources; ocean acidification; deforestation; desertification; air, soil and water contamination of all varieties; resource depletion, particularly the freshwater crisis; species extinction, especially the collapse of global fisheries; species migration and loss of biodiversity; overpopulation and population migration; pest and disease migration; and a host of entirely man-made security challenges including food insecurity; the collapse of social cohesion resulting in political instability, upheaval and civil war; politically engineered inequality; nuclear proliferation; and both superpower and regional arms races.

Then I challenged my readers to identify the common threads that ran through all of these challenges and existential threats. I asserted that these problems shared a common feature - if we were to solve any of them, we must solve them all and, to have much hope of achieving that, we had to understand how they were connected.

At first I had only the vaguest ideas of what the answers to the questions I posed might be. Yet, gradually and with a great deal of time pondering the puzzle, the common threads and the answers began to emerge. It became evident to me that our society, our global society, was created, run and maintained on dysfunctional organization. We were organized dysfunctionally - socially, politically and economically. In the course of this, to keep the party going, we had taken on the characteristics of addiction, final or late stage addiction at that. We were bloated, covered in our own filth, our organs were failing and yet we remained completely powerless to confront our underlying addiction.

There were three lethal processes underway - over-population, over-consumption, and our obsessive compulsion to pursue infinite, exponential growth. We were constantly expanding all of these processes, trying to find new ways, often gimmicks, by which we could temporarily compress them within the very finite boundaries of our planet, our one and only biosphere.

Peter was not only robbing Paul, he was raping him in the process. Anthropogenic global warming? That's a by-product of these three processes. Without cheap, abundant fossil fuels we could not have grown to 7+ billion people en route to 9-billion or more while, at the same time, steadily increasing our per capita ecological footprint. We could not have plundered the world's resources, easily pillaging even our resource reserves, until we are now dependent - to use the junkie's term "hooked" - on devouring 1.5 times Earth's replenishment rate of natural resources every year, a rate that is steadily increasing to propel us to the inevitable day of reckoning.

Like junkies, we fall victim to the powerful and their predatory brutality. Their growth restrained by the realities of a finite world, America's most privileged turned on their own, their once robust middle class, sucking the life out of them in perhaps the greatest unearned transfer of wealth in western history. To achieve this they subverted and overcame democracy, quietly supplanting that with oligarchy and rule by technocrats.

Between an ill-informed electorate, voter suppression, engineered voter apathy, legislated inequality, mass surveillance, gerrymandering, the corruption of elections by tainted money, a 'bought and paid for' Congress and a corporatist Supreme Court, it is obvious that oligarchy has now decisively routed democracy in the United States.

If you think Canada is far behind, think again. Think the Orwellian named, Fair Elections Act. Think CSIS and CSEC. Think of every rotten incident attendant upon petro-statehood. Think of the rise of corporatism and the corporate state, its path greased by today's corporate media cartel.

Above all else, think 'incrementalism'. Our prime minister's former BFF, Tom Flanagan, years ago described incrementalism as the foundation of Harper's approach to government. Radical transformations can be effected if implemented through baby steps over time, small increments that go unnoticed until they accumulate into a mass too great to be undone. This is the very tactic so instrumental in America's transformation from democracy to oligarchy. Twenty, thirty years is all it takes and the deed is done.

I perceive this subversion of democracy and the associated wholesale transfer of economic and political power to a new oligarchy, a modern feudal-corporatist aristocracy, as an entirely foreseeable, perhaps inevitable end product of over-population, over-consumption and endless, exponential growth.

This is bound to end badly. The plutocrats are themselves slavishly addicted to the conditions that underlie our three lethal processes. When growth becomes restrained, disaster capitalism beckons as a means to continue accumulating the residual wealth, however meager, of others. Water can be transformed into a commodity to be supplied to the highest, often the most desperate bidder. The food supply can likewise be commodified unnaturally by the global agri-business and the monopolizing of the best farmlands throughout the world. They're locking up especially productive swathes of farmland even in countries already plagued by chronic food insecurity such as Somalia. Not for nothing is Goldman Sachs' biggest trading desk that dealing with food futures. Vulture capitalism is drawn to global food insecurity like jackals to a rotting corpse. These people are squarely and quite wilfully at odds with humanity itself. They're gaming the market of survival of the most vulnerable and we tolerate that. What have we allowed ourselves to become?

We stand at the edge of abyss and it would be dishonest to claim with any confidence that we still have time to step back. That's not clear but we may have time to act, even if not much. The path back begins with the first step - restoration of democracy. This, for Canada, means the dissolution of the corporate media cartel through forced divestiture of closely held and clustered media outlets. To nurture an informed electorate we need far more voices in the media offering the widest range of opinion. We need to restore an information-based media to remedy the messaging-based, corporate-dominated media. We need a media that is again the watchdog of government rather than its lapdog.

Our leaders need to address the real consequences to the country and our democracy of petro-statehood. Petro-states exhibit fairly uniform behaviours and they're rarely democratic. We need to pattern ourselves more on Norway and far less on Nigeria. We also need to transition, as quickly as the rest of the world, to a decarbonized society and a decarbonized economy. That entails understanding that "because we can" is not synonymous with "because we should."

We need to rehabilitate the heart and lungs of our once healthy, robust middle class - health care and education. These are not expenses but investments and, like all prudent investments, they deliver their return not in short-term profits but in long-term dividends. We have, for too long, sacrificed the safety and security of our future generations for our short-term benefit and we have amassed a huge debt to them and the country that must be honoured. This is a small price to pay.

We must arrest and reverse the scourge of inequality already becoming established in Canada. That entails recognition that most inequality is engineered, the handiwork of legislatures. Very little of it is either market-driven or merit-based. It is the end result of tax policy, subsidies and grants, deferrals and the transfer of natural capital, resources, belonging to the public at far below market value. It is sometimes the result of corruption but more often it results from the fear of our leaders that failure to prostrate the country at the feet of the powerful will diminish us. Bollocks.

We need laws to defend our democratic process against subversion. Those who practice voter manipulation and voter suppression must be stripped of the freedom they would deny to others. Heavy fines and lengthy prison terms are required to reverse this malignancy being introduced by today's Conservatives. These are the acts of individuals wilfully intent on subverting our democracy.

Yes this is a tall order but mainly because these challenges have grown gradually over an extended period of time while we looked the other way. Malignancies are rarely discovered early. What matters is that they are here now, exposed, and we are nearing the point where we have to either find solutions, remedy these excesses, or submit to them. A 3-pack a day smoker can not restore his health by going on a gluten-free diet.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I Come Not To Praise Flaherty

I have thus far avoided writing about Jim Flaherty's passing for a very simple reason; it is difficult, if not impossible to keep separate his family's personal loss with the man's record as a politician. Yet two pieces I read in yesterday's Star convinced me otherwise, and they allow me to offer my own views without disrespect for the dead.

The first, a fine piece of writing by Jim Coyle, is entitled Jim Flaherty gave up so much to serve us. His thesis is this:

...our politics would ... improve mightily if the Canadian public saw politicians as human beings much like themselves, often making very large sacrifices, rather than as contemptible cartoon figures of vanity, greed and corruption.

His column goes on to describe the tremendous sacrifices Flaherty made in his 25 years of service: forgone remuneration, which would have been likely totaled in the millions given the lucrative law practice he left upon entering politics, and more importantly, the precious time with his family that was never to be recovered.

Coyle states:

But let’s be honest. A life in politics, and especially in its higher reaches, is inherently incompatible with the everydayness and unpredictable crises of family life.

The job, more than most, is all-consuming. By necessity, it demands living away from home part of most weeks. Even when not in Ottawa, the travelling through ridings, the out-and-abouting, the constituency work is unrelenting.

But his piece, which ultimately is an effort to remind us of how politics can still be seen as a noble calling despite the widespread public cynicsm that currently prevails, omits something crucial to any evaluation of Jim Flaherty in particular, and politicians in general. The sacrifices Coyle discusses, while no doubt real ones, become tainted, cheapened and debased when they are made in service to a dark lord. And Flaherty had two such masters: the hideous former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who did more than any other Canadian politician in memory to disseminate dissension, disunity and class hatred, all of which Flaherty was a willing part.

His second dark master was, of course, Stephen Harper, whose myriad measures to unravel our social, economic and political frameworks need no recounting here.

So without question, Coyle is right in reminding us that Flaherty sacrificed much to be a part of public life. But surely an honest evaluation of that life cannot be made separate from his and his masters' records.

Which brings me to the second piece I read yesterday, by Thomas Walkom, entitled CBC cuts show other side of Jim Flaherty. While acknowledging the grievous loss suffered by his family and friends, the writer makes this key assertion:

... it was under Flaherty’s watch as finance minister that the latest cutbacks in federal government funding to CBC occurred. ....he was also an integral part of a government determined to smash or cripple much of what makes Canada a livable country.

His death is a reminder that good people can do bad things for the best of motives.

Walkom broadens his perspectives beyond those cuts that will untimately destroy the CBC:

Flaherty’s various budgets have called for more than $5 billion in annual spending cuts. Successive parliamentary budget officers have noted that the vast majority of these cuts are to come from as yet unspecified public services.

On top of these, the federal government has decided to dramatically scale back spending on medicare.

Those health-care transfer cuts, announced by Flaherty in 2011, won’t kick in until well after the next election.

The cutbacks in employment insurance, the decision to raise the age of eligibility for old-age security, the reductions in transfer payments to Ontario, the lessening of environmental enforcement — all were collective decisions of the Harper cabinet.

All ministers bear responsibility for them.

But to forget that the former finance minister was a critical part of this ministry is to do him no favours.

And surely, it does no favours to Canada if we bury Flaherty's questionable record along with his earthly remains.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

You Know Things Are Really Bad

...when even The Globe and Mail takes issue with its party of choice. In a blistering editorial entitled Harper Tories undermining democracy, to their own peril, the Globe attacks the 'Fair Elections Act and the attitude and deceit behind it, on a number of fronts. I hope you will take a few moments to read the entire piece. I will try to whet your appetite with the following excerpt:

...Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre this week told senators that Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has been so critical of the Fair Elections Act because “he wants more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.” Yes, that is surely the reason.

It cannot be because the bill’s change to voter-identification rules threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Or that the bill introduces a campaign-spending loophole that eviscerates spending limits, and benefits the Conservative Party.

It could not be because the bill gives the winning party in each riding the power to name some of the officials who will oversee the next election.

It must not be the way the bill meddles with Elections Canada’s role in investigating or reporting on electoral irregularities.

It cannot be because, as a group of academics put it last month, the bill will “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.”

No, the criticism must derive from the fact that the man charged with running fair and free elections is as partial, biased and self-interested as Mr. Poilievre.

The universal consensus of the bill, outside of the Conservative party and its supporters?

A Powerful Indictment

Thanks to The Salamader for bringing the following letter by Jacob Kearey-Moreland to my attention. Published yesterday in The Orillia Packet and Times, it is a powerful indictment of the 'Fair' Elections Act and the mentality behind it. For anyone wishing to drop him a line, his contact information appears at the end of the letter:

The Orwellian-named Fair Elections Act, while on the surface appearing to disenfranchise Canadian non-Conservative voters and, in other ways, advancing the interests of its authors, seems to have as its underlying driving force an attempt to undermine democracy itself.

Canadian democracy is under attack and on the ropes. With declining voter turnout, ever-increasing concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Senate scandal, numerous unresolved cases of electoral fraud, most notably misleading robocalls and exceeded campaign spending limits, Canadians have lost faith in our public institutions. Canadians do not trust politicians. They no longer think the government works for them, but rather it works for those with money and power. A fractured opposition and an archaic voting method, first past the post, resulted in 56% of the seats for a party with 39% of the vote and only 61% turnout.

How can a party that received only 25% support of eligible voters unilaterally pass new election laws against reasoned opposition and act as if it will increase participation and confidence in elections? As a voter, I am losing confidence.

The Fair Elections Act could be the knockout punch for Canadian democracy. It is my hope this will not be the end, but rather a new beginning. I believe ordinary Canadians, despite repeated blows, can muster the strength and courage to stand back up once more.

As it pertains to strengthening Canadian elections and bettering confidence in electoral outcomes, the Conservative party has done nothing to address legitimate and court-document cases of electoral fraud. Rather, it has created a straw man and is now throwing the baby out and leaving the bathwater.

Without open, public consultations, Simcoe North Conservative MP Bruce Stanton has already declared his unwavering support for this bill. What does he know that we don’t? How is he so sure this bill will increase confidence in electoral outcomes and spur voter participation? Evidence and experience suggest the opposite.

Will he defend his minister’s personal attacks and character assassinations on honest, hard-working public officials and dismiss such disrespect for parliamentary democracy as “just politics?” Or is Stanton of the opinion the fundamentals of Canadian democracy do not deserve to be widely debated, in public, across the nation, before such extensive and controversial changes are to be made? Surely, with more time and input, Canadians could improve this legislation beyond the ability of its partisan authors. What could move Stanton?

The toxicity eroding our democratic institutions runs deep — much deeper than the Fair Elections Act. The Conservative party, which positions itself as anti-elite, anti-expert, anti-science and anti-government, uses scientifically tested language and expertly crafted policy, borrowed from American Republican think-tanks and politicians, to manufacture support from “the average Canadian” when, in reality, among those who influence the party are the elites who control the country’s largest banks and oil companies — not so average. They don’t care for fair elections or democracy. They care for long-term power, more money and less accountability. Ironically, that is what Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre accused Elections Canada of wanting.

It is time for voters of all political stripes to speak up to protect our most fundamental freedom — the right to vote in fair elections — our soldiers famously fought and died for. Conservative voters, especially, have a choice of honour to make and an opportunity for genuine leadership. Do you want to defend our system or your party?

Jacob Kearey-Moreland is a local resident and gardener. He can be contacted at

Friday, April 11, 2014

This Gift From Montreal Simon

I have to admit I was feeling rather discouraged the other day when I read this CBC report in which an EKOS Research poll found that only 27 percent of respondents were familiar with the 'Fair' Elections Act. Then I read Montreal Simon's post this morning and felt a little better.

Here is the short video he posted that beautifully and very succinctly shows why voting is so important. Enjoy and send it to whomever you think might benefit:

On Harper's Judgement

H/t The Chronicle Herald

On Harper's Destructive Government

I am feeling somewhat uninspired this morning, so for now I simply offer two reasonably good missives from Globe and Mail readers on Mr. Harper's demonstrably destructive impact on our democracy:

Re Tories On The Attack As Fair Elections Act Faces Critics (April 10): Deceive, deny, demonize: Pierre Poilievre’s contemptuous 3D Harper-government attitude to any critic of this legislation is without compare – and utterly contemptible.

John Partridge, Lakefield, Ont.


Re New Book Describes Harper As Controlling, ‘Nixonian’ Leader (April 10): Democracy depends upon a general endorsement of principles, backed up by rules and regulations.

When a government has abandoned these principles – or failed to understand them or never had them in the first place – and operates only according to the letter of the law, then that government has damaged our parliamentary democracy, perhaps irrevocably as it now controls the rules.

Doug James, Calgary

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Tip And An Idea From The Salamander

Although I have never met him, the Salamander, from his frequent commentary on my blog and others', is unquestionably a passionate Canadian who wants the best for our country. Based on his searing metaphors and observations, I think it is safe to say that he believes, as do most progressives, the Harper regime does not share that goal.

That there is something manifestly unhealthy in the prime minster's psyche is undeniable. His easy disposal of people no longer useful to him, his obsessive hatred of Trudeau, his win-at-any-cost, no matter how parliamentary traditions, democracy, etc. suffer, all attest to this.

In a comment he left on my previous post, the Salamander offered this excerpt published in The Globe from former Harper friend and adviser, Tom Flanagan:

.. “He can be suspicious, secretive, and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia, at other times falling into week-long depressions in which he is incapable of making decisions,” Mr. Flanagan writes. “I feared, as I still do, that he might some day bring himself down Nixon-style by pushing too hard against the network of rules constraining authority in a constitutional government.”

Tom Flanagan, now is back with a forthcoming book, Persona Non Grata: The Death of Free Speech in the Internet Age, that speaks of Mr. Harper in “Nixonian” terms, as a man who “believes in playing politics right up to the edge of the rules, which inevitably means some team members will step across ethical or legal lines in their desire to win for the Boss.”

A chilling portrayal.

Yet the mental health of Stephen Harper is not our primary concern. Rather, the destruction that he has wrought and is continuing to inflict upon our nation is.
In another comment that he left on a previous post, (you can read the comment in full here) the Salamander directed my attention to a series of commercials, a compilation of which I post below:

The theme of these commercials, of course, is the need to protect oneself from mayhem. Here is what the Salamander wrote:

More and more I feel that with just a slight adjustment to context & content they could act as effective illuminating metaphors for our current government..
Mayhem unleashed.. with our full permission !! And the keys to the house or car. After the 'accident' comes the litigation, the lawsuits, the endless legal wrangling

Salamander in previous comments has suggested the need for symbols that we can identify with. This approach, underscoring the mayhem the Harperites have wrought in 'our house,' would be a powerful and informative tool. The potency of such viral videos, for anyone so inclined and able to produce them, would be undeniable....

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Eloquent Denunciation Of Harper's Approach To Government

Watch as Thomas Mulcair denounces quite calmly, incisively and eloquently the myriad problems both of the Fair Elections Act and the entire diseased approach to governance embraced by the Harper regime.

Justin Trudeau also offers his view.

Your Morning Smile (for most of us)

And under the "methinks he doth protest too much" file, enjoy this.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Evidence Of The Devil

If the devil is indeed to be found in the detail, then Star letter-writer Geoffrey Kemp of Mississauga has done an exorcist's job of ferreting out the wily one.

Enjoy his well-considered thoughts on an aspect of the 'Fair' Elections Act that has gotten relatively little attention owing to the grave and justifiable concern being widely expressed over its voter-suppression implications. (The bolded parts are mine):

Stephen Harper’s need to hastily do an end run around democracy is doubtless caused by the dubious actions of those he chooses to surround himself with, other examples of his poor judgment and the declining Conservative poll numbers.

If passed unchanged, Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, will allow MPs to sit in the House while their election expenses are contested. It exposes and compounds a weakness in the Canada Elections Act, at times when a majority government may be elected with a very small plurality or the combined opposition have a small majority.

Currently, if an MP and the chief electoral officer disagree on an MP’s election expense return, the Canada Elections Act provides that the MP can no longer sit or vote in the House of Commons until the expense return is changed to the chief electoral officer ’s satisfaction, although the report is not due for several months after election day.

Bill C-23 allows the MP to continue sitting until a judge has ruled on the dispute and further states: “The removal of a democratically-elected MP reverses the decision of tens of thousands of voters. No one should have the power to reverse a democratic election without first convincing a judge.” If an MP’s election expenses are found to be non-compliant with the election act, by definition they were not democratically elected and have deprived tens of thousands of voters their representation of choice.

Peter Penashue, Dean Del Mastro, Shelly Glover and James Bezan are four of Harper’s MPs who faced exclusion from the House having failed to comply with or refused to supply information required under the Canada Elections Act.

In close minority government situations, the ability of “false MPs” to sit in the House while their validity is being questioned could be the factor deciding who forms the government and becomes PM. One seat can make the difference. Remember how important Chuck Cadman’s legitimate single vote was perceived by Harper.

Instead of slowing down the review of a candidate’s election expenses, someone who is truly interested in removing the possibility of election fraud would be making changes to speed up the validation of those expenses. Bill C-23 should be withdrawn.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Another Harper Lie Exposed

Despite assurances last year that the TFW (Temporary Foreign Workers) program was being reformed because of a myriad of reported abuses, those assurances, like so many other pronouncements and assertions coming from the Harper regime, appear to be false.

Business continues to abuse the program, with what one can only assume is the tacit permission of Employment Minister Jason Kenney. The latest offenders, as reported by CBC, are three McDonald's outlets in Victoria, British Columbia, which are currently employing 25 temporary foreign workers.

"The pattern is that the temporary foreign workers are getting more shifts and that the Canadians are getting less,” said employee Kalen Christ, a McDonald’s "team leader" who has worked at the Victoria location for four years.

And unlike the usual excuse used by business that they cannot find Canadian workers willing to do the job, McDonald's has been caught red-handed, with numerous attestations of Canadian applicants being denied jobs:

Tim Turcot is a 21-year-old local resident who said he applied to work there during the same period. He wasn’t hired, despite his four years of restaurant experience.

“I don’t know why they didn’t hire me. I told them I am available 24/7 and just never got the job,” said Turcot.

As well, those Canadians 'lucky' enough to have a position with the house that Ronald built are seeing their hours slashed, hours taken up by the temporary foreign workers, according to team leader Christ, who himself has seen his job dropped from 40 a week to 36 then 32.

Another employee, who didn’t want to be named, also said hours have been cut and people fear losing health benefits next, because they need full-time hours to qualify.

“There’s a guy with a kid who works here who is getting his hours cut. In a minimum-wage job. That isn’t right.”

Now that the problem has been exposed, the office of Jason Kenney has predictably gone into damage control. You can read it here, should you have an especial interest in Harper regime propaganda.