Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cheap Rhetoric Versus Practical Questions

With regard to the ISIS threat, here is what Prime Minister Harper had to say in the House:
“These are necessary actions, they are noble actions” .... “When we think that something is necessary and noble, we don’t sit back and say that only other people should do it. The Canadian way is that you do your part.”

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, on the other hand,
asked a series of questions on the matter, including the length of the planned mission, the exit strategy and the exact demands of the United States for a Canadian military contribution.

While Harper is content to wrap himself in the flag, one wonders how ordinary Canadians will react once that flag is draped around coffins coming back from the Middle East.

This Is Not The Time For Absolutism

In the absolutist world of Stephen Harper, there are those who wear white hats and those who wear black. No berets (especially berets!) of middling colours are recognized. So when he declares that Canada will not stand on the sidelines on this possibly endless battle against ISIS, King Stephen is positing an absolutist scenario, one that sees military action as the only way to make a meaningful contribution.

It is a blinkered perspective with which not all agree.

Writing in The Globe, a professor of political science, Michael Bell, offers the following observations and reminders:
Western “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan and Iraq have been abject failures, leaving behind a still more profound conundrum. Could this happen all over again?
It is ironic that the American-led invasion of Iraq and the abortive Arab Spring in Syria, albeit the latter a noble failure, combined to let loose the explosive radicalism we are faced with today. The subsequent power vacuum unleashed unchecked ethnic nationalism and extremist ideology. The law of unintended consequences prevails again. Whether “boots on the ground” will ultimately be the answer is more than doubtful.
Roger Barany of Vancouver points out that there are viable alternatives to military engagement for Canada:
The disturbing examples of extremism we have seen (or avoided seeing) from Islamic State are no justification for Canada to be part of a massive aerial bombing campaign that could kill as many innocent civilians as intended targets. And this is assuming that the intelligence is reliable in the first place (For Harper, Decision To Deploy Must Come With Full Disclosure – Sept. 29).

This is not our war, but not being part of it does not mean sitting on the sidelines. Canada will always have a humanitarian role to play. It can start by joining a coalition of countries willing to help deal with the massive refugee outflows and human suffering caused by the air strikes in Syria.

If the Prime Minister is intent on Canada having a direct combat role, the debate should be premised on the worst-case scenario: Canadian soldiers deployed in a long-term ground war in the Mid-east. Then the question should be put to a free vote in Parliament so that MPs of all stripes can vote their individual conscience and that of their constituents.

Today's Globe editorial also warns against hasty commitments:
...sending our forces into combat is not the only alternative to standing on the sidelines and watching. The Harper government is among the world’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine and Israel – but no Canadian troops or planes have ever been involved in the fighting in those countries. Opposition to the IS does not necessarily mean a direct combat role. Humanitarian aid, technical support, financial support, weapons, training – there are ways Canada can participate usefully in Iraq and Syria without intervening directly.
And it warns that once engaged,
no one should believe that this is a battle that will begin and end with a few fighter-jet sorties.
Expect these warnings, based as they are on logic, recent history and reflection, not to be factors in the Harper regime's decision.

Monday, September 29, 2014

When Is An Apology Not Really An Apology?

When it is delivered, not by the offending party, but rather by an unseen narrator instead.

A Clear And Present Danger?

Only for some, I'm happy to report.

A Possible Soution To Health Canada's Willful Impotence

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that Health Canada has 'convinced' (not ordered) Apotex to stop importing drugs from one of its suspect plants in Bangalore, India. The agency's (and Health Minister Rona Ambrose's) ongoing timid relationship with pharmaceuticals at the expense of our health and safety suggests stronger measures are needed

Writing in The Star, Amir Attaran thinks he might have a solution to this sorry state of affairs. The professor in the Faculty of Law and faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa asks,
should we reduce, or nearly abolish, Health Canada’s drug regulatory functions? Could we be safer by trusting in the decisions of larger, better-funded, foreign drug regulators instead of little lame Health Canada?
He looks to Europe for a model:
The 28 countries of the European Union, many of them quite small, long ago decided that it is expensive, inefficient and sometimes dangerously ineffective for each country to have its own drug regulator. Nowadays, most of them have delegated large parts of their drug regulatory functions to an EU-wide organization, the European Medicines Agency.
Attaran is not optimistic that Canada will likely follow suit with a similar co-operative venture:
Here, the Harper government’s asphyxiating control of government scientists and almost childish pride in Canadian sovereignty mean that Health Canada minimally co-operates with America’s FDA just next door. This is dumb: the FDA is more transparent, better resourced and scientifically better equipped than Health Canada will ever be.
He goes on to offer a picture of the FDA's ruthless effectiveness in interdicting suspect drugs:
Consider the case of Ranbaxy, a pharmaceutical company from India. Last year, the FDA successfully prosecuted Ranbaxy for manufacturing adulterated drugs and misleading it with false, fictitious and fraudulent drug testing data — crimes for which Ranbaxy paid $500 million (U.S.) in criminal and civil penalties.

Contrast that decisiveness with Health Canada's feckless dealings with the same company:
Even though former Ranbaxy executives say they are “confident there were problems” with drugs sold here, after the criminal conviction Health Canada refused to ban Ranbaxy’s factories, and instead negotiated with the company to voluntarily pull a few of its medicines off the market for testing; Health Canada won’t say which ones.
According to Attaran, the main reason for this gross disparity of response is not legal, but cultural,
namely the indolent, lapdog attitude of ministers like Ambrose and the public servants at Health Canada, who seem to lack any understanding of how governments should regulate.
Because they refuse to learn from the best practices of bodies like the FDA and the European Medicines Agency, he concludes that
we should in part abolish Health Canada and harmonize our drug regulation with those foreign agencies that are more competent than our own government.
While that might strike many as too drastic a solution, it is clear that major changes are needed if we are to be protected from corrupt and venal pharmaceutical companies that place their profits and their shareholders above the health and safety of Canadians.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Health Canada's Willful Impotence on Tainted Pharmaceuticals

As I have written previously, the scandal of tainted pharmaceuticals continues, and that which should provoke outrage and demands for accountability seems to elicit for the most part only shrugs and mild interest. And were it not for the Toronto Star's ongoing quest, most of us would be totally unaware of the threats to our health that are aided and abetted by Health Canada and Health Minister Rona Ambrose, thanks to a larger media, including the CBC, that have given the scandal absolutely no coverage.

Despite the investigative series conducted by the paper and an excoriating editorial, the only action thus far taken by Health Minister Rona Ambrose and her recalcitrant department has been to 'convince' (not order) Apotex to
stop distribution to Canadian retailers of what Health Minister Rona Ambrose described as “all products” manufactured at one of Apotex’s factories in Bangalore, India.

“The quarantine will allow the department time to verify that products from this facility meet Canadian safety and quality requirements,” Health Canada said in a short release.
I guess that is progress of sorts, since the last time Health Canada made such a request, Apotex refused. However, it is an anemic response given that when the issue first arose, the FDA banned the suspect drugs from entering the U.S.

However, even in Health Canada's putative victory with Apotex, there is less here than meets the eye, as is typical of the Harper regime:
Health Canada has not told the public what drugs are affected by this quarantine.
So even though many Canadians will have been taking these suspect and tainted drugs, they are not permitted to know which ones they are. Undoubtedly, as has been previously discussed, in the warped of Ambrose and her department, that information is considered commercially confidential.

In my next post, I'll discuss a possible way around the protective wall of silence erected by Health Canada to protect the pharmaceutical industry.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Offered For Your Consideration

While King Stephen has grown positively garrulous with the American media, there's one little detail he seems to have forgotten:

H/t Graeme Mackay

Another Pundit Supports Trudeau's Rejection Of Sun News

Reaction continues to be mixed on Justin Trudeau's decision to boycott Sun News following resident madman Ezra Levant's tirade against his entire family. Pollster Bruce Anderson is now the second pundit to support the decision, as he makes clear in his inaugural digital column for The Globe and Mail.

His has several reasons for taking this stance:
First off, if a competing politician uttered the things that Mr. Levant said about Justin Trudeau, we would expect an apology or a resignation, or both. If we wouldn’t tolerate such shameful behavior among political competitors, what would it say about how low we are willing to see media standards fall, if there were no consequences.

Second, maybe someone can explain why any of us should have to answer to anyone for the sexual habits of our parents. I’ve never heard a voter in a focus group say “I’d vote for candidate x, if his or her parents had been more sexually conservative.”

Anderson also points out, in addition to the distasteful content of the Levant screed, it is inaccurate:
Watch Mr. Levant’s description of events, and then read the account of how the bride’s father saw the same moments. I suppose it’s possible that the father of the bride was lying, but I think another explanation seems more likely.
Labelling the unhinged Levant's performance an embarrassment to journalists, and to those in conservative politics that he is normally aligned with, Anderson feels that Trudeau's response was a reasonable one, since he is simply
holding the publisher to account and using what leverage he can muster. His goal seems not to end or disrupt or manipulate media relations in a permanent or pervasive way, but to say this isn’t normal and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
In the instances of such scurrilous attacks one can either ignore the insults or speak out against them. In Anderson's view the latter is the more noble choice:
I fielded one call from a conservative who said that Mr. Trudeau was taking the coward’s way out by refusing to engage with Sun. I tried hard to understand that logic.

But in the end I couldn’t help but think that cowardice in that situation is doing nothing to defend your honour, and that of your parents.

I certainly get the need to protect professional journalism. But this week anyway, it needs more protection against what Ezra Levant would do to it, than what Justin Trudeau would.
It has been my observation that, like the bullies they are, extreme right-wingers are quite happy to mete out abuse, but cry like babies when held to account. Expect no agreement with Andersen's defense of Trudeau from that quarter.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Paul Calandra Apologizes

After his disgraceful behaviour the other day in the House during Question Period, Parliamentary Secretary and ardent Harper loyalist Paul Callandra issued a 'tearful' apology this morning. For me, his motives are suspect:

A Bit Of Anti-Union Hysteria From John Ivison

It's funny, isn't it, that the Harper regime can use our tax dollars to monitor us, manipulate us, and promulgate all kinds of propaganda, but somehow it's not right, indeed downright unholy, according to the National Post's John Ivison, when unions fight back.

Said journalist suggests Mr. Harper should consider calling an early election, not because of the dirt that will inevitably emerge from the Mike Duffy trial that could hurt the prime minster, but rather to disrupt the massive anti-Conservative advertising blitz planned by Canada’s largest private sector union.
There’s a new breed of highly politicized union in town – and they’re intent on doing to Mr. Harper what they recently did to Tim Hudak in Ontario.

Unifor was created last year from the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions, to lead the fight-back against the Harper government, according to Jerry Dias, the national president.
Apparently, the rout of the Ontario Tories this past June was largely due, not to widespread rejection of their right-wing message, but union power.
In the Senate Thursday, Senator Bob Runciman said unions spent $10-million in the recent Ontario election – all on a campaign to “Stop Hudak.”
Like fifth columnists, in
the Ontario election, the Workers’ Rights Campaign operated more like a shadow political party than a union, with its own war-room, field organizers and campaign strategy.
With that straw man firmly in place, Ivison implies that Canadians are incapable of independent thought and decision-making and will fall under the Svengali-like influence of Dias and his anti-Harper agenda. A veritable tsunami of democratic subversion is heading our way.

The peril has been recognized in federal Tory circles:
Voices inside the Conservative caucus have urged Mr. Harper to call an early election to disrupt Unifor’s pre-writ advertising buys.
Harper is said to be wary of breaking the fixed election date once more, as such a decision would appear opportunistic.

Warns the ever-prescient Ivsion,
But in sticking with that timing, he is gifting his union opponents the chance to influence a federal election in a way we have not seen in a very long time.
May God bless and protect all of us, and keep us safe from the bogeyman.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

UPDATED: On Trudeau's Sun 'News' Boycott

When I wrote a brief post the other day on Ezra Levant's disgusting and puerile tirade against the Trudeaus the other day, I had no intention of revisiting the issue, but two columns calling into question the decision by Justin Trudeau to boycott the organization leads me to further comment.

Writing in The Globe, Simon Houpt, while fully agreeing that the attack was just the latest in a series of outrageous nonsense from the mouth of the perpetually angry Levant, says that
when a politician cuts off access to select media, it is an affront to everyone. Sun Media has hundreds of dedicated professionals who work hard every day on behalf of millions of readers (and a few thousand viewers of Sun News). Trudeau’s impetuous move signals a disdain for them all, and carries an implicit warning that he might bar other media outlets who run afoul of him. We already have a Prime Minister obsessed with controlling the message. Trudeau does himself, and all Canadians, a disservice.
The Star's Chantal Hebert, in today's Star, offers similar criticism of the Trudeau decision.
The temptation to shut out all Sun Media journalists in protest over Levant’s grotesque commentary was probably irresistible. From a human standpoint, it is certainly understandable. But it also sets the party on a slippery slope familiar to most veteran parliamentary correspondents.

Liberal insiders who argue that it is too much of a leap to think that an opposition party that shuts out an entire news organization over the comments of one commentator would, once in government, expand its black list based on more political criteria are whistling past a cemetery of good intentions.

She adds,
If there is a debate to be had over the Levant commentary, attributing guilt by employer-association is hardly the way to go.
Questioning whether those who run major news organizations have a social responsibility to ensure that minimal journalistic standards are maintained by their organizations would be a better place to start.
My own response to these objections is quite simple. Sun News, by virtue of its continued employment of Levant, despite the numerous times he has disgraced both himself and his employer, means that the entire organization is complicit in his slanders, his racism, and his absence of balance.

Both Houpt and Hebert's critique of Trudeau's boycott are premised on Sun News being a legitimate news organization. Based on its tolerance and encouragement of people like Levant, it is an assumption with which I suspect many thinking Canadians would profoundly disagree.

UPDATE: The National Post's Jonathan Kay breaks breaks ranks with his fellow scribes and asserts that Trudeau is morally justified in his boycott decision.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Warning! Pay No Attention To This Seditious Suggestion

A CRA Audit-Free Zone

Okay boys and girls. Please resist the impulse to manipulate the Fraser Institute's data. Really, don't do it. I mean it. There will be consequences. ;)

The Big Mac VS The Whopper

Clearly, based upon the shameful falsehoods she uttered at yesterday's U.N. climate summit about Canada being a “global clean energy leader” doing “its part” to cut carbon emissions that warm the earth, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq's preference is clear.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some Nightmares Are Real

Sleep tight, Prime Minister Harper.

On The Further Debasement Of Parliamentary Debates

In which Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra, a loyal Harper soldier, does his utmost to discourage Canadians from watching the misnamed debates.

Do People Really Watch This Crap?

Five minutes was my limit for this video.

And apparently Justin Trudeau has reached him limit with Sun News. His decision to boycott the network, I'm sure, will send the foaming right wing into a howling frenzy.

Tory Hot Air Worsens Climate Change

Watch this video and you'll know what I mean:

A Small Clip Reveals A Big Truth

The National Post's Jonathon Kay on the people he works with:

Psst - Hey Buddy, Can You Spare Some CPU?

Next to Alzheimer's Disease, it is probably the scourge we fear the most. And as they say, few lives, either directly or indirectly, are unaffected by it. Cancer is pervasive.

So when a project comes along enabling anyone with a computer to participate in the battle against this dread disease, it is surely worth noting.

Sunday's Star ran a story about The World Community Grid, an IBM network of 676,000 businesses and individuals globally who have volunteered about 2.9 million computers of varying capacities to help run scientific studies. The fact that cancer, with its vast array of genetic mutations, is a complex disease means that huge computational power is now needed to do some sophisticated number crunching of data.

Because access to actual super computers is so limited, the World Community Grid, by linking home computers together for projects, becomes a virtual super computer.

Igor Jurisica, a Princess Margaret Cancer Centre scientist, began the Mapping Cancer Markers project last November. He has been granted access to about one-third of the machines worldwide, which gives him some 258 computer processing unit (CPU) years worth of power to run his data each day.

That means a typical computer would have to run continuously for 258 years to process the data the network can work through in 24 hours.

In aggregate, the full grid can generate more than 400 CPU years each day, which would rank it among the world’s 15 largest supercomputers, said Viktors Berstis, the senior IBM software engineer who runs the network.

I have installed the program's software and have been running it for the past two days. It can be run while working on the computer, or you can just leave the computer on when you are not using it. The program can be suspended at any time. As well, it seems to make minimal demands on both processing power and bandwidth.

You can learn more about the project here, or watch the video below. Should yoiu decide to participate, click here to obtain the software.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Word On The Street - Chantal Hebert and Tim Harper

Although it started out quite ominously with heavy downpours, yesterday turned out to be a good day. As the clouds cleared, we hopped on the GO bus to attend Toronto's Word on the Street, an annual celebration of literacy. I always take heart when I see a strong cross-generational presence among the many thousands gathering for the love of reading and learning.

This year was especially gratifying, as we actually got seats in the Toronto Star tent to hear Chantal Hebert and Tim Harper discuss the national political scene and take numerous questions from the audience, moderated by the Star's Bob Hepburn.

Tim Harper qualified his remarks with two provisos: he has been regularly wrong in his predictions, citing his failure to foresee the demise of B.C.'s Adran Dix as one egregious example, and his assumption that he would be enjoying a long journalistic relationship with Alison Redford, the now former premier of Alberta.

He and Chantal Hebert also agreed that what the federal landscape will look like following next year's election will only become clearer once the campaigns are in full throttle.

Nonetheless, based on present indicators, they offered their views on a variety of topics:

On Justin Trudeau: Drawing upon the analogy of a colouring book, Tin Harper said that much of Trudeau's picture is at present not coloured in. His employment of platitudes rather than policy statements may work for now, but the crucible of the election campaign will determine whether he can retain his 'rock star' status. He suggested that one of the reasons Stephen Harper has been burnishing his foreign policy credentials is to offer a sharp contrast to the unseasoned Trudeau.

On Thomas Mulcair and the NDP: Hebert and Harper suggested that the party has a problem branding itself in places like Ontario and the west. Those who have grown weary of the Harper machinations are more likely to go to the Liberals than the NDP, despite the fact that Mulcair has shone during Question Period, which very few people ever watch. And even though Mulcair has proven himself to be a much sharper politician than Trudeau (e.g., Trudeau immediately endorsed our adventure in Iraq, 'as long as it continues to have parliamentary oversight', while Mulcair has withheld his party's approval, saying that neither the terms of the engagement have been revealed and no parliamentary oversight exists), it doesn't translate into greater electoral support.

On Mike Duffy's Trial: While it seems unlikely that Harper will be testifying at the trial, Chantal Hebert was of the view that ultimately it won't make much difference because, unlike the aforementioned Trudeau, Harper's picture is fully coloured in. Those who support him will not change their opinion, no matter what happens, and those who oppose him wouldn't believe him even if he testified that he had no knowledge of the payoff from Nigel Wright.

Tim Harper also pointed out a couple of interesting points. Given the array of charges Duffy is facing, the Wright payoff is only one of about 31 crimes Duffy is alleged to have committed. It, in fact, will likely occupy only a relatively small portion of the trial, and a judge would not allow it to be turned into a political circus, even if that is Duffy's intent.

Canaries in the Conservative coal mine? Referring to the column he had just written that appears in today's Star, Harper noted that about 30 Conservatives will not be seeking re-election in 2015. Is this an indication of widespread backbencher dissatisfaction? Is it normal attrition? Do members genuinely want to spend more time with their families and earn money in the private sector? These are all unanswerable questions at this point, but the columnist did point out that without the power of incumbency, many seats will be up for grabs, which could prove significant.

On CETA: This was probably the most discouraging aspect of the discussion, reminding me of the harsh and unprincipled nature of politics. Trudeau has endorsed the agreement, text unseen, while Mulcair has temporized, saying that he needs to see the text first. Both Hebert and Harper are of the view that both opposition leaders have little choice but to support it, given its widespread endorsement by Quebec, Ontario and all the other provinces. Challenging the agreement would be too expensive politically.

All in all, a very good day for a political junkie.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Star Readers Respond To Health Canada's Fecklessness

While "Let them swallow tainted pharmaceuticals" seems to be the motto of both Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Health Canada, always-vigilant Star readers take issue with such deference to the corporate agenda. Here is just a small sampling of their reactions:

Good thing we have the FDA and the Star to look after our best interests with regards to clinical drug trials. Health Canada appears to just run diversion tactics for the medical profession and big pharma.

Richard Kadziewicz, Scarborough

I really appreciate all of the hard work that David Bruser and Jesse McLean are doing to enlighten and inform us about the irresponsible practices of Health Canada. I’m sure it has been next to impossible to obtain salient information from the government organization that is in place to supposedly protect its citizens but instead have to rely on the FDA.

It begs the question as to why. Are they under-staffed or are they protecting the corporations known as Big Pharma? Like the majority of Canadians I resent and abhor that the products we consume are being produced offshore with apparently little or no quality control. At our peril, the corporations’ only consideration is profit. The eroding job market and our health is of little consequence when their insatiable greed is paramount. It’s obscene.

As a citizen, I don’t know how we fight for accountability. Health Canada exists because of our taxes, this practice is unacceptable. Or are the corporations really the body governing our country?

Vivien C. Buckley, Burlington

Looking at the failure of Health Canada to inform Canadians of the shortcomings of part of our pharmaceutical industry, one comes to two conclusions about Health Canada: it was putting the health of Canadians at risk; and it might as well not have done their regulatory work at all. Exactly the same might be said of the Canadian government agency in charge of inspecting meat processing plants.

How about the work of government scientists studying forestry, fisheries, climate, water quality, economics, environment, national statistics, etc? The Harper government appears to have suggested that their work was solely to inform cabinet decisions. If so, that may explain why the “Harpies” do not allow government scientists to speak publicly about their work.

From my point of view, the tax-cutting Tories would be well advised to close all our scientific establishments. Since they largely ignore the scientific work available to them, and will not let the public see the results either, why do it at all?

Clearly, one should never let the facts trump a good ideology.

Peter Bursztyn, Barrie

The Star has informed its readers of the incompetence by Health Canada in keeping the results of their investigations into pharmaceutical companies a secret from the taxpayers they work for.

Health Canada has become another whore in the Harper government, playing along with again a secret policy of giving information to the public only if it is of benefit to federal government.

When the next Prime Minister replaces this dictatorship after the next election, I hope that he would fire every single manager at Health Canada, no matter what the management rank is, and replace them with contractors hired from the FDA. It seems that only then will we get what we are paying for.

Robert Knight, Toronto

As well, the Star has an editorial in today's issue that offers a good overview of this scandalous issue.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stephen Harper's Advice: 'Don't Believe What You Sometimes Read'

That little gem was delivered by Dear Leader at a gathering of true believers outside of Hamilton the other day as he offered this confabulation:

"There are more people going to good-paying jobs today than in any other time in our history."

About the deplorable sellout he engineered in his sweetheart deal with U.S. Steel, he had this to say:

"We know there are still challenges in the labour market. We read about some today in this area. That's because we are part of a global economy."

While the party faithful applauded his words, a retired Hamilton steelworker voiced a sentiment that I think is felt by many, many Canadians :

Harper does nothing as U.S. Steel ‘shafts’ workers

I am truly shocked that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives can sit back and let foreign ownership of our industries walk all over Canadian workers and not say a word.

I worked at Stelco-U.S. Steel for 31 years. When I retired, I was told this is your pension for the rest of your life. A lot of people don't realize that a lot of our pension is deferred wages paid by employees. Our pensions are not some handout by the company.

Stelco was making a profit when U.S. Steel purchased it. The union continued to take concessions from the company and faced consecutive lockouts when they were ready and willing to sit with this company and negotiate a fair deal for all concerned.

U.S. Steel continues to shaft every Canadian worker and this federal government sits back and does nothing. We must send a message in the next federal election that Canada is not for sale under any circumstances. Harper and his cronies should start touring the soup kitchens and the missions to get a taste of what they are doing to hardworking Canadians who paid taxes all their lives only to get shafted when it's time to retire and enjoy the fruits of their labours.

John Sanislo, Hamilton

Tainted Pharmaceuticals: Health Canada's 'Feeble Response'

The Toronto Star has recently been conducting some fine investigative work on tainted pharmaceuticals and the fact that Health Canada has been shielding the guilty companies from public scrutiny. The issue finally rose to a degree of national prominence this week when the issue was raised in the House. The 'answers' provided by Health Minister Rona Ambrose, however, were hardly comforting or reassuring. The bolded parts have been added for emphasis:
“Whenever there is a dangerous product identified, Health Canada inspectors act immediately. In the case of a drug produced by Apotex, Health Canada inspectors asked the company to remove it from the shelf and it refused,” Ambrose said in question period this week in response to questions spurred by a recent Star investigation.
This somehow reminds me of the boy with the sign on his back that says, Kick Me.
In fact, the Canadian government, unable to force the company to recall the drug, twice asked Apotex to “stop sale and cease imports” from the Bangalore facility, Health Canada spokesman Gary Holub said in response to further questions from the Star.
Apparently a believer in the old adage that you can catch more flies (an apt metaphor in this case, given the filthy conditions of Apotex's Bangalore plant) with honey than vinegar, our national health protector changed tacks:
“Although Apotex refused Health Canada’s initial request, it was determined that a more productive course would be to work with the company to quickly determine steps to ensure the safety of its products, over engaging in lengthy court proceedings with no immediate mitigation measures,” Holub said in an email.
Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor who researches drug policy, called Health Canada’s response “feeble, inadequate and incompetent.”
In the house, Ambrose claimed that she needs stronger legislation to act definitively and decisively against the offending companies:
“It will require tough new fines for companies that are putting Canadians at risk. Most importantly, it will give me the authority to recall unsafe drugs when I need to,”
This claim of legislative impotence surely rings hollow, and does not explain the fact that Health Canada refuses to publish the names of companies contravening drug safety practices nor the names of the offending drugs.

Professor Attaran succinctly sums up the real problem: “This proves Health Canada is on the side of drug companies and not Canadians”.

I have nothing to add to his assessment.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Real Face Of Stephen Harper

As we embark upon a year-long election campaign, we will increasingly be exposed to propaganda from all parties vying for our vote. But the propaganda emanating from the Harper government will deserve special scrutiny.

To be sure, we are constantly told how much better off we are under the compassionate ministrations of the cabal than we ever were under previous governments. Such claims, of course, ring hollow to anyone who has followed the machinations and manipulations of the regime for almost the last decade.

Nonetheless, many seem unwilling to engage their critical faculties when it comes to politics, and will respond best, not to facts, figures and allegations, but rather to the human toll exacted by a government whose demonstrable concerns rest almost exclusively with the business agenda.

The following brief news video, about a corporate betrayal aided and abetted by the Harper regime, perhaps speaks loudest of all. The tale of U.S. Steel's purchase of Stelco, granted with some severe stipulations under the Foreign Investment Review Act, is a graphic reminder of where the Prime Minister's true loyalties lie.

The Surveillance State Under Stephen Harper

Yesterday, Margaret Wente wrote a piece pointing out that in terms of policy, there is no discernible difference between Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper, and yet people are craving change. In typically lazy manner, she simply cited friends who say “He’s gotta go!”
So what’s the problem with Mr. Harper? Is it the Duffy affair? The militant foreign policy? The highly dubious tough-on-crime agenda?

No, not really. It’s just … him. He’s too controlling, too snarly, too mean. He picked a fight with Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. He sounded callous about murdered native women. It’s not the policies or even the scandals – it’s the tone. They just don’t like the guy.
Such an analysis is surely superficial. There are, indeed, plenty of solid reasons to want this national blight and his minions gone from our lives that have been well-articulated over these past many years by both journalists and bloggers. I will concentrate on just one of them today.

Although I have written on this topic before, now seems a good time to remind ourselves that the Harper government is a vindictive and paranoid regime that sees every criticism, every question about policy, every disagreement and gathering of like minds as potential threats, treating those who hold contrary views as enemies.

The latest verification of this diseased mentality comes in a report that reveals about 800 public demonstrations and events were observed and reported on by government departments and law enforcement agencies since 2006.

Conducted under the auspices of the Government Operations Centre, those surveilled included:
A panel discussion at Concordia University last September, discussing historical colonialism and race relations in Quebec. The RCMP prepared the report.

A rally in Ottawa by the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees in May 2012.
Protests against a Canadian mining company in Brazil last September.

A Montreal march and vigil for missing and murdered aboriginal women in September 2013.
A public discussion in Toronto on the oilsands in August 2013.

A workshop in non-violent protest methods in Montreal in October 2013.

Public Safety reported a protest of “lobster fishers” in New Brunswick in May 2013, while a shrimp allocations protest in Newfoundland was reported by Fisheries and Oceans a year later.

Larger events that made national news — the Idle No More movement, Occupy groups, various student protests in Montreal — were also included in the list.
The full list, which runs to 34 pages, can be accessed here.

Most tellingly, the majority of the reports on public events appear to focus on First Nations and environmental movements, including the Idle No More movement and anti-oilsands activism.

While the government insists that this is all in the interests of public safety, not all are convinced.

Take, for example, Halifax professor Darryl Leroux, who found himself in an RCMP report for having organized a panel discussion on alternative concepts of colonialism throughout Quebec’s history.

Perhaps the good professor fell afoul of the Harper demand for conformist thinking because the discussion also touched upon topics like feminism and black activism in Montreal in the 1960s? The lessons of history can be subversive, I suppose.

So yes, despite Margaret Wente's facile claim that people just don't like Harper because of his manner, there are innumerable reasons for millions of Canadians of goodwill to want the political landscape cleansed in 2015.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

And Speaking of Disappearances...

It seems like the silence over the disappearing Environment Canada committee discussed in my previous post may have had its precedent set back in 2012, when another strange silence was orchestrated over another disappearance.

Margaret Munro, in The Ottawa Citizen, reports new evidence of the Harper regime suppressing information Canadians have a right to by muzzling our federal scientists. In 2012, the amount of Arctic ice hit its lowest level ever, and Canadian Ice Service scientists wanted to tell us about it, to warn us of its implications.
[Leah] Braithwaite and her colleagues — aware of the national and international interest in the shrinking polar ice — wanted to hold a “strictly factual” technical briefing for the media to inform Canadians how the ice had disappeared from not only the Northwest Passage but many normally ice-choked parts of the Arctic.
Having to go through nine approval levels before they could impart the information doomed the effort. Newly-released documents reveal the following:
“Ministerial services” — the sixth layer — cancelled the briefing, the documents say. And the ice service scientists ended up watching as the Canadian media and public got most of their information from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC ), where scientists were quick to give interviews, hold briefings and issue press releases as the ice shattered records as it melted from Baffin Island to the Beaufort Sea.
Observers say the case is further evidence of the way the Conservative government is silencing scientists.

“It’s suppression through bureaucracy,” said Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy (E4D ), an Ottawa-based non-profit pushing for open communication of government science.

“Why is it that we need nine levels of approval for this sort of thing, what’s the justification,” said biologist Scott Findlay, a co-founder of E4D and member of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa.

He said the government’s “Byzantine message control” is not only wasting time, money and resources, but having a “corrosive” effect on the public service.
Perhaps naively, Findley also suggested that
federal scientists are professionals and the government should trust them to interact with the media and release information that is in the public interest, such as conditions and changes in the Arctic ice.
The development of trust requires a degree of integrity and good mental health on the part of both parties, qualities that, sadly, we have come to discover, Mr. Harper and his minions are deeply deficient in.

No Surprise Here- An Update

Tuesday's post discussed the apparent disappearance of a committee made up of representatives from Environment Canada, the Alberta government and oil and gas companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the tarsands. Investigative reporter Mike De Souza provides important new information about this committee on his website.

Putting the heat on Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq in the House of Commons, NDP environment critic Megan Leslie suggested it is time for the Harper regime to stop stalling:

“After seven years of the government’s broken promises to introduce greenhouse gas rules for the oil and gas sector Canadians are still waiting,” Leslie said.

“Now we hear that Environment Canada has stopped talking to the industry and the Alberta government altogether. In fact, the (federal) government-led committee hasn’t met since March 2013. When will this government quit stalling and when will we see the regulations?”

Of course, as is standard operating procedure for this government, Aglukkaq did not answer, preferring to mouth platitudes about what a great job the government is doing in reducing emissions in this country:
“We have taken action on some of the largest sources of emissions in this country, the transportation and the electricity-generation sector” ... “I’m also looking forward to taking part in the UN climate summit in New York next week to speak to Canada’s record in taking action on climate change.”

And this is hardly a time for obfuscation and misdirection:
Environment Canada estimated earlier this year that greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands increased by 307 per cent between 1990 and 2012. The carbon emissions were projected to grow a further 61 per cent before the end of the decade.

A clue as to why the committee's work suddenly ceased may be found here:
Behind closed doors, internal records obtained by Greenpeace Canada through provincial freedom of information legislation revealed that industry lobbyists rejected proposals from the Alberta government to introduce tough rules, and instead suggested delaying action to allow for more “study, analysis and consultation.”
Concludes Keith Stewart, a Toronto-based climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada:
“This is what happens when a government opens the doors wide to the oil industry and shuts out everyone else ... The upstream oil and gas industry is now the biggest carbon polluter in the country precisely because the Harper government gives in every time they cry poor. Meanwhile, the public foots the ever-rising bill for climate disasters while the oil companies post record profits.”
It seems safe to conclude that this is yet more evidence that Stephen Harper is not here for us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meet The Newest Inductee Into Harper's Enemies List

Warning to Harper Conservatives: If you see this man, do not approach. He is considered armed with charisma and passion for the environment that could be very dangerous to your leader.

Last known Canadian sighting: Fort McMurray.

Known Associates: Environmental radicals.

Here is an example of DiCaprio's attempts at subverting the Canadian economy:

And please remember:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No Surprise Here - Part Two

Given Stephen Harper's most recent demonstrated indifference to climate change, I report the following with no surprise, only a degree of tired resignation:

Environment Canada appears to have quietly ended key discussions that were intended to tackle carbon pollution from the oil and gas industry.

A committee made up of representatives from Environment Canada, the Alberta government and oil and gas companies was created in the fall of 2011 to develop options to reduce industrial greenhouse gases from the oilsands sector, the country’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions.

But the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), which was part of the committee, says it stopped getting invitations to meetings in 2013.

“We have no knowledge of the group having met since March 2013,” said Alex Ferguson, the vice-president of policy and performance at the association, which represents Canadian oil and gas companies, in an email to the Star.

The most discouraging aspect of the report is this:
The Harper government has estimated it won’t achieve the prime minister’s international climate change commitment to reduce emissions by 2020, mainly because of rising pollution from the oil and gas sector.

While most Canadian industries have reduced their carbon footprints, the oilsands sector has moved in the opposite direction increasing its emissions by 307 per cent between 1990 and 2012, Environment Canada estimated in a report submitted to the United Nations earlier this year.

Once again, under this administration Canada is proving to be one of the West's most egregious climate-change outliers. It is not a distinction any of us should take pride in.

More Indifference From Health Canada's Towards Canadians' Health

Health Minister Rona Ambrose really has no reason to smile.

Last week, based on a Star Investigation, I outlined the shocking incompetence, indifference and completely unacceptable secrecy within Health Canada that allows for tainted, ineffective, and dangerous drugs to be sold regularly to Canadians. It was only because of the transparency of the American Federal Drug Administration that The Star was able to uncover this wholly unacceptable and outrageous state of affairs.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there.

Continuing its investigation, The Star has uncovered, thanks to the FDA database and freedom of information requests that were answered fully and expeditiously by that body, more shocking failures on the part of Health Canada. This one involves clinical trials. Fraud, incompetence and corruption do not seem overly strong terms to describe what they have uncovered:

In 2012, a top Toronto cancer researcher failed to report a respiratory tract infection, severe vomiting and other adverse events.

A clinical trial run by an Alberta doctor reported that patients responded more favourably to the treatment than they actually did.

A Toronto hospital’s chief of medical staff ran a clinical trial of autistic children on a powerful antipsychotic, and he did not report side-effects suffered by four of the children.

The problems uncovered with clinical trial oversight seem to stem from the same factors that allow for tainted and ineffective formulations on the market: inadequate inspections by Health Canada (only a handful of the 4000 clinical trials running at any one time) and the latter's insistence on keeping the problems it covers secret, citing 'proprietary concerns.'

One cannot overestimate the importance of clinical trials: They
are experiments using volunteer subjects to determine whether a drug is safe and effective, as well as what side-effects it may cause. Participants may experience side-effects, which the doctors leading the trials must report.

Unfortunately, such protocols are being circumvented by Canadian doctors. Take the case of Dr. Sunil Verma, who chairs the breast medical oncology unit at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre. An FDA inspection uncovered the fact that he failed to report to the sponsoring drug company adverse reactions suffered by five patients, including a respiratory tract infection and severe vomiting that lasted two weeks.

His explanation: “This was purely a clerical issue. This was clearly an oversight on the part of the nurse” .

Interestingly, Dr. Verma is on the drug company's advisory board, which pays him about $1500 each time he gives an “educational presentation” on breast cancer.

Overlapping, or what some might describe as incestuous, relationships between doctors and drug companies do not seem uncommon:

At the University of Calgary, Dr. Remo Panaccione’s has received money for consulting and lecturing from at least 26 different pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Panaccione conducts research into inflammatory bowel disease. A clinical trial he led in 2007 into a drug designed to treat Crohn's disease was found deficient by an FDA inspection. He failed to report the hospitalization of three patients being treated to the university's ethics board. Like the aforementioned Dr. Verma, Panaccione blamed his staff for the “oversight.”

Then there is the case of Dr. Alexander Paterson, a renowned Alberta researcher, who has the dubious distinction
of being cited for violations in three FDA inspection reports — in 1988, 2002 and 2004 — more than any other Canadian doctor, according to a Star analysis of available FDA data.
During the first inspection, the FDA inspector uncovered a series of problems with the trial, including one the FDA said was “extremely” concerning: Patient information submitted by the pharmaceutical company to the FDA (to get the drug tamoxifen approved to treat cancer) did not match medical records found in Paterson’s possession.

In several cases, the copies given to the regulator suggested the treatment worked better than the doctor’s own progress notes indicated.

The inspection also found “possibly ineligible patients being enrolled in the study . . . and patients being incorrectly dosed.”

In one case, the inspector’s report says, the record submitted by the drug company said the patient’s response to the treatment involved “no change.” This was in direct conflict with the doctor’s record, which “lists the patient’s response as ‘worse.’ ”

Like the two previously mentioned doctors, Paterson had an explanation, blaming the findings on overzealous and out-of-their-depth FDA inspectors.

Errors, I am sure, happen all the time. After all, we are all human. But for me, the most important aspect of this story again is the fact that were it not for the openness and accessibility of FDA data, Canadians would be completely in the dark about these mistakes and coverups, all of which seem invariably to work to the benefit of the drug companies for which the researchers are doing their work. Health Canada seems completely unconcerned.

There is much more in the Star investigation, including a sole study by Hamilton doctors whose tainted data and failure to report serious side effects led to the approval of a drug thinner implicated in stroke, heart attacks and major hemorrhages. I hope you will read the entire report on the Star's website.

I will close with just one more excerpt from the Star investigation that speaks volumes about its indiifference to the health of Canadians:
Over the past 12 years, Health Canada found at least 33 clinical trials had critical problems and were “non-compliant.” In July, the Star asked for details of these and other inspections, and last week Health Canada refused, saying that providing records “would require an exhaustive manual paper file review.”

The regulator also said the release of these clinical trial inspection reports could only come after consultation with third parties, typically the doctors and drug companies.
In a country that prides itself on its medical system, this cannot be deemed acceptable by anyone.

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Harper Acquiescence To The Corporate Agenda

As much as it is said that the Harper regime is planning to buy votes for the 2015 election by giving income-splitting to families, the reality is that Canadians are increasingly being called upon to aid and abet its agenda of 'starving the beast' while at the same time subsidizing corporate profits.

As reported in The Globe and Mail, our Finance Department has quietly shelved plans to crack down on so-called “treaty shopping” by multinationals. The surprise move suspends a long campaign by Ottawa to stop what it says is rampant “abuse” of international tax treaties by companies seeking to duck Canadian taxes.

Treaty-shopping was most recently in the news when Burger King engineered a merger with Tim Hortons so it could pay a much lower corporate tax rate that Canada offers. Despite the fact that the late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wanted to curb the practice, 'Uncle' Joe Oliver is embracing it:

Facing intense lobbying from resources companies and their tax advisers, Mr. Oliver apparently bought the argument that curbing treaty shopping would put a chill on foreign investment in places such as the Alberta oil sands, leaving Canada at a competitive disadvantage.

In other words, the argument goes, the rapacious appetite for massive corporate profits, along with the refusal to accept any responsibility to the country that makes those profits possible, is the business imperative that must be yielded to:

In a prebudget submission to the House of Commons Finance committee, Deloitte & Touche LLP had this to say:

“To attract foreign capital, Canadian projects generally must support higher potential yields than comparative investments located in the home country of a capital source,” Deloitte tax policy leader Albert Baker said in the submission. “This is a particular issue for the energy and resource sector.”

The flip side is that not squeezing corporations means individual Canadians must bear a disproportionate share of the country’s tax load. Unlike companies, ... hard-working Canadians can’t use complex offshore tax structures.

The message therefore seems to be that all other Canadian taxpayers – you and I – should subsidize the inflated profits of offshore oil sands investors.

So much for the rhetoric and propaganda the Harper regime fosters about its concern for 'working families.'

Is That The Pitter Patter Of Little Feet I Hear?

Sorry. False alarm. Turns out it was the sound of Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath doing a fancy dance as she practices her routine for the November leadership review she is facing.

In Toronto this past Saturday, more than 200 members of the party's provincial council were witness to the reborn Horwath expressing her allegiance to essential party principles, principles that were decidedly absent in the provincial election she forced last June that saw her party lose the balance of power it had held.

Averred the rechristened leader:

“We believe in fighting each and every day for a more equal society,” ... We believe in a strong and active role for government, because there are many things that are more important than making a buck in the marketplace.”

As reporter Adrian Morrow observed,

The soaring rhetoric was a major change from last June’s election, when the NDP campaigned on a platform of small-ball populism, pointedly abandoning ambitious policies such as a provincial pension plan.

Despite those facts, Ms. Horwath tried to remind her audience of the party's proud history without mentioning how she herself had sullied it:

In a speech that bordered on liturgy, she rhymed off example after example of progressive values – from universal health care to fighting poverty to better pensions to public transit – that she would embrace over the next four years.

She went on to channel her inner Jack Layton:

“Love is better than anger, as a good friend reminded us a few years ago. We are the party of hope. We are the party of optimism".

While all of that may be true, some cannot forget that the party of optimism currently seems to be headed by a leader of opportunism.

Perhaps also significant is this:

MPP Cheri Di Novo, who has criticised the last campaign for moving away from the NDP’s traditional focus on social justice, wouldn’t say whether she thought Ms. Horwath deserved to remain.

“I’m going to leave that to the party, the party makes that call,” she said.

The party will get that chance in November.

Since the future of her leadership rests on making a good impression, perhaps she can take some instruction from Christopher Walken on how to make a grand entrance at the review:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On Harper's True Loyalties

In response to yesterday's post about Stephen Harper's boycott of a major climate change summit hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York on September 23, Anon wrote the following, and offered this video which, I think you will agree, is a most appropriate choice:

Harper, early on, seemed to care about human rights and UN initiatives:

"'I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that, but I don't think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values,' Harper said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao won't meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Hanoi, which is being seen by some as a snub over Canada's criticism of China's human rights record. 'They don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.'"

After that crazy talk, I think Harper's sponsors sat him down in a boardroom in Calgary and explained the facts of life to him. The fact that he always was, and always would be, an Imperial Oil mail room clerk. I imagine that meeting would have gone something like this:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No Surprise Here

Rather typical, wouldn't you say?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is hosting a major climate summit in New York on September 23, “to mobilize political will” towards reducing global emissions.

U.S. President Barack Obama will be attending, as will U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron.

In fact, 125 heads of state will be there.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, will not.

And please remember:

This message not brought to you by the Committee to Re-elect Stephen Harper.

Israelis Of Conscience

I reproduce the following story without comment, except to state the obvious. It is a testament to the courage and integrity of those described therein, who will likely face all manner of vitriol at home for their principled decision:

Forty-three reservists from Israel's elite army intelligence unit have announced their refusal to serve, accusing the military of "abuses" against Palestinians, in a letter published on Friday.

The letter, circulated to Hebrew-language media and addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referred to the army's intelligence work in the occupied Palestinian territories, including targeted assassinations and intrusive surveillance of civilians.

The soldiers and officers from the elite unit, known as 8200, which works closely with Israel's security services, declared they no longer wanted to "continue to serve in this system, which harms the rights of millions of people" and refuse "to be tools to deepen the military regime in the occupied territories," according to daily Yediot Aharonot.

Soldiers in 8200, the army's largest unit, are responsible for collecting and intercepting telephone calls, texts, e-mails and faxes among various populations, the daily reported.

"We call all soldiers serving in the unit or who are going to serve, and all Israeli citizens to make their voices heard against these abuses and work to put a stop to it," the paper quoted the letter as saying.

In their letter, the reservists said that information their unit gathered was used against innocent Palestinians and created division within Palestinian society, including aiding in the recruitment of collaborators.

"Contrary to Israeli citizens or citizens of other countries," continued the letter, "there's no oversight on methods of intelligence or tracking and the use of intelligence information against the Palestinians, regardless if they are connected to violence or not."

Friday, September 12, 2014

More On Health Canada's Depraved Indifference

I entitled yesterday's post "All Canadians Should Be Outraged." Now I somehow doubt that all Canadians will get the chance, outside of those who read The Star. To my knowledge, no other news organization nor political party has weighed in on the issue of the secrecy practiced by Health Canada, secrecy that could cost people their lives. Given the potential of the issue to affect all of us, I find that deeply disappointing.

Nonetheless, today's Star editorial continues with the paper's quest for accountability.

Entitled End secrecy around prescription drugs: Health Canada needs to clean up its shameful cult of institutional secrecy and make findings public as the American Food and Drug agency does, the piece sums up the dangers lurking in our midst in just a few short sentences:

It’s a prescription for disaster.

Some Canadian pharmaceutical companies have sold drugs they knew were defective — putting patients at possible risk.

Others have hidden, altered and in some cases destroyed test data that showed their products were tainted or potentially unsafe, or not reported side-effects suffered by consumers taking their drugs.

That’s scary enough.

But more worrisome is this: Star reporters David Bruser and Jesse McLean could not get this information from Health Canada. Instead, they had to rely on detailed notes from the American Food and Drug Administration’s inspections of Canadian companies.

That’s because in addition to conducting inspections of Canadian prescription drug manufacturing facilities around the world, the FDA also makes its findings available on its website for public scrutiny.

And it once more addresses what I found one of the most disturbing aspects uncovered in its investigation:

Health Canada also said it would take months to decide whether it would release information about 30 drug inspections the FDA had conducted on Canadian company manufacturing sites that had resulted in objectionable findings.

In some cases, it said, it would have to consult with the inspected Canadian drug companies before publicly disclosing the information.


Canadian taxpayers, who pay for Health Canada inspections, don’t have the right to know the results — without the approval of the self-interested pharmaceutical companies? Or even be reassured that the drugs they are taking are safely manufactured, as American consumers can easily confirm?

That attitude is shameful and dangerous.

I blame the Harper regime for setting the tone at Health Canada. The culture of secrecy embraced and promoted by this government, having permeated the bureaucracy, coupled with the elevation of business interests over those of citizens, means all Canadians are being needlessly put at risk.

Citizens are only as powerful as the information they have access to. If you didn't read yesterday's Star exposé, I urge you to do so, and send a link to as many people as you know.

None of us can afford to simply dismiss this as just another sad testament to the decline in care and service we have all been witness and victim to under the current regime.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

All Canadians Should Be Outraged

Yesterday I wrote a post on the perspective that age bestows, my point being that the longer one lives, the greater the potential ability to critically evaluate everything that happens. Despite having seen many things during my life, however, I have to confess that didn't prevent me from feeling deep outrage, disgust, and perhaps even mild shock at what I read on the front page of this morning's Toronto Star. It is a story that, in the old days, would have led to howls of outrage from the people, demands for real accountability, and ministerial resignation.

Yet I fear none of that will happen.

The story, resulting from a Star investigation (one of the many reasons I subscribe to the paper), reveals that Health Canada has been purposely hiding from the public the fact that many of the drugs Canadians take are unfit for consumption. These drugs, manufactured both in Canada and abroad, have been rejected for sale by the U.S. FDA because of doctored data, contaminants found at the manufacturing sites and in the drugs, and side effects.

And the worst appears to be that Health Canada has essentially been colluding with the Canadian pharmaceutical companies who have been selling these medicines with knowledge that their products were defective.

Here are but a few of the shocking facts, based on the inspection reports, not of Health Canada, but of the U.S.FDA, which also inspects Canadian plants that sell to Americans:

- Generic drug maker Taro Pharmaceuticals of Brampton kept drugs on the market despite company tests showing batches of the medications deteriorated before the expiry date listed on the label.

- In June, at a facility in Bangalore, India, that makes drugs destined for North America, Apotex employees did not report undesirable test results and doctored bacterial growth test records.

- Cangene Corp., a Winnipeg drug manufacturer, failed to tell authorities of blood clots, fever and other side-effects associated with their products.

Equally disturbing is that the Star investigation was made easier by two facts: the transparency of information thanks to an extensive FDA database accessible to the public, and freedom of information requests that are handled with dispatch instead of the delays and obfuscations common under the Harper regime.

Conditions at some Canadian plants are shockingly deficient. The U.S. regulator has posted online dozens of warning letters to Canadian companies, many of which detail egregious conditions in drug manufacturing facilities.:

A 2010 letter to Apotex revealed details of earlier inspections of its Toronto facilities where U.S. inspectors found the company distributed antihistamine and diabetes tablets made with contaminated ingredients. Apotex recalled more than 600 batches of drugs made at its GTA facilities from Canadian and U.S. markets.

In contrast, Health Canada does not tell the public the number of times it has inspected individual facilities at Apotex or other major drug companies.

Other FDA inspection reports are equally chilling:

- At the Quebec plant of Macco Organiques, after charred, black particles spoiled a batch of a pharmaceutical ingredient, the firm shipped it to the customer anyway. Inspectors saw dead insects and live ones buzzing around production material and areas of the factory covered in “dust and debris.”

- Staff at Taro Pharmaceuticals in Brampton did not respond to six Star requests to talk about the FDA inspections that found the firm kept drugs on the market despite company tests showing batches of the medications failed a quality test or deteriorated before the expiry date listed on the label.

Another contrast:

Under U.S. freedom of information legislation, the Star quickly obtained additional records for more than 30 of these FDA inspections north of the border. Health Canada said it will take months to decide whether it will release similar information.

In several cases, the Canadian regulator said it will first need to consult with the inspected Canadian drug companies before publicly disclosing the information
, a practice that strongly suggests commercial considerations take priority over citizens' health and well-being.

It also appears that Health Canada inspects only about 10 foreign sites annually that make products destined for Canadian pharmacies. The FDA, on the other hand, inspected nearly 150 international facilities last year alone.

There is much more to be read in this disturbing report, including doctored data within the offending labs. I hope you will take the time to read it in its entirety.

Rona Ambrose, our current Health Minister, should, of course, resign. Of course, that won't happen, because under the current regime, any admission of error is seen as a weakness. It is therefore up to the Canadian public to send this government, which has progressively raised secrecy to an entirely new level, a strong message in 2015 by resoundingly defeating it at the polls.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Hail Mary Pass From Andrea?

Some might interpret it thus, in that Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, desperate to retain her job under increasing demands for her resignation, thinks she has found something to distinguish herself from the Liberals.

She is launching a campaign against government sell-offs of public assets in as she works to shore up her leadership amid a challenge from the left wing of the party.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess:

The NDP socialist caucus held a meeting last Saturday and called on Horwath, who faces a mandatory leadership review in mid-November, to resign after waging “the worst NDP campaign since Bob Rae attempted to defend his infamous social contract in 1995.”

“There was no mandate to veer to the right of the Liberal Party in a vain attempt to appeal to Conservative supporters and the business class,” said a news release from the caucus, pointing to Horwath’s pledges like removing the HST from electricity bills and tax credits for job creation.

As a diversionary tactic, her opposition to the proposed government sales to raise money might make some sense, but the devil is always in the details. Consider these two statements:

Horwath said her new push against privatization, following last week’s government announcement on the sale of the Queens Quay LCBO lands, heralds the “fundamental values” of the NDP and downplayed the dissent.

Yet in the next breath:

Horwath said even the prospect of selling a portion of any government assets to private investors is “a pretty slippery slope” but did not rule out supporting the sale of the LCBO lands on the waterfront to developers.

“We’re prepared to look at the details.”

For me, the above contradiction epitomizes what is wrong with Horwath's leadership. Just as in the last election, where party principle was sacrificed at the altar of expediency, her ambiguous stand on the sale of assets reflects once more a rudderless party that would be better off under fresh and principled vision and leadership.

And it's never a good sign when they start asking and answering their own questions:

“Did we do everything right? Absolutely not,” Horwath told a news conference Wednesday, noting the New Democrats held steady at 21 seats. “Did we do everything wrong? Absolutely not.”

It would seem that concerned progressives will soon be posing other more penetrating questions that Horwath, when called upon, will not be able to answer as glibly and easily.

The Perspective That Age Bestows

Unlike some, I do not bemoan the passage of time. True, I am of that generation known as 'the baby boomers,' but while I am at times mildly bemused about certain things ('How can it be 50 years since the Beatles first played in Toronto?'), I was never beguiled by the notion that we would be young forever. Yes, I try to keep fit and hope to be active throughout the rest of my years, but ceding my place to others in both the workplace and the larger world bothers me not in the least. As Margaret Wente recently noted in a surprisingly (for her) good column, the real surprise is that there is no adventure remotely like aging.

Probably one of the biggest benefits (and potentially one of the biggest curses, depending upon one's frustration threshold) of growing older is the perspective that age bestows. The experiences of a lifetime offer a tremendous filter by which to assess the things that we see and hear, the people we meet, the 'truths' that are offered to us, etc. It was with this filter that I read Tim Harper's column the other day in the Toronto Star.

Examining the Harper regime's decision to send troops to Iraq as 'advisers' to help in the fight against ISIS, Tim Harper seems to lament the complacence about terrorism felt at home:

When Abacus Data asked Canadians voters to rank the importance of 13 different issues in a poll done last month, security and terrorism ranked 13th, cited by a mere six of 100 respondents as one of their top three concerns.

He seems to suggest we should be alarmed for reasons of domestic security:

We know there have been at least 130 Canadians who have travelled to join radical fighting forces, including the Islamic State. At least 130. That number was released early in the year and other estimates put the number much higher.

We know that at least 80 of them have returned to this country, with the training and the motivation to cause much harm here.

And he reminds us of this:

Even as daily dispatches of Islamic State barbarism, mass executions, beheadings of two Americans with a Briton now much in danger, and genocide come into their homes, Canadians apparently believe it is something which merits a baleful shake of the head.

While not an outright endorsement of the government's decision to dispatch troops to Iraq, it seems to me that the columnist is providing the context within which that decision makes sense.

It is an analysis with which I profoundly disagree.

And that's where the perspective offered by both age and history becomes most relevant. Having lived through times when the rhetoric of threat has been used to frighten people into compliant thinking, surely some critical reflection is warranted here. I remember oh so well how, during the years the U.S. was fighting a losing war in Vietnam that cost so many lives and exacted so many grievous injuries, the justification was 'The Domino Theory', the idea that if South Vietnam fell to the communists, a cascading effect would ensue throughout southeast Asia, and would end who knew where.

But the fact of the matter is that the Vietcong were employing a form of warfare that was not amenable to traditional methods of containment, thereby rendering the war futile, and the lives lost and injuries sustained meaningless.

The same is true about Afghanistan. Ignoring the lessons of history provided by Alexander the Great, the British and the Russians, the Americans and their allies plunged headlong into battle, again with the same results. As to the egregious failure of Iraq, the same lessons apply.

Yet here we are, back at the beginning, once more embracing the hubristic belief that hydra-headed terrorism can be contained. While it may be humbling and frightening to admit, there are some things over which we have no control.

Thus endeth a hard lesson.