Friday, July 31, 2015

If Canadians Have Any Self-Respect

.... this will outrage them.

It turns out Stephen Harper is not going to interact with anyone during the election campaign that wasn’t cleared in advance by his staffers. Even “public” rallies with hundreds or thousands of people will be made up entirely people who are pre-screened.

Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke said Friday that only invited guests will be allowed at each and every event over the expected 11-week campaign.

“You need to have been invited and if you don’t have a ticket you’re not getting in,” Teneycke said.

Like the cowards he and his master are, Teneycke broke the news late Friday afternoon before a summer long weekend, so statistically you’re not reading this.

Share. Inform. Engage.

It sounds like it will be a long campaign. Each of us has a role to play.

Putting A Stake Through The Heart Of Harper's Lies

As a youngster, there were few things I enjoyed more than vampire films starring Christopher Lee, in my view the best cinematic vampire there ever was. Usually, at the end, either a stake through the heart or exposure to the rays of the sun ended his evil hold on people. It was a satisfying form of exorcism.

In this impending (or is it never ending?) election campaign, the only thing that will release Canadians from the foul grip of the Harper regime's lies, deceptions, attacks and secrecy is the metaphorical light that only facts and truth can provide.

And there are so many untruths and that we need to be armed against, including the one about how a low-tax regime spurs the economy and proves Harper's economic 'mastery'. Star reader Russell Pangborn of Keswick, Ontario begs to differ:
Re: Budget watchdog predicts $1B deficit, July 23

The Conservatives told us their plan to reduce taxes was good for the country. Reminds me of the disastrous low-fat diet craze. While we were obsessing about lowering the quantity of fat in a serving, we overlooked the corresponding sugar increase that was introduced to make the food palatable.

Instead of improving our health, the low-fat mania actually ended up increasing our weight and our chance of getting health-unfriendly diseases like diabetes and heart problems. The new message, just starting to get through to the public, is that some fat is actually good for us.

There have been negative repercussions related to our acceptance of the promise of prosperity with the reduction of taxes. The truth is that we are in a recession. Health care, affordable higher education, proper infrastructure all sound like reasonable endeavors funded by taxes.

Attacking the amount of fat we eat and the amount of taxes we pay has not worked. I don’t want a huge tax increase, but I do want to stop hearing that “all taxes are bad” ad campaign that is thrown out to discredit some political parties.

My overall health improved when I stopped buying only low-fat products. Let’s hope that our country’s general health also will improve when we stop following the “lower taxes are always better” refrain.
Excerpts from a missive written by David C. Searle of Toronto offer some pungent reminders of Harper's failures on the economic front:
Stephen Harper’s attack on Justin Trudeau’s “budgets balance themselves” may soon ignite an implosion of fortunes for the “omnipotent Conservative Grand Poobah,” who impetuously ditched the wise and prudent Red Tory Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s sound $3 billion contingency fund, steering Canada back into deficit with “a barrage of tax cuts,” well aware that oil commodity storm clouds were gathering.

The highly reputable Flaherty warned against the billions that income splitting for 15 per cent of households loyal to the Harper base would cost and actually had a conscience to resolutely stand against it.

The unveiled Harper legacy is one forsaking of our military personnel with rusted, trouble-plagued submarines, obsolete air and ground assets, a born-again-like sense of purpose at the last minute for veteran’s affairs that many deem as nothing but a charade, our aged suffering from deteriorating health care infrustructure, sewage and water repair backlogs in Toronto and Montreal are direly highlighting the need for federal help, meanwhile investments are disproportionately going to Conservative ridings in less trouble-prone areas.

We can thank Finance Critics Liberal Scott Brison and NDP Nathan Cullen for requesting a Parliamentary Budget Office Update exposes Harper’s fallacy of a balanced budget in 2015 and we should be awakened by this forecast from the PBO that warns, “Doubling Tax-Free Savings Accounts and indexing them to inflation could harm Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplements for the poorest of the poor the majority of which are women, yes our mothers.”

We shouldn’t buy into Harper’s fear-mongering-hysterics about terrorism, as he is merely deflecting our attention from the reality of a crumbling currency and economy.
Continuing with economic matters, J. Richard Wright of Niagara-on-the-Lake assesses Mr. Harper as a "smug corporate pawn':
Stephen Harper has never met a free trade deal he didn’t like and seems ready to sign anything placed in front of him as he turns Canada from a benevolent and caring country into a corporate fiefdom. But, in doing so, he is playing a dangerous game.

Many of the agreements have little protections for Canadian rights but he doesn’t seem to care. For the almighty dollar, he is happy to give away out country and our resources to business interests despite the damage Canada may suffer. Of course, after the damage is done, the foreign investors will just move on, leaving us with the mess.

For instance, since many of these free trade agreements have investor protection clauses in them, he has exposed every Canadian citizen, through their tax contributions, to legal action if a foreign investor doesn’t realize a return on its investment because we won’t allow them to destroy or pollute our land.

Even now there is a $250 million lawsuit against the Canadian government by Lone Pine Resources Inc. (registered in Delaware), because the province of Quebec has banned fracking for natural gas in its province. Lone Pine wants to frack under the St. Lawrence River where it says there are massive deposits of natural gas.

Farmers and others near fracking operations in Pennsylvania regularly show that their drinking water can be lit on fire. So, imagine the St. Lawrence River on fire.

Experts say that even if the suit doesn’t succeed, it creates a libel chill for governments, discouraging them from passing environmental laws for health and safety for fear it will upset foreign investors. In addition, Harper’s latest free trade agreement with the European Union is expected to generate even more lawsuits against our government.

Also, Harper is saying he will sue the provinces if they pass laws, environmental or otherwise, that interfere with a foreign investor’s profits and leads to an action against the federal government. Is there no end to this smug, corporate pawn’s lunacy?
Those who fought Dracula's evil reign were armed with garlic, crucifixes and stakes. Going into the October election, the best things we can arm ourselves with are facts, facts and more facts.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Reminder Of What We Were And What We Can Be Again

H/t The ChronicleHerald

Honouring A Dead Woman's Wishes

By the newspaper's account, Catherine Finn was a lively, passionate and engaged woman. I think I would have liked her, as would many others.

Catherine died on July 9 of this year; it is her obituary, written by her sons but, they say, very much representative of her values, beliefs and opinions, that is getting such wide attention:
Catherine was born with a sharp wit and steely backbone that can only come from growing up as a woman in the Irish Catholic tradition of the middle 20th Century. She was a voracious reader, a lover of life, and a fearless defender of the world of ideas. She loved family, fine wine and good food, in that order, preferably shared over a candle-lit table with good music and excellent company.

In lieu of donations, Catherine would want you to do everything you can to drive Stephen Harper from office, right out of the country, and into the deep blue sea if possible. Also, she would like you to fix the CBC.
According to her family, Catherine was a Canadian fully engaged in life, and had a particular interest in politics:
“I never had a phone call where she didn’t rail about Stephen Harper,” said Patrick [her son]. “That boldness of the statement was her. We were trying to channel her.”

Although she wasn’t a member of any political party, Finn was “somewhat vehemently opposed to Stephen Harper,” according to Jonathan. “It was that way from his rise to political stardom until the day she died.”
Too bad she couldn't have stuck around til after the October election when, one hopes, many people can finally check the defeat of Harper and his regime off their bucket lists.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Signs Are Everywhere - Part 2

You can access part one here.

Logical fallacies
The reason why there's a 97% consensus is because of the many lines of evidence that humans are causing global warming. Human fingerprints are being observed in heat escaping out to space, in the structure of the atmosphere and even in the changing seasons. Another denialist technique used to counter the weight of evidence is the logical fallacy.

The most common fallacious argument is that current climate change must be natural because climate has changed naturally in the past. This myth commits the logical fallacy of jumping to conclusions. It's like finding a dead body with a knife sticking out of its back, and arguing that the person must have died of natural causes because humans have died of natural causes in the past. The premise does not lead to the conclusion.

The Signs Are Everywhere

It is only the ideologically blind who refuse to see the signs. Whether we live on the West Coast, Central Canada, or the East Coast, we are being affected by climate change, More protracted droughts. More wildfires. More oppressive heatwaves. Or unseasonably cool conditions.

Of protracted winters I will not even speak.

So what is to be done about the obdurate climate-change denier? Other than ignoring them, we can confront them with the facts they so willfully dismiss. We do that by first recognizing their sleazy and unscientific tactics. Here is how we do it:

One of the deniers' favorite strategies is to invoke fake experts.
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. This has been found independently in a number of studies, including surveys of Earth scientists, analysis of public statements about climate change and analysis of peer-reviewed scientific papers. How might one cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus? One technique is the use of fake experts.

We see this in online petitions such as the Global Warming Petition Project, which features more than 31,000 scientists claiming humans aren't disrupting our climate. How can there be 97% consensus when 31,000 scientists disagree? It turns out 99.9% of the petition's signatories aren't climate scientists. They include computer scientists, mechanical engineers and medical scientists but few climate scientists. The Global Warming Petition Project is fake experts in bulk.

More to come.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It May Be Dry Out West, But It's Raining Pork In Alberta

Desperate times require desperate measures, and there is definitely a whiff of desperation coming from the Conservative camp these days. With the majority of polls showing their fortunes in decline, it would seem that Pierre Poilievre's giddy and fatuous Christmas in July bribe stunt was but the opening salvo in preventing voters from falling into apostasy.

Targeting those whose vote can be easily bought may pick up some extra support going into the October election, but the Harper regime still knows that its base is its real strength, and one not to be taken lightly lest some choose not to vote, a real possibility given that their man has proven to have betrayed almost all the principles upon which he had campaigned when first vying for power: Senate reform, transparency, accountability, etc. etc.

Take the regime's efforts during its latest western foray.
In Calgary, Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced that the federal government would be funding Calgary’s light rail transit expansion to the tune of $1.53 billion. Yes … that’s billion.

Kenney, MP for Calgary Southeast, made sure to point out that the money was “the single largest federal infrastructure investment” in the history of Calgary.
Disavowing any connection with the impending election, Kenney described the timing as 'coincidental.'
But Kent Hehr the Liberal candidate in Calgary Centre who according to some polls is running well ahead of Conservative MP Joan Crockatt, said the notion that the timing is a coincidence is “absurd” given how long Calgary has been asking for federal support for public transit.
But wait! There's more! With citizen tax revenue at their disposal, money is no object:
The Conservatives were also showering money on local community groups. According to The Calgary Herald, qualifying associations had only a month to apply for a funding program that was part of a $46-million Western Diversification initiative.

And even though the money — such as the $45,000 given to the Lake Bonavista Community Association in Calgary for upgrading its suburban facility — won’t arrive until next year, Conservative MPs are busy making the announcements this summer.
Lest those who live west of Alberta feel they were not worthy of the Tory touch, there was this moral support to the beleaguered and brave fighters of forest fires:

Infonews reported the following with this headline: Man in blue suit thanks firefighters
For a second straight day, firefighting efforts at the Westside Road fire were the backdrop for political photo ops.

Today, several federal politicians stood around waiting, occasionally wiping dirt from their clothing while sweaty, ash-covered, exhausted-looking firefighters surrounded them for the tightly controlled photo opportunity. Helicopters carrying empty buckets buzzed overhead and a steady stream of wildfire fighting aircraft circled prior to the event.

Provinces fund their own firefighting. It’s not a federal responsibility.

After more than an hour wait, the press conference was over after less than five minutes. The Prime Minister would not take questions about why he was there, how much time the photo opportunity took from firefighters or what resources were used in the photo effort.

A federal election is less than three months away.
And it was with withering derision that the satirical site THE LAPINE treated the Harper entourage:

The selected firefighters were so tired and annoyed that they just silently watched Harper as he waved his arms around like a conductor and tried to get them to sing along with him in a rousing chorus of O Canada.

None of the group sang or even hummed along.

And none of them accepted the “Canada’s Better With Harper” t-shirts that the PM’s bodyguards were handing out.
Said one fatigued smoke jumper with an honesty that rarely finds its way into print:
“Shit man, we’d all been out there for 12 hours or so and suddenly we’re hauled out, lined up in a parking lot, left standing for an hour, and then expected to sing O Canada so Harper can get a picture?” front-line firefighter Ted McKinley told local radio station AM 1150.

“That’s complete bullshit. Harper just wanted a picture as quickly as he could get one…he still smelled like garlic from whatever he had for lunch,” said the 37-year-old father of two.
Yet the man in the blue suit proved indefatigable in his lyrical leanings:
Immediately following receiving the silent treatment from the firefighters, Harper over-compensated for the snub by waving wildly for the cameras and singing ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ as he boarded a helicopter with Premier Clark to return to Kelowna for a scheduled beach-side fundraiser event.
Contemptuous mockery. That is all Harper and his gang deserve until they meet their day of reckoning in October.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Sunday Scrum

Harper's moratorium on Senate appointments (the program's start). The likelihood of a federal deficit (10 minute mark). The increased universal child-care benefit (13 minute mark). A possible NDP-Liberal coalition (15 minute mark). Maclean's Magazine's Martin Patriquin and The Chronicle Herald's Dan Leger discuss these issues on yesterday's Sunday Scrum. You can access each topic at the respective time marks indicated above in parentheses.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

More On Pharmacare

The other day I wrote about an article in the Globe that called into question support for the notion of a national pharmacare program that would see drugs paid for by the government as a fitting and necessary complement to our universal healthcare. I examined the methodology and bias involved in the author's claims that people are not really keen on such a program.

In my view, what 'the people' want is rarely a consideration in public policy-making, unless there are crass political gains to be made. It is one of the reasons I like to read letters to the editor, which offer a more direct insight into people's views on issues. I am therefore reproducing three letters from today's Star on the topic of national drug coverage, two of which support the notions for economic, social and reasons:

Pharmacare to fill the gap, Editorial July 19
The demand for a national plan covering prescription drug costs in Canada has now turned into a flood – with our citizens’ backing for the pharmacare concept rising to over 90 per cent.

Studies published in leading journals indicate that medications save lives by keeping people healthy and that Canada would be saving around $9 billion annually by instituting a national pharmacare plan covering prescription drugs costs – and resorting to logical initiatives such as bulk-buying of drugs.

Despite the weight of evidence, and the push provided by provinces such as Ontario, bold federal leadership in this area has been lacking thus far. We are the only country globally that does not cover the cost of prescription medicine despite Canada’s well established and very successful universal health care system.

It is hoped that the upcoming federal elections will spur heated debates about the need for pharmacare to cover the cost of prescription medicine for Canadians, leading to healthy outcomes for patients and taxpayers alike.

It is time for our federal government to get started – as the key to success in this key health-care area is staring in Canada’s face. Stephen Harper would do well to heed Mark Twain’s sage advice: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Rudy Fernandes, Mississauga

Surely this study could have picked a better example than Lipitor at “more than $811 a year.” Generic forms of Lipitor and other statin drugs have been available for several years at about $125 for a year’s supply.

If this misrepresentation is the best example that the Pharmacare2020 study can find, what are we to make of the rest of its conclusions? If in fact there are further bulk discounts available, it would be best accomplished through provincial cooperation in the buying process, not by introducing another wasteful level of bureaucracy at the federal level.

This is just another veiled attempt to shake more dollars out of the federal government for something that is the responsibility of the provinces – the delivery of health care services.

Don Mustill, Markham

Thanks for drawing attention to yet another well researched study, Pharmacare 2020, that demonstrates that a national pharmacare plan covering drug costs for all Canadians is not only sorely needed but is economically feasible. All that remains is political will.

Perhaps if we all asked candidates who come knocking on our doors in the coming federal election what their party will do for the millions of Canadians who do not have their prescriptions dispensed for financial reasons, the message might get through.

Bill Wensley, Cobourg

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Harper Under Seige

Once more, editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay scores a solid bullseye.

As does Corrigan over at The Star:

And let's not forget Star readers:
Since the post-2008 Great Recession, Stephen Harper’s primary focus on energy (oil/gas) economic action strategies have painted our economic flexibilities into a corner. Now we find our transnational economic drivers near exhausted.

Interest rates are now .05 per cent. We are on the precipice of falling financially/economically into quicksand recessionary territory.

In hindsight, consider what if we had developed multi-faceted strategies for dynamic, clean-energy manufacturing 21st century technologies in critical mass in construction, science, industry and commerce? Would we be so constrained now with lowest possible oil/gas commodity prices? Would our “loonie” be so vulnerable? Would our frivolousness with tax dollars tied to ineffective foreign policies be so committed to 20th century industrial, free market strategic imbecilities?

Harper’s single-minded chess tactics with much of what he mismanages is fast becoming an economically unmanoeuvreable position now on a precarious global stage. And now with Iran’s economic sanctions lifting as result of the deal with the Western powers, there’s no promise of recovery ever being tied to those “triple-digit” commodity prices that Canada’s oil producers followed our PM so recklessly on.

Brian McLaughlin, Saint John, NB

I’ll have to agree with Mr. Goodale’s take on Harper’s economic record. What’s Mr. Harper’s experience in economics, again? None in the private sector that I could find. I think Canadians know who is really in over their head.

Geoffrey Allen, Markham
And one more reminder from MacKay of Mr. Harper's fiscal ineptitude:

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Tale To Frighten Children (And Uninformed Canadians)

Well, the Globe and Mail is up to its usual agenda of promoting the neocon vision. Not content to let Canadians ruminate on ideas unimpeded by thinly-disguised corporate ideology and scaremongering, it is attempting to sow doubt about a plan that would potentially benefit all Canadians, national pharmacare, whose time has surely come.

For a small primer on the concept, you could check out a post I wrote about two years ago, or conduct a Google search, which will yield some compelling links, including this one:
Canada is the only industrialized country with universal health insurance that does not offer universal prescription drug coverage, and statistics show one in 10 Canadians cannot afford to pay for their medications.
From an economic viewpoint, there is a compelling case to be made for pharmacare. Consider this report, entitled Pharmacare 2020 — The Future of Drug Coverage in Canada, an analysis of which conducted by The Star yielded these conclusions:
Not only would a national pharmacare program ensure that all Canadians have access to drugs they need, it would save billions of dollars. Authored by six health policy experts, the study was published by the Pharmaceutical Policy Research Collaboration at the University of British Columbia.
Pharmacare is the answer. Potential savings from bulk-buying through a single system are substantial. The study’s authors cited the example of Lipitor. A year’s supply of this brand name cholesterol-lowering drug costs at least $811 in Canada, according to the report. In New Zealand, where a public authority negotiates prices for the entire country, it’s $15. “In terms of drug prices, Canada’s multi-payer system is among the most expensive in the world,” they conclude.
Because the arguments in favour of a universal drug plan are compelling, and because it is enjoying a certain momentum, the reactionary right is now starting a smear campaign to undermine enthusiasm, one based on manipulative polling, lies, and half-truths.

Entitled The risks that come with a national pharmacare program, the author of this Globe article, Yanick Labrie (more about him shortly), refers to a recent Angus Reid poll which
found that 91 per cent of Canadians support “the concept of a national ‘pharmacare’ in Canada, that would provide universal access to prescription drugs ...” But they may not be ready to pick up the tab. The survey also found that 70 per cent are against increasing the GST to 6 per cent – from the current 5 per cent – to pay for the program. If you’re not willing to pay for something you want, that may be a sign you don’t really want it that badly.
What Labrie omits here is also the finding that the majority would prefer that it be paid through an increase in corporate taxes, a not unreasonable preference, in my view.

Next, the writer warns of what we might be giving up if we embrace pharmacare:
Canadians should be wary of replacing our mixed system with something like what exists in the U.K. or New Zealand. Socializing a larger part of drug spending through a single-payer pharmacare plan would give more power to government and its bureaucrats to make decisions on behalf of the insured. Policies that restrict access to new medicines would be applied across the board and would penalize all Canadians in the same way.
The implication that this would be tantamount to allowing a 'death-panel' bureaucrat to determine your fate is clearly there. What Labrie doesn't mention is that the decisions on adding new drugs to provincial drug formularies are already made for costly drugs, most of which are not covered by private plans anyway. The case of the cystic fibrosis drug Kalydeco is instructional in this regard. The final decision in that case saw Ontario deciding to fund it.

The above also demonstrates a strategy commonly used by the right: absolutism. There is nothing in any concept of pharmacare that I have ever read that would preclude any of us from still carrying private insurance. Yet read the following assertion by Labrie:
According to a recent online survey conducted by Abacus Data for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, 80 per cent of respondents support the idea of a national prescription-drug program. But only 31 per cent favour replacing our current mixed public-private systems, managed by the provinces, with a national, government-run pharmacare monopoly.
Monopoly? Who said anything about a monopoly? As well, take a look at the Abacus online survey he refers to.

A patently manipulative push poll commissioned by pharmacists, consider the biases built into the following questions:
While many Canadians want enhanced access to medications, many Canadians are also concerned about the cost of a national pharmacare program, losing their private drug plans, and the ability of governments to administrate drug plans effectively.

Which approach to pharmacare comes closest to your view?
The result?
Overall, a plurality of Canadians believed that pharmacare should only cover those Canadians who are not currently covered through some other existing government or private plan.
Here's another:
To what extent are you concerned about the following issues related to a national pharmacare program?

Replacing your current private prescription drug plan with a public plan that would have fewer choices

Increased cost to governments if patients use more prescription drugs than they do now

The ability of governments to administer the plan efficiently and effectively
The result?
Although Canadians were supportive of the proposed national pharmacare plan, most said they would be concerned if a national pharmacare program replaced their current plan with a public plan that had fewer options, if it increased costs to governments because patients use more prescription drugs than they do now, and of the ability of governments to administer the plan efficiently and effectively.
I could go on, but I would encourage you to visit the poll results to see more of the questions asked that guarantee the results the pharmacists sought.

I promised at the start that I would say more about the author of this article, Yanick Labrie, who is described as an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute. A visit to the website will tell you all you need to know about its ideological and economic leanings, as will as a list of present and former executive members, which includes former Harper favourite Maxime Bernier and right-wing commentator and analyst Tasha Kheiriddin. The vice president is currently Jasmin Guénette, former director of public affairs who came back after spending two years at the Institute for Humane Studies in Virginia, an organization that can most charitably be described as an American libertarian outfit.

By all means, let us have a national debate about pharmacare. But let it be an honest one that leaves aside the demagoguery and distortions that currently abound on this issue.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Harper Regime In One Easy-To-Understand Graphic!

H/t Boycott The Harper Conservatives

For those of you who are more text-oriented or want a comprehensive recounting of the depredations of the Harper years, I encourage you to check out and bookmark Rural's Harper History Series over at Democracy Under Fire.

Rural has taken on the unenviable and herculean but noble task of compiling the myriad abuses of and acts of contempt against democracy during King Stephen's reign; it is a lot to take in and can be depressing at times to see what we have lost, but if read in measured amounts is a very useful reminder of why it is paramount that we toss out this band of renegades in October.

I encourage you to visit his series regularly as we head into the election, and share with those who you think might benefit.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Harper's Fingerprints Are All Over This One

It is surely a mark of the times in which we live that a climate of fear, suspicion and mistrust permeates the ranks of those who work for the federal government. Stories abound of the muzzling of scientists, the termination of employees, the closing of research facilities. Having just completed Mark Bourrie's Kill The Messenger, an excoriating analysis of the Harper regime's vindictive and paranoid nature, there is no doubt in my mind that those stories are true, leading to the inevitable conclusion that freedom of expression is one of far too many democratic rights that have suffered tremendously under this government.

The recent termination of a Parks Canada employee, a smoking gun if there ever was one, offers ample illustration. Dr. John Wilmshurst, the science and resource conservation manager for Jasper National Park, was fired on June 11.

Mystery surrounds his termination, as no one will speak out, but the likely answer is found in something that happened last year.
In a 2014 story produced by the Canadian Press and picked up by the CBC, Huffington Post, McLean’s, and other major news outlets, Wilmshurst described research he and his colleagues were doing on the melting Athabasca Glacier. He predicted that the ice could be gone in his children’s lifetime, a statement supported by recently-published research out of the University of British Columbia.

“The information that we’re getting is pretty clear that climate is warming,” he told the camera. “[Climate change] is definitely something that’s happening and it’s happening because of our activities.”

You can see the 'error' Wilmshurst made here. He drew the clear and irrefutable connection between climate change and human activity, something that is anathema in Harperland, something that is deemed seditious in our imperiled democracy. Had he followed the expected protocol of applying for permission to speak to the media, a laboursome process that more often than not results in refusal, Wilmshurst pointed observations would not have seen the light of day. Here are a few cases that illustrate the roadblocks government scientists face:
In 2010, Natural Resources Canada scientist Scott Dallimore was not allowed to talk about research into a flood in northern Canada 13,000 years ago without getting pre-approval from political staff in the office of then-Natural Resources minister Christian Paradis. Postmedia News said requests were only approved after reporters' deadlines had already passed.

In 2011, Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristina Miller was blocked from speaking to the media about her research suggesting viral infections may be linked to higher salmon mortality.

Environment Canada's media office granted no interviews after a team published a paper in 2011 concluding that a 2 degree C increase in global temperatures may be unavoidable by 2100.

Postmedia science reporter Margaret Munro requested data from radiation monitors run by Health Canada following the earthquake and nuclear plant problems in Japan. Munro said Health Canada would not approve an interview with one of its experts responsible for the detectors.

Unquestioning 'loyalty' to the regime is the only thing that matters, no matter how competent and respected individuals may be. The messages taped on Wilmshurst's former office door convey the sense of a man deeply respected and sorely missed:
“Best manager I’ve had in 33 years,” one note read.

“A source of inspiration,” said another. “Still our Chief.”

“Forever our leader.”

Such sentiments account for nothing in Harper's poisoned kingdom, and for that reason, Canada needs a powerful purgative; if we don't administer the necessary tough medicine in October, I fear all will be lost for the country that I have known and loved my entire life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Harper Edges Closer To His Goal

That goal would be the destruction of the CBC, an ideological (i.e., publicly-funded) and political (Terry Milewski's fearless journalism) thorn in Dear Leader's side.
A Senate committee that spent 18 months studying the CBC and its place in the media landscape is recommending the public broadcaster explore alternative funding models, shake up its governance structure, be more transparent in its operations and air more amateur sports and high-quality arts.
A closer examination reveals that it is, in fact, a blueprint for eradicating the public broadcaster:
The senators, who travelled to England to study the BBC’s funding models and programming strategy, suggested a so-called “external superfund” be created by setting aside a portion of the CBC’s funding to pay for Canadian content “such as Canadian history and nature documentaries and high-quality comedy and drama, which could then be broadcast on CBC/Radio-Canada.”

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting watchdog group called that proposal part of “a thinly disguised cut to CBC’s parliamentary grant that could never be implemented without a major contraction of the services that our national public broadcaster offers to Canadians every day.”
But it doesn't stop there. Another Trojan horse lurks in the report:
The Senate’s communications committee is also calling on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to find new ways to fund its operations in order to limit the amount of funding it receives from the federal government.

The committee rejected the idea of stable, multi-year funding for the Crown corporation, saying funding is based on “the fiscal demands of the federal government.”

Senators raised the possibility of using the PBS funding model — where viewers donate money or pay for sponsorships of programs — or charging a license fee to every home in the country with a television, which is how the BBC receives some of its funds.

“Even though it’s more subtle, this is proposing to cut CBC’s budget,” said Ian Morrison of the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.
To further erode public confidence in the broadcaster, the report seeks to sow dissension:
There were also testy exchanges between senators and CBC president Hubert Lacroix during his two appearances before the committee, and threats the committee would use its parliamentary powers to force the CBC to hand over the salaries of Mansbridge and others.
And lest we forget,
The Senate report also refers to scandals involving former radio host Jian Ghomeshi and business correspondent Amanda Lang in calling for stricter policies to prevent problems rather than having to react when they become public.
Senator Art Eggleton, whose recommendations were not included in the report, calls the report a missed opportunity,
blaming Conservative senators for spending “too much time denouncing the CBC and not enough on a way forward.”

Sen. Art Eggleton rejected some of the recommendations and says the government should increase funding to the CBC by almost one-fifth.

Eggleton said the government should spend about $40 per capita on the CBC, above the $33 per capita the report notes the broadcaster received in 2011, which would be half of what other industrialized nations spend on their public broadcaster.

He also said the funding should be adjusted to inflation and help the CBC eliminate commercial advertising.
The CBC itself weighed in, expressing its disappointment with the report:
"Frankly, we were hoping for more," said spokeswoman Alexandra Fortier, manager of media relations and issues management.

"CBC/Radio-Canada provided senators with detailed information on audience patterns, broadcasting trends, budgets, and strategies for addressing the challenges of the future," Fortier said. "It explained what it does to maximize the efficiency of its operations, and its accountability to Canadians."

"This report fails to propose constructive suggestions to address any of the real challenges facing the broadcasting system," said Fortier, who until a few months ago worked as the director of communications to Conservative minister Jason Kenney.
I suspect many Canadians will share the public broadcaster's disappointment.

Anon Poses Some Questions

I received the following as a comment in my previous post, but decided to feature it here, as I suspect the writer would like readers to offer their answers to the questions posed:

I have two questions and an observation:

I do not understand the statement that the Child Tax Benefit, benefits the rich more than the rest of us. For example, in families with a three old child, do the families not receive the same amount regardless of their income bracket? Is it because the benefit is tax free and there is no claw back?

I would like to understand why it is that when a private citizen has a mortgage taken out or the purchase of goods is made using their stolen identity, the police do nothing and say it is a private or a financial matter between the citizen and the bank or credit company.

Ashley Madison has its client accounts stolen and Anonymous threatens to reveal the names if they do not cease to operate. The police begin an immediate investigation. Is it because of the threatened demise of the legal corporate entity or do the clients have more political power or sway over the police?

Please "Square the Corners" for me.

Those are good questions, Anon, but I think I can answer the first one. A story in today's Star reveals that the child benefit payments are taxable and will, in fact, be clawed back from many of the recipients:
The benefit is taxable on the lower income earner in every household. Canadians who received the payments can expect to see some of it taxed next April unless their income is so low that they don’t pay income taxes.
Of course, that begs the question of why the cheques are being sent out to everyone who has applied, no matter their income level. The answer, I fear, is too obvious - to get the most political bang for the buck three months from the election. Says David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:
“You get a cheque and it’s tangible. You have no idea what you’re going to pay back at the end of the year”.
At the end of the year - well after the election.

I invite readers to weigh in here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Is Secrecy The New Canadian Norm?

The Harper regime is notorious for its virtual embargo on information. Muzzling of scientists, heavily-redacted Freedom of Information documents, regular obstruction of Parliamentary officers have become the norm. In light of these profoundly anti-democratic traits, one has to ask whether the paranoid control that obsesses the regime has filtered down to other levels of government and institutions?

'Privacy rights' have become the default position of far too many. The Harper regime uses it regularly whenever it wishes to avoid answering uncomfortable questions. One of the latest examples of this deplorable tactic is to be found in the case of Bashir Makhtal,
a 46-year-old who lived and worked in Toronto, [who] has been languishing in an Ethiopian jail in Addis Ababa since he was convicted of terrorism in 2009. He has always denied the charges.

Makhtal was arrested on the border of Kenya and Somalia in 2006 after fleeing Mogadishu and the fall of the Islamic Courts Union.
Initially refusing a deal for a prison-transfer back to Canada because he claimed he was innocent, last year he accepted it, but the federal government has done nothing to faciliate that transfer, says his cousin.

The Canadian government response to these allegations?
François Lasalle, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, told the Star that “to protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released.”

Similarly, Zarah Malik, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada, told the Star that “the Privacy Act prevents federal government officials from discussing the specifics of an offender’s case.”
Other institutions inspired by this 'sterling' example include the RCMP, which now is refusing to divulge the identities of car accident victims and other such tragedies, even homicides.

Says lawyer David Fraser,
"Not disclosing the information very likely makes their jobs easier, and not having to ask the next of kin or the family to disclose whether they can disclose this information, it's one less thing that they have to do," he said.

"It's always easier — we see this across government — to just point to the privacy legislation as a reason to not do something … to not provide information to the media."
This cone of silence is given critical scrutiny by The Toronto Star:
Until this year the RCMP released the names of victims with their consent or the permission of their surviving relatives. Now it says it must comply with Privacy Act, regardless of the wishes of bereaved families.

“I wanted people to know my sons,” said Mary Anne MacIntyre of Judique, a small Cape Breton Community where 19-year-old Morgan MacIntyre and his 17-year-old brother Jordan were killed in a car crash two years ago. “Being Victim A or Victim B is just, to me, feels so cold.”
So even with the family's permission, the RCMP is obdurately hiding behind the privacy justification.

The federal behaviour is now infecting local police forces as well. This past February, two men were shot and killed by an armed security guard in a Toronto McDonald's restaurant. And that is about all we are ever likely to know, since it was announced this week that the guard will not be charged.
“Investigators consulted Senior Crown Attorneys and provided an overview of the circumstances surrounding the deaths,” police said in a statement issued Wednesday. “It was determined that there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction, therefore no criminal charges would be laid.”
Here is what columnist Edward Keenan had to say:
Two men were shot and killed, in public, in February. Police know who did it, but they will not tell us. They say no charges should be laid in the case, but they will not tell us why, or give us the information they uncovered in their investigation. Police have security-camera video of the incident, but they will not show it to us.

Two people are dead, and the Toronto Police Service’s response, after four months of investigation, boils down to: Nothing to see here. Trust us. Move along.
This is police state stuff.
Make no mistake about it; there are many unanswered question that call into question the administration of justice here:
Was it a clear-cut case of self-defence? I could imagine a hundred scenarios in which that’s possible, but we don’t know.

Why was this security guard armed in a restaurant? We don’t know. What kind of work was he doing nearby? We don’t know. Was his life in danger? Was he being robbed? Was he defending other people?

We don’t know.
People who live in dictatorships are used to being kept in the dark. They have very low expectations. We still live in a democracy, albeit one under steady attack by repressive forces from within. As Canadians approach the October election, one of the many questions they will have to ask themselves is whether or not they are comfortable being treated as children excluded from the conversations at the 'adult table'. If they are not, they would be wise to choose a government that sets a tone of transparency, not obfuscation, for its citizens.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Our Baby-In Chief Strikes Again

It doesn't take a degree in psychology to know that Stephen Harper has, as they say, issues. His obsessive secrecy, reported emotional volatility, deep vindictiveness and completely ruthless dispatch of those who represent perspectives, policies and values differing from his own are all markers of a deeply disturbed individual. That he is Canada's prime minister is a national tragedy.

The latest instance of his lashing out, his puppet finance minister's public denunciation of Ontario's plan to establish its own Retirement Pension Plan, is yet another prime example of his unfitness to govern. Martin Regg Cohn writes,
People of goodwill can disagree. But why does a prime minister of ill will have to be so willfully disagreeable, so reflexively destructive, when playing electoral politics?

Stephen Harper’s pettiness in trying to sabotage Ontario’s legitimate efforts to create a public pension for middle-income workers sets a new low in gamesmanship. It will only take money out of the pockets of workers, taxpayers and employers who will be forced to pay higher fees because of the federal intransigence.
The establishment of the plan, upon which Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne campaigned, is a response to the refusal of the federal government to expand the Canada Pension Plan, which most provinces desire to see happen.
Harper’s decision this week to stab Ontario in the back — and middle-class Ontarians in the front — may go down as one of the most offensive, retrograde and thoughtless blunders ever committed by a sitting prime minister plotting his re-election on the backs of prospective pensioners.

His Conservative government is toying with the futures of young people who face a lifetime of precarious employment without proper pension coverage. Ontario’s plan is being designed by some of Canada’s foremost pension experts as a cost-effective, low-fee program that parallels the successful Canada Pension Plan.
Here's what minion Joe Oliver leaked to the public before sending to Ontario:
“The Ontario Government’s proposed ORPP would take money from workers and their families, kill jobs, and damage the economy,” Oliver writes with fatuous hyperbole in the undated letter leaked to the media before it was even transmitted to Queen’s Park.
As Regg Cohn tartly observes, this rejection is conspicuously absent of any research or statistics to back up his shrill dismissal. And to compound the insult, the feds are refusing to make any legislative changes to facilitate the Ontario pension:
Astonishingly, the Harper government will refuse to collect pension deductions on Ontario’s behalf or provide any information to assist the plan — services for which it would have been fairly compensated by the province. In short, it’s not merely a hands-off attitude but a hands-to-the throat approach.

The result of the PM’s partisan tantrum? Higher accounting and compliance costs for business, and additional government funding made necessary by the same federal Tories who always claim to be reducing red tape and cutting waste.
There appears to be only one solution for a prime minister who seems to have a temperament that never grew beyond the 'terrible twos' - isolate him from any further contact with the electorate by tossing him and his playmates out of their playpen in October.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Change Is Coming To Cuba, Not All Of It Necessarily Good

Readers of this blog will know that I have a special affection for Cuba, having visited it many times and gotten to know, to some extent, the 'real' Cuba. Yet it would be wrong for me or any other non-Cuban to pontificate about what is best for the country, given the changes that are coming due to its increasing normalization with the United States. The course of Cuba's future has to be decided by Cuba itself.

Nonetheless, one hopes that the ecological balance highlighted in the following will continue well into the future, despite what will undoubtedly be an onslaught of American tourism:

UPDATE: Why Isn't This Getting Wider Coverage?

While this story seems most timely and relevant, given the ongoing Council of the Federation meeting discussing pipeline growth, I couldn't even find a reference to it in this morning's Toronto Star. It should be front-page news.

UPDATE: Here is a live update from Nexen. One of the most interesting revelations is that the pipeline responsible for the spill is brand new, set up in 2014.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kill The Messengers

For those of us who follow Canadian politics closely, Mark Bourrie's scathing chronicle of the Harper years, Kill the Messengers, perhaps offers few things that we don't already know. Nonetheless, to have a comprehensive written record of the myriad abuses of democracy, transparency, openness and free expression is an unsettling reminder of how much Canada has suffered and lost under the Harper regime. On that basis alone I strongly recommend the book.

Now more than halfway through it (I read it in measured amounts out of respect for my mental health), each chapter yields much that is worth reflecting on and writing about. However, since yesterday's post dealt in part about Harper's utter disdain for war vets, a disdain he attempts to conceal through his lofty rhetoric about "our brave men and women in uniform," I offer the following excerpt from the book dealing with Lt.-Col Pat Stogran, who says,
"It is beyond my comprehension how the system could knowingly deny so many of our veterans the rights and benefits that the people and the government of Canada recognized a long, long time ago as being their obligation to provide.'
Hired in 2007 as Canada's first veterans ombudsman, Stogran lost his job in 2010 for criticizing Harper and then Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino for the way vets are treated.

Stogran, a combat veteran in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his experiences in the Balkans in the 1990s, knew well the problems that veterans face and wanted to be a fierce advocate for them and hence his interest in the position. Terminating him was not the finest strategic move on the part of the Harper regime:

Firing Stogran didn't shut him up: he immediately became a vocal critic of the government, saying it was not living up to its obligations and promises. He says that the administrators of the veterans' pension program had a "penny pinching insurance company mentality."
We started to put pressure on. They basically told me to pound salt. It became clear they weren't going to co-operate. It was a waiting game for me to leave . . . My ministers were as thick as three short planks. They were completely dependent on their deputy minister. Julian Fantino is a classic example. He's one of Harper's yes men who says the government is backing vets and is pouring money into programs to help them. At the same time, you have federal government lawyers saying in British Columbia that the government has no legal or moral obligation to the veterans. I argued against the lump sum. I said it was wrong to give people who were physically and emotionally traumatized a lump sum of money and then tell them 'have a good day.' Harper never did anything to back me up ... I despise Harper personally. He's pushed politics to another level."
Compounding the injustice of his dismissal is Stogan's belief that his medical records were improperly accessed:
In 2010 he applied to the privacy commissioner to find out why his Veterans Affairs file had been accessed hundreds of times.
The experiences of the erstwhile veterans ombudsman is but a small example of the nature of the Harper regime, serving as a pungent reminder of its intolerance of any dissent or criticism. I can only hope that voters in October roundly express their own intolerance of this repressive regime by casting it out of the office it is so manifestly unfit to hold.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unfriendly Fire

One hopes and expects that veterans have long memories; if they do, the Harper regime will find their lies catching up with them.

A new campaign, entitled Vote To Stop The Cuts, has been launched by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, its aim to put the Harper record under scrutiny with facts that even the most seasoned spinmaster might find hard to counter. Consider this damning information about Veterans Affairs:
- In 2013 and 2014, the Conservative government closed nine Veterans affairs offices across Canada – in Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Sydney, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon, Saskatoon, Prince George and Kelowna. Total served by affected offices = approximately 21, 432.

- Total value of cuts to Veterans Affairs Canada as of 2015: $113.7 million

- From 2011–12 to the current 2014–15 budget year, the Veterans Affairs staff has been cut by 24% with an additional 1% cut planned by 2016–17. The majority of these jobs were front-line positions.

- The department now has the smallest workforce since before the war in Afghanistan.

- Veterans Affairs offices are now so short-staffed that there is a backlog of 6 to 8 months in providing requested services to veterans. 1 in 5 veterans suffering from a mental illness has to wait more than 8 months before their requests for help are answered.
The genius of the campaign is that it is framed in such a way to show that ordinary Canadians are also falling victim to the parsimonious practices of the current regime, making it much harder to dismiss it as simply an effort by public servants to save their own jobs. In addition to the plight of veterans, it offers up facts on cuts to border security, environmental protection, employment insurance eligibility, public search and rescue capabilities and Canada's food safety.

This video offers an overview:

The site also has downloadable posters to help spread the word on these issues. In my view, it is incumbent upon all of us who yearn for a better Canada, a Canada free of the lies, distortions and myriad failures of the Harper regime, to help promote this and other efforts to ensure that October marks the month when our country begins what will undoubtedly be a lengthy but long overdue rehabilitation.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Back To Business As Usual?

After all of the feel-good rhetoric of the Climate Summit of the Americas, held last week in Toronto, it would appear that we are back to business as usual, at least in Canada.

The Globe and Mail reports the following:
Canada’s premiers are poised to sign an agreement to fast-track new oil sands pipelines while watering down commitments to fight climate change.

The Canadian Energy Strategy will be finalized and unveiled at a premiers’ conference in St. John’s beginning Wednesday.
While it appears that the political will to facilitate the flow of tarsands oil is strong, a commitment to mitigating climate change is not:
Two sections of the plan commit the provinces and territories to help get more pipelines built, in part by cutting down on red tape to speed up regulatory decisions.

But the strategy contains little firm commitment on battling global warming. Its strongest environmental section – a pledge for all provinces and territories to adopt absolute targets for cutting greenhouse gases – is marked as a point of contention that might be scrapped.
There is vague environmental rhetoric peppered throughout the draft strategy, but no binding promises on exactly what the provinces and territories will do to fight climate change – only a general pledge to “transition to a lower carbon economy.” One section, for instance, lists a series of possible climate-change policies, including carbon capture and carbon pricing, but does not appear to require that provinces and territories do any of them.
The obvious contradiction between expanding pipelines and lowering greenhouse gas emissions is one of those pesky details that our provincial political leaders seem happy to ignore:
There is also no explanation on how oil-sands production can expand – a likely scenario if more pipelines are built – while the country still reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Well, of course this is an obvious explanation, isn't there: egregious contempt for the suffering more and more people will experience as the world continues to warm, and lavish cossetting of those who stand to profit the most from the continued burning of fossil fuels, a truth that no political rhetoric, no matter how skillfully spun, will be able to conceal for very long.

If You Know Some Young Potential Voters

Please send them this

so that we can have less of this

and this

in the future.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Pat Robertson Rival

Does Todd Starnes have what it takes to unseat Pastor Pat for most unhinged evangelical? You decide:

Can you give me a big Amen?

The Muslim Threat To Stephen Harper

Were I of the Muslim faith, I suspect I would have a deep and abiding contempt for Stephen Harper and his cabal. After all, he is the prime minister who has made Islamophobia a centrepiece of his re-election hopes and, unlike other groups that he has vilified for political gain, has persistently portrayed the religion as a hotbed of terrorism, so much so that repressive measures that threaten the very foundations of Canadian democracy are now ensconced in the legislation known as Bill C-51.

What is a self-respecting Muslim to do?

One answer, it seems, is to encourage one's coreligionists to vote.
Groups like Canadian Muslim Vote (CMV) and the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) have launched major campaigns to try and pull the Muslim vote.

These groups are trying to circumvent the potential for political sectarianism by staying away from addressing specific issues and by maintaining a strict standard of non-partisanship.

In other words, they simply want the Muslims, who don't have the best voter turnout, to vote—regardless of their political taste.
It would seem that the key lies in younger generations of Muslims, those born here who see themselves as part of the Canadian fabric and are deeply disturbed by the Harper demagoguery that labels them as 'the other' and potential terrorists. Yet the venue for discussing and addressing their frustrations is not likely to be found in the mosques for a number of reasons.
Much of this is due to the political climate in Harper's Canada, which is characterized at least in part by the chilling of political speech within an atmosphere of fear.

Mosques often have charitable status, which can often be stripped away if Muslim leaders decide to take up certain political causes in ways the administration finds distasteful.

The Harper government's appetite for auditing and disrupting organizations that it differs with ideologically is well-known.
Fortunately, alternative venues are developing:
Groups like the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) have broken through the mainstream in an effort to improve the portrayal and treatment of Muslims in the public sphere.

Their nationwide campaigns have attracted Muslim youth to build similar structures of civic and political engagement.

Dawanet, an influential Muslim organization based out of Mississauga, Ont., just launched an initiative called Project Civic Engagement earlier this summer, aimed primarily at addressing Muslim political engagement and the influence of Islamophobia on Canadian politics.

Winnipeg's own Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA) has also launched public awareness campaigns in an effort to dispel myths surrounding Muslims in the Harper era.
Whether the Muslim vote will turn out to be a formidable influence in the upcoming election remains to be seen. But like other Canadians busy building coalitions to prompt greater voter engagement, any increase in participation can only contribute to an ultimately stronger and healthier democracy in Canada.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Who Can I Trust?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of The Toronto Star. The paper's investigative reports, like no others, have had real impact, influencing decisions at the highest levels of power locally, provincially and federally; its dogged pursuit of the truth has always impressed me deeply. The Star has consistetly demonstrated and embodied the role good journalism plays in a healthy democracy.

And yet now there are disturbing allegations by journalist Paul Watson, allegations so serious that the veteran reporter has resigned from the paper. While many of the details are far from clear, The Star, which denies all of his assertions, certainly appears to have acted very oddly.

An extensive interview conducted by Jesse Brown at Canadaland reveals that Watson, who had been on the lead exploration ship, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, last September and wrote a series of articles on the expedition that found the Franklin flagship the HMS Erebus, was stymied by his editors when he was investigating the exaggerated role accorded to the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and its CEO, John Geiger:
So there was a [media] blackout [after the discovery] of roughly two days, could’ve been three. Remember, I was on the lead vessel in this successful search last September, the Coast Guard icebreaker. I was living with and working beside the experts who were searching for these ships. And because of that blackout, a person who’s the CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) - a former Globe and Mail Editorial Board Chief - a journalist - was able to step into that power vacuum and answer journalists' questions in a way that I immediately saw people [involved with the effort] react to in a way that made them deeply angry because they believed that he was distorting facts, stating untruths and ruining the historical record that they were working so hard to create. And that was just a moment way back in September.
A variety of distortion and untruths emerged, so much so that Jim Basillie attempted to intervene, as reported in The Globe:
In late April, philanthropist Jim Balsillie, whose Arctic Research Foundation was instrumental in the search, sent a letter to Leona Aglukkaq, the Minister of the Environment, saying he was “troubled that Canadian history is not being presented accurately” in a documentary that aired on CBC’s The Nature of Things that month. He was upset that the program “creates new and exaggerated narratives for the exclusive benefit of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.”

Mr. Balsillie said he was dispirited that the Prime Minister and public agencies seemed to take a back seat. “Government partners, in particular the Government of Nunavut, Canadian Hydrographic Service and the Canadian Coast Guard are shown as supporting players to RCGS and [the Russian vessel] Akademik Sergey Vavilov when the opposite is true.”
Apparently, for reasons that are not yet clear, the Harper government ignored the letter and made no effort to correct the historical record.

The trouble for Watson started when he attempted to question Geiger, who was awarded a Polar Medal for what Governor-General David Johnston’s office called his “essential role in the success of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition” and who, according to Watson,
has access to the Prime Minister’s office .... [has] been photographed in close situations around campfires in the Arctic with Stephen Harper ... [and] has political connections.
Within three hours of sending an email to Geiger, Watson was contacted late at night by a Star editor who wanted to know hat he was working on. Fearing Geiger might be tipped off as to the kinds of questions he wanted to ask him, Watson revealed little to the editor, a decision that ultimately led to a 'six-week reporting ban.'

There is much more to the story that is discussed in the Canadaland interview. But for me, what makes it so significant are its implications, implications so severe that Watson resigned his position. Here are his own words to explain what is at stake:
The people who’ve been looking for these ships, they’re really hardworking federal civil servants, archeologists and others who know the truth of how those ships were found and had every right to tell that truth themselves. But because of the country we live in, and because of the government we live under, that message could only come from Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.

There is an open fear in our federal civil service and I’m sure it applies to other capitals across the country as this phenomenon grows and our democracy weakens. There is a fear among these civil servants that if they stand up and tell the truth, that they will lose their jobs because the politically connected have more power than the truth.

This is a symptom of a broader disease that is eating away at the core of our democracy. Experts on climate, on medicine, on things that are central to our society are being silenced by a government that does favours for the politically connected. And that is just very dangerous for our future.
That, more than anything else, should make this a story worth following.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

An Update To Yesterday's Post

I don't have a new post today, as I just changed ISPs and am preoccupied trying to solve a problem in configuring my wife's computer for the encrypted router I set up. However, if you read yesterday's post about Murray Lytle, the newest member of the NEB appointed by the Harper regime, you will know that he is affiliated with the Coulson Center for Christian Worldview, which offered quite a profile and high praise of Mr. Lytle.

I just received a comment from Anon, who offered this:
Glad you captured the info from the Colsten Centre as they seem to be trying to remove all references to it.. Glad we have a conservative new earth creationist looking out for the environment as part of the NEB.. sheesh
Sure enough, the click on the link yields nothing about Lytle now, although my excerpts are available in yesterday's post.

One can't help but wonder who initiated the censorship action, eh?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Another Fox Guarding The Hen House

It is hardly news to suggest that the National Energy Board (NEB) is rife with bias favouring the energy sector. Half of its members are professionals from the gas and oil industries, and all but one was appointed by the Harper regime. But now it seems the government is not even trying to pretend that the Board exists for anything but the good of the energy industry.

Mychaylo Prystupa reports the following:
On Tuesday, Conservative Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford appointed Calgary engineering PhD Murray Lytle. "Dr. Lytle brings many years of experience in the oil, gas and mining fields and will prove to be a valuable asset for the National Energy Board as it continues to fulfill its mandate to ensure the safety and security of Canadians and the environment,” said Rickford in a statement.
This appointment is especially egregious given Lytle's background, not just as a consultant and executive to the mining industry and former employee of Imperial Oil, but also as a Conservative Party volunteer:
The Chuck Colson Centre for Christian Worldview website says this about his past: "Mr. Lytle has been heavily involved in national politics (Canada) and is happy to have lived to see the fruition of that labour, and his small part in it, with the election of the ruling Conservative Party,” .
An apparent admirer of theocracy, Lytle has this to say about God's special relationship with the United States:
From his perspective as a Canadian, Mr. Lytle thinks that the American experiment is alive and well - if somewhat fatigued from constant sparring. His understanding of history leads him to believe that God continues to extend His blessing to those who value and offer freedom to other bearers of His image. And no other culture offers that freedom in the abundance of the Americans and for this cause the United States is unquestionably the most creative society in the history of mankind.
Such NEB appointments, to say the least, invite widespread cynicism:
Liberal Environment Critic MP John McKay said public confidence in the NEB has sunk so low that its chair, Peter Watson, just completed a 34-stop “national engagement” tour in an attempt to reverse that sentiment.

“I think he’s doing a national tour known as the ‘No, I’m not a lackey tour,’" said McKay.

"It’s extraordinary that the head of the board feels he has to go from one end of the country to the other... because clearly the NEB has lost credibility of the eyes of the public,” McKay said on Thursday.

“This appointment [of Lytle] just fuels the suspicion, even when they comply with the regulations, that they are beholden politically to Mr. Harper,” he added.
And here is Elizabeth May's take:
Green Party leader Elizabeth May said Harper’s spring 2012 omnibus budget bill fundamentally altered the environmental assessments of pipelines into an “absolute sham of a review process.”

The reforms removed the responsibility to do environmental reviews of oil pipelines from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), and put it in the hands of the NEB, which “doesn’t have the credentials” to do the job said May.

She said the legal reforms also nullified the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Act and the Fisheries Act from the board's decisions on pipelines.

"So the pipeline ruling trumps all those laws. The NEB is now basically a pipeline approval agency."
But perhaps the Harper regime is once again counting on something that has served them so well for so long: Canadians' apathy and ignorance. I guess this October's election will show if that faith continues to be well-placed.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sid Ryan Has A Plan

Given the odious, intrusive and likely unconstitutional nature of Bill C-377, the 'private member's' bill covered with the indelible palm prints of Stephen Harper that forces labour unions to publicly disclose how they spend their money, it would be surprising indeed if unions did not have a plan to fight back. Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents 54 unions, has no intention of letting this blatant sop to the Tory base slip by unopposed.

In the following, Ryan explains what could be an effective strategy going into the October election:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Earth's Future Is Our Future

While I have deeply-held spiritual beliefs, I do not for a moment think that transcendent agency was involved in humanity's appearance on the earth. In my view, we just happened to arise owing to the potential inherent in the universe for development toward greater and greater complexity. To assume otherwise is to embrace a hubris that is largely responsible for the degradation, despoliation and perhaps ultimate destruction of our habitat.

In today's paper, a Star reader Kevin Farmer effectively expresses the situation that we find ourselves in today:

Re: Cooler planet, better health, Editorial June 29
In his recent column, (“Was Rachel Dolezal on to something?”), Rick Salutin poetically captured a basic truth: “Each individual is hewn organically from material reality and returns there eventually.”

Without wanting to co-opt Salutin’s discussion of race and group identity, I wonder why we do not identify more with that “material reality” from which we are so clearly hewn; namely living Earth. In fact, I would argue we are not “hewn” from living Earth at all; rather we are expressions of it. Only our fleeting sense of self makes us feel separate.

To paraphrase Alan Watts: Life did not appear on Earth like a flock of birds alighting on a barren tree; rather life came out of that tree as its flowers. In the same way that some trees are simply flowering trees, Earth is simply a life-ing and, at least for now, a people-ing “rock.”

This claim might seem like new age fluff, but it is supported by hard science. Life simply might have been inevitable on a planet such as Earth. And while it might be fluffy to think of human life as an act of self-expression by living Earth – to think that living Earth currently “identifies” as mostly human – it is entirely reasonable to wonder why human self-expression is increasingly devoid of identification with living Earth.

So, I am perplexed by the prevailing norm to timidly frame calls for environmental action in terms of furthering our self-interest; as though there were ever any such distinction. It is true that “healing the planet will make us healthier.” But the real issue is that destroying living Earth is making us sick – more than just physically.

We do not have a clear definition of “life,” but, whatever it is, Earth is bursting with it. We are all temporary patterns in the incomprehensible flow of matter and energy that is the ecosphere of living Earth. As we disrupt and destroy this flow on a planetary scale, it should come as no surprise that what we are doing to living Earth, we are doing to ourselves.

Life on Earth might have been inevitable. But that does not mean that human life was, or is, inevitable. And, unlike birds on a tree, we cannot fly away after fouling our nest.
Ironically, as we struggle with the concepts of identity and self, it is our selfishness as “individuals” that is destroying the very wellspring of our selves: living Earth.
Who are we, really, if we knowingly continue to do this?

Kevin Farmer, Toronto