Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Updated: 57 min 35 sec ago

And Speaking Of Labour

5 hours 42 min ago
All kinds of abuses continue under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. As reported by the CBC, an Italian company, Saipem, contracted by Husky Sunrise to build a multi-billion dollar plant 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, is employing 344 foreign tradespersons and others who are either unqualified, uncertified or cannot understand English, thereby putting lives at risk.

Despite complaints by supervisors and a surfeit of qualified Canadians who are being ignored in the company's hiring practices, almost nothing is being done about this dangerous situation:

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Happy Labour Day

7 hours 43 min ago


For a reflection on why unions are still so relevant and necessary, the protests of neoliberals notwithstanding, be sure to check out Kev's post at Trapped in a Whirlpool.

And for indications of a resurgence in the union movement, check out this editorial at The Toronto Star.

Indeed, we shall overcome.Recommend this Post

Burger King Causes Indigestion

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 07:09


At least among the substantial numbers of Americans who appear to be taking grave exception to the burger emporium's tax dodge by merging with Tim Hortons. While Finance Minister Joe Oliver may crow about the success of our low corporate tax rates, American consumers are not nearly as sanguine about what many see as a corporate betrayal of the United States.

A sampling of the comments on Burger King's Facebook page is instructive of prevailing sentiments:

burger king crowned king of the tax dodgers! boycott!!!!!

As a veteran I encourage you to sponsor a bill that shuts down every single Burger King located on an American military installation in the U.S. And around the world and on other Govt property. I feel only companies that are headquartered in the U.S. Deserve to be able to conduct business on govt facilities. I find it very up unpatriotic that our service members who risk there lives would have these tax dodging companies located on their bases. I am very interested in your position on this matter Senator Nelson.

Say "NO" to tax dodgers!

I will Not eat any Cookies sold by any US Tax Cheats - Burger King will not get my fast food dollars - By not paying your fair share of U.S. tax - you will cost the Middle Class more in federal taxes every year - BoyCott BK!!!!!

And this, my personal favourite:

If the King flees to Canada, let's hope he gets his just deserts. Off with his traitorous tax-dodging head! If corporations are really people, this is a good time to execute one. Boycott the tax dodgers.Recommend this Post

Time To Revisit The Question Of Mandatory Voting?

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 07:04
In her column today, Susan Delacourt suggests that it is. While my own opposition to mandatory voting, the reasons for which I outlined in an earlier post, remains unchanged, she does offer a rather tantalizing reason for its consideration:

Some of the dumbing-down of discourse, in particular, has taken place because political campaigns have become preoccupied with simply getting out the vote (often with shiny baubles) rather than a debate of ideas.

If it would mean the end of the notorious Conservative 'narrowcasting' to its base, with their repugnant and divisive appeals to the basest instincts of voters, there might indeed be some merit to the concept. I have had my fill of this sort of thing:







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A Documentary Recommendation: Blackfish

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 05:57
Once again, I am writing a post that, in one sense, has nothing to do with politics but in another sense has everything to do with it and much more. If we consider political systems simply a methodology by which we engage with the our fellow human beings and the larger world, then the film I am about to recommend is a very political one.

As I have indicated in past posts, I have a real appetite for well-made documentaries. Blackfish falls into that category.

Balckfish explores the world of orcas, also known as killer whales. In fact, they are part of the dolphin family and like dolphins, they are sentient, very intelligent self-aware animals that have suffered tremendously at the hands of another animal, the human being. The film focuses on the terrible suffering, sometimes to the point of psychosis, that orcas experience in captivity. Seaworld in Orlando comes in for particular scrutiny, as does one particular captive performer, Tilikum, responsible for the deaths of three people. And yet Tilikum, as you will see, is hardly the villain of the piece.

I must confess that I watched the film in stages. Disturbing and moving, especially in scenes showing the capture of orcas in the wild and the responses of their families nearby watching and keening helplessly while their babies are taken, it is at times emotionally overpowering as we are yet again made witness to the kind of human folly that has made this world such a precarious place for all life today.

Balckfish is available on Netflix, or you can watch it below:


Blackfish Find out what really happens at... by NovaCottonRecommend this Post

This Just In

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 09:35


According to a CBC report,

EU lawmakers are threatening to block a multi-billion dollar trade pact between Canada and the European Union — a blueprint for a much bigger EU-U.S. deal — because it would allow firms to sue governments if they breach the treaty.

The agreement with Canada, a draft of which was seen by Reuters, could increase bilateral trade by one fifth to $37 billion (26 billion euros).

But European consumer and environmental groups say a mechanism in the accord would allow multinationals to bully the EU's 28 governments into doing their bidding regardless of environmental, labour and food laws and would set a bad precedent for the planned EU-U.S. trade pact.


Although the neoliberals leading our government don't care about a loss of sovereignty rights, other do:

Tiziana Beghin, an EU lawmaker from Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement who sits on the parliament's influential trade committee, called the EU-Canada deal an "affront to democracy".

"Giving corporations the right to sue governments for loss of anticipated profit would be ridiculous if it were not so dangerous," she told Reuters.


Let's hope that a European revolt leads to a restoration of sanity in trade pacts. Corporate greed has been setting the agenda for far too long.
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Our Anti-Democratic Democracy

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 06:52


This morning, in my print edition of The Toronto Star, I saw the following headline: Canadian scientists to be placed in isolation. While it turned out to be a story about the evacuation of a Canadian medical team helping to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone, for a brief moment I thought it concerned the latest efforts by the Harper regime to muzzle our scientists.

I can perhaps be forgiven for my initial confusion. Reading Paul Wells' book on Stephen Harper, The Longer I'm Prime Minister, two things become apparent: the Harper regime is in constant re-election mode, and a foundation of that never-ending campaign is the almost complete control it exercises over government sources of information.

Having studied what brought down previous governments, Harper et al. have almost always refused to hold national inquiries or House committee investigations into contentious matters. Such would involve too many variables that could wind up embarrassing the government and providing fodder for the opposition (a.k.a. 'enemies'). And woe to he who 'commits sociology.'

Yet of course these restrictions of information, these eliminations of the tools whereby patterns can be detected, these constant and crass manipulations of the Canadian people are all grave disservices to our democracy, predicated as it is on the essential freedoms that the Harper Conservatives find so threatening.

One of the most egregious examples of the Harper contempt for democracy is the regime's muzzling of government scientists, those civil servants who are funded by the taxpayer and whose research is, at least in theory, intended for the public good. Apparently that takes a back seat to the political good of the Conservative Party.

An essay recently appeared in The Toronto Star by C. Scott Findlay, an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of Evidence for Democracy, a organization that advocates for evidence-informed decision-making by governments. In it, the writer shows the absurd lengths to which the cabal goes in its never-ending re-election efforts.

He starts out by making reference to a Postmedia investigation that uncovered the following:

In 2012, as the Arctic ice hit the lowest point ever recorded, scientists at the Canadian Ice Service were keen to tell Canadians about the stunning ice loss.

Given the ominous implications for climate change of reduced ice cover, Canadian Ice Service chief of applied science, Leah Braithwaite, 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.

Reports Findlay:

Documents obtained under an Access to Information request show that the approval process for the briefing implicated nine different levels of government, from the director of CIS to the environment minister. Even the communications folks at the Privy Council Office felt obliged to put their imprimatur on a communications plan that was weeks in the making.

Yet despite the herculean efforts of CIS scientists to inform Canadians on the state of Canada’s arctic ice, a briefing that was planned for months was eventually cancelled.


But, he says, this should surprise no one, since the federal government’s obsession with message control is well known. In February, CBC News reported that tweets from Industry Canada are planned for weeks, scrutinized by dozens of public servants, revised by ministerial staff, and leadened by a (wait for it) 12-step protocol. (Emphasis added.)

Findlay laments the waste of taxpayer money expended in the suppression of publicly-funded research and information, but addresses the heart of the issue this way:

But the real costs of Orwellian message control are far greater. An uninformed public, which — as Thomas Jefferson noted — is the scourge of democracy. A federal public service whose motivation, creativity and productivity is being steadily eroded by the signal failure of politicians and political mandarins to treat public servants — scientists, managers and senior administrators alike — like responsible professionals, fully capable of making decisions about things like technical briefings.

It would appear that in Harperland, (public) ignorance is bliss.
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Well-Said

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 06:31


Those Star letter-writers nail it yet again:

Under Ottawa's microscope, Insight Aug. 23

If it is not OK for charities to use the money sent to them for the intended purpose of trying to change government policies that threaten the well-being of Canadians and the future of the world, why is it permissible for the Harper government to spend the money we pay them in taxes on billions of dollars worth of useless offensive weapons, while witholding funds from health care, payments to the unemployed and transfers to provinces for infrastructure renewal?

Can we not disagree with a minister like Joe Oliver, who has no grasp of the fundamentals of what he is dealing with?

Instead of forcing charities to waste the money we give them on pointless government requirements, the government should give the public that funds it full disclosure as to how our money is being spent. This is a basic requirement of democracy, flouted only by would-be dictators.


Jenny Carter, Peterborough

It seems odd that a tax-receipt issuing organization like the Fraser Institute is immune from the scrutiny of CRA audits. I see this organization as 100 per cent political and therefore not entitled to issue tax receipts.

Is it possible that a current politician is running interference?


Gerald Berish, Richmond HillRecommend this Post

A New Addition To The Harper Enemies List

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 16:29
But then again, no surprises here, except that it is being leveraged into a fundraising appeal.

But it is a bit rich, isn't it, that given their expertise in the area, the Harper cabal should be carping about disgusting personal attacks?



Is hypocrisy too obvious a word?Recommend this Post

I Want To Believe

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 09:36


But it will take more than an interview by George Stroumboulopoulos to convince me that Justin Trudeau has the right stuff.

Nonetheless, I was impressed by the Liberal leader's relaxed manner, especially striking since it is beyond my powers of imagination to envisage Stephen Harper in such a pose.Recommend this Post

These Pictures Reflect The Peril Of Our Times

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 06:10





Click here to find out what has them so worried.Recommend this Post

Harper's Reign Of Terror - A Closer Examination

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:57


While Stephen Harper's attacks on charities have been followed here and elsewhere, the Star presents a good overview of how the offices of the CRA have been subverted by a vindictive regime that brooks no opposition to its neoliberal agenda.

The article begins with the egregious case of CoDevelopment Canada, a small Vancouver charity that works with its Latin American partners in helping to fund programs that assist the poor. Apparently, if that assistance threatens to upset the corporate status quo, a crime has been committed in Harperland.

One of CoDev's Latin American partners is the Maria Elena Cuadra Movement for Working and Unemployed Women (MEC), which is based in Nicaragua. MEC’s goals include helping to modernize labour relations in Nicaragua’s free-trade zones by promoting the notion that human, labour and gender rights for workers must be upheld.

In 2013-14, CoDev and its Canadian partners sent MEC nearly $38,000. The money was used for causes such as MEC’s legal clinic, which that year handled 2,000 cases — 1,600 involving women — pertaining to issues such as labour-rights violations and gender-based violence.

Previously, the charity vigorously opposed Ottawa’s decision to sign a free-trade agreement with Colombia, a country [Barbara] Wood [CoDev’s former executive director,] describes as having “massive displacement and violence.’’

Wood muses about whether CoDev’s criticism of the government played a role in putting it on CRA’s radar.

Consider the tale of CoDev's two audits. Their first, in 2009, was a relatively innocuous affair:

The auditor came for about four days to the group’s small second-floor office in east Vancouver on June 10, 2009. A few glitches were spotted. For example, CoDev had been reporting some of its money in the wrong boxes on its tax returns, and filing cabinets in the charity’s office containing donor information weren’t being locked.

Case closed, right? Not quite. In 2012, 'Uncle' Joe Oliver, then Natural Resources Minister, in an open letter warned that environmental and other "radical groups" are trying to block trade and undermine Canada's economy.

It wasn't long after this that nonprofits critical of aspects of government policy suddenly found themselves the centre of the CRA's attention. The David Suzuki Foundation, of course, was one of them.

In mid-October, a new audit wass ordered of CoDev, one that began in January of 2013, this one involving three investigators, an auditor and two others whose area of specialty was program funding. They ultimately imposed onerous stipulations on the four-person office, including the translation of all Spanish documents into English. More specific details outlining the Harper-directed CRA vindictiveness can be found here.

Most reasonable people will draw the conclusion that these audits are far from innocent. In the simplistic and bifurcated world of Stephen Harper, you are either with the government or you are with its 'enemies'. If you fall into the latter category, beware the consequences.Recommend this Post

Oh, The Horror!

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 17:08
Words fail me:

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Finding Vivian Maier: A Documentary Recommendation

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 08:32


I feel like taking a break from writing about politics today, so I will briefly turn to another of my favorite topics, documentaries, two posts about which I have written in the past.

Like politics, documentaries at their best deal with nature - either the nature that we are part of, or human nature. Today's recommendation deals with the latter, exploring both the life and the work of amateur photographer Vivian Maier, whose prodigious output was discovered only after her death.

Although there remains much to be digitized, many of her pictures can be viewed here. In my mind, her eye is reminiscent of legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's; both are able to capture those telling moments in life that say so much about us in often subtle, understated ways.

TVO recently showed the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. Here is its introduction:

This fascinating documentary shuttles from New York to France to Chicago as it traces the life story of the late Vivian Maier, a career nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs has earned her a posthumous reputation as one of America's most accomplished and insightful street photographers. When Vivian Maier died in 2009 at age eighty-three, she left behind more than 100,000 negatives of her street photography -images that she'd scarcely shared with anyone. She had spent most of her adult life as a nanny with no spouse, no children of her own and no close ties. Her photographs and belongings were hidden in storage, until the rent came overdue and the facility auctioned them off. They might have vanished into obscurity were it not for the intervention of John Maloof, a twenty six- year-old amateur historian in Chicago, who purchased a box of her unidentified photographs and became obsessed by what he discovered.

You can watch the film by clicking here. If your computer has an hdmi output, I would recommend watching it on your television.Recommend this Post

Explaining Justin Trudeau

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 06:12


No matter what the Liberal leader says or does, his popularity ranks at a consistently high level. While part of the explanation for his standings in the polls surely lies in the Canadian people's weariness with the Harper regime, a regime that has shown itself, through its practices of division, neoliberal politics and fear/hate-mongering, to be unworthy of public office, there must be more to it than that.

Rick Salutin, writing in The Star, offers up an interesting perspective in a piece entitled Paradoxical public art of seeming human. His thesis is that the more a person appears like one of us, i.e., flawed and fallible, the more we will identify with him or her.

He uses as an example the televised debate between Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath. Young Tim pretended to be just an ordinary, folksy kind of guy:

“Look, I’m not gonna be the best actor on the stage. I’m not gonna get up here and give a great performance.” It was a rehearsed shtick, a shucks/shtick. He did it with the rictus grin that others — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, U.S. neo-con Bill Kristol — paste on, presumably because experts tell them they look too stern.

Contrasting that studied 'ordinariness' was Kathleen Wynne, who

sounded bad and looked flustered answering questions on corruption in that debate, but flustered is human, so she also made ground, by contrast with the “human” effects well-prepped by her opponents.

Salutin then examines Trudeau, pere et fils:

Human is human. There’s no formula. Pierre Trudeau looked human by not seeming to give a crap whether anyone cared if he looked human. It was effective.

Now Justin is pulling off the same thing though not in his dad’s way, which would be fatal. He’s warm, ebullient, spontaneous. It seems real, which is as much as we’ll ever know. When he apparently improvised a new anti-abortion policy at a scrum, he looked befuddled by the questions. “Uh, that is an issue that, uh” — then he takes a really long pause as if lost in thought, remembers the press are there, tries again: “I’ve committed in my . . . ” Then cheerily gives up: “Well, it is a tough one.” Says he’ll give it more thought.

While this apparent ineptitude should be reflected in poll results, it is not. Salutin's explanation?

Faced with candidates none of whom is discernibly human, voters will look for something to judge on: sunniness, mellifluousness, square jaw. What the candidates say is never enough since it’s all obviously calculated. But faced with one candidate who’s discernibly human, they’ll tilt in that direction for, well, human reasons. It’s like spying a fellow creature in the wilderness. It may not suffice but it’s a sizable advantage.

The adorable thing about that abortion clip is it could appear in Conservative or Liberal ads: as proof the guy’s in over his head or that he’s a certifiable human.


While electoral behaviour, like all human behaviour, will likely never give up all of its mysteries, Rick Salutin has perhaps provided us with one more tool by which to analyse it.
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Wouldn't A Taser Have Been More Appropriate?

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 05:26
I have often thought that had the video evidence not been so strong and graphic in the shooting of Sammy Yatim, the 'official' police story would have been that the disturbed 18-year-old had lunged at officers and thus had to be killed. What the video apparently showed, however, was what many would describe as the execution of a kid who posed no threat to anyone.

Similar video has arisen in the recent shooting of St Louis resident Kajieme Powell, an obviously disturbed man carrying a knife by his side. According to St. Louis Metro Police Chief Sam Dotson, the officers used deadly force due to the suspect with a knife coming within three of four feet of the officers, which would be considered within lethal range.

While perhaps not as definitive as the Yatim video, the following does cast doubt on the official story. Have a look and make up your own mind:



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In Which Pat Robertson Makes Even Less Sense Than Usual

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 09:22
I'm completely stumped by this one from my favorite crazed evangelical:



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Cowardly Leadership: We All Pay A Price

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 08:35


As I have written in the past, poor leadership costs all of us dearly. Whether looking at local provincial, federal or international politics, the price we pay for leadership that has too high a regard for itself and too little for the people is moral, social, economic and military disarray. Whether we are talking about rampant cynicism with regard to the political process, the demonization of groups within society, the dodging of taxes or the kind of demagoguery that leads to war, all, at least in part, can be tied to defects in leadership. It seems that so many want power, but so few are willing to accept the real burden of responsibility that comes with that power.

Recently, at Northern Reflections, Owen wrote a post on Gerald Caplan's assessment that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians will likely never be resolved. I wrote the following comment:

I fear that Caplan's assessment is depressingly accurate, Owen. While some good but unlikely things have happened in the world, such as the ending of apartheid in South Africa, that achievement palls when compared to the deep-seated and abiding hatreds that seem to prevail in the Middle East and consume so many.

Owen replied: South Africa had Mandela, Lorne. There appears to be no Mandela in the Middle East.

Neither does it have someone like Bishop Desomond Tutu, long a brave warrior in the long march against apartheid, and a man never afraid to enter the lions den, as he did recently in Fort McMurray, where he called the oilsands products “filth” created by greed.

Tutu is showing a similar fearlessness in offering his strong views on Israel's behaviour vis–à–vis the Palestinians in Gaza. Writing in Israel's oldest daily newspaper, Haaretz, the social activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and retired bishop is unsparing in his assessment of the situation, and is calling for a boycott of any company profiting from the occupation of Gaza:

Over the past few weeks, more than 1.6 million people across the world [have joined] an Avaaz campaign calling on corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation and/or implicated in the abuse and repression of Palestinians to pull out. The campaign specifically targets Dutch pension fund ABP; Barclays Bank; security systems supplier G4S; French transport company Veolia; computer company Hewlett-Packard; and bulldozer supplier Caterpillar.

But the heart of what Tutu writes about is hope, not punishment. Drawing upon the Sourth African experience, he says:

We know that when our leaders began to speak to each other, the rationale for the violence that had wracked our society dissipated and disappeared. Acts of terrorism perpetrated after the talks began – such as attacks on a church and a pub – were almost universally condemned, and the party held responsible snubbed at the ballot box.


The real triumph of our peaceful settlement was that all felt included. And later, when we unveiled a constitution so tolerant, compassionate and inclusive that it would make God proud, we all felt liberated.

Of course, it helped that we had a cadre of extraordinary leaders.


The role the boycotts and divestments played in the ending of apartheid, says Tutu, could have the same benefit for Israel and Gaza:

The reason these tools – boycott, sanctions and divestment – ultimately proved effective was because they had a critical mass of support, both inside and outside the country. The kind of support we have witnessed across the world in recent weeks, in respect of Palestine.

My plea to the people of Israel is to see beyond the moment, to see beyond the anger at feeling perpetually under siege, to see a world in which Israel and Palestine can coexist – a world in which mutual dignity and respect reign.

No one can be truly free until everyone is free. The people themselves need to look beyond their leaders and make their voices heard loud and clear. That seems to be the message Desmond Tutu is trying to deliver to this very troubled region of the world.
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Sorry, I've Been Kinda Busy...

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 16:36
That must be the reason that people like Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and her parliamentary secretary Jeff Watson haven't yet had time to read the Transportation Safety Board's damning report on last year's Lac-Mégantic train derailment that killed 47 people:



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Pros and Cons

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 05:45


Following up on Rona Ambrose's stout denial that the government's planned anti-marijuana campaign has anything to do with trying to undermine Justin Trudeau, along with Canadian doctors refusing to be part of a campaign that has become, as they describe it, political messaging, here are the perspectives of two National Post readers:

Re: Health Canada Doesn’t Endorse Medical Use Of Pot, Ambrose Says, Aug. 19.

The time for legalizing marijuana is long overdue. It strikes as more than a little hypocritical that the politicians in this country spend our tax dollars to bewail the evils of pot, while alcohol is given a free pass on being socially acceptable.

It would be interesting to compare the harms caused by alcohol and marijuana. Should we start with tallying vehicular injury and death? Then we could calculate which substance contributes more to violent crime. Then look at which is more likely to cause social ills, such as broken families and spousal abuse. Then we could also measure the medical costs incurred on the health system by both substances.

Every state in the U.S. that has fully legalized marijuana has reported only positive results — socially and economically. It is time that the politicians and the people benefiting from this draconian system of prohibition accept the facts.


Robert Fitzpatrick, Sicamous B.C.

Playing politics

By refusing to take part in a Health Canada anti-drug campaign that will target young people, the doctors are showing their political bias in favour of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who supports legalizing marijuana use. Can’t they see that they have allowed their politics to prevent their informed opinion on discouraging marijuana use to be propagated?

Jiti Khanna, Vancouver.Recommend this Post

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