Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Updated: 37 min 17 sec ago

A Boost To The Spirit

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 07:38
Fifty years ago, Star Trek - The Original Series - began. As a young person at the time, I was quite enthralled by a series that depicted a time when humanity had apparently solved its myriad problems on Earth and had expanded outward to seek out new life and new civilizations. Although Earth was never shown, one was left with the distinct impression that it had evolved into the closest thing to a Utopia, where harmony and understanding prevailed. The series served as a soothing counterbalance to the tumultuous nature of the Sixties, with war, race divisions, crime and poverty being our reality.

I am far from the somewhat optimistic lad I was 50 years ago, but visiting Word On The Street always reminds me of the idealized world that Star Trek presented: thousands of people milling about, examining, buying and discussing books, a diverse crowd both racially and demographically, citizens engaged and knowledgeable about the world. A hint of Utopia, one I found uplifting in part due to the fact that graybeards like me, although quite sizably represented as we tend to be, were flanked by much younger people for whom knowledge, information and engagement on issues are also very important. it gives me some hope.

We spent three hours at The Star tent, and were fortunate to have arrived early enough for seats, as it turned out to be standing room only. I won't bore you with the details of what was discussed, but I will mention the response I got to a question I asked of Chantal Hebert, Paul Wells and Bruce Campion-Smith (Ottawa bureau chief), who were discussing Trudeau's first year in power. They suggested that with the ousting of Harper, many Canadians feet they can get back to their 'normal' lives for the next four years, given that the polarization and divisiveness of the old regime ended with Harper's ouster. I asked if that is likely to continue, given that issues such as CETA and pipelines will likely prove controversial for the government. The answer that I got is one I am not sure I agree with. The feeling was that few people follow free trade agreements like Ceta, and that pipeline issues are primarily of concern to those living in British Columbia.

I hope they are wrong. Judging by the very large attendance at the greatly expanded Star tent, they may just be.

In any event, I leave you with this letter from today's Star. Clearly, some people are thinking about the issues:
It’s not like we don’t know how trade deals work. And NAFTA is small potatoes compared to CETA and TPP.

While we sit complacently, the Liberals have dispatched Chrystia Freeland to save CETA from wavering European politicians faced with voters actively taking to the streets in displeasure about more compromise on jobs, services, taxes and the environment, all in the name of further enriching the 1 per cent.

Under the guise of global trade have we not lost enough well-paying permanent jobs and seen a decline in important services such as education and health to know we are getting taken to the cleaners, again? Are the unimaginable billions already hidden in tax havens not sufficient for the proponents of one sided trade deals?

Shame on the Liberals who promised change. Shame on Chrystia Freeland, author of Plutocrats: the Rise of the New Global Super Rich and shame on Canadians for not speaking up loud enough to be heard.

Nancy Stevens, Institute of Technical Trades, Toronto


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A Reading Recommendation

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 06:49


Heading off to Word on the Street this morning, so I only have enough time to strongly recommend that you read Marie's post at A Puff of Absurdity on protecting our water sources.

It is an issue of vital importance and one that we should all be very, very concerned about.Recommend this Post

On Nestle's Unslakeable Thirst

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 06:26


I have written previously about the deplorable government 'stewardship' of our natural resources that allows rapacious companies like Nestle to take Ontario's groundwater for literally pennies as it makes obscene profits on bottle water.

Unfortunately, the story keeps getting worse.
Corporate giant Nestlé continued its privatization creep on Thursday as it won approval to take over another Canadian community's water supply, claiming it needed the well to ensure "future business growth."

Nestlé purchased the well near Elora, Ontario from Middlebrook Water Company last month after making a conditional offer in 2015, the Canadian Press reports.

In August, the Township of Centre Wellington made an offer to purchase the Middlebrook well site to protect access to the water for the community. Consequently, the multinational—which claimed it had no idea the community was its competitor—waived all its conditions and matched the township's offer in order to snag the well for itself.Happily, this is not going unnoticed by the Council of Canadians, which has proposed a boycott of the company, one that I encourage everyone to sign. Part of the boycott reads,
"Groundwater resources will not be sufficient for our future needs due to drought, climate change, and over-extraction. Wasting our limited groundwater on frivolous and consumptive uses such as bottled water is madness. We must not allow groundwater reserves to be depleted for corporate profit."For her part the extraordinarily unpopular Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has often acted as if she is surprised by Nestle's pillaging, is now sounding a cautious note.
“As we look at the water bottling industry, that has to be a question because we’re talking about what we could argue is our most precious resource,” she said.

“There is much pressure on our water, so as we have this discussion about our water, the status of and the treatment of water bottling companies, that needs to be taken into consideration.”Hardly a stinging rebuke.

For its part, Nestle has this to say:
Nestle, which has 2,500 employees in Ontario, has said it is prepared to pay more if rates were increased, but only if all companies with water-taking permits face the higher fees.The fact that this multinational company feels free to stipulate conditions on government decisions tells you all you need to know about who is really running the show, doesn't it?



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I Know It Is Unseemly To Make Fun Of The Stupid

Fri, 09/23/2016 - 13:33
.... but sometimes I lack self-control.

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Drowning In Our Excesses

Fri, 09/23/2016 - 06:28
The news is alarming, the statistics incredible, the implications dire. A convergence of factors, not the least of which is climate change, is causing rapid ice-sheet melting in Greenland. It is estimated to be losing 40 trillion pounds more ice than had been previously thought.

We will soon be drowning in our excesses.

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CETA - A Threat We Should All Be Aware Of

Thu, 09/22/2016 - 07:17


A recent post I wrote contrasted the apparent indifference/ignorance of Canadians toward CETA with the furious involvement of the Europeans, most recently the Germans, in open protest against the deal. It is a pact that will see even greater erosion of our ability to enact strong legislation to protect labour, the environment and a host of other realms thanks to the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions that protect multinationals at the expense of citizens. It will further undermine our increasingly fragile sovereign rights.

And sadly, it is a deal the the Trudeau Liberals are avidly embracing.

Scott Sincleair and Stuart Trew write a trenchant reminder of CETA's dangers:
Much more than a trade deal, CETA is a sweeping constitution-style document that will restrict public policy options in areas as diverse as intellectual property rights, government procurement, food safety and environmental protection, financial regulation, the temporary movement of workers, and public services.My previous post noted the weak language governing some of the above, including platitudes like commitments to cooperate, provisions encouraging Canada and the EU to continue developing our resources in a way that is environmentally sustainable, establishes shared commitments to promote trade in a way that contributes to the objectives of sustainable development in Canada and the EU, etc.

All part and parcel of what Liberal International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland calls "a gold-plated trade deal."

As Sincleair and Trew observe,
While CETA’s safeguards for labour and the environment are mainly voluntary and weak, the investor protections are strong and fully enforceable. Such an agreement could only be considered enlightened in an upside-down world.The devolution of our sovereignty began long before CETA, however.
Canada’s experience with investor-state arbitration under NAFTA is pitiful. We are the most-sued NAFTA party despite our highly developed legal system and strong protections for private property. Many of these challenges involve environmental protection policies that were legally enacted, but which upset an investor’s plans or profits.

Just last year, Canada lost a disturbing NAFTA dispute over an environmental assessment that recommended against a massive quarry in an ecologically sensitive part of Nova Scotia. Canada currently faces a raft of claims as a result of progressive policies, such as banning natural gas fracking in the province of Quebec.The pending deal promises more of the same, a source of puzzlement to European progressives:
European labour unions, environmentalists and human rights advocates question why Canada and the EU would want to expand this anti-democratic process through CETA. Despite being rebranded as an “investment court system” with pretenses to judicial independence, the substantive protections afforded to foreign investors remain largely intact. This will expose taxpayers in both Canada and the EU to huge financial liabilities and have a chilling effect on future progressive public policy.

European progressives are also asking important questions about the interplay between CETA and public services. CETA contains no clear protections for governments hoping to expand public services into areas where there is currently private sector competition, or to bring previously privatized services back under public control. Doing so can actually trigger foreign investor claims for compensation, effectively locking in privatization.All the warning signs are there. Whether the vast majority of Canadians can rouse themselves enough to care is an open question.
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Elizabeth Warren Eviscerates Wells Fargo CEO

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 08:28
The world may need more Canada, but it also needs more Elizabeth Warren. A tireless defender of the unrepresented, i.e., the majority of Americans, the Democratic Senator, as you will see in the following videos, is relentless in her systematic pursuit and evisceration of the self-serving rhetoric of Wells Faro CEO John Stumpf as he avers complete innocence in the scandal that has rocked his institution.

First, some brief background which saw the bank firing some 5300 frontline employees
roughly 1 percent of its workforce — for signing up customers for checking accounts and credit cards without their knowledge. Authorities said about 2 million sham accounts were opened going back to 2011, complete with forged signatures, phony email addresses, and fake PIN numbers — all created by employees who were hounded by supervisors to meet daily account quotas. The bank then charged customers at least $1.5 million in fees for the bogus accounts. The greater scandal is that Ceo Stumpf knew about this practice going back to at least 2013 and did nothing. Indeed, his performance bonuses only grew, and Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the banking division responsible for the fake accounts, just left in July with a $125 million retirement package.

The following videos are brief; the first one shows Senator Warren masterfully outlining the parameters of, as she calls it, "this scam;" the second shows her eviscerating the no-longer-smug CEO.



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"His Life Mattered"

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 06:40
“The big bad dude was my twin brother. That big bad dude was a father ... That big bad dude was a son. That big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College, just wanting to make us proud. That big bad dude loved God. That big bad dude was at church singing with all of his flaws, every week. That big bad dude, that’s who he was.”

- Tiffany Crutcher, talking about her brother who, unarmed and posing no threat, was murdered by Tulsa police on Friday.

Sometimes, all we can do is bear witness.





May justice be served.Recommend this Post

This Reality Is Becoming Too Pressing To Ignore

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 09:56


The other day I wrote a post describing how the National Media Council dismissed a complaint from a Toronto Star reader that arose from a New York Times story detailing climate change's impact on the people of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. The reader objected to the fact that climate change was cited as a reason the residents are facing relocation.

The judgement was that there was no need to provide a counterbalance, as the complainant insisted, on the climate change assertions made in the story; the Council declared that climate change is a fact that has been scientifically established, and hence junk science alternatives were not required for balance.

The fact of climate change is evident for anyone who cares not to indulge in willful ignorance. Increasingly intense storms, floods, droughts, habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity and wildfires are attested to in the media almost daily; it seems we have crossed a line, and the changes are happening far more rapidly than predicted by the models.

A case clearly in point is what is happening to the people of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost municipality in the United States, now facing the prospect of becoming climate-change refugees.
Warming air, melting permafrost and rising sea levels are threatening their coastline, and researchers predict that by midcentury, the homes, schools and land around Barrow and its eight surrounding villages will be underwater. This despite decades of erecting barriers, dredging soil and building berms to hold back the water.

“The coastline is backing up at rates of 10 to 20 metres per year,” says Robert Anderson, a University of Boulder geomorphologist who has studied Alaska’s landscape evolution since 1985 and who first noticed in the early 2000s how alarming the erosion was becoming. “It’s baffling.”

When the sea ice melts, the coast becomes exposed to waves, wind and storms that slam into the shore, causing erosion. As ice moves farther from shore, waves can be six-metres high when they reach land, Anderson says.

“The only thing we can do, as far as I’m concerned, is move our towns inland,” says Mike Aamodt, the former acting mayor of Barrow and its surrounding villages of the North Slope Borough, which stretches over 230,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Southern Ontario.Yet another danger the residents face is posed by a thawing permafrost:
As air and sea temperatures have notched up, there has been a warming of the permafrost, the thousands-of-years-old subsurface layer of frozen soil, rocks and water. That layer can be as much as 600 metres deep in parts of this area.

“Sometimes I have that eerie feeling — I’m, like, ‘Oh gosh, we’re on the permafrost,’ ” says Diana Martin, a Barrow-born Inupiaq who works in the town’s museum, over a bowl of caribou soup at her sister’s home a little more than a kilometre from the coast. “What if we start floating away?”Adaptation has not worked in Barrow, and the remaining alternative, relocation, is fraught with problems, not the least of which are the costs that would be involved in such a migration:
One of Barrow’s nearby villages, Point Lay, “is (a mere) 400 people, 40 houses, big buildings, an underground utility system, pipes,” he says. But it’s “probably $500 million to move that town. Then we have Wainwright: We need to move that town, too. It’s on a bluff right against the ocean. That’s 700 people, so I imagine $700 (million) to $800 million.”So the grave problems caused by human activity and indulgences are continuing apace, with no real plans for either mitigation or adaptation. It is all well and good, for example, for Barack Obama to call for $10 billion annually to combat climate change, but as you can see in the case of Barrow and surrounding Alaskan communities, that amount will prove a mere pittance in the very near future.Recommend this Post

Thank You, Germans, For Fighting What Should Also Be Our Battle

Sun, 09/18/2016 - 06:57
While Canadians by and large seem content to sleep through the entire CETA negotiations, uttering nary an objection to a deal that will severely compromise our sovereignty, ordinary Germans are turning out en masse to protest its dangers:
Demonstrators took to the streets of Berlin and six other German cities Saturday to voice their displeasure with pending trade deals, one between the European Union and Canada and another with the U.S.

The treaties they’re concerned with are the yet-to-be ratified EU pact with Canada, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and the EU’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) [the Canadian version is called the Trans Pacific Partnership, but carries essentially the same perils] deal with the U.S. that is still being negotiated.
While the deal between the EU and Canada has escaped the same scale of criticism and widespread outrage among the Canadian public, it continues to be a hot button political issue in Germany and one that protesters are hoping to stop from being ratified sometime in the fall.In broad terms the critics say that CETA would give multinational corporations too much power within European Union markets and they object to a dispute resolution mechanism that has been proposed in the framework agreement.

This dispute resolution mechanism would allow companies to bypass national courts in both countries, allowing then to argue their cases in front of international arbitration panels instead.Despite the fact that we have access to the same information about the dangers of these free-trade deals, few seem upset by the unbridled enthusiasm that both Justin Trudeau and his poodle Chrystia Freeland profess for them:





Despite Freeland's rhapsodic recitation of the improvements that have been made in the CETA deal, a quick check of the facts reveals something quite different, unless motherhood statements and feel-good empty rhetoric are your thing. I would encourage you to read about these 'improvements' yourself under the pertinent sections, but here are a few highlights:
Dispute Settlement

CETA includes a more robust voluntary mediation mechanism than has been included in Canada’s previous trade agreements. Mediation is a cost-effective and expeditious way to resolve disputes without the need for a third party to decide the outcome. When parties choose arbitration rather than mediation, CETA improves on the WTO dispute settlement mechanism by streamlining and shortening the process. In addition, CETA includes an accelerated arbitration procedure for cases requiring urgent resolution, such as those involving live animals and perishable or seasonal foods.So in other words, the great improvements Freeland was extolling have nothing to do with changing what might come under dispute, such as environmental and labour laws, but only offers a faster and potentially cheaper way to resolve conflicts. There is nothing that protects our national sovereignty here, nothing that prevents the signatories from suing governments that enact legislation that may hamper the profits of corporations.

Similarly, the language dealing with labour, environment and sustainable development are peppered with platitudes like commitments to cooperate, provisions encouraging Canada and the EU to continue developing our resources in a way that is environmentally sustainable, establishes shared commitments to promote trade in a way that contributes to the objectives of sustainable development in Canada and the EU, etc.

All in all, empty language that enables the Trudeau government to lie to Canada's citizens. But at least our Prime Minister has a nice smile, perhaps something to dream about as we continue our long, collective snooze.


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A Very Small Victory

Sat, 09/17/2016 - 09:17


In a seemingly endless battle, even small victories deserve to be noted. And it is indeed a small victory on the climate-change front that The Star's public editor, Kathy English, reports on in today's edition.
In dismissing a complaint against the Toronto Star’s publication of a New York Times report about repercussions of climate change on the Louisiana coast, Canada’s National NewsMedia Council has affirmed two important principles.

First, the council indicated that fair and accurate reporting on some subjects — most importantly, climate change — need not engage in what is known in journalism as “false balance” – that is, a perceived need for journalists to seek out “the other side” of a controversial issue when the overwhelming scientific consensus strongly supports one side.

False balance wrongly seeks to provide equal weight to two sides of an argument when in fact the evidence-based information indicates there is no real argument.In adjudicating the complaint, brought by Georgetown resident Pav Penna in response to a New York Times article attributing climate change as a reason for the relocation of residents of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, the Council told Penna
... it is a journalistic standards organization, not “an arena for assessment of or debate on deep science” and pointed out that the article did not say that climate change is the sole reason for changes on Isle de Jean Charles.

“Journalistic standards related to fairness and balance has been satisfied in the article’s noting of factors such as subsidence and channel cutting,” it stated. “Council finds this is a reasonable balance considering the weight of scientific and expert views.”In the greater scheme of things, this victory perhaps means very little, but at least it establishes the principle that fair and balanced reporting does not require the inclusion of those that hew to 'junk science' and other similar crackpot ideas that seek to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is not simply 'a theory among theories,' but rather an established fact.

Those who take exception are, of course, free to read the favourite organs of the far right, including The Sun and The National Post, both of whom rarely let facts get in the way of a good screed. Recommend this Post

Do You Know You May Be Under Surveillance?

Thu, 09/15/2016 - 06:05


Last month I wrote a post on the increasing appetite of police departments to use mass surveillance techniques that make their job easier but represent yet another threat to the privacy rights of citizens. That post revolved primarily around a device called a Stingray, which indiscriminately surveils any cellphone within its multi-kilometre range, and it appears that authorities' appetite for snooping is growing insatiable.

A report, commissioned by the Telecom Transparency Project and the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic and released to The Globe and Mail, explores the use of what are known as ISMI catchers.
An “IMSI,” which stands for “international mobile subscriber identity,” is a unique serial number now affixed to every smartphone’s chip set. It is one of several digital identifiers that police build modern investigations around if they can tie a specific number to a specific suspect.A major problem is that our government does not seem eager to make such technology part of a consultation with Canadians on security issues. Last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced
he is soliciting the public’s views on the powers of police and spy agencies.

Mr. Goodale’s department posted a backgrounder stating that police are frustrated by criminals’ anonymous use of computers and phones. Unfortunately that background, which provides context for the consultation, makes no mention of exploring the use of IMSI devices.
[M]ention of the technological equalizers that allow police to bypass corporate gatekeepers have been left out of the government’s consultation exercise. For some pro-privacy advocates, this is the conversation Canadians should be having.“IMSI catchers pose a particularly insidious threat to real-world anonymity,” write Mr. Parsons and Mr. Israel, who are part of digital-research labs at the Universities of Toronto and Ottawa respectively. Their paper, which is titled “Gone Opaque,” points out that corporations that manufacture IMSI catchers often swear police to non-disclosure agreements.

They suggest the scope of IMSI catchers is currently limited only by the imaginations of government agents who use them. “They can be deployed to geolocate and identify individuals in private homes, to see who visits a medical clinic or a religious meeting, or to identify travelling companions,” the research paper says. “They can be deployed permanently at border crossings, airports or bus depots, or distributed at various points of a city so that movement becomes effectively impossible without a record of it being created.”Like one of the commentators on this article, many will blithely suggest that if we have nothing to hide, why worry?
Can anyone provide the name of a law-abiding person, or non-terrorist sympathising individual in Canada who has been harmed by the use of IMSI devices?

If we are to be kept safe from both domestic and international terrorists and cyber-criminals, the government needs adequate tools.Such a stance betrays a naivete that I find intellectually insulting, so narrowly focused as it is on a particular tree that it fails to see the forest.

Unless we are willing to give carte blanche to our government and the security forces that up to now were supposed to operate within confined and constitutional limits, unless we are willing to give absolute trust to those that have so much power over us, I suggest that all of us should be very, very concerned about our rights and freedoms which, as other countries will readily attest, are never truly secure unless citizens are very, very vigilant and engaged.

As one commentator on the article said,
You realize, right, that the aim of "terror" is to attack free societies to make them give up their freedoms. Democracy is not for sissies.
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Joseph Stiglitz On The TPP

Tue, 09/13/2016 - 06:02
A very brief video, but a very important message about the dangers of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism that is a central part of the Trans Pacific Partnership, and something enthusiastically embraced, it would seem, by our 'new' government:

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