Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
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Sammy Yatim's Accused Killer Back On The Job

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 05:49


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

More On The Temporary Foreign Workers Program

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 08:55


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommend this Post

Happy Earth Day

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 11:12
I truly wish there was something to celebrate. Take a look at my previous post and the commentary from the Mound of Sound that accompanies it; then watch this short video.

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



Recommend this Post

Words Fail Me Here

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 08:21


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

Ottawa removing North Pacific humpback whales from list of ‘threatened’ speciesRecommend this Post

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program: Yet More Abuse And Heartbreak

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 08:00


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

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

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

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

But Nelson was permanently dismissed.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Recommend this Post

Two Sentiments That Will Resonate With Many

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 05:47


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

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

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

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

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


Mahmood Elahi, Ottawa


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

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

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


John Deverell, PickeringRecommend this Post

Guest Post: The Mound Of Sound On Oligarchy

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 09:45
I am pleased to present to you this second guest post by the Mound of Sound, a.k.a. The Disaffected Lib:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Recommend this Post

A Brief Programming Note

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 09:04


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

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

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

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

See you shortly, and enjoy the long weekend.
Recommend this Post

Slamming Harper Secrecy

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 06:58



The Toronto Star recently revealed the following:

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

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


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

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

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

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


Ottawa keeps drug reviews under wraps, April 12

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

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

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

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

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


Warren Dalton, Scarborough


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

Nicholas Kostiak, Tottenham


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

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

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

Stella Kargiannakis, TorontoRecommend this Post

The House That Ronald Built

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 07:42
... seems to be undergoing some serious perturbations these days. Earlier in the month came the story of three McDonald's outlets in British Columbia abusing the Harper regime's TFWP (Temporary Foreign Workers Program) by hiring temporary workers instead of available local people and reducing the hours of Canadian employees.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

This Has Nothing To Do With Canadian Politics

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 05:17
It is a tale of corporate indifference on the part of Porche, and how the 'little guy' attempts to rectify it:

Recommend this Post

Getting Their Tunics In A Twist

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 11:30
I was very pleased to read that Honey Maid has joined the 21st century, evidence of which can be seen in the following television commercial:.

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

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

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

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

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

Recommend this Post

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

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 08:41
* H/t Dan Gardner

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

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


Recommend this Post

Goodbye, Jim

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 05:55


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Pietro Bertollo, Brampton


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

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

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

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

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


Tony Delville, Stoney Creek

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

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

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

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


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

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

Separate But Not Equal

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 12:06
That would probably pretty much sum up the religious fundamentalists' attitude when comparing science to their literal interpretations of The Bible. The people at Funny or Die decided to run with that sentiment:

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

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

 Recommend this Post

A Tale of Intimidation At TransCanada Corporation

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 06:29


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor had issued other warnings previously:

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

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

Sometimes, Clicking Your Heels Does Not Send You To Kansas

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 12:08


This thoughtful letter explains why:

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

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

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


Lloyd Atkins, Vernon, B.C.Recommend this Post

A Guest Post From The Mound Of Sound

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 05:27


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

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

Enjoy:


For a number of years I posed a challenge to my blog readers. I asked them to think about various woes that afflicted mankind today, among them:

...global warming, including severe storm events of increasing frequency and intensity; droughts (both cyclical and persistent); floods; sea level rise including storm surge inundation, erosion and salination of coastal freshwater resources; ocean acidification; deforestation; desertification; air, soil and water contamination of all varieties; resource depletion, particularly the freshwater crisis; species extinction, especially the collapse of global fisheries; species migration and loss of biodiversity; overpopulation and population migration; pest and disease migration; and a host of entirely man-made security challenges including food insecurity; the collapse of social cohesion resulting in political instability, upheaval and civil war; politically engineered inequality; nuclear proliferation; and both superpower and regional arms races.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Come Not To Praise Flaherty

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 06:36


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

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

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

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

Coyle states:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

All ministers bear responsibility for them.

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


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


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You Know Things Are Really Bad

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 08:44


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

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

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

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

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

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

It cannot be because, as a group of academics put it last month, the bill will “undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process, diminish the effectiveness of Elections Canada, reduce voting rights, expand the role of money in politics and foster partisan bias in election administration.”

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


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



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