Politics and its Discontents

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Reflections, Observations, and Analyses Pertaining to the Canadian Political Scene
Mis à jour : il y a 44 min 4 sec

More Harper Acquiescence To The Corporate Agenda

il y a 8 heures 54 min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is That The Pitter Patter Of Little Feet I Hear?

il y a 17 heures 6 min
Sorry. False alarm. Turns out it was the sound of Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath doing a fancy dance as she practices her routine for the November leadership review she is facing.

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

Averred the rechristened leader:

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

As reporter Adrian Morrow observed,

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

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

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

She went on to channel her inner Jack Layton:

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

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

Perhaps also significant is this:

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

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

The party will get that chance in November.

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

Recommend this Post

On Harper's True Loyalties

dim, 09/14/2014 - 05:29
In response to yesterday's post about Stephen Harper's boycott of a major climate change summit hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York on September 23, Anon wrote the following, and offered this video which, I think you will agree, is a most appropriate choice:

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

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

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

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

Recommend this Post

No Surprise Here

sam, 09/13/2014 - 11:34
Rather typical, wouldn't you say?

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

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

In fact, 125 heads of state will be there.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, will not.

And please remember:

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

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Israelis Of Conscience

sam, 09/13/2014 - 05:41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More On Health Canada's Depraved Indifference

ven, 09/12/2014 - 06:15

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

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

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

It’s a prescription for disaster.

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

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

That’s scary enough.

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

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

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

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

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


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

That attitude is shameful and dangerous.

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

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

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

jeu, 09/11/2014 - 06:58

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

Yet I fear none of that will happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other FDA inspection reports are equally chilling:

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

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

Another contrast:

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

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

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

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

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

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A Hail Mary Pass From Andrea?

mer, 09/10/2014 - 09:49

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

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

Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess:

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

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

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

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

Yet in the next breath:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perspective That Age Bestows

mer, 09/10/2014 - 06:47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he reminds us of this:

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

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

It is an analysis with which I profoundly disagree.

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

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

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

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

Thus endeth a hard lesson.
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Star Readers And Mandatory Voting

mar, 09/09/2014 - 04:55

In response to a recent column by Susan Delacourt discussing mandatory voting, Star readers weigh in with their usual perspicacious observations, the majority in favour of a less radical solution to the problem of low voter turnout. Here is a small sampling of the responses:

Re: It's time for mandatory voting laws, Insight Aug. 30

Mandatory voting attempts to address only one symptom of Canada’s corrupt 12th century first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system under which most voters do not cast a ballot for a winning candidate. Mandatory voting will not correct this, but merely result in more votes which do not count to elect anyone. We will still have false majority governments that hold 100 per cent control over the House of Commons with much less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

To fix our broken democratic system, we must go back to basics and change how we elect our MPs. We must modernize our electoral system to ensure representation that is in close proportion to the actual votes cast. Proportional representation (PR) shifts the balance of power back toward the people and away from political parties. It’s like flipping a switch that shines the light on us.

Fraudulent robocalls to deter voting would have no impact under a proportional electoral system because votes cast matter more than the arbitrary boundaries of ridings. Each enlarged riding would have multiple MPs.

When voters believe that their votes really matter, they will naturally vote in larger numbers, without being coerced into doing so. This is evident in the 80 plus countries that have successfully implemented an electoral system which achieves some level of proportionality.

At least ten authoritative public studies have been undertaken in Canada on electoral reform, including the comprehensive 2004 Law Commission of Canada Report on Electoral Reform, commissioned by the Liberal Party of Canada. Each study recommended that Canada’s FPTP electoral system be replaced by one providing equal effective votes for citizens and proportional representation in the House of Commons.

The neoliberal fiefdoms of the U.K., U.S. and Canada still use FPTP because they can manipulate it to retain control over governance. Mandatory voting will divert our attention away from implementing an effective solution to Canada’s democratic deficit. Canadians must not let themselves be led astray.

P. E. McGrail, Brampton

Why does Susan Delacourt resort to mandatory voting to increase voters’ participation when a perfectly democratic and rational approach would provide a valid reason for people to vote?

Proportional representation would make every vote count, decrease the polarization of Parliament, reduce the frequency (and costs) of elections and the need for by-elections. Canada would then join the majority of democracies in the world.

In a multiparty, pluralistic society, FPTP is a bankrupt system that most often silences the voice of the majority of the electorate. Vested interest are the reasons for Canada sticking with it.

It is time for the media to support rational and well informed demands to change the present system at all levels of our government.

Bruna Nota, Toronto

If it’s true that “four of every ten Canadians” chose not to vote in the last federal election then it would be a great mistake to compel such uninterested people to cast a ballot. Do we really want to count the votes of those who are forced (by law) to vote and probably represent the lazy, uneducated and could-care-less class of citizens?

The results of such mandatory legislation would certainly have serious, unintended consequences.

George Dunbar, TorontoRecommend this Post

On The Training of Marine Mammals (a.k.a. MPs)

lun, 09/08/2014 - 09:41

As I mentioned in a blog post the other day, I am currently reading Tragedy in the Commons, a book that examines the gross deficits to be found in Canadian parliamentary democracy. One of the recurring complaints of the former MPs interviewed for the book is the lack of independence afforded them, ethereby rendering them unable to effectively represent the interests of their constituents, interests that are routinely superseded by the chief priority of the party, which is to gain and maintain power.

Former Conservative Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, now sitting as an independent, is intimately acquainted with such impotence, and has written a book, set to be released this month, detailing his experiences under iron grip of the Harper cabal.

Entitled Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada, the book

outlines how MPs have seen their powers fade away, reduced to “cheer-leading and barking on command” while the PMO has grown stronger over decades, under Mr. Harper and his predecessors, with little oversight.

While perhaps hardly new or shocking to those who have followed the machinations of the regime over the years, an insider's view does reaffirm the commonly-held perceptions of Mr. Harper's leadership:

The book offers a glimpse into the tightly controlled Conservative caucus, where backbenchers are given little say and punished – a relocated office, a less desirable committee, the cancelling of travel junkets – for stepping out of line.

Indeed, there aren't even any votes in the Tory caucus:

Under Mr. Harper, the Conservative caucus is more of a pep rally, says Rathgeber. Most play along in the hopes of rising to Cabinet, and so willingly submit to uttering prewritten talking points they are given, lobbing softball questions at ministers, and a myriad of other indignities that rob them of both their independence and any spine they might have.

Rathgeber questions the decline of ministerial responsibility, at one point saying cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and Tony Clement should have resigned over their handling of the F-35 and G-8/G-20 summits, respectively. He touches, too, on the responsibility of Mr. Harper for his own staff, pointing to the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy, of which Mr. Harper has disavowed knowledge. “Leaders lead, they do not perpetually search for scapegoats”.

Lest those whose whose allegiances are with one of the other two major parties feel smug, the independent MP offers this:

Opposition MPs may like it, he said. “But if and when they become the government they will summarily dismiss all ... the suggestions designed to stir discussion about how to renew democracy contained in his book.

In that, I fear he is all too correct.Recommend this Post

In Pursuit Of Andrea

lun, 09/08/2014 - 06:07

My post yesterday on Andrea Horwath's leadership shortcomings provoked a series of thoughtful responses that I am reproducing below, on the assumption that the majority of blog readers don't necessarily return to a post to see the ensuing commentary. I hope you enjoy reading the reactions as much as I did:

Kirby Evans September 7, 2014 at 12:01 PM

She will hold on for two reasons - 1. corruption of the process, and 2. because seldom does any party have the courage to stand up for principle and dump their leader. Look how long Hudak held on for and I bet he could have survived another leadership review. One of the many drawbacks of the Party system is that it systematically undermines political courage with a garrison mentality.

Lorne September 7, 2014 at 12:11 PM

You may be right, Kirby, but in the process she might have to resurrect her capacity for 'fancy footwork' to convince the rank and file that she is worthy of any further trust.

The Mound of Sound September 7, 2014 at 1:02 PM

I expect Kirby is right. If it was my call, I'd cast her into the burning bowels of hell!

Anonymous September 7, 2014 at 2:47 PM

The false narrative that the Ontario NDP went right-wing (by being honest and pragmatic on fiscal matters) and that the economically right-of-centre Ontario Liberals became the true "progressive" voice (and somehow transformed into a totally different party by changing their leader) was a magnificent achievement by the Liberal Party and their enablers. Even a lot of traditional NDP supporters fell for this deceptive trick. It should be held up as a model in marketing and public relations classes.

Lorne September 7, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Unfortunately, Anon, it seems to me and many others that Horwath's refusal to support, for example, the Liberal proposal for a made-in-Ontario pension plan, something that she originally promoted, was but one example of her strange drift away from the kind of principled vision the NDP is traditionally associated with.

Anonymous September 7, 2014 at 3:23 PM

In due time, we will see how un-progressive the Ontario Liberals' "most-progressive-in-decades" budget actually is, and that their pension scheme is like most of their policies and programs: sounds good in theory, but in practice would be done half-assed, would cost way too much (with money being shovelled out the door to arms-length board members and outside consultants), and would mostly benefit the wealthy elites instead of society as a whole. Their scandelous record is full of examples.

Lorne September 7, 2014 at 3:51 PM

Time will tell if your prediction is correct, Anon. Of course, one could argue that had Horwath not forced the election, the NDP would still be in a position (i.e., holding the balance of power) to ensure that the kinds of excesses you forecast could not take place.

Anonymous September 8, 2014 at 12:42 AM

That the ONDP held the balance of power was an illusion. The Liberals kept making promises to the NDP in order to get their support on bills, then kept breaking all (or almost all) of those promises. If the NDP kept falling for these lies, they would have rightly been considered chumps.

Kirby Evans September 7, 2014 at 5:30 PM

I am amazed that some people still stand up for Horwath. Though I was never under any illusions about the Liberal Party being particularly "progressive," I know empirically that the NDP moved to the right. My local NDP candidate, a person I have met and who works with a number of my friends, appeared in public more than once speaking about the need to cut public jobs and control their supposedly rich pensions. He simply assured voters that the NDP would make the cuts more humanely and practically than Hudak.

Here is all we need to know - when the Liberals talked about increasing the minimum wage, Horwath disappeared from view for several days saying the she had to consult small business about the issue. When the Liberals introduced an Ontario pension (unarguably a once in a lifetime chance to build an important part of our social system) just as Jack Layton had once done with respect to the national child-care, Horwath decided to bring the government down. HOrwath not only moved the party to the right but she decided to play political games in a typical party attempt to gain seats instead of standing up for policies that will make significant long term improvements to people's lives. And, of course, her gambit failed miserably.

Don't make the bet Ms. Horwath, if you can't pay the bookie. Time to hang your head in shame and quit.

Scotian September 7, 2014 at 10:51 PM

And yet again you demonstrate why I find you always worth the time to read Kirby Evans. I was astounded that she did not offer her resignation after Wynne got that majority, because she threw away the balance of power for zero more seats and barely 1 percent increase in the polls, this despite having one of the best pre-election environments for a possible NDP government in Ontario since Rae's in 1990. I watched with increased amazement and disgust as she tried to replicate the Layton gambit in her Province with far less skill and trust from within her party, and clearly the Ontario Dipper leadership after watching what it got Layton and Canada with Harper wanted no repeat with Hudak in Ontario. This was not some massive marketing scheme cooked up by those somehow both near omnipotent and yet incompetent Liberals, this was a disaster made almost totally by Horwath herself, and an entirely foreseeable one at that.

The NDP in both Ontario and federally needs to either rediscover their roots or stop any pretense of being a party of the people, by the people, and for the people. You cannot claim to be both a party of strong left/progressive ideological convictions and a pragmatic centrist. It is time for the NDP to stop trying to eat their cake and have it. In doing so they are the reality of the image of the Liberals they love to portray their electoral rivals as, a party that stands for nothing but its own powerlust while pretending to have progressive principles.

It will be very interesting to see what happens with Horwath, for it will tell a lot about where the ONDP is headed. Will they show good judgment or will they allow someone who is clearly far more motivated by powerlust (one can have such while wanting to use it for principled means btw, but it still doesn't make it a good thing especially in a leader, Layton being an excellent example of this IMHO) than by good political judgment and leadership. We shall see. It is telling though that Hudak showed better accountability and personal responsibility for his failure than Horwath has, given just how disconnected in many respect Hudak was from reality. The ONDP is not in a good place at the moment, and I also wonder how much from that may spill over onto their federal cousins by the time of the next election, which given how powerful Ontario looms in the seat count of the HoC is not a small consideration, especially for the NDP and their traditional seats in that Province.

The Mound of Sound September 7, 2014 at 7:42 PM

Amen to that, Kirby.

Anonymous September 8, 2014 at 12:47 AM

The Wynne Liberals are going to cut frontline public jobs, cut public services and sell off public assets. Meanwhile, they will keep rewarding the public sector exectutives, high-level bureaucrats and outside consultants, They will also keep the no-strings-attached corporate tax cuts that have been provent to not stimulate the economy or create local jobs.

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Is Andrea's Day Of Reckoning Drawing Nigh?

dim, 09/07/2014 - 06:26

Andrea Horwath, the current leader of the Ontario NDP, about whom I have written the odd past post, may indeed soon be facing the consequences of her recent decision to force an Ontario election that ran the risk, happily averted, of the election of a right-wing Progressive Conservative Party under former leader Tim Hudak. While Hudak was speedily dispatched for his loss, Andrea has thus far been dancing around the choices she made that so inflamed so many party members and supporters.

Today, Martin Regg Cohn's column suggests that the tune to which Horwath has been gamboling may change abruptly starting next weekend:

Ahead of a formal leadership review scheduled for November, Horwath will face the NDP’s provincial council this coming Saturday and Sunday to explain her controversial tactics — before, during and after the election.

“Andrea is fighting for her life,” says one long-time party worker who has sat in on the party’s internal machinations in recent months.

“Among a very large section of the activist base there is little more than contempt for her,” said the NDP loyalist, who requested confidentiality to speak candidly about the manoeuvres.

As many are aware, the more tantalizing the prospect of power became, the more willing Horwath was to recast her party as a centrist-right entity, thereby destroying, of course, any prospect the former 'party of principle' had of being perceived as anything more than a group of populists who wanted to form the government for the sake of being the government. Her gleeful abandonment of the balance of power her party held in the last legislature to pursue the heady power that only the office of the premier can offer has led many to perceive her as a traitor to the party:

It’s no secret that the top leadership of the Canadian Labour Congress has undisguised contempt for Horwath after she refused to support a public pension plan for Ontario (along the lines of an enhanced CPP) which the labour movement holds dear. The CLC’s new leader, Hassan Yussuff, viewed Horwath’s actions as a personal betrayal and is known to have described her as “a coward” who should be dumped.

Most of the Ontario Federation Labour’s member unions are also deeply unhappy with Horwath’s moves, not least her refusal to meet them as a group.

“If the vote were held next week, she wouldn’t hold on,” predicts one party veteran.

And there are also other reasons for party members' disaffection:

In anticipation of a leadership review, Horwath’s team rammed through changes at a pre-election council meeting allowing her inner circle to reclaim — and reallocate — any unused delegate slots 45 days before the November convention. The move was widely seen as a naked power grab orchestrated by the leader’s office, contravening party rules that constitutional changes can only be agreed at full conventions.

By flouting the rules, Horwath has riled grassroots members who were already apoplectic about an opportunistic campaign platform that lacked the party’s imprimatur and descended into pandering.

While Ontario provincial politics may seem of little relevance to those living in other parts of country, the fact is that the lessons of arrogance are universally applicable. Perhaps Andrea's fate, whatever it turns out to be, will be instructive to others. Recommend this Post

Tragedy In The Commons

sam, 09/06/2014 - 08:07
I know that I am hardly alone in sometimes thinking that the insights and observations of progressives have a Cassandra-like quality to them; we think we can see patterns auguring ill for our country and our democracy, but warnings are largely ignored by a quiescent or alienated proportion of the population, the latter so turned off by the cupidity and corruption that seems to abound in the political world that they have just disengaged and decided to pursue other aspects of life that seem more worthwhile.

One can argue that it has always been thus; others can, quite cogently, argue that the process of alienation has vastly accelerated under the Harper regime, the result of a cabal that has made an art out of vilification, dirty tricks and divisiveness as it relentlessly pursues its raison d'être, the retention of power for its own sake.

I have just started reading Tragedy in the Commons, written by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, who founded Samara, a non-profit devoted to strengthening democracy in Canada by improving political participation.

Here is a brief excerpt from it about the role of the MP as offered by a former Liberal:

The truth is: you're there to develop policy that is self-serving and beneficial to your party in order to keep you in power and get you re-elected...

That bald statement epitomizes the monumental task before those who seek a renewed democracy, one that offers both hope and the opportunity to feel a part of something larger than themselves, something truly worthwhile.

While I was intending this post as a lead-in to more commentary on how the Conservatives have so abjectly failed in the above regard, other duties summon me, so for now I will leave you with this brief video:

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That Crazy Old Evangelical Strikes Again

ven, 09/05/2014 - 13:51
You're never too old, counsels Pastor Pat:

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A Voice From The Past

ven, 09/05/2014 - 07:28

The always mellifluous Brian Mulroney offers some less than sweet-sounding words for the Harper government. As reported in The Globe and Mail, in an interview with Don Martin on CTV's Power Play, the former prime minister is quite critical of aspects of of the current, and warns that the electoral appetite for change is real and needs to be respected.

About Harper's very public and disgraceful dispute with Canada's Chief Justice, he says:

“You don’t get into a slagging contest with the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, even if you thought that he or she was wrong ... You don’t do that.”

On Canada's current relationship with the United Natons:

“When Canada, for the first time in our history, loses a vote at the United Nations to become a member of the Security Council . . . to Portugal, which was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time, you should look in the mirror and say: ‘Houston, I think we have a problem.’”

Without explicitly criticizing the Harper record on the environment, Mulroney says that

a “pristine environment” is important to Canada’s middle class.

“There are very few things that the middle class value more than the environment . . . and that’s one thing we can deliver on,” he said.

“The prime minister alone has to make it a very strong priority of the government, has to make sure it has the funds and the clout.”

About Justin Trudeau:

“His program is that he’s not Stephen Harper ... When I ran in ‘84... I won because I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau and then Jean Chrétien 10 years later won because he wasn’t Brian Mulroney. So it’s part of a desire for change, which is normal, and so I think it’s going to make for a great election [in 2015].”

Like a priest inspecting the entrails of a sacrificed animal, Mulroney's words suggest impending darkness for the Harper crew. And like many imperial presences of the past, Emperor Harper is likely to ignore these auguries at his peril and our gain.

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Joan Rivers

jeu, 09/04/2014 - 13:24
I was never a fan of Joan Rivers, though I take no pleasure in the fact that she has died. However, you can call me churlish and insensitve, but I doubt that the celebrity hagiography likely to ensue will include this outburst from last month:

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A Union Victory

jeu, 09/04/2014 - 11:44

About a year ago I wrote two posts on Richtree Market, the union-busting Toronto eatery that got the clever idea of terminating all of its unionized employees, shutting down its restaurant, located in the Eaton Centre, only to reopen later a few doors down (about 50 metres) from its original spot, much larger and still within the Eaton Centre. It rehired none of the former staff but instead offered lower-paying jobs to non-union members.

Happily, this story of corporate craftiness has a happy ending and once more reminds us of the importance and relevance of unions in fighting for and defending workers' rights.

Brought before the Ontario Labour Relations Board by the union representing the workers, the

dispute between Richtree Markets and Unite Here Local 75 hinged on the exact street address of the Eaton Centre, with the restaurant arguing the union’s collective bargaining rights didn’t apply to the new site.

Thinking they were clever, Richtree argued

that the street address on the union’s collective agreement, 220 Yonge St., did not apply to the new location, given the address of 14 Queen St. W. — which was not a physical entrance to the mall.

The restaurant's sophistry was readily apparent to the Board:

In January, labour board chair Bernard Fishbein ruled the union’s bargaining rights “should not be extinguished by a move of some 50 metres across the corridor of the mall,” especially to an address “that presently has no real existence other than on a piece of paper.”

“There is no doubt that the official municipal address of the Eaton Centre has not changed (and obviously not moved),” Fishbein wrote in the board’s decision.

Subsequently, about 140 non-unionized workers at Richtree’s Eaton Centre location ratified a new collective agreement last week.

Under the new collective agreement, the 50 employees of the old location will have the opportunity to resume working at the restaurant with their seniority intact.

A victory that is sweet to savor, and one that once more reminds us that workers' rights need to be zealously guarded and never taken for granted.Recommend this Post

The Murky Lessons Of History

jeu, 09/04/2014 - 06:43

Blindingly clear for some, obscure and ambiguous for others, the lessons of history need to be given close scrutiny these days, especially by our chickenhawk prime minister. Like so much else that his regime brays and sputters about, Stephen Harper's recent tough talk about the Ukraine and the Middle East conceals, minimizes, dismisses or entirely overlooks some very inconvenient truths.

Perhaps still smarting over having missed out on the first Iraqi war, which he supported, Harper seems to be eagerly embracing the latest opportunities fate has brought him. Fortunately, The Star's Thomas Walkom is there to remind him and us of some things best heeded.

During the last Iraq war, many nations, including Germany, France and Canada, officially chose to stay aloof.

This Iraq war is supported by a large array of Western nations including France, Britain, Italy, Australia, Germany — and Canada.

And, unfortunately, the opposition parties seem to have drunk from the same poisoned well as Harper:

In 2003, Canada’s Liberals and New Democrats vocally opposed going to war in Iraq. Eleven years later, both opposition parties seem onside.

Incited by the recent gruesome and unspeakably barbaric beheadings of two American journalists, historical perspective seems to be lost.

But Walkom points out a salient reminder that not all monsters are or can be dealt with with dispatch:

First, the world contains many monsters. The West studiously avoids direct military involvement in Congo’s brutal civil war for instance, even though the atrocities committed there are equally barbaric.

Second, Islamic State militants are deliberately trying to draw the U.S. and its allies into the quagmire of Syria and Iraq.

And this, of course, has happened before, with disastrous results that should have surprised no one:

Provoking America into overreaction was Osama Bin Laden’s aim in 2001. He succeeded masterfully, provoking not only the West’s ill-fated adventure in Afghanistan but George W. Bush’s subsequent and even more ill-fated invasion of Iraq.

In 2011, NATO’s military attacks on the forces of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi gave Islamic militants another victory.

Not only did NATO warplanes leave Libya in political chaos. They also allowed militants to seize weapons from Gadhafi’s well-stocked armories — weapons that have been used by Islamists throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Yet a collective amnesia and hysteria seems once more to have taken hold on the world stage, an amnesia exploited by warmongers like Harper. In his Manichean world, the good wear white hats and the bad, black. Suggesting anything more subtle and nuanced would, I suspect, be entirely lost on him.

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A Prime Minister Hath No Honour In His Own Country

mer, 09/03/2014 - 06:22

That paraphrase of a famous line from the Bible perhaps sums up the pitiable plight of Stephen Harper, gallant man of the world and fearless foe of evil on the world stage. Despite his indefatigable efforts to denounce the Teutonic tendencies of Vladimir Putin in the Ukraine or stand unreservedly with Israel in its disproportionate responses to Gazan irritants, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, he appears to be unable to secure any respect.

There is, for example, that chronic naysayer at The Toronto Star, Tim Harper, who opines that for all of his tough talk, Mr. Harper has no defining accomplishment on his foreign policy ledger.

But is nothing sacred? Rewarding the prime minister's unyielding support of and service to Israel, B'Nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant has announced his intention to nominate Dear Leader for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He said Mr. Harper has demonstrated international leadership and a clear understanding of the differences between those who “seek to do evil” and their victims.
As a professor of modern Israel studies at Canada Christian College, Dimant qualifies as a nominator under the rules.

Let's just say that the announcement was met with outrage in some Canadian quarters.

But what do the people think about this singular honour possibly being bestowed on Canada's leader? Alas, there is no comfort to be had, apparently, even from one of the perennial cheerleaders of the Harper regime, The Globe and Mail. Here is what two of its readers think:

Re B’nai Brith CEO To Nominate Harper For Nobel Peace Prize (Aug. 30):

Why stop at the Nobel? Let’s nominate Stephen Harper for a Polaris for his music covers; an Emmy for his online TV show and a Governor-General’s award for his hockey book. Make him a trophy – a silver glazed donut on a plinth. It would cost us less than $30.

Clive Robertson, associate professor, art history, Queen’s University, Kingston

I was interested to learn that the CEO is eligible to nominate the PM as a professor at Canada Christian College. As a retired professor previously unaware of this credential, I shall hasten to nominate my miniature schnauzer, Guinness.

Like our PM, Guinness “has consistently spoken out with resolve regarding the safety of people under threat.” I refer to his shrill, predictable barking to defend the Bowd family’s territory from the daily invasion of the postman.

Alan Bowd, professor emeritus of education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay

Of course, I suppose the Harper crew could simply dismiss such carping as the ranting of 'liberal elites.' Guess they'll have to hope it doesn't spread in 2015.
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