Re: Doubling is troubling, April 11 Eleven million people with TFSAs seems like a lot of lost tax revenue. It is simply another way to avoid taxes and should be stopped, not increased. Of course under Harper it will only increase and continue to decimate our social programs.
The opposition must be united in campaigning against this blatant tax cut and revenue loss.
Elaine Purdie, Toronto
The Conservative government seems to think they are doing such a great service to Canadian families by providing its Universal Child Care Benefit and by increasing the TFSA contributions to $11,000.
Social Development Minister Candice Bergen actually thinks that the Child Care Benefit gives families an equal choice. And Finance Minister Joe Oliver believes that the TFSA is somehow equally beneficial to all.
Are they deliberately blind to the plight of middle and lower income families? Do they not understand the situation of single parent families? What percentage of families have a stay-at-home parent? Who can afford a properly licensed daycare facility? Who has the disposable income to put away $5,000 a year let alone $11,000?
It’s obvious that Oliver, Bergen and company do not know or care to know the real financial situation for the vast majority of Canadian families and they certainly do not want to hear what the experts are saying. They might have had a better understanding had they not cancelled the long-form census, but why bother with data when you can make policies out of ideology?
It really is time to unseat this incredible bunch of no-nothing ideologues.
Stephen L. Bloom, Toronto
There is an underlying aspect to the various tax cuts the Harper Conservatives have implemented or will be implementing – increased TFSA contributions, GST cuts, income splitting, etc. – that has fallen below the radar. The commitments Joe Oliver is talking about are ways to destroy the federal government’s ability to raise revenues for generations to come and impede the ability of progressive future governments to repair the social safety net Stephen Harper has been slashing since 2006.
What voters fail to see is that for every 50 cents of tax breaks they get from Harper, they face a dollar in increased fees or lost coverage at every level of government because federal transfers are disappearing.
The extra cup of Timmy’s they can now buy every week means fewer meat inspectors, transportation safety checks, fiery tank-car derailments, or uninvestigated chemical spills in our lakes and rivers.
Sure, the rich will benefit more now, but in the end, everybody loses.
Mark Jessop, Barrie
Given that the doubling of the TFSA maximum will cost future governments billions in revenue, any measure that ties governments hands regarding running any deficit would inevitably result in massive cuts to programming, which could prove politically toxic.
It remains to be seen how firm the “no deficits” language will be, but if the current government really does intend to tie the hands of future governments, one has to assume that the Conservatives are thinking that those future governments will not be Conservative.
- Canadians for Tax Fairness offers a checklist to allow us to determine whether the federal budget is aimed at improving matters for everybody, or only for the privileged few. And Andrew Jackson argues that the Cons' focus should be investment in jobs and sustainable development: Business investment is likely to fall even further due to the resource slump and halted mega projects. This might be offset a bit by new investment in the hard-hit manufacturing sector and in high tech, though there is no sign of that in the most recent numbers.
In this context, the federal government should be doing everything in its power to boost a slowing economy and to help set the stage for a more durable, investment driven recovery.
Ottawa has been advised by the IMF and many prominent economists, from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to former federal deputy minister of finance Scott Clark, that it can and should boost public investment, especially in mass transit and basic municipal infrastructure.
Since the economy is operating with a significant and growing slack, such spending would boost GDP by more than the actual increase in investment. The federal government itself has cited figures showing that the boost to infrastructure investment in the recession had a multiplier impact on the economy of 1.5, meaning that GDP rose by $1.50 for every $1 spent.
The case for public investment is even more compelling now that the Government of Canada can borrow long term at interest rates well below the rate of inflation to finance projects such as mass transit which demonstrably have a positive economic return in terms of boosting long-term productivity. ... There is also a need to focus our research and development efforts on industries which will transition us to much more environmentally sustainable economy, such as renewable energy, the construction of a national power grid to displace coal-fired power, and the promotion of much more energy efficient technologies throughout the economy. The federal Budget will likely pay lip service to boosting investment through small additions to existing commitments. But the current government has given the real priority to costly tax cuts such as family income splitting and doubled TFSA contribution limits, leading them to cut spending on direct government programs to balance the books.
Lack of real attention to investment will leave our sluggish economy dangerously dependent upon growing household debt, and ill-prepared to face the economic and environmental challenges of tomorrow. - But David Olive reminds us that the Cons are actively working to demolish the government's ability to serve as more than a conduit for corporate interests. And Seth Klein notes that the use of tax-free savings accounts to line the pockets of the wealth at the expense of the rest of us also serves as compelling evidence as to who's intended to benefit under the Harper Cons.
- Meanwhile, John Lorinc reports on the use of community benefits agreements to ensure that good jobs are available to the people who need them, offering an important reminder that role of government shouldn't be limited to handing out money without considering how to maximize its effect.
- Thomas Walkom calls out the Ontario Libs for trying to use a sideshow of beer sales to distract from the reckless selloff of Hydro One.
- Bruce Johnstone notes that the Cons' corporate giveaway of what's left of the Canadian Wheat Board is happening despite a glaring lack of answers to major questions, while Mia Rabson offers a eulogy for the CWB. And the National Farmers' Union points out that labeling what's left as "Canadian" is a matter of spin and wishful thinking.
- Finally, Doug Cuthand rightly slams the Cons for trying to blame First Nations men alone for Canada's shameful legacy of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Yesterday I wrote about how Stephen Harper is invoking a clause in the anti-terror act to try to prevent a court from revealing his family's secrets, in a case brought by a former RCMP officer. And today the Judge in that case reserved her decision. But that's not the only secret Harper is trying to conceal. He also doesn't want us to know how the Cons came up with the slogan they are now bombarding us with: "Strong, Proud, Free." Read more »
Justin Trudeau appears to have ruled out any coalition arrangement with the NDP. But Chantal Hebert believes that such an arrangement is still possible:
But what if, instead, the Conservatives finished only two or three seats ahead of the runner-up?Would Canada then not be better served by a minority government whose stability was ensured by some form of formal understanding with one of its opposition rivals? It was in similar circumstances that David Peterson’s Liberals struck an alliance with the NDP to replace the Tories in power at Queen’s Park in the mid-1980s.If the result had not been as close — a mere four seats separated the first-place Conservatives from the Liberals on election night — chances are the Tory status quo would have prevailed. No leader is going to talk coalition as he or she goes into an election. But, ultimately, voters will determine what arrangements will be necessary in the House of Commons: If they were to make a move along the lines of a coalition or some looser arrangement to oust Harper they would have to cross the Rubicon at the time of the speech from the throne.
Likewise, the current speculation is almost always premised on a second-place Liberal party to the exclusion of a) the NDP keeping the lead opposition position in a minority parliament and b) the Conservatives falling to third place.
Conventional wisdom currently has it that the odds for such outcomes range from improbable to unthinkable. Voters have been known to defy the conventional wisdom.
A quick note: We'll be in Montreal for the next couple of days. Enjoy Spring. It's finally here.
Some time ago, I put together this list of principles worth considering when talking about structured cooperation between political parties. And consistent with Ian Gill's own warning about his lack of connection to party structures, his proposal for a secret pre-election pact manages to fail on nearly every front.
But while there's some reason for question about Gill's intended direction, the bigger issue is his presumption that we need our political parties to drag us there. So let's clarify the options available to Canadians who want to further an "ABC" agenda in the lead up to this fall's election.
While our votes are necessarily limited to choosing from among the options available to us in our home riding, every other form of political involvement can be done wherever and for whichever party an individual sees fit.
Is your priority to donate to and volunteer for the candidate with the strongest perceived likelihood of defeating a Con in your home riding? You're welcome to do so and organize others to join you. And you can be pretty well assured that whichever candidate you ask to support won't turn you away.
Are you enough of a party loyalist to want to make sure your efforts elect a candidate of your partisan stripe? You can choose which candidate and riding you help out with - whether local or not.
Or are you enough of an anti-Harper activist that you don't care who you're helping or where, so long as you maximize your marginal contribution to defeating Con MPs? Again, you don't need a party operative's approval (or worse yet, a backroom deal) to determine where your efforts are best applied.
And with all of those options available to every Canadian, there's absolutely no need for parties to strike hidden deals, declare candidates to be sacrificial lambs, or alienate core supporters by telling them they're supposed to direct their efforts toward electing adverse parties.
If enough people share the viewpoint that defeating as many Cons as possible is the top priority, they have the capacity to seek out what appear to be the most important ridings and systematically tilt the balance in favour of opposition parties. (And while the same option may not be available for actual voting purposes, a strategy based on working to persuade people now will have far more impact than yet another hastily-assembled vote-swapping scheme.)
So the message shouldn't be to hold your nose and do as you're told based on a backroom deal to divide up volunteer efforts. Instead, everybody has the opportunity to influence the election in a way that allows them to hold their head up high. And we should be encouraging progressives to get in the habit of doing just that.
We in the West for much too long have taken our military supremacy over everybody else for granted. With a lead partner (or perhaps "head office" would be more apt) like the Pentagon how could we think anything else? It's a given that we have the best and the most of everything from the infantry rifleman to stealth bombers.
There's a dangerous tendency to look at defence spending as the measure of military power. On that score the United States should have no rivals for it outspends the next dozen or so biggest military spenders combined. But recent analysis suggests that America doesn't get very much bang for its defence buck, certainly not compared to its emerging rivals such as China.
China targets its military spending to what it needs for a) self-defence and b) expanding the nation's 'sphere of influence' to suit its emerging economic superpower status. The United States doesn't spend an awful lot on self-defence. You don't need thousands of Abrams tanks to defend Wyoming. America's defence spending should be called "offence spending" to reflect the inherently offensive systems that the United States deploys.
Take stealth for example. The B-2 bomber, the F-22 Raptor fighter and the F-35 light attack bomber - they're all offensive. When the USAF conducted "Operation Chimichanga" it was a dress rehearsal for a first strike on China to neutralize the Chinese air defences, paving the way for a sustained air campaign on the People's Republic. It was an adjunct to the Air-Sea Battle doctrine focused on China and Southeast Asia. It has now evolved into the "A2/AD" doctrine meant to counter anti-access and area denial (defensive) capabilities in China's home waters.
Provocative? Ya think? It's the sort of behaviour that sparks arms races and, not surprisingly, that's precisely what's happening. The Chinese are building submarines and medium-range missiles specifically designed to sink American aircraft carriers. They're building their own stealth warplanes (with a great deal of help from massive amounts of stealth data hacked from American and British computers). They're developing island air bases in the South China sea, the latest in the hotly disputed Spratleys.
Russia, too, with NATO parked right on its doorstep, is rapidly re-arming. New warplanes, including a new stealth bomber. New subs, a new class of long-range missiles to go with them. New, longer range, cruise missiles - perfect for an over-the-pole saturation attack on North America. New tanks. New, new, new - new and better (in a way, I suppose).
Which brings us to military historian and BBC defence correspondent Mark Urban's new book, "The Edge" in which he asks whether the West has lost its dominance in conventional warfare. Spoiler Alert - the answer is "Yes."
Mr. Urban warns that, "projected cuts “will make it impossible for America to have the kind of military reach it used to”. Many Americans, he adds, “do not realise that the age of a single global hyperpower is over. And, actually, it’s worse than that. For it is only by combining metrics of that decline with the growth in military capabilities elsewhere that you can gain a sense of how quickly the scales are tipping”.
Now, says Urban, Russia, China and India have such strong conventional forces, and America has cut its forces so much, that in the event of a conflict “the US would be left with the choice of nuclear escalation or backing down”. He adds: “Against a full-scale invasion of South Korea, the US would have little choice but to go nuclear.” Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and some other countries could “mount a credible conventional defence that would leave the United States having to think the unthinkable, with profound implications for the world”.
Would the US really need to contemplate a nuclear attack on these countries? Urban does not really answer the question. More convincingly, he talks about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear blackmail at a time when Russia and China are reverting to the notion of “spheres of influence” and when, as he puts it, the idea that political power grows from the barrel of a gun is back with a vengeance in many parts of the world. “A growing threat to world order,” says Urban, will ultimately lead to more countries acquiring nuclear weapons, as well as chemical and biological weapons, and what he calls “cyber weaponry”.
I should have Urban's book in a couple of weeks and I'll post a full review. Unfortunately there are plenty of regional and even a few global arms races underway although we hear close to nothing about them from our mainstream media. Warfare itself is changing across the gamut from the smallest failed state (Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan) to the ascendant superpowers. As we ought to have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, having "All the King's horses and all the King's men" no longer yields reliable results.
This offensive mentality that was so ruthlessly implanted during the Bush/Cheney years now threatens our own security. Every schoolyard bully learns that you can threaten people only so long before someone calls you on it.
It's probably a good time to put a lid on the hyper-bellicose nonsense spewed out by NATO. Let's focus on what we need to actually secure ourselves, to defend our coasts and airspace. It's shaping up to be a tough and intensely dangerous century.
Humans, and other primates, it appears, have an innate sense of fairness. We expect, for example, in times requiring sacrifice, that no member of society will be exempted. When we are part of a long queue, for example, we expect everyone to bide their time and wait as well; someone attempting to jump the queue is rightfully deeply resented and scorned.
Of course, rules and expectations of fairness and equality are broken everyday by those with the means. If you are willing to pay for the privilege, you can buy into express lines, such as those that exist at Universal Express and Disney World FASTPASS. If you are in need of a new kidney fast, there are brokers who can arrange such transactions with dispatch.
Are there things that money cannot or should not be able to buy? That was the central question Michael J. Sandel posed in a book I read several months ago called What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. A very thought-provoking work, it explores the fundamentally alienating effects that some purchases can have, as in the above-mentioned kidney transactions, that leave us with less regard for our fellow-travellers in life. Indeed, there are some cases that really reduce them to mere commodities.
I couldn't help but think of such things this morning as I read about how some people are circumventing the tough water-rationing measures recently imposed in California, a state now in its fourth year of extreme drought. Gardens stayed lush and lawns verdant as citizens paid tanker trucks to deliver thousands of gallons to homes in the seaside suburb of Santa Barbara. They drilled in back yards, driving the county’s tally of new wells to a record. Some simply paid fines for exceeding allocations, padding the water district’s budget by more than $2 million.
“People feel strongly about their landscaping and want to keep their homes beautiful,” said Patrick Nesbitt, who drilled a well to hydrate parts of his 70-acre estate but let his polo field go dry. “Why should anybody object?”Actually, there are many reasons to object. One is the fact that money is being used here to opt out of good citizenship, which a healthy society requires. Why should certain parties be exempt from turf-removing initiatives that others are following as they substitute drought-tolerant plants for thirsty lawns?
Paying tanker trucks to bring in water simply postpones dealing with the drought, and one can't help but wonder where that water is coming from. Are other jurisdictions selling water for short-term profit? And what about this statistic from wealthy Montecito, California? The top three users for Montecito in 2012/13 guzzled close to 30 million gallons alone... enough water to provide the needs of a small townEven the drilling of wells that the well-heeled can afford are acts of massive disrespect of the greater good. The aquifers, quite frankly, cannot take it: Measurements of water levels in wells throughout the state show that aquifers are being significantly depleted in many areas as more water is drained out than seeps back into the ground.
An analysis of groundwater data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and two other agencies has found that, of 3,394 wells across the state, water levels declined in about 62 percent of the wells between 2000 and 2013. As noted by Dennis Dimick in National Geographic As drought worsens groundwater depletion, water supplies for people and farming shrink.I am not offering any fresh insights here about the contradictory impulses of human nature; the fact that "some animals are more equal than others" was noted a long time ago by George Orwell and many others. But given the times in which we live, such behaviour does merit increased scrutiny and perhaps even condemnation.
Lest all of the above prove too dispiriting to readers, allow me to leave you with something that should leave us all feeling a mixture of both shame and hope:
- Jeffrey Simpson lambastes the Cons' determination to slash taxes and hand out baubles to the rich for the sole purpose of undermining the fiscal capacity of government to help Canadians. And Jeremy Nuttall highlights how a cuts to the CRA are allowing tax cheats to escape paying their fair share with little prospect of detection.
- Jacquie Maund makes the case to include dental care as part of a full public health system. And Carolyn Shimmin discusses the connection between childhood poverty and poor health which can impose burdens lasting a lifetime: 2. There is a direct link between socioeconomic status and health status. Robust evidence shows that people in the lowest socioeconomic group carry the greatest burden of illness. This social gradient in health runs from top to bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum. If you were to look at, for example, cardiovascular disease mortality according to income group in Canada, mortality is highest among those in the poorest income group and, as income increases, mortality rate decreases. The same can be found for conditions such as cancer, diabetes and mental illness.
3. Poverty in childhood is associated with a number of health conditions in adulthood. More than one in seven Canadian children live in poverty. This places Canada 15th out of 17 similar developed countries, and being at the bottom of this list is not where we want to be. Children who live in poverty are more likely to have low birth weights, asthma, type 2 diabetes, poorer oral health and suffer from malnutrition. But also children who grow up in poverty are, as adults, more likely to experience addictions, mental health difficulties, physical disabilities and premature death. Children who experience poverty are also less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to live in poverty as adults. - Michael Spratt writes that the Cons' posturing on crime isn't intended to produce legislation which is viable from a policy standpoint or even constitutionally valid, serving instead to generate a steady stream of grievances to rile up their base.
- Craig Forcese debunks the spin that the Cons' terror bill has anything to with matching international standards rather than racing to the bottom when it comes to civil rights. Dr. Dawg reminds us that even before C-51, we have dangerous laws on the books allowing Canadians to be detained or to have freedoms severely restricted based on nothing but speculation. And Andrew Mitrovica notes that due to the Cons, even the federal government is less able to exercise oversight over CSIS than it was before.
- Finally, Ryan Meili interviews George Lakoff about some of the ways progressives can better challenge political messaging from the right. And Cass Sunstein highlights new research on the values which motivate voters of different political persuasions.
Ostensibly, Indian Prime Minister Modi is in Canada to sign a uranium deal and ease visa restrictions between the two countries. Don't believe it. Tim Harper writes:
Take a look at the receiving line at the airport in Toronto and Vancouver for Modi.There you will find Conservative MPs with some of the largest Indo-Canadian populations shaking hands as the cameras whirred. There was Brad Butt of Mississauga—Streetsville, where 19 per cent of the population is of South Asian heritage, and there was Bob Dechert of Mississauga—Erindale, where the South Asian population stands at 15 per cent.Kyle Seeback of Brampton West, where 27,000 residents claim South Asian heritage, was there. In Vancouver, there was Nina Grewal of Fleetwood—Port Kells, where 22,000 residents list their country of birth as India, and Wai Young of Vancouver South, where up to 15 per cent of the population is from India. And, Harper continues, it was no accident that the last leader to address Parliament was President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine: who publicly thanked Harper for his support in his address last September.
The Ukrainian diaspora in this country is roughly equivalent to the Indian diaspora — about 1.2 million — and it can swing at least 10 Canadian ridings.
We are told Harper’s Israeli support is a question of morality, his Ukrainian support is aided by a longtime suspicion of Vladimir Putin, and his embrace of Modi rooted in years when the Indian leader was shunned by many in the international community
The Conservatives swept Brampton ridings in 2011 and having incumbents smiling in photos with Modi will not hurt their re-election chances. The "economist" whose economy has tanked is now posing as a "world leader."
As we know Stephen Harper is preparing to pass Bill C-51 so he can turn Canada into a police state and spy on us all. Because he does want to dig up as many dirty secrets as possible, use them against his opponents. And finally achieve the state of Total Control the voices in his head have been demanding for so long. Because they don't call him Ol' Handcuffs for nothing eh? But it seems that Great Ugly Leader doesn't like the idea of Canadians finding out his dirty secrets. So he's making that a terrorist offence. Read more »
Oh no. Somebody do something. Jason Kenney is in trouble, again. He's supposed to be terrorizing the Russians. Canada will deploy approximately 200 troops to Ukraine to train local forces fighting Russian-backed separatists, the government announced Tuesday. But instead he's terrorizing OUR side. Because nobody at National Defence Headquarters knows what he's going tweet next!!! Read more »
Here, on Brad Wall's appalling admission that the Saskatchewan Party's plan for a low-carbon economy is to move into Ontario's basement rather than pursuing sustainable development in Saskatchewan.
For further reading... - Wall's comments and other provincial positions in the lead up to this week's premiers' meeting can be found here. - Geoffrey Vendeville reported on the earlier cap-and-trade agreement between Ontario and Quebec. And Yasmine Hassan discussed the massive Quebec climate change rally. - The Saskatchewan greenhouse gas bill which has been passed but never proclaimed in force can be found here (PDF). - Joe Romm reports on the new cost-effectiveness of electric car batteries here. And Tom Randall and John Lippert both point out that storage costs are also plummeting for solar power generation.
Ukrainian-Canadians could be game-changers in federal election"Federal political parties have been staunchly showing support for pro-Western aspirations in Ukraine and condemning Russian aggression in the Crimean peninsula. The fact there are more than 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent may help explain this.An Ottawa Citizen analysis shows that Canadians identifying themselves as being of Ukrainian represent a potentially game-changing voting bloc in dozens of federal ridings. The fact ridings with large Ukrainian-Canadian populations in Toronto, Winnipeg and parts of Saskatchewan were hotly contested in 2011 speaks to the importance of each party being active on Ukraine." Berthiaume gives examples of the percentage of Ukrainian-Canadians in those ridings from the last election. A few of them :
Yorkton-Melville, Sask. - 29.3%
Elmwood-Transcona in Winnipeg, won by 300 votes - 20.6%
Winnipeg North won by 44 votes - 13.3%
Winnipeg South Centre won by 722 votes - 13.4%
Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar - 13.7%
Palliser, Sask won by 766 votes - 11.1%
Wascana, Sask - 13.1%
Royal Military College professor and Ukrainian-Canadian Lubomyr Luciuk argues that party affiliation mattered more than the individual MP’s identity in the last election, as when Con MP Ted Opitz in Etobicoke Centre beat Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who is of Ukrainian descent. The margin of victory was 26 votes."Before the election, the Conservatives accidentally released documents that confirmed they were targeting the riding’s Ukrainian-Canadian community, which numbers 7,955 and represents 7.1 per cent of the population.“There were Ukrainian-Canadians working for Ted Opitz against a Ukrainian-Canadian because he was in the wrong party at that time,” Luciuk said. “Whereas the Conservative party was making all the right sounds about things Ukrainian.”Making all the right sounds about things Ukrainian.... Ten days ago the Toronto Symphony Orchestra dropped Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa for her remarks on the conflict in Ukraine on twitter that offended "Ukrainian media outlets". TSO paid her not to play her scheduled concerts. So now the Cons are sending 200 soldiers off to Ukraine to win an election for them in Canada in October.
Walkom : "Deep in his secret heart, Stephen Harper should whisper a quiet thank you to Russian President Vladimir Putin."
Scott Taylor writes in Harper shoots first; asks questions later: "Far from a democratic institution, the current Ukraine government is a collection of in-fighting oligarchs — some with their own private armies and neo-Nazi militias. With a ranking of 142 on the Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is unsurprisingly the most corrupt country on the European continent. If the Harper government is truly seeking to garner the Ukrainian-Canadian vote in advance of this year’s election, it would do better to leverage economic relief for Kiev’s crippling debt load in exchange for implementing truly democratic, progressive reforms."Yeah, well, "leveraging economic relief for Kiev's crippling debt load" doesn't really cut it on the Cons' new cold war election messaging front. .
I can’t add much to this statement from Secular Woman on the recent “public dissociation” controversy. I will admit that this blog was briefly listed as one of the Secular Policy Institute’s affiliates though (because they literally asked everyone they could google). But after they issued their bizarre statement about “shock bloggers” I dissociated myself (though not publicly, till now I guess).
It seems that a candidate for Alberta's Wildrose party, Rick Strankman, has made a bit of a faux pas, one that he blames, as politicians are wont to do, on a volunteer: A Wildrose candidate was forced to apologize and retract a poster Thursday that called on party supporters to bring their wives’ pies to a meet-and-greet.
The poster encouraged constituents in Drumheller-Stettler to attend an “old fashioned pie auction” next week and “BYWP (Bring Your Wife’s Pie!!)” Meanwhile, rumours abound that Strankman has hired a new campaign manager:
- Henry Mintzberg rightly challenges the myth of a "level playing field" when it comes to our economic opportunities: Let’s level with each other. What we call a “level playing field” for economic development is played with Western rules on Southern turf, so that the New York Giants can take on some high school team from Timbuktu. The International Monetary Fund prepares the terrain and the World Trade Organization referees the game. Guess who wins.
The rules of this game have been written by people educated in the economic canon of the already developed West. The “developing” countries of the world are supposed to open up their markets to global corporations that stand ready to enter with their manufactured goods. ... Now, just as the international economic agencies are waking up to the consequences of their levelling, a new set of rules is making the playing field even more level: companies can take on government themselves.
Thanks to intense lobbying, a host of bilateral trade agreements provide for special courts of arbitration that enable private companies to sue sovereign countries. This has been made necessary, so the argument goes, to protect companies from governments that renege on contracts. Fair enough.
But instead, these courts are being used by global companies to do something quite insidious: stop legislation, even on matters relating to health, culture, and environment, that they claim to reduce their current or expected profits. “Today, countries from Indonesia to Peru are facing investor-state suits.”1 In fact, companies needn’t go that far: just by threating [sic] such lawsuits, which may require legal costs the countries can’t afford, some countries have been bullied into cancelling proposed legislation. And, by the way, in this version of the game the goals are scored at only one end: governments cannot use these courts to bring claims against the companies.- And thwap reminds us of the essential connection between democratic mechanisms and popular activism as a counterweight to the outsized influence of wealth.
- Meanwhile, Charles Rusnell reports on both Alberta's appalling instructions forbidding workers from participating in the province's election campaign even on their own time without management notice and approval, and its hasty retreat only after the attempt to silence the province's civil servants was exposed.
- Michal Rozworski highlights the complete lack of policy merit behind the Cons' false-balance bill, while Frances Russell points to Manitoba's experience in particular as demonstrating its damaging effects. And Karl Nerenberg offers a few suggestions for alternative legislation which might actually do some good.
- Finally, Amira Elghawaby discusses why Canadian Muslims have particular reason to worry about the elimination of civil rights under the Cons' terror bill. And the Canadian Journalists for Free Expressions are keeping up the pressure against C-51.
In the lead-up the May 7 British election, Prime Minister David Cameron, I guess, thought it was time to masquerade as 'one of the people.' He was photographed at a barbecue eating a hot dog:
His mode of consumption elicited a flurry of responses from some Twitter wags: Hahhaa, David Cameron eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Silver service only for the privileged!" was typical of the comments on Twitter Tuesday, 30 days ahead of Britain's general election. "What kind of monster eats a hot dog with a knife and fork?" asked another.Cameron eating a hot dog with knife & fork has echoes of when rich Mr Pitt did same with a Snickers bar in Seinfeld:
Unlike Mr. Pitt, I somehow doubt that Mr. Cameron will be establishing any new consumption trends in the foreseeable future.Recommend this Post
How many Canadians realize that they can be arrested and have their liberties curtailed by court order—even if they haven’t actually done anything or been charged with anything? The law that permits this, introduced by the Liberals after 9/11, was...
The Harper government's tough on crime agenda suffered yet another defeat this week. Expect to hear more heated rhetoric about Canada's biased judicial system from Mr. Harper. But, Michael Spratt writes, judicial activism isn't killing the government's crime legislation. Stephen Harper is:
The federal Conservatives have reduced criminal justice policy to a simple flow chart. Step one: Promise ‘tough on crime’ legislation that’s easy to sell to the Conservative base. Step two: Table the bill while ignoring the advice of experts (both inside and outside the Justice department) arguing the new law would be both ineffectual and unconstitutional. Step three: Cling like grim death to the talking points, at least until step four — when the Supreme Court strikes the law down. Step five: Cry ‘judicial activism’, then refer to step one.
The pattern is always the same; only the bills change. The results speak for themselves — for the Harper government, one defeat after another in the nation’s highest court. They’ve been in power since 2006. They really should be getting better at this by now. But they aren't -- even if their own lawyers tell them their legislation won't pass constitutional muster:
Had they been listening, they would have gotten an early indication that the legislation was unconstitutional from their own Parliamentary Information and Research Service department, which warned that “mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment are generally inconsistent with the fundamental principle that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender” — and minimum sentences “may constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. They didn't like that message, however, so they simply ignored it. And, quite predictably, the Supreme Court told them they got it wrong:
The court did not simply hold that the minimum sentences are a poor policy choice. It found that these minimum sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment — that the legislation offends standards of decency by imposing sentencing as a “blunt instrument that may deprive courts of the ability to tailor proportionate sentences at the lower end of a sentencing range”.
The court also found that, under the 2008 law, an otherwise law-abiding person storing an unloaded, restricted firearm at his or her home would be treated as a hardened criminal and hit with a minimum prison sentence for a minor licensing infraction. Some would call the Harperian approach to criminal justice insane. Others would call it stupid. It's both.