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[l] at 8/14/20 7:32am
Brent Patterson Police on Haudenosaunee territory, July 2020. (Image: Skyler Williams/Facebook)

Haldimand County Police say: "The situation escalated as demonstrators at the site failed to comply with the injunction."

It is now day 27 for Six Nations land defenders who are protecting their territory from a housing development at a site they have renamed 1492 Land Back Lane.

The land defenders began their re-occupation of this land on July 19.

By July 31, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) escorted a court sheriff who read and delivered an injunction against the occupation. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee at the University of Windsor faculty of law has commented: "The land defenders, all of whom are Indigenous, were not represented in court."

On August 5, OPP officers raided the site and arrested nine land defenders for not complying with the court injunction. The land defenders returned shortly afterwards.

On August 7, an Ontario Supreme Court judge issued two more injunctions and extended a third injunction against the land defenders.

The legal fund for 1492 Land Back Lane comments: "These injunctions only serve as a colonial mechanism to disposes us of our lands and resources, which fundamentally violates our rights as sovereign Indigenous people."

Haudenosaunee lawyer Beverly Jacobs further explains the problematic aspect of injunctions against Indigenous land defence struggles in this APTN video clipThe Yellowhead Institute has also commented on the skewed granting of injunctions, as has Kate Gunn of First Peoples Law (who Peace Brigades International met with in Vancouver in November 2019).

On August 10, the OPP said they did not have an update on when the court injunctions would be delivered. In the meantime, the OPP continue to have a presence near the site.

On August 13, land defender Skyler Williams posted: "After being shot at, beaten and tasered, dragged off our land and criminalized we as community have never been more determined to see our way forward."

Skyler has also commented: "This is about Haudenosaunee people asserting their rights over their territory and I think the criminalization of that is the crime here."

Earlier this week, CBC reported: "Williams said he and the other [land defenders] intend to dig in at the development, despite the ongoing police presence and injunctions demanding they tear down their tents and the barricades."

For additional background on the reasons for the 1492 Land Back Lane re-occupation, you can listen to this 48-minute Warrior Life interview by Mi'kmaq lawyer Pam Palmater with Skyler Williams and Myka Burning.

APTN has also explained that this present-day situation can be traced back to 1784, when Quebec governor Frederick Haldimand granted a tract of land spanning 10 kilometres in either direction from the banks of the Grand River after the Haudenosaunee allied with the British during the American Revolution. Throughout the 1800s the Haudenosaunee were dispossessed of this territory and an unresolved court challenge over the legality of that loss of territory began in 1995.

For further updates, you can also visit the 1492 Land Back Lane Facebook page.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website. Follow them @PBIcanada @CBrentPatterson.

Image: Skyler Williams/Facebook

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[l] at 8/14/20 1:46am
David J. Climenhaga Members of the Alberta legislature press gallery at work (Image: Photo by David J. Climenhaga)

Canada's largest newspaper chain has just rolled over for the Rebel.

Last night the National Post published an editorial demanding that the Alberta legislature press gallery admit employees of Rebel News Network Ltd. to its ranks.

The Post's editors gave the appearance of being so incensed about the press gallery's refusal to allow the right-wing video blog site's staffers to become members that they declared, "until it does, Postmedia will withdraw its reporters from the gallery, effective immediately."

The Post did its best to make it appear the position was one of high principle.

The Rebel may be "obnoxious," the editorial piously said, and it may have "been home to a succession of cranks and bigots since its inception,” but that's no reason to not let it join the press gallery.

"This difficult process of reinventing our industry to meet the challenges and needs of 21st century readers cannot be threatened by established legacy players strangling ambitious new outlets," the editorial huffed self-righteously. "Let The Rebel report."

Legislative reporters for Postmedia's Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal are said to be none too pleased by this. It's more than likely some of them joined the gallery's vote to declare the Rebel's right-wing activists persona non grata.

But instructions have come down from on high in Toronto, so they must do as they are told. It will make their jobs more difficult.

Nor can the recently elected president of the Alberta legislature press gallery association be all that happy. Tyler Dawson is a Postmedia reporter. Postmedia's editorial certainly sounds to an outsider like a public rebuke of its own employees. Under the circumstances, it's unclear how Dawson can continue as gallery president.

The press gallery itself, which rushed to the defence of the Rebel in 2016 when a couple of its operatives were turned out of a stakeholders' briefing on the NDP government's oil royalty review, is hoist with its own petard.

When mainstream media inaccurately accused the NDP of "seeking to muzzle" the Rebel at the time, the Notley government vowed never to be caught in this embarrassing bind again, hired a respected retired journalist to write a report, and washed its hands of all responsibility for determining who is a legislature journalist and who isn't -- a duty, it is has long been argued here, that properly belongs with the office of the Speaker.

When Heather Boyd recommended the gallery be given responsibility for handing out credentials, with administrative support from the Speaker as in Parliament in Ottawa, its members wanted no part of it. Too much work. Too much potential for being on the receiving end of a controversy.

Had they done their bit and found a way to provide credentials for journalists and commentators on the right and left who need occasional access to the legislature building, they might have nipped this crisis in the bud.

Instead, journalistic interlopers -- sometimes including the author of this blog -- were left to the always time consuming and often inconsistent mercies of legislature's security department, for which every day is a new day, to gain access to the building.

At the time, Rebel Media proprietor Ezra Levant had no interest in his organization joining the press gallery. He told me so himself. Now the United Conservative Party is the government and he has changed his mind. When the gallery told him no, he promptly proceeded to threaten its members with legal action.

Among the letters sent by Rebel News Network's lawyers was one stating that the press gallery "is a Postmedia dominated trade association" that "benefits from a dominant position in Alberta's media landscape." Accordingly, it continued, if the press gallery does not reverse its decision, "we have instructions to commence formal proceedings against Postmedia pursuant to the Competition Act … which regulates anti-competitive business practices in Canada."

So despite the high-minded tone of last night's editorial, it is also quite reasonable to suspect Postmedia hopes its quick withdrawal from the gallery will let it escape the legal snare set for it by the Rebel's lawyers.

There is also the reasonable question of whether many of the notoriously right-wing Post's senior editors not so secretly sympathize with the Rebel's point of view and would not be unhappy to see its staffers prowling the corridors of the legislature.

Left unsaid in the editorial is whether Postmedia's employees will be turning in the credentials issued by the press gallery that give them easy access to the legislature without having to explain their business to an uninterested security guard who would prefer they just went away.

If not, it is likely the Speaker's office will soon hear from others in a similar position with complaints about unequal treatment for Postmedia reporters who, like them, are not gallery members.

Then there is the matter of the office space in the legislature provided for a nominal annual fee to press gallery members. Does Postmedia expect to somehow keep the keys, despite its absence from the gallery?

Postmedia's reporters will now have to suffer the inconvenience and indignity of working from the Edmonton Journal's offices, several long blocks away from the legislature.

One wonders if Postmedia thinks this can all be settled by the time the COVID-19 emergency is over and the legislature building is open again to normal business, its reporters welcome back to their congenial home in the basement.

As Duncan Kinney, the reporter for Progress Alberta quoted in the Post's editorial, said last night, "I think the press gallery needs to get over itself!"

It's an anachronism, essentially meaningless except as a gatekeeper for a couple of perks: a security pass to the building and publicly subsidized office space at the best address in Edmonton.

Otherwise, it's completely irrelevant, as Postmedia just proved.

Sooner or later, like it or not, some responsible grownup in the Speaker's office is going to have to deal with this.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Photo by David J. Climenhaga

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[l] at 8/13/20 6:35pm
Ed Finn Miguel Bruna/Unsplash

Earlier this year, I posted a piece on rabble.ca in which I claimed that the global COVID-19 pandemic, though devastating for humankind, has not been nearly as pernicious as the social and economic plague of global capitalism.

Many readers of this essay disagreed with my hypothesis, some quite vehemently. They thought I was exaggerating the harmful effects of capitalism and minimizing the harm of the coronavirus. 

Such comparisons, of course, are invidious, if only because capitalism has been the world's dominant economic system for more than a century and a half, while COVID-19 has been scourging the planet for less than a year.

We are currently enmeshed in a titanic clash between two global forces in which most human beings consider capitalism to be the hero and COVID-19 the villain. This belief is inevitable, given that the virus indiscriminately infects and kills the most vulnerable among us, while the preventive and curative efforts are conducted by valiant nurses, doctors and other caregivers who are funded by capitalist corporations and governments.

Little attention is given, however, to exposing the main reasons why many people succumb to the coronavirus while the majority escape or survive it. All of the most debilitating effects clearly stem from the colossal poverty, inequality and preventable diseases that the capitalist system inflicts on millions of disadvantaged people -- many of them children.

A report by UNICEF last year on "The State of the World's Children" warned "at least 1 in 3 children under five -- or over 200 million -- is either undernourished or overweight. Almost 2 in 3 children between six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains."

Capitalist pandemic's victims

Globally, under capitalism, according to the World Health Organization, 15,000 children under five die every day from poverty, hunger, and preventable disease. At the same time, two thousand billionaires hold more wealth than the 4.6 billion poorest people in the world. In Canada, one in eight households struggle to raise their children while living in poverty, many dependent on food banks to keep food on the table.

We live under a warped economic system in which "free enterprise" corporations obsessively pursue profits for the rich and powerful at the expense of the vast majority of the world's inhabitants. Through deforestation, strip-mining, over-fishing and other forms of looting and pillaging, they have rapidly been depleting non-renewable resources, and in the process raising global warming levels to a perilous degree. 

Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of the best-selling The Sixth Extinction, warns that the current unfolding extinction, unlike the first five, is being caused "solely by humanity's transformation of the ecological landscape. It's an extinction event of our own making."

She didn’t explicitly add that humans have brought this catastrophe on themselves by permitting the capitalist system to inflict it on them. But it was certainly an unwritten implication. 

In any event, the big corporations' demolition of the planet, its climate and wildlife was undeniably rampant before the coronavirus pandemic struck. A recent study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences bleakly exposed the extent of this "free enterprise" carnage:

  1. The world's 7 billion people constitute just 0.10 per cent of all living things, but since the dawn of civilization have caused the extinction of 83 per cent of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abound.

  2. Farmed poultry today accounts for 70 per cent of all birds on the planet, with just 30 per cent being wild.

  3. About 60 per cent of all mammals left on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, while 36 per cent are human and just four per cent are wild animals.

  4. The destruction of wild habitats for farming, logging and development has precipitated the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in Earth's four-billion-year history, this one being caused almost entirely by human activities.

  5. Three-quarters of the world's food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species, which leaves supplies vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monoculture.

Capitalism trumps science

As usual, however, this momentous scientific study received no more serious attention from our business and political leaders than did all the previous warnings. Why not? Because to take the protective and restorative measures the study recommends would require a drastic switch from profitably plundering the planet's non-renewable resources to unprofitably preserving them.

That, in turn, would entail a more equitable allocation of wealth and a sharp reduction in global poverty and inequality. Horrors! It would actually mean scrapping the entire global capitalist economic system!

What are the odds of the neoliberal corporate and political elites voluntarily abandoning their obsessive accumulation of wealth and power? Realistically, not a chance. Not even to prevent the looming mass extinction. Not even to preserve their own lives and those of their children. That's how deeply the capitalist system is embedded among the world's business and political rulers.

The only thing that might possibly dissuade them from resuming their planetary pollution and the eventual obliteration of humankind would be a stronger counterforce -- one that would curb industrial toxic emissions and thus ongoing global warming.

COVID-19's slowdown of many CO2-emitting industries, and its curb of pollution by heavy road, sea and air traffic have reduced smog and provided a relatively fresh and clean atmosphere.

However, mild climatic improvements have come at the terrible cost of human infections, lives, mobility, jobs and social contact. The best remedy for such a pandemic is obviously to find and administer an effective vaccine. But, when that happens, will our political and business leaders have learned the lesson they should from such a widespread affliction?

Will they take firm and immediate steps to avert another such global scourge that was clearly spawned by global poverty, hunger, inequality and distress? Or will they reactivate the appallingly brutal and iniquitous social and economic capitalist system that preceded COVID-19?

If so, the next global pandemic launched by an irate and impatient Mother Nature will be even more excruciating and hard to endure than the current coronavirus.

Only if enough valiant and dedicated progressives rally behind a global campaign to dump capitalism in time to avert another pandemic will humankind survive.

And all is not yet lost. There's still a ray of hope that such a dramatic global reprieve will be mobilized.

Ed Finn grew up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where he worked as a printer's apprentice, reporter, columnist and editor of that city's daily newspaper, the Western Star. His career as a journalist included 14 years as a labour relations columnist for the Toronto Star. He was part of the world of politics between 1959 and 1962, serving as the first provincial leader of the NDP in Newfoundland. He worked closely with Tommy Douglas for some years and helped defend and promote medicare legislation in Saskatchewan.

Image: Miguel Bruna/Unsplash

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[l] at 8/13/20 6:07am
August 13, 2020 Police violence is a public health crisis, so why aren't there health-based solutions? Doctors gather to address systemic anti-Black racism by police, and how that impacts the public health sector.
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[l] at 8/12/20 6:32pm
Maya Bhullar

Dear rabble reader,

rabble.ca was created amid social organizing almost two decades ago to provide a platform for the stories of communities fighting for change, and to address the media bias seen in the coverage of activism and movements. Since then, we have been allies of social activists and progressives (and many of us are activists ourselves). We strive to practise what we preach. 

Sadly, in the past decade, the Canadian right-wing media have gained momentum. And though the sheer force of COVID-19 and its exposure of systemic inequalities have forced mainstream media to pay attention to issues previously ignored  -- as Judy Rebick pointed out a few weeks ago -- independent non-profit media like rabble.ca are an essential resource for real voices from the front lines, untethered by corporate incentives and bottom lines.

As progressives, we need ways to gather together and co-ordinate our work so that our vision of a better world flourishes.

One concrete way we promote this at rabble is through the Lynn Williams Activist Toolkit. Lynn Williams is remembered as a strong union leader, but he was also a strong supporter of social activism. He wanted to build ways for activists to work together more effectively. The toolkit continues to develop new ways to amplify what organizers are doing, and to share, discuss and create tools for organizing from the ground up.

Just like social activism, we need a wide network of mobilized readers and community support to keep the activist toolkit running. Are you among them?

As the coordinator of the Lynn Williams Activist Toolkit, I love receiving your messages and tips from across the country, and gaining insight from the rabble community on how best to use the platform of the toolkit. I also reach out to activists working on issues that are important to our community.

For example, this year we created toolkit resources on: ways to support teacher actions; how to help the Wet'suwet'en Nation and their supporters; communities sharing resources and "care-mongering" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; ways to support Black Lives Matter activists; and a broad look at defunding the police in Canada.

These are just a few of the toolkits and resources, put together with your support. 

We believe these movements are well set to grow even more this year. But to continue this type of work, we need you. Can you chip in to our summer fundraising to support the activist toolkit, so that we can continue to tell these stories and provide tools to support activism?

Can't support us right now? That's fine. We'd just love it if  you could also share this message with your friends and family. A friendly little nudge always goes a long way. 

In solidarity,

Maya Bhullar, activist toolkit coordinator

P.S.  All donations of $25 and up and all monthly subscriptions will be automatically entered into our weekly draw to win a signed copy of Seth Klein's soon-to-be-released and long-awaited A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency. You will also be eligible for our grand prize draw for a special web kit to help with all of your at-home video conferencing needs.

Donating $8/month or more will be gratefully received and we will send you a digital copy of Robyn Maynard's Policing Black Lives, courtesy of Fernwood Publishing, as a sign of our appreciation.

Image: Blue Diamond Gallery

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[l] at 8/12/20 5:48pm
Joe Masoodi Lianhao Qu/Unsplash

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has led to calls to de-fund, reform or completely dismantle the police in the United States. Such discussions have also been amplified here in Canada.

With the public gaze now facing law enforcement agencies and their role in systemic racism, mainstream assumptions about the police are being challenged, including the view constructed by popular culture that portrays police as crime-fighting heroes who represent the thin blue line between order and chaos.

An important aspect of re-imagining the police -- though receiving less attention in Canada -- is addressing their expansion of high-tech surveillance technologies.  

We live in a data-driven society. As we go about our daily lives, we leave behind digital footprints. Many are becoming aware that our searches on Google, our interactions through social media, our visits to friends and family, and our credit card purchases are collected and analyzed by corporations to provide more information about us, including where we've been and what we like.

This awareness is partly driven by people's increased knowledge of social media companies' business models that rely on algorithms to direct users to content and promote targeted advertisements. 

What may have started with corporations profiling and making decisions about "consumers" to maximize profits has evolved into governments around the world increasingly collecting and analyzing digital trails as well.

Although such practices in certain applications may be used for the benefit of individuals or wider society, in other areas, including criminal justice and law enforcement, they have proven controversial in recent years.

The proliferation of data-driven technologies have led to what American law professor Andrew Ferguson calls "big data policing." Research reveals how such practices increase digital surveillance, posing a growing threat to civil liberties, and exacerbating bias, overreach and abuse in policing.  

Although discussions about the expansion of digital surveillance technologies within law enforcement have primarily arisen from the United States and Europe, the extent of these practices in Canada remains scantly explored. Vancouver, British Columbia, and London, Ontario have reportedly adopted software that uses data to try to predict where and when property crime is likely to take place.

Police agencies in the U.S., including Chicago and Los Angeles, have shut down their predictive policing programs after audits revealed their discriminatory impact and practical failure. 

Police agencies remain secretive over their use of surveillance technologies that invisibly pierce through boundaries designed to protect liberty.

For instance, only after documents leaked did police agencies in Canada admit to using Clearview AI's facial recognition software, with the RCMP initially completely denying but later admitting to its use. Lying tarnishes the public image of police and erodes trust, which becomes very difficult and time-consuming to rebuild.

Amid a privacy probe, Clearview AI indefinitely suspended its dealings with Canadian police agencies. However, some police agencies, including Peel and York, are likely still procuring facial-recognition technology. 

Similarly, when news broke about American police using the data-mining software MediaSonar to track keywords on social media, including "Black Lives Matter," documents showed Canadian police agencies were also using the software, though many chose not to publicly confirm its use.

The RCMP have too been involved in wide-scale monitoring of social media activity, known as Project Wide Awake, which expanded to proactively identify potential crimes online before they occur. 

Police in Ontario and Saskatchewan have been using a "risk-driven tracking database," which involves sharing information on vulnerable groups of people between police, schools, health care workers and social workers to track "negative behaviour" and identify those potentially "at-risk."

Increased interconnectedness of technologies is expected to grow through the internet of things, expanding the potential of surveillance. If left unchecked, there is a risk that this flow of information between devices will find its way to law enforcement. Smart watches, smart cars, smart appliances and devices like Google Home or Amazon Alexa provide further ways to collect and analyze information on people.

Countless studies, inquires and commissions on Canadian policing have identified Black and Indigenous peoples as disproportionately vulnerable to police surveillance and violence. Whether it be facial recognition, social media analysis, predictive policing software or analyzing the risk of "negative behaviours," these technologies rely on algorithms.

Research has shown that algorithms harbor biases against disadvantaged groups, reinforcing structural discrimination and deepening social inequality. Recognizing their potential consequences, New Zealand recently announced it will be setting standards for how public agencies use algorithms, including requiring them to identify any biases within them.

The adoption of data-driven technologies that expand the scope and depth of surveillance by police therefore moves beyond privacy and involves questions related to our democracy, including human dignity and the right to be free from discrimination. This makes the issue a concern for all Canadians.    

The killing of George Floyd sparked renewed outrage and activism against institutional racism and police brutality. Though often shrouded by notions of tech-neutrality, objectivity, efficiency and progress, uncovering and re-structuring the silent and invisible role that surveillance technologies play within these institutions must be an important part of the path forward.

Joe Masoodi is a policy analyst on technology, cybersecurity and democracy at the Ryerson Leadership Lab at Ryerson University. He has previously conducted research at the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's University on surveillance, technology and policing, and has completed degrees from the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University. 

Image: Lianhao Qu/Unsplash​

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[l] at 8/12/20 8:56am
Lidia Abraha Mitchel Raphael

Doctors across Canada are joining in the fight to defund the police, and revising how medical professionals interact with police, and which areas could be improved. This comes to a head after months of protests across North America calling for Black liberation and dismantling anti-Black racism. 

"People don't know how intertwined medicine is with policing but especially mental health, it's the number one thing," said Semir Bulle, a second-year medical student at the University of Toronto who has recently started rotations at a local city hospital, and is one of the core members behind Doctors for Defunding the Police. He has teamed up with medical professionals across the country to petition local governments to defund the police and reallocate funding to community programs. 

Cities across Canada are facing calls and protests to cut police budgets and to reinvest that money into community and social programs. So far, Edmonton, Alberta, has passed a motion to cut the police budget by $11 million over the next two years. Meanwhile, Toronto has dismissed motions to reduce the police budget, and has instead invested more money into reform strategies such as body cameras. 

"If anyone is watching [Toronto Mayor] John Tory, clearly we're starting to see people like him don't belong in society. They should not be leading us when they don't understand what's going on," said Bulle, who also added that police have become our answer to all of society's challenges even the ones that need a health-based approach like mental health and addiction. 

"When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and having police try to solve every issue in society; mental health problems, drug addiction, everything that goes on in our community," he said, "We think that if we did a proper cost-benefit analysis and looked at where each dollar went, we can have a better society."

Along with calls to reduce the police budget, Doctors for Defunding the Police is also advocating for the city to invest in health-based solutions for crime prevention.

Sané Dube, a Toronto-based health policy expert who works with Alliance for Healthier communities, points to solutions tested in B.C. where during the COVID-19 pandemic the government was mailing prescription opioids to address the challenges for folks suffering from addiction and who were isolated at home. This initiative was designed to keep a decline in overdoses by decriminalizing drug use and making their overall health a number one priority. 

"That is very much taking a health-based approach to something that is a health issue, because addiction is a health issue," she said. 

In 2018, Ontario's human rights commissioner found that Black Toronto residents were 20 times more likely to die at the hands of police than their white counterparts. Since police structures are contributing to the mortality of Black Canadians, organizers and experts are calling police violence a public health crisis. 

"What we want to see is funding of programs that are able provide healthcare to Black communities that is culturally safe," said Dube, who added that the medical field also has to address the lack of anti-bias and anti-racist training in medical schools. 

Maurice Michelin is a nurse practitioner who runs a clinic in the west end of Toronto. Many of his clients are raised in public housing. Andrew Loku was one of his patients, who was killed by police in 2015. In his years of working with Loku, Michelin knew him to be gentle and soft-spoken. 

"Sometimes he would speak so softly it was almost hard to hear him," Michelin said. "[His death] was a reminder to me about trauma in communities and how that ripples through the community."

Michelin says that officers not trained in de-escalation or working with folks in crisis can have a devastating impact. He recalls visiting a patient who lived in the same building as Loku, and was in crisis after his death. Police were called as part of a routine to prepare the patient to be checked into the hospital, but aggressively handled  the situation. Michelin had to ask them to rethink their body language and tone before intervening.

"It was a reminder that the effects of the story don't end with the individual whose life was taken. It manifests as decreasing mental health for individuals," he said.

The incident changed the way Michelin approached policing when helping Black folks experiencing mental health distress. He's grown more hesitant to call police for intervention, and redirected his efforts to enhance patient-physician relationships instead. 

"That's one of the problems with mental health crises: the person who's experiencing it may not identify it as a problem until other people provide some feedback and say 'oh maybe this is a problem,'" he said. 

Michelin has one patient he's been seeing for 10 years. They were referred to his practice through court diversion after an altercation with police. He has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia and eventually stopped attending psychiatric sessions. He's not mandated to take medication, since his episodes are triggered by stressful situations where he's provoked. 

He visits Michelin every two to three  months, and his clinic monitors him, prescribes medication and refers him urgently when needed. It's because of this relationship that this patient was able to get help, leaving less room for police intervention. 

"That's not necessarily a scalable solution, but it's important for the health-care system to have ways of connecting with the people that they serve. In the same way the police should represent, should look like the community that it serves, and teachers should look like the students that they're teaching," he said.

Improving the relationship between physicians and patients would take large efforts across many different systems—including the health sector. Dube says this involves the medical field addressing its own anti-Black racism, and how professionals  can better improve communities through health-based solutions. 

"When we have health responses, we actually see better outcomes, we actually see people getting help that they need as versus ending up in systems where they are again, criminalized or behind bars and not getting the care that they need," she said.

Lidia Abraha is a freelance journalist based in Toronto, whose work has appeared in VICE Canada, NOW Magazine, The Canadian Press and Exclaim! She is the recipient of rabble.ca's 2020 Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellowship. Her work at rabble focuses on some of the issues most urgently affecting racialized and marginalized communities, notably racism in the criminal justice and policing system.

Image: Mitchel Raphael

 
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[l] at 8/12/20 6:36am
August 12, 2020 Ales Krivec/Unsplash Circular economy is too important to be co-opted by industry Cutting down forests that have never been logged to produce more toilet paper, packaging and other paper products we barely recycle can never be circular, let alone sustainable.
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[l] at 8/11/20 11:06pm
David J. Climenhaga Russia's Akademik Lomonosov (Image: TuomoS/Wikimedia Commons)

When Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says small nuclear reactors "could be a game changer in providing safe, zero-emitting, base load power in many areas of the province," as he did Sunday in a tweet, he's pulling your leg.

For a variety of economic and technical reasons, the scenario Kenney described while re-tweeting a CBC story about his announcement that Alberta intends to sign onto the three-province effort to develop small nukes is unlikely ever to occur.

Kenney and his government's officials certainly know this.

This is not a judgment call on whether "small modular reactors" -- as the companies proposing manufacturing these things prefer to call them to sooth a public skittish about the word "nuclear" -- will perform as advertised. Small nuclear reactors can be built and should be able to be operated reasonably safely.

Nor is it a call on whether nuclear power is the solution to a warming planet or a dystopian nightmare with the potential to make things even worse. There are reasonable voices on both sides of that debate.

The problem is that the economics of the scheme described by Kenney just don't add up.

Consider these facts:

As long as natural gas is cheap and plentiful, small nuclear reactors will not make economic sense.

Except in a few locations like very remote mines, small nuclear reactors will never make sense from an economic standpoint as long as natural gas is readily available and inexpensive, as it is now in Canada and will likely remain.

Even a modular reactor built by a mature industry selling lots of units would cost more to build and run than a natural-gas powered plant. And right now, there is no approved small reactor design anywhere in the West, and no mature industry to make them.

Even if this idea is not just a pipe dream, no electrical utility is ever going to buy one unless they are forced to by government policy or regulation -- the kind Alberta's United Conservative Party purports to be opposed to. Nor will any bitumen-mining company.

Probably the only way to make these things competitive would be to impose a stiff carbon tax that vastly increases the price of natural gas.

Small nuclear reactors are not necessarily as cheap to build as nuclear fairy tales like the premier's suggest.

Creating an acceptable small nuclear reactor design all the way from the drawing board to approval by a national nuclear regulatory authority will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

While dozens of speculative companies are printing colourful brochures with pretty pictures of little nukes being trucked to their destinations, very few are serious ventures with any possibility of building an actual reactor. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency says diplomatically there are about 50 concepts "at different stages of development." Those that are serious, like NuScale Power in the United States, have huge amounts of government money behind them.

The only small nuclear reactor plant known to be operating in the world now is the Akademik Lomonosov, Russia's floating power barge with two 35-megawatt reactors aboard. From an original estimate of US$140 million in 2006, its cost had ballooned to US$740 million when the vessel was launched.

Operational costs are bound to be higher because it floats, but the kind of small reactors Kenney is talking about won't be cheap by any yardstick.

Small reactors are less economical to run than big reactors.

If a reactor is only producing 300 megawatts of electricity compared to 800 megawatts or more, it's not going to generate as much profit for its private sector owners. This is why all reactors getting built in the world nowadays are large -- 1,000 to 1,600 megawatts.

Ontario Power Generation Inc.'s eight operational reactors at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station on Lake Huron can produce a combined 6,200 megawatts. The eight reactors at the Pickering NGS near Toronto have combined output of 3,100 megawatts.

This is why nobody wanted to buy the scaled-down CANDU-3 reactor, development of which was paid for by Canadian taxpayers in the 1980s. At 300 megawatts, CANDU-3s were just too small for commercial viability. A working CANDU-3 has never been built.

The cost of small reactors would have to come down significantly to change this. And remember, the research and development requirements of small reactors are just as high as for big ones. With nobody manufacturing modules, there are no existing economies of scale. In other words, dreamy brochures about the future of small reactors are just that -- dreams.

By the way, in 2011 the Harper government privatized the best commercial assets of Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., to … wait for it … SNC-Lavalin Group Ltd. Think about that every time you hear Conservatives in Ottawa screeching about the goings on at SNC-Lavalin!

Small reactor designs mostly require enriched uranium, and Canada doesn't produce any

In the Alberta government's news release, Energy Minister Sonya Savage was quoted saying "Alberta's rich uranium deposits … could make us an attractive destination to develop and deploy SMRs."

Not really.

With one exception, all current small reactor designs use enriched uranium, and Canada doesn't produce any. So if we adopted a lot of the small reactors being touted by Premier Kenney right now, we'd be putting our energy supply in the hands of foreigners.

Would putting a large percentage of our national power needs directly in the hands of other countries be sound policy from the standpoint of security or sovereignty? Not if you've been paying attention!

The only exception is the CANDU-3, which SNC-Lavalin recently rebranded as the CANDU-SMR, which can run on naturally occurring uranium like that found in Alberta.

Global uranium markets are already saturated, so there's no way this will become a new resource industry for Alberta.

Don't expect a boom in uranium mining in Alberta, either. There's a worldwide glut of the stuff. Prices are low. (Sound familiar?) Existing suppliers have invested billions to mine high-grade deposits, and even that production is fetching only depressed prices.

So nobody's interested in creating new uranium mines in Alberta, probably ever.

Small reactors might be safer than big reactors, but we don't really know that.

Kenney and Savage talk about small reactors as if it were a fact they're safer than big reactors. Maybe they are. But we don't really know that because nobody but the Russians actually seems to have built one, and in most cases they haven't even been designed.

Remember, the Russians' small reactors are both on a barge. For what it's worth, critics have called it "floating Chernobyl."

However safe they are designed to be, small reactors won't be safe without public regulation.

This is an important consideration. The safety of electricity generation projects regardless of what kind of fuel they use needs to be watched over by accountable, responsible, and, yes, properly paid public employees.

This runs counter to the philosophy of all four provincial governments involved in the inter-provincial effort to encourage the development of small nukes.

With the potential effects of a nuclear disaster so long lasting, can we trust industry to regulate itself? More importantly, can we trust a UCP government not to hand regulation of these plants to the for-profit companies that would operate them?

Then there's still the matter of waste disposal.

Nuclear plants don't produce a lot of waste by volume, but what there is sure has the potential to cause problems for a very long time. Thousands of years and more. So safe storage is an issue with small nukes, just like it is with big ones.

Where are we going to store the waste from all these wonderful small nuclear reactors Kenney is talking about?

Canada created the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to find a "willing host community" for a deep geological repository capable of storing nuclear waste for thousands of years. Almost nobody wants the stuff, for obvious reasons. Does any Alberta community want to put up its hand?

"More research and development work is required on the fuel cycle for some SMR technologies," the UN's IAEA notes cautiously.

Alternatively, spent fuel could be reprocessed in fast reactors. But why do that when natural uranium prices, just like oil prices, are in the bargain basement, making fast reactors uneconomical? What are we going to do to raise prices? Build a uranium pipeline?

So what gives?

None of this sounds like the basis of an exciting new industry for Alberta. On the contrary, there's a whiff of scam about the whole effort to proselytize the idea of a small reactor manufacturing industry, which wouldn't be located in Alberta anyway, and more uranium mining, which isn't going to happen.

The timing of last Friday's announcement was certainly intended as a distraction from a political embarrassment the day before.

But arguably the whole memorandum of understanding is a distraction too, a way to tell citizens and foreign investors fretting about global climate change, "Don't worry about it, we're working on it." That's less embarrassing than admitting that we're doing very little to reduce CO2 emissions.

Ontario has a big nuclear industry with lots of private employers and a large workforce, so for a modest investment it looks good for Premier Doug Ford to sign on.

How many jobs is it likely to create here in Western Canada? Well, Saskatchewan's ministry of the rnvironment recently posted a job for a "Director of SMRs." That person will supervise four people. That's probably about it for the foreseeable future.

If Alberta ends up with the same number of people working on this, we'll be lucky.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: TuomoS/Wikimedia Commons​

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[l] at 8/11/20 3:48pm
David Suzuki Ales Krivec/Unsplash

Many people are calling for a just, green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Investing in natural solutions to climate change, restoring damaged and fragmented ecosystems, strengthening the social safety net and re-thinking flawed economic systems would make us more resilient to current and future crises.

One concept that could help us shift to ecologically sound economic systems is the "circular economy," in which the need to extract resources from undeveloped natural ecosystems is significantly reduced or even eliminated. It involves shifting from a take-make-waste society to one where repairing, re-using and re-purposing become standard.

When a new phrase or concept is introduced to capture a vision of a better world, industrial interests often co-opt it, attempting to portray themselves as "green." That's what the Forestry Products Association of Canada is doing in its response to a report calling into question the vast amounts of boreal forest pulped for toilet paper. The industry group claims forestry in Canada is "part of the circular economy."

It's true that in modern mills most harvested trees are used for a variety of products. And it's true that forests are renewable, in the sense that trees can be cut down and new ones planted. But forests that have been logged and re-generated are vastly different from forests untouched by industrial management.

Roads and landings where timber is piled and collected can leave permanent, cumulative scars. Trees are harvested before reaching old growth stages, which disrupts provision of habitat and forest nutrient cycles. As industry favours economical tree species, natural forest composition is altered. These practices lead to forest degradation and diminished ecosystem functioning.

Industrial disturbance is also a main driver of the decline of boreal woodland caribou, which are threatened with extinction in Canada. Caribou are an umbrella species that depend on un-fragmented forests.

In essence, a circular economy is about ensuring that we live within Earth's finite limits -- the limits within which today's needs can be met without sacrificing the ability of future generations, including future generations of wildlife, to have their needs met.

Caribou decline is an indicator that ecological limits have been surpassed. In 2012, the federal government directed provinces to limit the amount of forest disturbance in boreal caribou ranges to a maximum of 35 per cent, which would give caribou a mere 60 per cent chance of survival. With few exceptions, forestry operators and provinces have ignored this directive, and caribou populations continue to drop in Canada's boreal forest.

What needs to change so that Canada's industrial resource extraction activities can truly be part of a circular economy?

First, limits must be set on the boundaries of industrial activities. Cutting down forests that have never been logged to produce more toilet paper, packaging and other paper products we barely recycle can never be circular, let alone sustainable.

The ever-increasing expansion into un-fragmented forests must be curtailed. Governments and industry must renew efforts to protect suitable habitat for imperilled wildlife, restore forests where levels of disturbance have driven wildlife decline and find innovative ways to harvest in areas that have already been cut.

Canada is the world's largest producer of newsprint and northern bleached softwood kraft pulp, a raw material for making paper products. A 2019 draft forest sector strategy for Ontario projects a 35 per cent increase in tissue production and a 25 per cent increase in packaging. The life cycle of forest-based products must be rethought, redesigned and transformed.

We must also re-define the core purpose of our forestry sector from one driven by how quickly it can cut down forests for profit to one that rewards operators for cutting less and producing better products. A true circular economy grows qualities (such as healthy, diverse forests) over time without the need to keep growing quantities (such as number of trees logged) -- better, not more.

It doesn't make sense to destroy much-needed habitat for single-use products such as toilet paper when recycled toilet paper and other alternatives can meet our needs. Consumers and producers need to rethink products and packaging.

Canada's logging industry might use wood chips and circular saws, but it can't be considered part of a circular economy until it transforms itself with circular principles at its core.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation boreal project manager Rachel Plotkin. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Image: Ales Krivec/Unsplash

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[l] at 8/10/20 11:49pm
David J. Climenhaga Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital (Image: Ian Stumpf/Wikimedia Commons).

Panicky sounding United Conservative Party "issues managers" were frantically insisting yesterday everything is copacetic and above board with secret plans to build a $200-million private orthopedic surgical hospital in Edmonton.

No way will this result in two-tier health care, they contended, often shrilly calling anyone who suggested otherwise a liar, even as the number of voices saying the opposite grew.

But the surprise revelation of a backroom privatization scheme hatched by high-priced corporate lobbyists and big donors to Conservative causes, complete with private access to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, apparent pre-approval by the minister, and an expensive poison-pill contract provision to make sure future governments don't tear up the deal, sure doesn't inspire confidence.

The backstory dates to June, when Elan MacDonald, nowadays a politically well connected lobbyist and not so long a ago a senior advisor to Progressive Conservative premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford, made three presentations to groups of orthopedic surgeons from the Edmonton area.

The proposal would see the for-profit hospital perform all non-emergency orthopedic surgical procedures in Alberta's capital region, as many as 10,000 operations each year, under contract to the government.

But most of the region's orthopedic surgeons need to be on board for this idea to have legs. Apparently at least one of them wasn't.

At any rate, someone made a recording of one of MacDonald's presentations and sent it to CBC Edmonton's two investigative reporters, Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell. They published their scoop yesterday morning. By yesterday afternoon, other media were filing follows.

A story that leaks before the talking points and spin are all agreed upon, and the message boxes memorized by even the slowest-witted MLA, is the kind of nightmare that keeps political issues managers up late.

Alas for the UCP, the party's issues managers appear not to have managed this issue at all!

Now the CBC's interpretation -- that well-connected elites with insider access cooked up a deal in secret that wasn't in the public interest, motivated only by stubborn determination to put ideology ahead of evidence, and for which there is no accountability or transparency -- will be hard to change.

"If it had been further along and the surgeons had announced it, media would've said Wow, sounds great," whinged Shandro's press secretary, Steve Buick, in an unintentionally damning assessment of the way most Alberta media can be depended upon to fall for UCP talking points, no matter how lame.

Had it not been for the anonymous but public-spirited leaker, what Buick described is likely exactly what would have happened.

Calling people who say otherwise liars, accusing opponents of being NDP plants or trying to boost union membership, and yapping about "fearmongering from the mediscare crowd" isn’t going to help very much, though.

Meanwhile, as yet unanswered is the question of why the Royal Alexandra Foundation, which fundraises for the large public hospital adjacent to the site that is being considered for the proposed private orthopedic hospital, is involved in any way with this deal.

The foundation is supposed to support the Royal Alex and what it calls the hospital's number one priority: "building better health care."

But many donors, surely most of them, give the foundation their money to build a better public health-care system, not to undermine it.

The thought the foundation had some kind of notion it could raise money for its charitable projects by collecting revenue from a plan that would damage our public health care system is not very reassuring.

Obviously, the Royal Alexandra Foundation has some 'splainin' to do.

Meanwhile, it's helpful to remember that Alberta has been here and done this before. In 2010, a private, for-profit orthopedic hospital in Calgary located in a facility that once was a public hospital specializing in women's health care went broke.

The Health Resource Centre, wrote longtime Alberta journalist Gillian Steward at the time, "was once the focal point of premier Ralph Klein's health-care strategies."

The Klein government even passed special legislation to let private surgical clinics keep patients overnight.

"No one imagined a scenario in which publicly funded Alberta Health Services would go to court in a bid to keep the lights on over the operating tables in an investor-owned hospital," Steward wrote. "No one imagined that AHS would be paying receivership fees in order to keep the doors open. But this is, in fact, what has happened because Calgary's public health-care system is so reliant on private partners."

Well, it's easy to imagine now.

Just the same, the Kenney government would like to repeat this failed experiment all over again.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Ian Stumpf/ Wikimedia Commons​

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[l] at 8/10/20 11:22am
August 10, 2020 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: PMO Trudeau needs to keep the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit in place Four million people will transition to an EI system that is not up to the task. The feds need to keep $500 per week flowing to workers impacted by COVID until a universal livable income is in place.
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[l] at 8/10/20 11:12am
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Premier Jason Kenney in Friday's video. Image: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video

A Friday in August sure seemed like a peculiar time for a government like Jason Kenney's to announce it had signed onto a multi-province effort to sell natural resources and encourage the development and sale of a new generation of Canadian technology. 

But there was the Alberta premier on Friday, accompanied by Energy Minister Sonya Savage, touting the benefits of building international markets for Alberta's ethical uranium and developing safe new "small modular reactors" to generate "small scale nuclear power."

Despite the inevitable controversy that will result from any project involving development of nuclear power, and the fact that the three-province memorandum of understanding the Kenney government plans to sign is a long-term, rather speculative, project, you'd think this would be the kind of deal the United Conservative Party would normally want to shout from the rooftops. 

So why now?

The political calculation behind the timing of Friday's video announcement is easier to explain than the murky economics of small modular reactors, which we'll look at in a future post.

The explanation, almost certainly, was the political embarrassment wrought by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's disastrous curriculum-review news conference the day before, which started to melt down the instant that curriculum advisory panel chair Angus McBeath stepped up to the microphone and opened his mouth. 

Within hours of LaGrange's Thursday morning gong show, fallout from McBeath's crotchety and at times incoherent ramblings was drifting around the globe like errant radioactive isotopes on the digital winds of social media. 

Thanks in part to the way the former Edmonton Public Schools superintendent reminded viewers of Abe Simpson, the cartoon geezer in so many old-man-yells-at-cloud memes, McBeath's soliloquy on how Alberta schools could one day produce the world's most honest used-car salesmen is sure to become an internet classic with a half life approaching eternity!

Obviously, the premier must have concluded, something had to be done to stop the meltdown before it turned into a political Chernobyl. 

Conveniently, the collaboration memorandum of understanding signed last year by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe was readily at hand and provided an opportunity to change the channel. 

Given the previous day's debacle, Kenney must have concluded that if this was going to be done right, he'd better do it himself. 

After all, LaGrange's newser had itself likely been a failed attempt to distract citizens from the fatal potential of her ministry's half-baked plan to reopen Alberta's schools in September without adequate measures in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Well, third time's a charm! At any rate, Kenney's announcement was a better choice for distraction. The creation or sale of any actual SMRs is far in the future, and so the resulting controversy will have to be dealt with by some future government. 

What's more, the people most likely to get riled up right now, environmentalists and the like, are easy to portray as enemies of Alberta. Maybe commissioner Steve Allan can even be persuaded to include a chapter on the topic in the report of his Alberta Inquiry into supposed foreign funding of opponents of more oilsands development. 

As a bonus, the dream of a safe little nuclear reactor that can power the carbon intensive extraction of bitumen from the tarry oilsands of Athabasca is bound to appeal to the UCP's base, if no one else. 

Problem solved, at least for now. 

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video

 
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[l] at 8/7/20 1:21pm
August 7, 2020 Anna Shvets/Pexels What you should know about workplace harassment Harassment need not be by a superior at work, or even a co-worker, and the protection provided by occupational health and safety legislation is not limited to harassment on human rights grounds
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[l] at 8/7/20 11:03am
Monia Mazigh

Dear rabble reader,

These are trying times for us all. The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the worst, but also the best in our communities.

Every day we hear about the progress of the virus, and we hear about the new measures the government is taking to help the economy, communities and the most vulnerable among us.

But in order to navigate through all this information, we need to be careful. We need to be vigilant and we need a platform that can help us to sift through this huge amount of information. We don't want to fall prey to fake news or conspiracy theories, nor ignore the disproportionate way COVID-19 affects justice-seeking communities.

rabble.ca is a platform that helps us to stay informed and well informed

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have watched enthusiastically the strengthening of the Black Lives Matters movement. Thanks to rabble.ca, we have the opportunity to follow the protests and the continuation of the demands made by the activists. Issues like defunding the police and Indigenous rights were rarely or sporadically written about in the mainstream media, whereas rabble.ca has been writing and reporting about them for a long time on a continuous basis.

These times are financially challenging for many. But it is important to keep sources like rabble.ca alive, thriving and informing us.

This is why it is crucial to support rabble.ca and donate to it so it continues to play the role of a channel of information where courageous and brave voices are able to write and express themselves.

Thank you,

Monia Mazigh

Monia Mazigh is a Canadian academic and author. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice. In 2012,  her novel, Mirrors and Mirages, was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award in French. In 2017, she published, Hope Has Two Daughters, a novel about the Arab Spring. Her third novel, Farida, came in last January 2020. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog.

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[l] at 8/7/20 9:19am
David J. Climenhaga Curriculum advisory panel chair Angus McBeath during his rambling remarks yesterday. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

No one who watched Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's news conference on the United Conservative Party's plans for Alberta's K-12 curriculum yesterday could come away with the impression our province's education system is in capable hands.

Putting aside the government's intention to send students back to schools ill-prepared for COVID-19 next month, LaGrange's performance on the topic of her ministerial order requiring curriculum changes to "give students a foundation of literacy and numeracy and a knowledge of the rich and diverse history of Alberta and Canada" was faltering, uncertain and occasionally incoherent.

Pressed by three different reporters on the phone lines to back up her repeated claims bias was endemic in Alberta schools under the old curriculum, she was unable to produce even a single example.

The following is not the answer of someone who is making a credible case teachers have been intentionally turning our kids into little social justice warriors instead of the obedient workers Albertans supposedly want: "So, it, I guess, I can share some examples, um, you know. One in particular is a parent that, uh, um, showed, um, sent me a, uh, an actual assessment where their child had to, um, pick the correct answer, and the correct answer was contrary to, uh, actually, the truth of what is out there in terms of, of our, uh, mm, uh, mm, environmental, um, studies that are out there."

Who knows what actually happened, or if the situation even occurred? Evidence? None. Credibility? Zero.

As for the constant references to "discovery learning" by the minister and other UCP talking heads, they're gaslighting. The words never occur in the pre-2015 Alberta curriculum or the K-4 curriculum developed when the NDP were in power and targeted by the UCP in the 2019 election campaign.

But who expected a comedy classic?

Consider the rambling, shambolic and at times bizarre discourse by Angus McBeath, chair of the 12-member curriculum advisory panel chosen a year ago by the UCP to come up with this claptrap after the party successfully campaigned on the claim that NDP efforts to update the curriculum were intended to poison young minds with ideology.

McBeath boasts he is "a lifelong teacher." Judging from his performance yesterday, he must have been one who often left his students more confused than enlightened.

"Oh, I can hear people say," he said at one point, adopting a sing-song voice, "'well, I went to university and became a history teacher. I teach history. I don't teach anything to do with literacy or numeracy.' Not quite true in the future!" (smirk) "All teachers will be teachers of literacy and numeracy."

Needless to say, no history teacher would say that.

As for the claim "this focus on numeracy and literacy, that's new, that has not been the case in the past," that may have been a key talking point yesterday, but it is false.

Alberta teachers have always emphasized literacy and numeracy, of course. They're good at it, too. According to international standardized testing, Alberta students are among the best in Canada and the world in reading, math and science.

As for the NDP's 2016 curriculum review, it was inherited from the previous Conservative government and was intended to link expectations in every subject to, yes, literacy and numeracy.

The UCP's obsession with history was very much on display yesterday. McBeath -- historical note, he was superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools the last time there was a teachers' strike, and was acting superintendent during the Klein cuts in 1994 -- had this to say about the social studies curriculum:

"They should be learning Alberta history, they should be learning Canadian history 'cause we are part a Canada, and we should be learning world history. Sequentially …" -- he paused to pound the podium -- "not 'Let's drop in on Friday and we'll study a little bit about Vietnam cookin' (sniff) and next Monday we'll be in England, and on Thursday, we're gonna be in Saddle Lake. Reserve. Out by St. Paul."

I'm not making this up. I encourage readers to watch the video for themselves and check my transcription.

He continued: "We want students to have a sensible approach to learning history. You can't do that unless you develop a sequential curriculum that allows students to understand one thing after another. If you don't know Magna Carta, you can hardly teach students their legal rights. Because Magna Carta was one of the kingpins in determining for our country habeas corpus. Which is a really important legal concept."

Well, God forbid anyone should make history interesting! Or coherent.

Then there was McBeath's discourse on the need to instil virtue in students: "We want to focus on the character of students," he said. "So we want to teach students a certain reverence for honesty. Integrity. Perseverance. Sticktoitishness. Better learn how to say that word! Resilience. Respectfulness. …"

This led up to what's become the money quote of yesterday's fiasco -- which quickly turned into a viral meme on social media spreading beyond Alberta's borders.

"We want every young person who graduates through Alberta schools, we want them to be the kind of person you'd want to be selling you a used car. Because you can trust them."

Where did they get this guy? Central casting? The UCP has often been mocked as "the Used Car party," thanks to the identities of some of their most generous donors. But I'm not sure the province's used-car dealers would approve of that idea, quite!

Said Carolyn Blasetti, executive director of Support Our Students Alberta: "We are disappointed with the language Angus McBeath used around Alberta's youth. Referencing their work ethic, talking about how young employees may be apt to steal from employers, are often late, and equating our world-class education system to used car sales is disheartening and out of touch with today's youth. It was uninspiring if not offensive language that is often what turns children off of education."

To me, though, the most troubling part of the news conference was the repeated emphasis on how, in McBeath's words, "We don't want students to say, 'Schooling appears to be about everybody else but me.'"

This may be intended to sound inclusive. But if you listen carefully, it sure sounds like a dog whistle to those parts of the UCP base that aren't interested in inclusiveness at all, but which complain constantly about the neglect of their old-stock sentiments.

What do you want to bet this is where the UCP's strange obsession with history education comes from too?

Who can doubt their real problem isn't that history is sometimes taught out of order, but that the interpretation of history that supports their worldview isn't the only version permitted?

Well, if this is what we can expect from the UCP on school curriculum, I guess we can expect talented young teachers to start following Alberta's doctors to B.C.

Note: Mea culpa, I predicted yesterday the UCP's curriculum plans wouldn't really be all that different than what the NDP would have come up with. I certainly missed that pitch. Lesson learned: It's always a mistake not to expect the absolute worst from this government.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr​

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[l] at 8/6/20 5:57pm
Doreen Nicoll Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: PMO

Cesar Paredes is a migrant worker and an engineer from Mexico whose status ran out after he was defrauded by an immigration lawyer. Since March, Paredes has gone to work daily despite the risks of bringing COVID home to his pregnant wife. Paredes' son, born in May, has a congenital heart condition that will require surgery.

While qualifying for the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) would have made life easier, Paredes would still have had to work to make ends meet. Now, he is not only facing an uncertain employment future, but has no chance of qualifying for the new employment benefits (EI) program proposed by the federal Liberals. Unfortunately, Paredes is not alone.

In March, millions of Canadians found themselves without an income as schools closed, businesses shuttered, and the arts shut down in response to COVID-19. Those who qualified for CERB will be facing a whole new financial crisis come September 4 when that program morphs into inadequate EI benefits.

Approximately four million people will transition to an EI system that is not up to the task. According to Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers' Action Centre, "The EI system needs to be overhauled to improve access and provide adequate payments to ensure no one is left behind."

During an August 6 press conference organized by the Workers' Action Centre, Ladd highlighted that while EI is generally a temporary program, during the pandemic it needs to be extended to ensure all workers have the means to live for the full extent of the pandemic.

Hardest hit during the COVID shut down were those making less than $14 per hour, women, racialized people, Indigenous people, new immigrants, and migrant workers. These groups are also lagging behind in the recovery and often find themselves excluded under current EI rules.

Pre-pandemic, 40 per cent of Canadian workers qualified for EI with that number dropping to 30 per cent in large cities. And, while many individuals had no problem reaching the $5,000 mark required to qualify for CERB, many of those same workers will find it impossible to qualify for the 600 hours of work currently needed to qualify for EI. Still other workers were simply furloughed so no record of employment (ROE) was issued -- a basic requirement for EI payments.

While CERB provided a standard $2,000 per month for every recipient, EI will be based on 55 per cent of earned income. For someone working a minimum wage job that would be the equivalent of living off of $8 per hour. For the city of Burlington and the town of Oakville, both often ranked as Canada's best communities, you would have to earn $20 per hour to make a living wage or the minimum income a worker requires to meet all their basic needs.

David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, sees a potential risk to the economic recovery the country has been experiencing. For EI to ensure no one is left behind and the economy continues to be stimulated, qualifying hours need to be lowered to 300 and they need to be on an attestation basis rather than relying on submission of a ROE. Wage replacement rates need to be increased and/or a floor established.

Richard Lam, arts worker and member of the Canadian Actors' Equity Association, works in an industry that will be one of the last to recover. People working in the arts have historically been ineligible for EI, so those working in all aspects of the television, film, and the live performance industry will be without a social safety net. Projections predict it will be the summer of 2021 before the arts really recover and that will be with restrictions still in place.

Judy Li, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs in the food service industry, lost both her jobs in March. Li, who had never received any government help before, says she was totally dependent on CERB to survive.

But, CERB payments were not enough for Li to live on. Despite looking for work in May and June, it wasn't until July that she was able to secure four hours of work a week which meant an additional $54 dollars. Li says, "I want to work. I am not lazy. I have been looking for a new job, but not many companies are hiring."

On EI, Li will receive about $1,000 per month and that won't be any where near enough to cover all of her bills.

Jaime Brenes Reyes, a single father of two was working part time while completing his PhD. Brenes Reyes is immunodeficient, and the monthly cost for his medications is $250 to $300. Even on CERB, things were tight, so Brenes Reyes was picking up work mowing lawns and landscaping.

Brenes Reyes, currently rents a two-bedroom basement apartment, but would like to move to a three-bedroom apartment since his kids are getting older. Unfortunately, that would cost $1,500 per month.

His future is very uncertain. Many first-year students are taking a gap year before going to university and Brenes Reyes has no idea if instructors and teaching assistants will be hired for the coming year.

As it stands, Brenes Reyes doesn't have 600 hours to qualify for EI. He would like to see CERB extended with modifications that take into account the health needs of workers, housing support, as well as workplace safety.

Since most workers would receive somewhere between $600 to $1,000 per month on the new EI plan, Macdonald would like to see a $500 per week floor put in place. Macdonald says the cost for the new EI program will require federal financing. That's par for the course during times of recession like in 2008 and it's to be expected during these unprecedented times.

As Paredes wisely observes, "Fear limits the choices we have. Without an extension of CERB a lot of people will suffer. The government has made great decisions during the pandemic, but it needs to do better."

For more information about the Workers' Action Centre click here.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: PMO​

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[l] at 8/6/20 5:57pm
Doreen Nicoll Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: PMO

Cesar Paredes is a migrant worker and an engineer from Mexico whose status ran out after he was defrauded by an immigration lawyer. Since March, Paredes has gone to work daily despite the risks of bringing COVID home to his pregnant wife. Paredes' son, born in May, has a congenital heart condition that will require surgery.

While qualifying for the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) would have made life easier, Paredes would still have had to work to make ends meet. Now, he is not only facing an uncertain employment future, but has no chance of qualifying for the new employment benefits (EI) program proposed by the federal Liberals. Unfortunately, Paredes is not alone.

In March, millions of Canadians found themselves without an income as schools closed, businesses shuttered, and the arts shut down in response to COVID-19. Those who qualified for CERB will be facing a whole new financial crisis come September 4 when that program morphs into inadequate EI benefits.

Approximately four million people will transition to an EI system that is not up to the task. According to Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers' Action Centre, "The EI system needs to be overhauled to improve access and provide adequate payments to ensure no one is left behind."

During an August 6 press conference organized by the Workers' Action Centre, Ladd highlighted that while EI is generally a temporary program, during the pandemic it needs to be extended to ensure all workers have the means to live for the full extent of the pandemic.

Hardest hit during the COVID shut down were those making less than $14 per hour, women, racialized people, Indigenous people, new immigrants, and migrant workers. These groups are also lagging behind in the recovery and often find themselves excluded under current EI rules.

Pre-pandemic, 40 per cent of Canadian workers qualified for EI with that number dropping to 30 per cent in large cities. And, while many individuals had no problem reaching the $5,000 mark required to qualify for CERB, many of those same workers will find it impossible to qualify for the 600 hours of work currently needed to qualify for EI. Still other workers were simply furloughed so no record of employment (ROE) was issued -- a basic requirement for EI payments.

While CERB provided a standard $2,000 per month for every recipient, EI will be based on 55 per cent of earned income. For someone working a minimum wage job that would be the equivalent of living off of $8 per hour. For the city of Burlington and the town of Oakville, both often ranked as Canada's best communities, you would have to earn $20 per hour to make a living wage or the minimum income a worker requires to meet all their basic needs.

David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, sees a potential risk to the economic recovery the country has been experiencing. For EI to ensure no one is left behind and the economy continues to be stimulated, qualifying hours need to be lowered to 300 and they need to be on an attestation basis rather than relying on submission of a ROE. Wage replacement rates need to be increased and/or a floor established.

Richard Lam, arts worker and member of the Canadian Actors' Equity Association, works in an industry that will be one of the last to recover. People working in the arts have historically been ineligible for EI, so those working in all aspects of the television, film, and the live performance industry will be without a social safety net. Projections predict it will be the summer of 2021 before the arts really recover and that will be with restrictions still in place.

Judy Li, a single mother working two minimum wage jobs in the food service industry, lost both her jobs in March. Li, who had never received any government help before, says she was totally dependent on CERB to survive.

But, CERB payments were not enough for Li to live on. Despite looking for work in May and June, it wasn't until July that she was able to secure four hours of work a week which meant an additional $54 dollars. Li says, "I want to work. I am not lazy. I have been looking for a new job, but not many companies are hiring."

On EI, Li will receive about $1,000 per month and that won't be any where near enough to cover all of her bills.

Jaime Brenes Reyes, a single father of two was working part time while completing his PhD. Brenes Reyes is immunodeficient, and the monthly cost for his medications is $250 to $300. Even on CERB, things were tight, so Brenes Reyes was picking up work mowing lawns and landscaping.

Brenes Reyes, currently rents a two-bedroom basement apartment, but would like to move to a three-bedroom apartment since his kids are getting older. Unfortunately, that would cost $1,500 per month.

His future is very uncertain. Many first-year students are taking a gap year before going to university and Brenes Reyes has no idea if instructors and teaching assistants will be hired for the coming year.

As it stands, Brenes Reyes doesn't have 600 hours to qualify for EI. He would like to see CERB extended with modifications that take into account the health needs of workers, housing support, as well as workplace safety.

Since most workers would receive somewhere between $600 to $1,000 per month on the new EI plan, Macdonald would like to see a $500 per week floor put in place. Macdonald says the cost for the new EI program will require federal financing. That's par for the course during times of recession like in 2008 and it's to be expected during these unprecedented times.

As Paredes wisely observes, "Fear limits the choices we have. Without an extension of CERB a lot of people will suffer. The government has made great decisions during the pandemic, but it needs to do better."

For more information about the Workers' Action Centre click here.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: PMO​

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[l] at 8/6/20 1:41pm
August 6, 2020 Marcin Jozwiak/Unsplash Rebuilding child care in Canada must include a national strategy The shuttering of child care in Canada has put parents and providers in an untenable position, but has also given policy-makers critical insights.
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[l] at 8/6/20 1:34pm
US Politics President Donald Trump. Image: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr

The United States, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in world history, is also number one in COVID-19 infections and deaths. As White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Deborah Birx warned last weekend, "It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas. To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus." President Donald Trump responded by calling Birx "pathetic." Six months into the pandemic, he's offered no national plan to stop the spread of the virus, which is thriving.

As Trump daily demands rapid reopening of schools and the economy, the lines for tests stretch ever longer, and the ever-expanding wait for test results, in many cases up to two weeks, renders the results essentially useless, making contact tracing and isolation of infected people virtually impossible.

The American Association of Medical Colleges recently released "A Road Map to Reset the Nation's Approach to the Pandemic," urging the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to overcome the unconscionable shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, testing supplies, and therapeutic drugs.

Further, and more fundamentally, the AAMC calls for addressing systemic racism and other inequities that exist in our health-care system and for a massive increase in funding for our beleaguered public health infrastructure. Included would be the fair, equitable and rapid distribution of a safe, effective vaccine when one becomes available, not only nationally, but globally.

This roadmap sounds sensible, but what chance does it have with a science denier in the White House more concerned with his TV ratings and re-election than addressing the greatest pandemic in a century? Trump is providing socialism for multinational corporations, doling out billions to big pharmaceutical companies, supposedly to develop vaccines. Public Citizen's Peter Maybarduk has said Trump's $6-billion, taxpayer-funded program benefitting private companies has "a striking lack of transparency." Pharmaceutical company insiders are making millions through stock options, as poor and uninsured Americans are left to fend for themselves in the "free market."

A simple, overdue step would be to immediately expand Medicare, the national health insurance system for people 65 years old and above, to cover all Americans from birth. Medicare for All would separate health insurance coverage from employment status or wealth, saving trillions of dollars and, most importantly, saving lives.

"People with low or moderate incomes do not get the same medical attention as those with high incomes," president Harry Truman told Congress in 1945 when he first proposed single-payer health care. Twenty years later, a scaled-down bill passed Congress, establishing Medicare for older Americans, and Medicaid for millions of poor and disabled people. In signing the Medicare act on July 30th, 1965, president Lyndon Johnson made compromises with the American Medical Association, shoring up the inefficient, employer-based private health insurance system that has left tens of millions of Americans without access to health care.

The ranks of the uninsured and underinsured are now swelling, as more than 54 million people have filed for unemployment since the onset of the pandemic in March.

While some of those people have returned to work, millions of the jobs lost as a result of the pandemic may never come back. An Urban Institute study from mid-July predicted 10 million people will permanently lose their employer-provided health insurance. And, just as poor people and people of colour are more likely to die of COVID-19, they are also more likely to be uninsured or underinsured.

One recent, mid-pandemic poll showed close to 80 per cent support for Medicare for All among Democratic party members. Joe Biden, though, opposes single-payer health care, and said he'd veto a Medicare for All bill if, as president, it made it to his desk. But activist pressure has forced Biden to change his position in the past. Last week, an initial vote by the party's Platform Committee shot down the Medicare for All proposal. Despite that defeat, at least 700 delegates to the upcoming Democratic National Convention have vowed to oppose the party platform if it doesn't include Medicare for All.

In both Missouri and Oklahoma, the public recently passed Obamacare's Medicaid expansion by statewide ballot initiatives, overriding their red state governors and legislatures. And in three recent, remarkable primary upsets, Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush in St. Louis, Marie Newman in Chicago and former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman in New York defeated establishment incumbent Democratic Congressmembers. All three challengers are expected to win in November, joining a growing, diverse contingent of progressives in Congress who support Medicare for All.

When the people lead, the saying goes, the leaders will follow. It's a matter of life and death.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr

COVID-19 Donald Trump medicare Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan August 6, 2020 U.S. cities need personal protective equipment and tests, not shock troops The response in Oregon to U.S. President Donald Trump's outrageous and likely unconstitutional deployment of federal agents has been resoundingly critical. Mount Rushmore, and the United States' white supremacist-in-chief President Trump's planned rally at Mount Rushmore occurs as the U.S. suffers an explosion of COVID-19 cases and a national debate on how to deal with symbols enshrining systemic racism. Donald Trump rally stokes racism as COVID-19 cases surge No matter how much Trump tries to vilify activists as thugs and terrorists, it is they, people in the streets, who represent the proudest traditions of protest and dissent.
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[l] at 8/6/20 10:19am
Labour Anna Shvets/Pexels

In the course of my work and in reading the news lately, I am seeing a lot of issues come up involving workplace health and safety. Many of those issues are related to COVID-19 -- for example, some employers are deciding to let staff work remotely for the rest of the year, and some employees that are being called back to work are expressing concerns about the safety of doing so.  

However, even in the midst of the pandemic, there are still non-COVID related workplace health and safety issues, and possibly the highest profile issue of that nature in Canada recently involves the allegations of workplace harassment made against the Governor General. The allegations have garnered a lot of media attention, but the unfortunate reality is that they are not that unusual. It is only because the allegations involve the Governor General that they are getting media coverage, and not because of the subject matter of the allegations. With that in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at a couple of issues that often arise in the context of workplace harassment.

It is often not a human rights issue

Many people have the misconception that if an employee is being harassed at work, their only recourse is to bring an application under human rights legislation. However, human rights legislation will not protect an employee unless the harassment is on the basis of a "protected ground" (such as race, sex, age, family status, and a number of other grounds).  As a result, an employee who is harassed by co-workers because they do not fit in with others at work, have done something that another employee took issue with, or for any number of reasons that are not among the "protected grounds" will have no protection under human rights legislation.  

Similarly, if an employer or manager is harassing an employee because the employer or manager has issues with exercising their authority in an appropriate manner, is overly demanding, or treats others in a demeaning fashion, while their behaviour may be harassment, it may fall outside of the scope of human rights legislation.  

For example, the news reports regarding the Governor General mention allegations of some seriously questionable behaviour, but they do not contain any indication that any of the reported behaviour was based on any ground that is protected under human rights legislation. As a result, while the Privy Council Office has indicated that the allegations will be investigated, even if the allegations are proven and are determined to amount to harassment, the Governor General's conduct (at least the conduct that has been reported in the media) would not violate human rights legislation.  

Instead, situations like the one involving the Governor General are typically addressed under occupational health and safety legislation, which requires employers to protect their employees from workplace harassment of any sort. The harassment need not be by a superior at work, or even a co-worker, and the protection provided by occupational health and safety legislation is not limited to harassment on certain listed grounds. Instead, workers are to be protected from any harassment from any source at the workplace.

Due process vs. protecting victims

It is all well and good that there is legislation that is meant to protect workers from workplace harassment, but for that legislation to be effective, an employee who is being harassed has to feel safe in coming forward with their allegations. Even though both human rights legislation and occupational health and safety legislation typically contain provisions that prohibit reprisal against people who exercise their rights under the legislation, a harassed employee is often wary about making a formal complaint for fear that they will ultimately be the one who suffers the consequences of making a complaint.

On the other hand, our system of law is based on the principle that a party who is accused of misconduct is "innocent until proven guilty," and has the right to know the case against them so that they can respond to the allegations.  The statement announcing that there would be an investigation of the allegations against the Governor General indicated that her office is subject to the Treasury Board policy on harassment prevention and resolution, and the government has issued an investigation guide for investigations conducted under that policy. The guide contains a section on procedural fairness, which includes the statement that the person accused of harassment "has the right to know the totality of the allegation(s) made by the other party and must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to them."  

Some harassment policies will provide that in exceptional circumstances, the identity of the person making the allegations can be kept confidential. However, such a step should only be a last resort taken in the most extreme situations. Employers should always try to come up with a way to protect complainants from reprisal without compromising procedural fairness, so that the legitimacy of the result of the investigation, and the investigation itself, is not called into question. If an employer cannot rely on the results of the investigation in deciding how to respond to the allegations of harassment because the accused claims they did not have a fair opportunity to present their response to the allegations, that will not be of any real assistance to the employer or the complainant in addressing any harassment.

What needs to be done?

As a lawyer who has represented parties involved in dealing with allegations of workplace harassment, and who has conducted a number of investigations of workplace harassment allegations as well, I am well aware of the tension between due process and protecting complainants from reprisal. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any solution that would resolve that tension in a way that does not create its own problems. Hopefully, as more instances of harassment are brought to light and addressed in the appropriate manner by employers, including protecting complainants from reprisal and taking steps to deal with proven instances of harassment, that will have a snowball effect, and make others more confident in reporting their own experiences with harassment.

Michael Hackl is a lawyer with Iler Campbell LLP where he practices civil litigation, providing advice and representation to charities, non-profit organizations and co-operatives on various matters including employment matters, contract disputes and human rights issues.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially-minded small businesses and individuals in Ontario. Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice. Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

Image: Anna Shvets/Pexels

workplace harassment Michael Hackl Pro Bono August 7, 2020 The right to know? Balancing health risks and privacy rights for landlords during COVID-19 What is a landlord's responsibility when a tenant in a multi-residential building tests positive for COVID-19? Federal government should prioritize moving MAID back up its legislative agenda COVID-19 has increased the demand for medical assistance in dying, but the pandemic has also made it more difficult to access. Defining 'urgent' in the global pandemic Voices supporting the rights of disadvantaged groups were either excluded or ignored when "urgent" COVID response programs were crafted. The result is a response that puts bandages on deeper problems.
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[l] at 8/6/20 1:16am
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage at a recent Keystone XL related announcement. Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party, friends of the union man and woman, not to mention the environment!

Who would have seen that coming?

Yet there was Energy Minister Sonya Savage, her words in black and white in the text of a government of Alberta news release yesterday, boasting about agreements with four big unions for work that even come with a refreshing whiff of Green New Deal!

The UCP's generous supporters need not worry, though. These aren't deals between the government and the four big health-care unions that represent the bulk of Alberta's front-line medical workers who are risking their lives in the fight against COVID-19, for example, or anything like that.

Not a chance! Those guys are still in for a world of pain, just like Alberta's physicians and teachers, if Kenney and his government get their way and some "activist judge" doesn't muck up their plans.

No, as usual, there's a caveat with any good news from Kenney's government, and in this case it's that the work done by the members of the Laborers International Union of North America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters will all be south of the 49th parallel.

LiUNA, the Teamsters, the Operating Engineers and the Plumbers all have a presence in Alberta but, notwithstanding Savage's promise some of the work their American brothers and sisters are getting will eventually create jobs on this side of the border, it's not clear if any of it will come to Canadian members of those unions.

Nope, Savage was celebrating a deal signed by TC Energy Corp., nominally of Calgary, to work on the U.S. sections of the Keystone XL pipeline -- that is, the one into which Kenney's government has already sunk $1.5 billion and has committed itself to providing another $6 billion to the former TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. to see the project through to completion.

Critics have called the commitment "a bad bet," which was understating things considerably even before it became obvious Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was likely to pull the plug on the project if he's elected in November. And this seems probable unless Donald Trump can find a way between now and then to declare himself president for life.

So when Savage says "we will continue to work with our allies in U.S. states and the federal government to emphasize the importance of doubling down on this long-standing energy partnership that will help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil from undemocratic, predatory nations," she may be whistling past the graveyard, metaphorically speaking.

And when she says "this project will support almost 60,000 jobs in our two countries, giving workers -- sidelined by the economic downturn and COVID-19 pandemic on both sides of the border -- hope and optimism for a steady and reliable paycheque for the next three years," a certain amount of skepticism about how many jobs will actually be created north of the line is entirely justified.

When Kenney said he was laser focused on creating jobs, we didn't expect so many of the good ones to be in the United States, even if that's nice for our partners in what Savage calls "the world's strongest and most mutually beneficial energy trading relationship."

You have to read the TC Energy release, of course, to get a sense of what's really going on. To wit, that TC's enthusiasm for its deal with the four big international unions sure sounds like window dressing to change Biden's mind in the now likely event he becomes president.

When you hear the corporation's Houston-based PR department bragging that their union deal "will inject hundreds of millions of dollars in middle-class wages into the American economy, while ensuring this pipeline will be built by the highest-skilled and highest-trained workforce," what else could it mean?

Same goes for the promise that "TC Energy is also working with labour to establish a unique Green Jobs Training Program to help union members acquire the specific skills needed to work in the developing renewable energy sector."

I mean, seriously, it's smart to get to the front of the parade before there's a crowd there.

As for Alberta, the Kenney government's "war on unions" continues apace, as everyone involved gears up for years of legal challenges to Bill 32, the tendentiously named and largely unconstitutional Restoring Balance in Alberta's Workplaces Act, which received royal assent on July 29.

The only union leaders Kenney likes, it seems, are south of the world's longest temporarily closed border.

"The Keystone XL pipeline project will put thousands of Americans, including Teamsters, to work in good union jobs that will support working families," said James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the TC Energy presser.

Education minister to discuss 'next steps' in curriculum changes

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange will be back at the podium this morning, this time to tell us about "the next steps to update the curriculum and strengthen the K-12 education system."

Alert readers will recall how the UCP's overheated rhetoric during the 2019 election campaign tried to make the curriculum review started by the old Progressive Conservatives but continued under the NDP after 2015 sound like some kind of communist plot.

Not to prejudge, but chances are whatever LaGrange trots out tomorrow won't be all that different from what David Eggen would have announced were he still education minister.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

 

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[l] at 8/5/20 11:02am
Martha Friendly Morna Ballantyne Lynell Anderson Marcin Jozwiak/Unsplash

It's been almost five months since provincial and territorial governments closed child-care services. Now they are allowing them to reopen. Reopening -- like shuttering -- has been chaotic, anxiety-producing and inequitable for families, service providers and the child-care workforce alike. Child-care programs and parents (particularly mothers, who have been picking up a disproportionate share of the fallout) have emerged from the pandemic's acute phase much the worse for wear.

Policies, guidelines and funding around child-care services have varied extensively across Canada, with vocal objections by service providers and parents to some provincial actions -- or to absence of action. An online Canada-wide survey of more than 8,000 regulated child-care services found more than one-third of closed centres reported uncertainty about whether they would reopen. Surveyed centres overwhelmingly identified new COVID-19 related health and safety practices, low enrolment and difficulty hiring staff as significant threats to viability.

The survey showed diverse approaches to child care during the outbreak. Some provinces closed child care to all but essential worker parents. Others didn't. Essential workers received free child care in some jurisdictions but paid full fees in others. Parents paid fees to reserve post-COVID spaces in closed programs in some provinces. Others disallowed this, with several provinces providing additional funding to offset lost parent fee revenues. Some provinces closed all centres but kept family child care open. Others closed both, while one province (Saskatchewan) closed child-care centres in schools, but not other locations.

Difficult as the pandemic has been for Canadians needing or providing child care, it has generated new evidence about why and how to transform child-care policy. Looking beyond the pandemic to future reconstruction of the economy, four noteworthy lessons have emerged from COVID-19's acute phase.

Lesson one: Child care is essential

This has been thoroughly demonstrated and widely embraced: for mothers of young children to participate in the Canadian economy, there must be quality, reliable child care. In pandemic-times, governments recognized that essential workers -- medical workers and others -- needed child care so they could do their jobs.

But it is equally apparent that affordable child care is also essential for all parents in the paid labour force. Parents who had to work from home found it arduous (or impossible) to work productively. Mothers in particular, had to balance their paid work with the unpaid work of caring for, or schooling, their children. Canadian sociologists Yue Qian and Sylvia Fuller's research shows the gender gap in employment widening during the pandemic, while a Statistics Canada survey found parents reporting their "top concern was balancing child care, schooling and work" (74 per cent were very or extremely concerned).

Lesson two: Parents with school-age children depend on schools both for education and child care

During the pandemic, school closures forced parents into untenable work and family situations. Quebec reopened many elementary schools before the regular summer break, but in most other jurisdictions, what will be available for school-age children in September remains an open question. Ontario's failure to set out clear province-wide direction on reopening schools has sparked outrage.

Policy analyst Laura Dobson-Hughes summed it up: "The lack of affordable childc are, especially for low-income and racialized families, was already unsustainable and is now a crisis for many. We must make the safe return to school a political and national priority." However, with a month to go, whether or not schools will be operating fully after Labour Day is still a wide-open question in most of Canada.

Lesson three:  A market-model works poorly for delivering "care" services necessary for well-being

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the outcome of decades of failure to develop robust care provisions for children and the elderly, the latter which suffered grievously due to system breakdown in long-term care. Child care and long-term care share many characteristics. Both depend on low-paid women's labour. Service quality depends on the number, education and management of staff. Both are provincially regulated. And both are market-driven, rather than co-ordinated service systems designed with the well-being of those cared for as the primary consideration.

The pandemic revealed the fragility of Canada's parent fee-funded childcare patchwork of services, delivered by an underpaid, almost all female workforce. The national survey found 70 per cent of centres reported laying off some or all staff.

Given the low wages in the sector, there is a fear that many will not return because other, higher-paid jobs will become available. Or child-care staff may be better off financially by remaining on government income replacement programs, especially if they have to pay high child-care fees for their own children. The national survey on the effects of COVID-19 on child care found that of the 71 per cent of centres across Canada that had laid staff off, 87 per cent reported those staff members had applied for Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Thus, as they reopen, centres are struggling with lower enrolment due to COVID-related restrictions on the number of children (and fewer parent fees), extra safety-related costs and shortages of trained educators to deliver quality child care.

The pandemic provides a lesson that child care -- like other services in the increasingly important care economy -- must be regarded as a public good. Thus, they should be publicly managed and publicly funded. If child care continues to be left to the market, it will continue to fail.

Lesson four: The federal government can, and must, step in

The chaotic child-care situation during COVID-19 reinforces why a stronger federal role in child care -- constitutionally under provincial jurisdiction -- is warranted. The current fragmented approach -- with its accompanying inequality and absence of options for families -- will continue to undermine economic recovery and reconstruction. As economist Armine Yalnizyan noted, child care "is not a provincial matter but a national one. It is of national importance and we need a national plan."

Child-care advocates have proposed a two-phased federal strategy for moving from laissez-faire policy to begin building a child-care system as a central pillar of Canada's social infrastructure. Phase 1 was to have started immediately, with the federal government earmarking a significant portion of the more than $19-billion Safe Restart agreement to help the economy reopen for early years and school-age child care.

Advocates asked that these funds be used to restore licensed child care to pre-pandemic levels, with full evidence-based consideration of children's and staff's health and safety. They said federal funding was required to provide both child care for children younger than school-age and child care for school-agers to 12 years through summer, fall and winter, before and after school hours, and during regular school hours if school is not available.

However, the Safe Restart agreement provides only $625 million in federal funding for child care, without specific conditions for the new transfer. This makes the second phase of the proposed federal strategy that much more important, including immediate establishment of the promised federal early learning and child-care secretariat to steer policy development.

In Phase 2, the advocates' strategy proposes that the federal government boost annual child-care spending by $2 billion each year beginning with $2 billion in 2021-2022 (to $4 billion in 2022-2023, $6 billion in 2023-2024, and so on). As has been the understanding since the 2017 federal budget, 20 percent of federal funds would support implementation of the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework agreed to by the federal government and Indigenous governing bodies.

The strategy proposes that future agreements with provinces and territories require transferred funds to be used to move toward a fully publicly funded, publicly managed child-care system, with demonstrable improvements in accessibility, affordability, quality and inclusivity. The federal secretariat would support system-building across Canada, working with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments and communities on a child-care workforce strategy, ongoing consultation with the child-care sector and policy experts, data collection, a research agenda and sharing best practices. Importantly, the federal government must draft legislation to enshrine a right of all Canadian children to quality child care, as the Canada Health Act does for basic health care.

As Kate Bezanson, Andrew Bevan and Monica Lysack recently wrote for First Policy Response: "Child care is key to Canada's capacity to reopen and rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis…The decisions governments make in the coming months about child care system-building will be era-defining, and will have generational ripple effects."

COVID-19 has disrupted Canadians' family lives, employment, finances and public and social programs on a scale most of us have never before experienced. It has also created an opportunity for rethinking, rebuilding and recreating. What is being proposed for child care is not new -- what is new is the opportunity to actually move to create what Canada has long needed -- a full national child-care program for all. The consequence of not moving forward on child care is more serious than ever before, as recovery is now not only about recovering child care but about a just and effective recovery for Canada.

This article was written for Policy Options, Institute for Research on Public Policy, as part of the The Coronavirus Pandemic: Canada’s Response special feature and was originally published July 30 2020.

Image: Marcin Jozwiak/Unsplash

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[l] at 8/5/20 9:56am
Brent Patterson Zach Stern/Flickr

On the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is imperative not to historicize the suffering of those who died, but to situate the memory of them in the present struggle against the threat of nuclear militarism.

More than 210,000 people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

75 years ago, two atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the end of 1945, the bombing had killed more than 210,000 people.

It is believed that about 120,000 people died instantly and that tens of thousands more died in the days, weeks and months that followed that year. In the years that followed, many more people faced leukemia and cancer due to the radiation.

Setsuko Thurlow, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima when she was 13 years old, reminded us just a few years ago: "Each person had a name. Each person was loved by someone. Let us ensure that their deaths were not in vain."

Let us also remember that the uranium used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was refined in Ontario and that research in Ontario and Quebec also played a role in the production of the plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

There were alternatives then and now

This week, Professor Benoît Pelopidas wrote: "According to the US Air Force's own review, finalized not long after the end of the war, Japan would likely have surrendered that same autumn even in the absence of atomic bombings or an invasion."

"Similarly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed skepticism about the use of atomic bombs both before and after the fact."

Pelopidas thus challenges the long-standing notion that while many were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it saved the lives of many American soldiers.

He argues that the alternatives to dropping the atomic bombs included: "negotiations, a demonstration of the atomic bomb in an uninhabited area, continued strategic bombing short of the use of atomic weapons, continued economic blockade, and waiting for the Soviets to declare war against the Japanese empire."

A massive diversion into nuclear militarism

It has also been estimated that the United States, between 1940 and 2005, spent more than $7.5 trillion on nuclear weapons.

The most recent figure is that the nine nuclear weapon states spent $72.9 billion in 2019 on nuclear weapons, a 10 per cent increase over 2018.

And a Congressional Budget Office report last year estimated that the United States will spend $494 billion on nuclear weapons from 2019 through 2028.

This represents a massive diversion of spending away from the public good and speaks to the need to defund nuclear war and divert that spending to alternatives.

PBI founders acted against nuclear weapons

At least three of the founders of Peace Brigades International took extraordinary steps to end the scourge of nuclear weapons.

Murray Thomson was 23 years old when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. He said that experience made him a pacifist and he spent the next 73 years of his life forming organizations, giving speeches, writing, and initiating campaigns against nuclear weapons.

In 1958, 43-year-old George Willoughby and three others sailed 6,400 kilometres on the South Pacific Ocean to put themselves in between the U.S. Navy and its testing of an atomic weapon. They were arrested near Honolulu and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

And in 1962, 33-year-old Hans Sinn undertook an 8,000-kilometre Vancouver to Berlin peace walk to publicize the need for nuclear disarmament.

Canada's role today

Significantly, Canada has not signed the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

Professor Jim Harding has also argued that Canada has long violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 through uranium mined in Saskatchewan and refined in Ontario fuelling the U.S. nuclear weapons stream.

And Matt Korda, a research associate for the Nuclear Information Project, has commented that Canada "actively participates in NATO's Nuclear Planning Group" and allows "American and British nuclear-capable vessels to visit our ports."

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the death of more than 210,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us recommit ourselves to stopping this country's role in supplying, facilitating, participating in and providing cover for nuclear militarism.

In the words of Setsuko’s recent letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

"The approaching 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th would be the appropriate moment to acknowledge Canada's critical role in the creation of nuclear weapons, express a statement of regret for the deaths and suffering they caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as announce that Canada will ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons."

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website. You can reach them at @CBrentPatterson @PBIcanada.

Image: Zach Stern/Flickr

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[l] at 8/5/20 9:37am
August 5, 2020 Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr Alberta education minister changes tune on masks when schools reopen Public pressure for a safer school reopening got Jason Kenney's government to budge -- a little. The question is, will worried Albertans decide it budged enough?
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[l] at 8/4/20 11:44pm
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

According to Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, it turns out "emerging evidence has made it clear that masks can play an important role limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our schools."

Who knew?

Those were pretty much the first words out of LaGrange's mouth as yesterday morning's news conference on revisions to Alberta's minimalist back-to-school scheme got under way.

As a result -- of intense public pressure, that is, not "emerging" evidence provided by Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw or the boffins at Alberta's health ministry as LaGrange implied -- teachers and students in Grades 4 and above will now be required to wear masks when schools reopen in September.

Exemptions and exceptions to the latest pandemic rules, however, will be plentiful. Moreover, classrooms will continue to be packed and COVID-19 will remain highly infectious.

Teachers and staff will be required to wear masks -- where two metres of physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Students will also be required to wear them -- in all shared and common areas. So, in Hinshaw's words, the rule will only apply "outside the classroom, or when activities inside the classroom involve close interactions. … Masks inside the classroom are not required when students are seated and the teacher is distanced from the students."

Students in Grades 1 to 3 won't have to wear masks, although they can if they want to. As all of us who have raised children understand, informed consent does not typically play a big role in the typical Grade 1 student's perspective, but whatever.

Anyway, don't worry about it. The province is sticking to its view small kids aren't likely to transmit the coronavirus. "Current medical evidence indicates that children under 10 may be less likely than older children or adults to transmit COVID-19," LaGrange recited, a view not necessarily universally shared by all experts.

Students in higher grades have to wear masks -- but will have the option of taking their masks off when they're seated in class.

And so on. Readers will get the picture.

Critics were quick to respond that the changes announced by LaGrange and Hinshaw yesterday seemed to be intended to look responsive to public pressure for a safe school reopening while doing as little as possible.

"In the absence of additional measures, mandating masks as a stand-alone initiative is an insufficient response which may in many cases add confusion for many students and staff," said Support Our Students Alberta communication director Barbara Silva. Critically, she noted, "it fails to address the issue of overcrowding."

But then, LaGrange went on, there will also be hand sanitizer, 466,000 litres of it, some face shields (thanks to a corporate donor, for heaven's sake), two hand-held thermostats per school, and 1.6 million reusable masks, enough for two for every student and staff member, plus some extra disposables at the door in case a student forgets to pack a mask with lunch.

And in case you thought the government was being cheap about this, the minister noted solemnly, the extra effort will cost an additional $10 million.

Indeed, you can expect to hear the government's social media troll team screaming about how NDP Opposition leader Rachel Notley's alternative school opening plan would cost an "unrealistic" $1 billion.

Never mind that this is government that just promised to give $7.5 billion away to a pipeline company for a pipe through Montana that stands a significant chance of being spiked soon after Joe Biden is sworn in as president of the United States. Priorities.

Remember as well that the United Conservative Party government just got finished giving away about 40 million non-medical masks at the drive-through windows of Alberta fast food restaurants -- those well-known dispensers of dietary and other health information, McDonald's, A&W and Tim Hortons.

How much did that cost, one wonders? Why didn't they keep those masks to use in schools, where they might actually get worn? And why wasn't that the government's first instinct? There would have been enough to give each student, teacher and additional staff member nearly 50 masks!

Yesterday's announcement establishes one thing, and that is that sustained public pressure can get even a government like the one run by Premier Jason Kenney's party to budge -- a little.

But the subtext of the message was don't get any more big ideas.

"Today's announcement," the minister said, was the result of the government "continuing to listen to expert medical advice." Hinshaw said much that same thing. It's the government, though, that gets to pick the experts.

Bevan Daverne, superintendent of the Golden Hills School District in Strathmore and president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, who took part in the news conference via telephone, was quoted in the government's news release saying: "This announcement clearly demonstrates Alberta Education's willingness to take the necessary steps to support the safety of staff and students."

Well, maybe. But there are many Albertans who are not yet persuaded by that assertion.

It'll be interesting to see what they have to say in the next few days.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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[l] at 8/4/20 3:53pm
David Suzuki NESA by makers/Unsplash

When we started the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, we implemented a four-day, 34-hour work week. Staff consistently say it's made their lives better, giving them time to rest, pursue other interests, explore nature, volunteer, enjoy the company of family and friends, and so much more.

Life isn't about making more money so we can keep buying more stuff; it's about having time to do things that enrich our lives. In the face of multiple crises -- pandemic, climate and biodiversity -- we need to consider new societal and economic ideas that promote human well-being and help us live within Earth's limits, rather than endlessly chasing a consumerist dream based on the illusory premise that a finite planet can support endless growth.

A four-day work week won’t cure society's woes. In fact, you'd think we’ be down to three days by now, as rapid technological advancement and global trade have upended everything about the way we work since the standard five-day work week was implemented after the Second World War!

Evidence confirms the foundation's experience: four-day work weeks are good for employers and employees, boosting employment levels and increasing performance and motivation. They're also beneficial to health and well-being, resulting in cost savings from reduced sick time. Reduced work hours, flexible schedules and telecommuting can also cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Many people have altered their work practices during the pandemic -- working from home, often with flexible schedules, using technology for meetings and communication. Not everyone can or should work from home or alter schedules, but many can.

The pandemic has exposed flaws in our systems, but it's provided opportunities to find better ways. It's shown change is possible. We need to start thinking about what an economy can do for us, not what we must do for it (which apparently includes sacrificing your life, if you consider the rush in some jurisdictions to "open up the economy" in the midst of a pandemic that still isn’t well understood by scientists and medical experts).

Is the purpose of work to continuously extract and consume resources so we can keep replacing our products as they become obsolete -- at the expense of all those who will come after us? Or is it to ensure that we meet our needs for sustenance, shelter and well-being as individuals and societies so that we can contribute to the common good?

Transforming work-life balance through a well-being lens can lead to significant health benefits, contribute to gender equality, improve work redistribution and have important environmental benefits. Rethinking how we work is crucial, and a four-day work week, guaranteed sick days, minimum vacation time and greater flexibility are good steps toward making work better for people and the planet.

The four-day week is becoming especially popular as people consider a post-pandemic world. That's because it works. Utah gave its government workers a four-day work week from 2007 to 2011 (it ended with a change in government), and concluded it saved $1.8 million in energy costs within the first 10 months and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 10,900 tonnes a year.

A University of Liverpool brief on how the city can respond to the COVID-19 crisis confirmed the benefits of working four days, in part by looking at European nations that have reduced work hours. The researchers caution that governments and unions must help ensure that overall wages and living standards aren't reduced, and that "productivity gains from advances in fields like automation are distributed amongst the workforce rather than amassed by the owners of machines."

It's in part up to the federal government to facilitate this shift in the private sector, as change in the federal public sector is often slow. Municipal governments can also signal the change. Vancouver city workers once had a four-day work week.

Over the years, it's taken a lot of sacrifice and hardship to change work practices -- from slavery and child labour to 12-hour, seven-day work weeks with few benefits to our current system, another relic of the previous century. It shouldn't be that difficult this time, as advantages to business and industry are as great as those to individuals and society. And the need for change has never been more evident.

Let's take the first step to new ways of working by adopting a four-day work week now!

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior writer and editor Ian Hanington.  Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

Image: NESA by makers/Unsplash

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[l] at 8/4/20 12:53pm
August 4, 2020 U.S. Airforce Ontario and N.B. teachers' pension plans hold $4 million in shares in world's largest weapons manufacturer With Lockheed Martin seeking $19 billion from the Canadian government to build new warplanes, now is an ideal time for teachers to divest from the war machine.
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[l] at 8/4/20 8:28am
Brent Patterson U.S. Airforce

As of May 21, 2020, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan owned 6,283 shares in Lockheed Martin valued at US$2.13 million.

This is not new.

According to Security and Exchange Commission information, the OTPP has owned shares in Lockheed Martin dating back to at least 2011.

Lockheed Martin is the world's biggest arms manufacturer. In 2017, the company's arms sales totalled US44.9 billion and it recorded a profit of US$2 billion.

Its operations are not without controversy.

On August 9, 2018, a laser-guided bomb manufactured by Lockheed Martin was dropped on a school bus in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition warplane that killed 40 school children ages six to 11. Another 56 children were wounded in that attack.

Corporate Knights has commented: "Some of the world's largest investors who do invest in other major weapons companies -- such as the US$1 trillion Norwegian Sovereign Fund and US$564 billion Dutch pension APG -- will not touch Lockheed Martin with a ten-foot pole, because of its one-third interest in the company that runs the U.K. government’s nuclear weapons program."

Lockheed Martin forms part of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) consortium that is responsible for the design, manufacture and support of warheads for the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons.

It is also notable that as of July 2019, Vestcor Investment Management Corporation, jointly owned by the New Brunswick Teachers' Pension Plan and the New Brunswick Public Service Pension Plan, held US$1.87 million in shares in Lockheed Martin.

On July 31 of this year, Lockheed Martin submitted its bid for a $19-billion contract to the Canadian government to manufacture 88 warplanes for the Royal Canadian Air Force. It is believed that its F-35 is favoured to win this competition.

In its public pitch for this contract, Lockheed Martin noted: "The F-35 has an operational mission radius greater than 700 nautical miles in low observable configurations and internal fuel capacity of nearly 19,000 pounds. When the mission doesn't require low observability, the F-35 can carry more than 18,000 pounds of ordnance."

Lockheed Martin has also highlighted: "Approximately 50,000 jobs will be created in Canada through the selection of the F-35." Notably though, research by the Costs of War Project found that while $1 million spent on "defence" creates 6.9 direct and indirect jobs, the same amount invested in elementary and secondary education 19.2 jobs.

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan pays pensions and invests plan assets on behalf of 329,000 working and retired teachers. The New Brunswick plan serves 19,167 current and retired teachers. Together, they could be an important voice and help to teach peacebuilding in these turbulent times.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website. Follow them at @CBrentPatterson @PBIcanada

Image: U.S. Airforce

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[l] at 8/1/20 4:07pm
Doreen Nicoll Black Creek Community Farm/Facebook

Leticia Ama Deawuo is director of the Black Creek Community Farm (BCCF). Situated on 3.2 hectares of pristine farmland surrounded by 15,000 square metres of woodland, BCCF is an integral part of the northwest section of the Jane and Finch neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario.

Home to certified organic vegetable fields, a food forest, a mushroom garden, four greenhouses, an outdoor classroom, pavilion and bake oven, chickens, a beehive, and a forest trail, BCCF is a very intentional anti-poverty action.

While programs and courses at the BCCF cater to all residents in the neighbourhood, this article focuses on the role Black women have played in bringing Black food sovereignty to their community.

According to Deawuo, "Black women feed their community, but do not own the land." She asserts that patriarchy, racism, classism -- including who has or doesn't have access to resources -- keep Black women in the "superwoman" role that forces them to work harder to secure food to feed their communities while caring for their families.

This inequality is compounded by the invisibility of Black women whose work is often not recognized, because it is seen as a duty. Warrior Black women syndrome, traps Black women in undervalued feminized labour that makes great demands of their time, energy and bodies. And still, they find time to organize and advocate for access to essentials like community gardens, affordable child care, and affordable housing.

Born in Ghana, Deawuo came to Canada when she was 12 and settled in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood where she still lives with her own family.

Deawuo's lived experience has taught her that most Black women have family and ancestral ties to farming. She provides space for Black women to talk to those with similar lived experience so they can turn what many see as a hobby into a farming career.

Deawuo's work is making affordable fresh vegetables and fruits available to those living within food apartheids. The cheap, subsidized foods that flood Black and brown neighbourhoods is not accidental, rather it's the product of intentional decisions that predispose residents to chronic health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dental disease.

These neighbourhoods are food insecure due to austerity public policy. More fast food outlets and fewer grocery stores are located in poor areas of the city. The few food stores there are always have mac and cheese on sale, but lack fresh produce and charge more for milk and infant formula. Often undercover police follow Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) customers around the store as they shop.

The capitalist response to food insecurity was to open food banks as a short-term, emergency fix for hunger. After 35 years, demand continues to grow with no sign of letting up while food security remains a distant dream.

Generally, people using food banks have some source of income from employment, employment insurance (EI), social assistance, or disability-related income. In every case the income is insufficient to cover essential costs like housing, transportation, medications and child care, so food is sacrificed.

Comparing the Black Creek community with the affluent Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale-Moore Park emphasizes the food security inequalities that exist. The median household income for Rosedale-Moore Park is $106,740 (2016) although 45 per cent of households earn $125,000 or more. Meanwhile, the Black Creek community has a median household income of $46,580 (2016). The median household income for Toronto as a whole at that time was $65,829 and the average home price was $823,300.

Not surprisingly, 67 per cent of households in Black Creek neighbourhood were renters with 37 per cent spending more than 30 per cent of their household income on shelter and 55.3 per cent renting apartments in buildings five stories or higher. In Black Creek, 51 per cent of respondents listed English as their mother tongue and 61 per cent said it was the language spoken at home.

In Rosedale, 45 per cent of households rented with 31 per cent spending more than 30 per cent of their household income on shelter and 50.4 per cent living in buildings over five stories high. In Rosedale 77 per cent of resident listed English as their Mother tongue and 92 per cent listed English as the language spoken at home.

Overall, Rosedale residents are healthier and have access to a wider variety of better-quality foods. Conversely, as a result of living within a food apartheid, the Black Creek community has higher incidents of chronic health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, residents often have to make difficult choices between purchasing prescriptions needed to keep their chronic conditions in check, paying the rent, or buying food.

Deawuo states,"Black food security does not benefit from capitalism. Historically people bartered for seeds, fish, food. Communities were self-sustainable, but that's no longer true especially when we include the extraction practices in place around the globe. Land, seeds, resources, and opportunity equal power. Black food sovereignty is power and that redistribution of power benefits everyone in society."

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Black Creek Community Farm/Facebook​

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[l] at 7/31/20 10:17am
Politics in Canada Craig Kielburger. Image: ThatSiavash/Flickr

What's in that name? It sounds like the crucial moment for the Kielburger brothers came in 2016, when they changed their organization's name from Free the Children to WE Charity. Free the Children was earnest and urgent; it reflected the burning concern of the 12-year-old (Craig) who started it. It was action-focused, potentially reckless, and highly moral, even moralistic.

WE is vague, self-absorbed verging on self-indulgent, and unthreatening to anything or anyone. It sounds corporate, like Exxon, Alphabet, or the Canadian Auto Workers (so concrete) becoming the abstract UNIFOR. It reflects a tectonic shift in who they think they are, their task, and approach. Hence the explosion of inhuman jargon in response to criticism of, say, bullying: "It would be an inaccurate representation to use anecdotal information of a very small number of anonymous individuals to reflect WE Charity's workplace culture." Hard to pack more PR into one sentence, and the boys took the same mewling, self-pitying, passive-aggressive tone at the House finance committee.

It's a way of saying to big donors, public and private: Nothing to fear here, we're more about brand than action. Now give us some money.

I also want to wax apoplectic on the inclusion of Charity in the moniker. Of course you must qualify as a charity to get appropriate tax benefits, but that doesn't mean you need to slap it across your forehead. United Way isn't United Way Charities. What "charity" always establishes is a moral hierarchy. You know who's on top. It flatters and spotlights, as WE came to do, the donors. It's a Western version of caste.

Finally, a word of empathy about the voters' dilemma. Justin's government hasn't delivered much (pot and USMCA, if you care). But in my opinion it's been outstanding in its economic response to COVID-19. It poured money to people in real need, while ignoring taboos about austerity, deficits, and so on, all of which involved hapless minister Morneau. So do you stick with them despite their stupid crush on the Kielburgers, or spank them to make a point about principles?

These are insoluble quandaries. The versions we have of rule of law or democracy are so minimal and ridden with contradictions, that it hardly seems worth dumping individuals if it means material losses to real people -- especially if the next batch of leaders will almost certainly do the same. Yet there's also a point in not letting the principles slip entirely from sight.

What's poignant, in Justin's case, is you just know -- without a frisson of doubt -- that he'll do it again if he stays. Your guess is as good or bad as mine.

Buffalo, poor Buffalo. Count me onside for the reopening of sports. I've often tried to fathom its grip, but never in terms of sheer mental health. If you're going to justify reopening the schools for the sake of sanity, sports surely also gets a pass. I know sane, wise people who are driven to the brink by politics (because they're sane and wise, precisely) but take refuge in sports.

Following your team can be maddening, but it's less bottomless than the labyrinths of politics or family. It rewards merit, more or less, and somehow never quite extinguishes hope. Since the resurrection, I've found myself watching exhibition games and scrimmages. Why? It's live, it's sports and you don't know what's going to happen! I even stuck with the Jays' maddening late-inning loss to Washington, and didn't feel I'd just squandered a chunk of life.

In the midst of this, spare a thought for Buffalo. It once overshadowed us, it glimmered on our horizon, we yearned for its sophistication. Night clubs! Shopping! Then, Toronto vaulted past it. It became (curses!) our minor league outpost. They had the Bills and Sabres but still -- Toronto's farm team?

Fate seemed to grant it some MLB games when our border was closed to U.S. teams. But the Jays treated it scornfully, delayed playing there, and now the whole season may be done. If fate were kind, which it's not, it would defer the final debacle until Buffalo at least tasted a moment of its former ascendancy.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: ThatSiavash/Flickr

WE Charity Rick Salutin July 31, 2020 Media focus ignores WE Charity's negative impact on young Canadians' understanding of global injustice A little-discussed reason the federal government funds NGOs is to co-opt internationalist minded young people into aligning with Canadian foreign policy. WE's mixing of profit with charity should have raised red flags for the government The government will try to tough it out, and hope a couple of apologies do the trick, even as more revelations about the deep involvement of the prime minister and his family with WE emerge. Justin Trudeau: not evil, but a fool Trudeau had a clear conflict of interest in the WE scandal, but it amounts more to an embarrassment than an outrage.
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[l] at 7/31/20 1:25am
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Physicians in Pincher Creek who gave three months' notice they were withdrawing from hospital service in response to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro's "war on doctors" were told they had to show up for August on-call duty anyway in letters Tuesday from a top official of Alberta Health Services' South Zone.

The reason: AHS couldn't find replacements, so the health authority just decided to make them work anyway.

If they didn't show up, interim South Zone medical director Michael Auld's letter warned, they would be reported to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta for "unprofessional conduct."

You really can't make this stuff up. At least, if you tried, no one would believe you.

However, NDP health critic David Shepherd yesterday published the letter sent by Auld to one of the nine physicians in the Pincher Creek Associate Clinic, so you don't have to take some blogger's word for it.

"Attached is the on-call schedule for August 2020," Auld's letter told Dr. Samantha Myhr. "Physicians in your call group have been assigned call for all unfilled days in August. … Failure to show up on the scheduled day(s) will result in a Part 6 Investigation under the AHS Medical Staff Bylaws and a report to the CPSA for unprofessional conduct."

Despite repeated promises by Shandro and United Conservative Party press secretaries and "issues managers" that replacements would be easy to find, by the time the clock was running out this week on the docs' 90-day notice period, AHS had only found enough locum replacements to cover two weeks of shifts in the hospital in the southwestern Alberta town.

"In other words," Shepherd wrote in a Twitter commentary accompanying his release of the letter, Shandro and AHS "utterly failed to fill the gap."

AHS "will not be able to do surgeries or obstetrics," Shepherd continued. "They may not be able to cover the ER 24 hours. This is a far cry from Minister Shandro stating that he would just move physicians into communities."

Still, even by the standards of Jason Kenney's Alberta, just ordering people to do work they've already properly quit is pretty outrageous.

Indeed, it's the most perfect example I have ever encountered of what was described to me more than 40 years ago by a wise old civil servant as the first law of bureaucracy. It goes like this: "We've made a mistake. We've given it to you. We won't take it back. Now it's your mistake!"

Earlier yesterday, Pincher Creek Mayor Don Anderberg said in a Facebook video that "town council feels that the health minister, Alberta Health and to an extent Alberta Health Services have put our community in a position that come August first may well trigger a public health emergency."

What's happening in the town of 3,600, he continued, "is a far cry from Minister Shandro stating on the 6 o'clock news that he would just move physicians into communities where doctors want to leave. We know how hard it is to get doctors to our communities and keep them there."

"The minister and AHS have made these statements and many more that they quite clearly cannot deliver on and our health system in Pincher Creek will be in a world of hurt from Saturday," Mayor Anderberg said.

Assailing Shandro, the Health Ministry and AHS for their tactics against the Alberta Medical Association, he emphasized that the town council asked the local doctors to extend their notice for another 90 days, and that the nine physicians accepted the request. "We now have a window of opportunity."

Addressing Shandro and ministry officials directly, Mayor Anderberg continued, "it may look like you got somebody to blink and cave through your actions, but the truth of the matter is, our local doctors should be applauded for helping to avert an unmitigated disaster in health care in our community."

Strong words like these about the UCP by local elected officials in small-town Alberta are extremely unusual. They explain why some UCP rural MLAs are said to be nervous enough to ponder quitting their caucus and sitting as independents -- as unlikely as that is to happen just yet.

In their letter to the town's council, the nine Pincher Creek physicians promised, "we will not stand by and watch AHS and the government fail our community as the pandemic creates an ever greater need for local medical services."

However, they added, "we remain concerned about the upcoming changes to our local services and the failure by the Government of Alberta or Alberta Health Services to engage in collaborative consultation."

Noting that their concerns had been treated with disdain, they warned that the UCP and AHS "continue to push their ideological changes despite the measurable harm being caused to communities like ours."

So Premier Kenney, Shandro and AHS have another three months to fix this festering problem in the UCP's electoral heartland.

Since similar fights with local doctors are happening in other rural Alberta communities, it's quite possible the same situation could arise elsewhere -- at least until the courts weigh in with a ruling that indentured servitude is not actually a thing in Canada any more.

As Mayor Anderberg concluded his remarks yesterday, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., "it is always the right time to do what is right."

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr​

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[l] at 7/30/20 1:43pm
US Politics U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis at the U.S. Capitol on June 28, 2017. Image: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

On Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, 600 African Americans and their allies left Selma, Alabama, marching to Montgomery, demanding voting rights. While crossing Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were attacked by the Alabama State Police using nightsticks, electric cattle prods, dogs and tear gas. Images of the violence spread globally. John Lewis, the 25-year-old chairman of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, leading the march, was hospitalized with a concussion.

His commitment to the principles of justice, equality, and the power of nonviolent protest should serve as a north star as we navigate these difficult days. John Lewis, civil rights icon and 17-term Congress member, died July 17 of pancreatic cancer, aged 80.

Eight days after Bloody Sunday, the bravery of the marchers forced president Lyndon Johnson to address a joint session of Congress, imploring passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. "What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America," he said. "It is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice…and we shall overcome."

Martin Luther King, Jr. joined Lewis in Selma after Bloody Sunday, helping organize two more marches. Twenty-five thousand joined the marchers arriving in Montgomery on March 25. On August 6, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. It eliminated barriers to voter registration for people of colour, especially in Southern states. For close to a century, white Southerners enacted Jim Crow laws, forcing African Americans into an impoverished, segregated state of quasi-slavery.

Among the Jim Crow laws were many that made registering to vote for African Americans nearly impossible. Literacy tests, given only to Blacks, had questions like, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" In Lowndes County, Alabama, in 1964, African Americans comprised 80 per cent of the population, yet not a single one of them was registered to vote. In Mississippi, African American voter registration was less than sevent per cent in 1964; in 1988 it was 75 per cent.

Close to half a century later, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, voting 5-4 in the Shelby, Alabama v. Holder decision, gutted the Voting Rights Act. Since then, more than 25 Republican-controlled states have passed an array of voter disenfranchisement laws. Ranging from requirements for voter identification, to massive purges of the voter rolls based on flawed data, to shuttering thousands of polling places and limiting early voting and absentee voting, these laws deter millions of people of colour from casting their ballots.

Add to these, two new threats to the 2020 election: the coronavirus pandemic and President Donald Trump himself. In-person voting has become a dangerous act, with COVID-19 deaths surging almost everywhere in the U.S., disproportionately affecting communities of colour. Voting by mail is the simple solution. Trump has attacked the practice, lying repeatedly that it enables voter fraud. It's no surprise that Trump refused to pay respect to the revered voting rights activist John Lewis, the first African American lawmaker to lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Trump accelerates his march toward authoritarianism, deploying federal paramilitary agents to cities across the U.S. Despite the violence and arbitrary arrests Trump is unleashing, the Black Lives Matter movement continues, empowering a new, diverse generation of activists. In his last public appearance, John Lewis, wearing a mask, visited Black Lives Matter Plaza, close to the White House.

After his death, the House of Representatives renamed H.R. 4 the "John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020." It would undo the damage to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 wrought by the Supreme Court in 2013. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while praising John Lewis before his casket in the Rotunda, refuses to allow the Senate to debate the bill.

John Lewis was the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington. Advisors at the time said his draft speech was too radical and would alienate Democrats. John Lewis originally wrote, "We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence…We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground -- nonviolently."

On the day of his funeral, the New York Times published an essay John Lewis wrote shortly before his death. "Democracy is not a state. It is an act…Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble."

Thank you for a lifetime of good trouble, necessary trouble.

John Robert Lewis, rest In power.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

 

John Lewis Black Lives Matter civil rights Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan July 30, 2020 U.S. cities need personal protective equipment and tests, not shock troops The response in Oregon to U.S. President Donald Trump's outrageous and likely unconstitutional deployment of federal agents has been resoundingly critical. U.S. should switch to mail-in ballot to circumvent threats to democracy The U.S. Supreme Court recently clamped down on "faithless electors," but other dangers to American democracy remain. Mount Rushmore, and the United States' white supremacist-in-chief President Trump's planned rally at Mount Rushmore occurs as the U.S. suffers an explosion of COVID-19 cases and a national debate on how to deal with symbols enshrining systemic racism.
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[l] at 7/30/20 12:59pm
Matthew Adams

Dear rabble visitors,

Can you believe rabble is leaving its teens and turning 20 next April? 

With physical distancing as a result of the pandemic, you may remember that we had postponed any 19th anniversary celebration parties back in April (though we may have tossed back a few drinks online!)

But that doesn't mean that we didn't have a lot to celebrate. 

One of the biggest reasons is we have amazing supporters like you who keep us sustainable. Thank you. 

Can you make our summer brighter by contributing to our current fundraiser? 

Now that our Annual Report 2019 is live, check out just a few things you helped us accomplish, in the last year:

1. Taking home the Canadian Online Publishing Award for Best Column/Blog. 
Thanks to Celia Chandler's Pro Bono column on assisted death, we took home the gold!

2. What's at stake -- our federal election coverage. This included the youth and Indigenous-led climate activism and school climate strikes that drove home the message that this election was about securing a future on this planet.

3. Our webinar series (now titled Off the Hill), covering grassroots federal politics and featuring parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg, host Libby Davies, and regular guests MP Leah Gazan and FoodShare Toronto executive director Paul Taylor. This monthly series is taking a break for the summer, but will be back in the fall. 

4. Jack Layton Journalism for Change fellow Olivia Robinson's series, The Future of the Public LibraryThe series investigated how libraries across Canada are reimagining their role as essential public spaces and improving the social fabric of their communities.

5. Labour beat reporting: 2019 labour beat reporter Zaid Noorsumar's work on home-care policies in Ontario was a forecast for the many issues that have been emerging this year under the COVID-19 pandemic.

6. Our amplify! services brought our team to the Vancouver launch of the Leap Manifesto's Green New Deal, featuring Kanahus Manuel, David Suzuki and more.

These are just a few examples of the kind of work that our team of writers and staff carried out in the last year with support from people like you. 

With your help, we hope to raise $50,000 before the summer is out so we can ensure that we are reporting on even more success stories next year. 

Will you help us reach that goal? There's a few prizes in it for you if you do. 

All donations of $25 and up, and all monthly subscriptions will be automatically entered into our weekly draw to win a signed copy of Seth Klein's soon-to-be-released and long-awaited A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency. You will also be eligible for our grand prize draw for a special web kit to help with all of your at-home video conferencing needs. How cool is that?

Donating $8/month or more will be gratefully received, and we will send you a digital copy of Robyn Maynard's Policing Black Lives, courtesy of Fernwood Publishing, as a sign of our appreciation.

In solidarity,
Matthew Adams, board president 

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[l] at 7/30/20 11:15am
July 30, 2020 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr How Alberta capitulated to Big Oil and left Albertans poorer Alberta's management of its economy is nothing short of a disaster -- something to keep in mind as Kenney and his followers push for maintaining the pro-corporate model in the post-pandemic order.
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[l] at 7/30/20 10:55am
Economy Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

In the coming battle to shape Canada's post-pandemic economy, right-wing forces will likely be led by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the closest thing we have to Donald Trump.

So it's worth examining the fiercely pro-corporate economic model endorsed by Kenney -- a self-styled populist who specializes in stirring up resentment and division -- and see why we should go to great lengths to avoid it in the future.

Of course, we're used to the mantra that the Alberta economy has been a roaring success. True, it's been a "have" province, lecturing the rest of us on how to live within our means -- a task that would have been easier if we'd all been born with abundant quantities of one of the world's most valuable commodities under our soil.

But the real measure of success is what one makes of the hand one is dealt. And, by that measure, Alberta has been a train wreck.

Its political leaders, by allowing corporate interests to design the economy to their own benefit, have squandered the province's vast natural wealth, leaving Alberta's citizens with a mere fraction of what they could be enjoying today, even with the downturn in world oil prices.

Over the past two decades, more than half a trillion dollars — $528 billion — has been siphoned off by foreign shareholders who have ended up owning every major development in the oilsands, with only two small enterprises under Canadian ownership, according to a new study by University of Alberta political economist Gordon Laxer and Calgary researcher Regan Boychuk.

While the usual narrative has it that oil companies invested billions of dollars of capital to develop the oilsands, in truth, they've done nothing of the sort. All the investment that has gone into the oilsands over the past 23 years has effectively been paid for by the people of Alberta.

"Industry didn't pay those costs. Albertans did," says the report, soon to be released by the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute and the Council of Canadians.

That's because the oil companies have been operating under an extraordinarily generous regime -- paying a mere one per cent royalty, and only after all costs have been deducted.

It's a royalty regime that the companies designed themselves, the report notes.

This exceptionally favourable arrangement, begun under Premier Ralph Klein in the 1990s, was inspired by the pro-corporate revolution launched by Britain's Margaret Thatcher and America's Ronald Reagan.

It was a sharp departure from how the province had been operating. In the 1980s, premier Peter Lougheed had been much tougher on the oil industry, forcing it to pay a royalty of 25 per cent and even creating an energy company owned in part by the public.

Klein's sweetheart deal for the oilsands, which remains in force today under Kenney, has amounted to a complete capitulation to Big Oil.

On the industry's behalf, the province has also resisted action on climate change, despite producing one of the world's dirtiest oils. And it's allowed Big Oil to destroy Alberta's environment, leaving a clean-up bill estimated at $260 billion, without clear evidence of who will pay for it. (Clue: so far, the province has collected only a paltry $1.6 billion from the companies to cover clean-up costs.)

Defenders of Alberta's oil establishment hate it when critics mention Norway -- understandably.

This annoying little country, also endowed with generous oil reserves and a small population, has shown how to throw a punch when it comes to dealing with Big Oil, ensuring the lion's share of the nation's oil wealth benefits its citizens.

By imposing a tough tax regime on oil companies (which always threaten to depart, but never actually leave the negotiating table) and setting up its own publicly owned oil company (now diversified into wind and solar power), Norway has ended up with a heritage fund worth about $1 trillion more than Alberta's fund.

Unless we're indifferent to money, Alberta's management of its economy should be seen as nothing short of a disaster -- something to keep in mind as Kenney and his followers push for maintaining the pro-corporate model in the post-pandemic order.

They'll make their case with a huge megaphone and a lot of swagger, but let's demand they explain why they left a trillion dollars on the table, and little Norway didn't.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich are Stealing Canada's Public Wealth. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Jason Kenney BIG OIL AB Linda McQuaig July 30, 2020 Wall Street billionaire talks Trudeau into changing course to benefit private investors After talks with Larry Fink, Trudeau is gearing up to spend billions on new infrastructure in a way that will drive up costs and allow national assets to be owned by foreign elites. Canada, keep your eye on Alberta -- it won't be pretty, but it should be instructive Alberta is the test bed for what Canadians will be subjected to if the Conservative Party of Canada somehow manages to get another kick at the national can. Alberta announces seven charges against Suncor No information was to be found in Sunday's terse news release about why it took two years to lay charges.
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[l] at 7/30/20 12:53am
David J. Climenhaga Jason Kenney and Jason Nixon with a big stack of paper yesterday. Image: Jason Kenney/Facebook

Having rammed through two controversial bills Tuesday night, one opening the door to more health-care privatization and the other eliminating workplace fairness and declaring war on unions, the Alberta legislature wrapped up its business just after 8 a.m. yesterday morning.

United Conservative Party social media spent the afternoon bragging about how much legislation the government has passed so far this year. "Alberta introduced and passed more laws in 2020 than any other province in Canada," boasted one oft-repeated meme.

A smiling Jason Kenney, apparently now the paper-stack premier, soon appeared in a photo clutching a thick pile of paper, representing the volume, if not the quality, of the UCP's legislative effort this year, and looking like a wee little man beside UCP house leader Jason Nixon.

How odd that Alberta's supposedly red-tape-hating Conservatives, steeped in the anti-government rhetoric of the old Wildrose party, should be bragging about smothering the province in legislation! As one wit remarked on social media, there's enough new paper in this province now to bury the red tape reduction minister.

Let's dispose of those rumours about rebel 'Rosers, shall we?

Speaking of the Wildrose party of yore, let's dispose of those rumours circulating on social media that a cabal of rebel 'Rosers in the UCP caucus, worried about keeping rural doctors and displeased with Premier Kenney's iron-fisted control of what they get to say, is about to tear a page from recent history and cross the floor to sit as independents.

The name most often heard in connection with this yarn is that of Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who, it is true, is a bit of a loose cannon on deck.

Lovely thought. Don't count on it happening, though.

Yes, many rural MLAs are deeply unhappy with Health Minister Tyler Shandro's war on doctors. They're hearing about it daily from frightened constituents. But as bad as things may be on the home front, it's just too early in the life of the government for them to let themselves be cast into utter darkness and deprived of all influence.

Maybe, someday, the rebellion will catch fire. Just not yet.

Doctors vote no confidence in Health Minister Tyler Shandro

Speaking of the doctors, the Alberta Medical Association's rhetorical vote of confidence in Shandro saw 98 per cent of the physicians, residents and medical students who voted say they have no confidence in the health minister.

The results released yesterday morning weren't a surprise, but they sent a powerful message just the same. Of the 13,405 physicians who were eligible to take part in the AMA survey, 8,470 indicated they have no confidence in Shandro, 137 or 1.5 per cent said they did, and 57, fewer than one per cent, abstained.

UCP issues managers and their ilk were soon spinning this as a meaningless vote of a special interest group, but seeing as the group in question includes most of the doctors in the province, and two thirds of them cast a ballot, it should worry the government just the same.

AMA president Christine Molnar immediately demanded a meeting with Premier Kenney to discuss what he's going to do about it.

The smart move would be to schedule a meeting, make conciliatory noises, and shuffle the intemperate Shandro off to another portfolio where he can do less damage. That doesn't mean, of course, that's what the government will do.

Is a cabinet shuffle imminent? Might be a plan!

Which brings us to another rumour circulating in Alberta political circles, to wit, that a cabinet shuffle is imminent.

Well, the time is certainly right. A busy legislative session with an ambitious agenda of radical and controversial legislation is over, and conventional wisdom would suggest the moment is right to spruce up the cabinet, demote weak players and reward good performers from the backbenches.

Given that, this talk likely has more foundation that the rumoured 'Rosie Rebellion.

Candidates to be moved -- if the premier's political instincts are as good as they once were -- would include Shandro, a clear disaster in the health portfolio, and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, whose underwhelming performance reassures no one about the government's determination to send students back to their packed classrooms in September, COVID-19 pandemic or no pandemic.

Bad reviews for UCP's back-to-school plan

No one seems to have been reassured after LaGrange's awful performance on a Facebook Live session Tuesday answering a few questions about the government's school reopening plan, which has parents and teachers growing increasingly restless.

It's said here Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw also wasn't doing anything to encourage public confidence in her judgment, which was very strong during the first weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, by backing the government's plan to reopen schools without reducing class sizes, hiring more cleaning staff, or requiring students to wear masks.

It would be interesting to see the results of any polling about public confidence in the back-to-school plan. There sure are a lot of parents on social media talking about keeping their kids home in September, although they're bound to be dismissed by the UCP noise machine as NDP agents.

The government would do itself a favour by paying attention to this file too. If they think the doctors are hard to deal with, just wait until the soccer moms get riled up!

Total disaster! French energy giant pulls plug on Alberta's oilsands

Also yesterday, on the heels of another European bank announcing it'll put no more money into Alberta's oilsands, French energy giant Total SA wrote off its huge investment in the Alberta's bitumen mining industry to the tune of US$9 billion.

Total also quit the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, saying the powerful Calgary-based industry lobby is out of sync with the corporation's environmental goals.

Paris-based Total -- with annual revenue of about US$200-billion -- said it now considers oil reserves with high production costs that will have to be worked more than 20 years (you know, like the oilsands) to be "stranded assets."

As for CAPP, which for all intents and purposes openly campaigned for the UCP and the Conservative Party of Canada in the most recent provincial and federal elections, Total diplomatically said its goals are "misaligned" with the company's climate ambition statement.

No one who is praying for God to give Alberta another oil boom so that we can piss it all away again should be reassured by this development.

With a characteristic UCP touch, Energy Minister Sonya Savage bitterly called Total "ill informed," "short sighted," and "highly hypocritical," assailing it for citing climate ambition as its rationale for pulling the plug on its oilsands investment.

Total should be aware "our province and industry are bound by the rule of law" (except when it comes to labour relations, perhaps), Canada has a "stable and ethical democracy," and Alberta's industry is doing its part to reduce emissions, she complained in a news release.

Sadly, this is a sentiment unlikely to have much more impact tomorrow in Paris than it did on Monday in Frankfurt.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Jason Kenney/Facebook​

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[l] at 7/29/20 12:50am
David J. Climenhaga Deutsche Bank AG headquarters in Frankfurt. Image: Thomas Wolf/foto-tw.de/Creative Commons

Once upon a time in Alberta if some foreign bank had dared to announce it wasn't about to put money into any more Alberta oilsands projects there would have been a furious roar from Jason Kenney.

There would have been threats to unleash a "war room" on the bankers as well as fearsome denunciations of Rachel Notley's NDP -- proof, Kenney and his supporters would have screeched, that seeking social licence for oilsands mining was a pathetic failure and Alberta needed a more muscular response to foreign lovers of dictator oil.

And if some environmental law organization had launched an embarrassing court action, the reaction of Kenney and his United Conservative Party would have been bitter and fierce. They would have threatened to haul them before an inquiry into foreign-financed enemies of Alberta, or worse.

But that was when the UCP was the Opposition and Notley's NDP was the government of Alberta -- or before that even, when the conservative party was just a twinkle in Wildrose party leader Brian Jean's ambitious eye and before Kenney had come up with a scheme to snatch it for himself.

Already this week both those things have happened and yet the reactions of the UCP and Kenney have been remarkably passive.

On Monday, Deutsche Bank AG, as the CBC put it, "is joining a lengthening list of European lenders and insurance companies that say they won't back new oilsands projects."

Kenney grumbled a bit for local reporters, calling the chilling news from Frankfurt the result of "a misinformed campaign from European financial institutions which have wrongly judged the Canadian oilsands as being the environmental equivalent of thermal coal."

He also complained "they're lumping in the Canadian oilsands because they've seen that on a brochure from a series of green pressure groups in Europe." This is probably not how a multinational bank with more than 62 billion euros in equity does its due diligence. The premier told a reporter he would hold Deutsche Bank to account.

But there was no sign of the wall-to-wall outrage we would have seen and heard when the NDP was in power. The UCP online rage machine had gone strangely quiet, perhaps not wishing to call too much attention to a debacle that is sure to get worse and about which the premier can do little.

As for the "war room," nowadays known as Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., it has a new logo and a new website theme but not a word about the latest news from Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, the same day, the Ecojustice Canada Society was back in court seeking an injunction to suspend the Kenney government's public inquiry into so-called "anti-Alberta" environmental campaigns until the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench makes a ruling in the environmental legal charity's challenge of the inquiry's legality. 

Calling the inquiry "an illegitimate, biased, and unfair political stunt," Ecojustice executive director Devon Page said "organizations and individuals -- particularly those working at the grassroots level -- should not be expected to redirect resources away from the critical work they're doing to prevent the climate catastrophe and take part in a process that is stacked against them."

The injunction would force inquiry commissioner Steve Allan to halt the public inquiry until a court can rule on whether the process is legal in the first place, the environmental law organization explained.

Ecojustice launched its court challenge last fall. The crux of Ecojustice's case for an injunction is that since its scheduled court hearing was cancelled because of COVID-19, and the government has postponed the deadline for the inquiry to submit its final report to October 30, updated its terms of reference, and given it another $1 million, the inquiry should not proceed until the courts have determined whether or not it is legal.

"Irreparable reputational harm may be inflicted on the applicant and other organizations by the release of unproven evidence with no procedural protections in place," the application for the injunction states. "The potential harm to the applicant and other organizations far outweighs whatever public interest there may be in concluding the Inquiry by an arbitrary date."

Allan, all but missing in action for months, had nothing at all to say about this.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage's press secretary seems to have sent media outfits a one-liner saying "the Government of Alberta is committed to protecting Canada's largest economic sub-sector from attack by foreign opposition, and we will see this inquiry through to its completion.”

But other than a few screeches from UCP supporters who apparently didn't get the issues-management memo and tried to spin the application as an unlikely coverup conspiracy theory, there was very little reaction from the government itself.

Probably UCP spin doctors are trying to figure out how they can make the inquiry look like smart move if it fails to find any evidence for the government's pre-election conspiracy theories, even with four extra months and an infusion of additional cash.   

It just goes to show that it's easy to be a hero from the Opposition benches. Not so easy when you're the government and you've realized -- even if you're not about to admit it aloud -- that the only thing that might work now to save the oilsands industry's bacon is more social licence, Rachel Notley style.

Meanwhile, as University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe pointed out in a CBC op-ed yesterday, this year "for the first time in 55 years, Alberta will be a net receiver in the federation."

That is to say, Tombe explained, because of the COVID-19 crisis, low world oil prices and the worldwide recession, 2020 will be the first year since 1965 Ottawa will be spending more cash in this province than it collects in taxes.

Don't expect Alberta to stop complaining about the state of Confederation's finances any time soon, however.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Thomas Wolf/foto-tw.de/Creative Commons​

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[l] at 7/28/20 4:08pm
David Suzuki Matt Thomason/Unsplash

As natural environments and geographies shape language, so too does language shape the way we see nature and, subsequently, the impacts we have on the lands and waters that surround us.

Western culture and the English language primarily view nature as something owned by humans that can be exploited. That's why Canadian agencies tasked with governing nature are referred to as departments or ministries of natural "resources."

It's not uncommon even for those who appreciate nature beyond its exploitative value to reduce it to a thing with monetary worth through language. For example, we refer to  protected areas in Canada as "our" "national treasures," "jewels" and "gems."

Western science has also shaped the way we employ language to describe nature by advancing the reduction of living, functioning ecosystems to things best studied under a microscope. Recall Jane Goodall, admonished by her male academic compatriots for naming instead of numbering the chimpanzees she studied.

As Indigenous botanist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer notes, "the English language is made up primarily of nouns, somehow appropriate for a culture so obsessed with things…. English encodes human exceptionalism, which privileges the needs and wants of humans above all others and understands us as detached from the commonwealth of life."

Industry's use of language brings the point home. Operators use words in novel ways to describe natural impediments to profit. Loggers call old growth trees that aren't as profitable when logged as younger trees "decadent" -- even though they provide habitat to at-risk species and have critical ecological functions. In oil and gas, vegetation above oil-shot rock -- no matter how diverse or life-supporting -- is called "overburden." Some developers refer to off-limit conservation areas as "sterile."

Nature's vital life force is, to some extent, like Voldemort: that which cannot be named. As Nature Institute senior researcher Steve Talbot writes in "The Language of Nature," words inevitably diminish nature because containing it is impossible: "The world breaks every fixed template into which we try to pour it."

How can we change the ways in which our language abets destruction of nature?

Let's start by investing more in our relationships with nature -- and recognizing the role of language. (One way we wield language is to blanch at the notion that we humans are "animals," when we're just as much an animal as the raccoon digging in our garbage.) We can pay more attention to nature. We can stop talking for a moment and listen.

According to Talbot, "If we took the fact of the world's speech seriously -- the world speaks! -- there would be none of the usual talk about a mechanistic and deterministic science, about a cold, soulless universe, or about an unavoidable conflict between science and the spirit. Confronting the many voices of nature, we would inquire about their individual qualities and character, we would look for the direction of their expressive striving, and we would struggle to grasp the aesthetic unity of their various utterances -- all of which is to say: we would listen for their meanings.… The trouble, however, is that we often fail to pay attention; we never learn the language of the world we inhabit. We try to master nature while becoming increasingly deaf to her complex symphony."

As Kimmerer notes, in her traditional language, Potawatomi, "There is no it for nature. Living beings are referred to as subjects, never as objects, and personhood is extended to all who breathe and some who don't. I greet the silent boulder people with the same respect as I do the talkative chickadees."

She continues, "Beyond the renaming of places, I think the most profound act of linguistic imperialism was the replacement of a language of animacy with one of objectification of nature, which renders the beloved land as lifeless object, the forest as board feet of timber." 

We can create new language. Language is always evolving. (For example, our use of pronouns has recently expanded to recognize those who identify as non-binary and gender neutral.)

It's our job as global citizens to continually reimagine a better world. We  can also undertake the challenge of reimagining new ways to describe the world, using language to craft stories that recognize and honour the myriad living and nonliving entities with which we share the planet.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation boreal project manager Rachel Plotkin. Learn more at  davidsuzuki.org .

Image: Matt Thomason/Unsplash​

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[l] at 7/28/20 1:44pm
Jason Kunin Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash

Normally, teachers spend their summers teaching summer school, taking courses, or preparing for their classes in September. This summer, some of us are preparing differently for the fall: we're updating our wills. 

Yes, these are good times to be an estate lawyer. Wills are the hottest topic among teachers on social media at the moment. Four months ago, we were sharing sourdough recipes. Now we're sharing tips on estate planning and exchanging names of legal firms. The educator's insurance company Teachers Life is even offering $50 rebates to teachers who make a first-time will, with an extra $50 bonus if we designate a power of attorney. This is even better than the teachers' discount at Staples.

Teachers are planners, and planning for our deaths is a logical response to the prospect of being forced back to work without assurance that there will be adequate safety measures or funding in place to ensure that our return to work does not kill us and our students. 

And we have reason to be alarmed. 

First, we have the example of other jurisdictions, like Israel, where a second wave of COVID-19 infections was ignited by the premature reopening of schools, and where one teacher recently died after earlier warning that parents were sending their kids to school sick. This is a clear risk here too given that many working parents have no paid sick days at their places of employment and cannot afford to keep their kids home. In Alberta, which has seen a recent spike in infections, the Jason Kenney government announced that schools would be reopening at full capacity with no reduced class sizes and no obligation for students to wear masks (although, ever on the lookout for ways to undermine the public education system, he reassured nervous parents that the government would provide support for them to homeschool their kids if they were nervous about sending them to school). 

The Alberta model has already been tentatively adopted by the Toronto Catholic District School Board, which voted on Thursday that if the government mandates a full reopening, they would do so with no reduced class sizes. When asked on Twitter why the board was not enforcing the wearing of masks, Trustee Norm Di Pasquale said it was beyond the ability of schools to enforce a requirement that was not required of public health, a bizarre argument from a board that regularly enforces the skirt lengths of female students. 

Second, it's our bad luck in Ontario to be stuck with a government composed of people who went into politics -- not to better manage government programs and institutions -- but to dismantle and privatize them. Now these same people have found themselves in a crisis situation that requires thoughtful management and intervention. We have the wrong people in charge at the wrong time. Staffers who pick up the phone at the Ministry of Education have started telling people that the ministry has stopped taking inquiries about education. Perhaps they just want to trade gardening tips and talk about their favourite TV shows? 

Finally, with barely six weeks left before school starts, the Ontario Ministry of Education has provided no clear direction to school boards, and no new money. However, the Ford government's hasty passage of Bill 197, which now gives it the power to change the Occupational Health and Safety Act at will, is not reassuring to those of us who are worried about walking into a death trap. 

My employer, the Toronto District School Board, has put forward several possible models for opening schools, but most of them require money -- as much as $250 million, in the case of one model. Unfortunately, what little money the provincial government has so far pledged to cover the costs of reopening schools safely -- a 2 per cent increase in the grants for student needs -- is actually just a restoration of cuts they had already made the year before, when we were already desperately underfunded and our schools were crumbling. As treasurer of the Waterloo Region District School Board stated during a board meeting last week, "The Ministry [of Education] has been very clear that there is no additional funding to support COVID at this time."

No surprise then that according to TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird, the board is leaning toward the cheapest of their proposed models, which is to resume schools full time with regularly sized classes of 30 or more, but with "additional, unspecified health and safety protocols," whatever those are. (I vote for hazmat suits.) Since the Mike Harris era, most schools have operated with a skeleton crew of custodians who have struggled to keep washrooms stocked with soap, so the absence of any news that boards will be hiring additional caretakers is very alarming. 

Unfortunately, with barely six weeks left to go until the start of school, the time to be hiring extra cleaning staff is running out. Similarly, if school boards wanted to open full time while ensuring adequate physical distancing measures by keeping class sizes low and opening up unused public facilities for classroom use, that process would have needed to start weeks ago, so it's clear that won't be happening either.  

Lucky for us in the TDSB that both our director and chair of the board have just stepped down and Bill 197 allows for the appointment of a new director without any background in education. Hopefully it'll be someone with a background in public health.

Despite the absence of a clear financial commitment from the provincial government to ensure the safe reopening of schools, the political pressure to open them full time is enormous and growing. Kids are depressed and missing their friends, parents are desperate to get back to work, and governments at all levels are eager to get the economy back to some semblance of normality before the public either turns on them with pitchforks or begins making demands like universal basic income and free child care.  

The desperation to reopen schools fully and full time can be heard in almost every parent chat group and newspaper op-ed, and it's creating a climate where too many people looking for short-term relief are prepared to throw caution to the wind. It doesn't help that the news is so dominated by the United States' degeneration into a plague state that any public health response short of recommending people spit into each other's faces seems balanced and responsible by comparison.

Sick Kids Hospital last month inadvertently fueled this climate of incaution by releasing a series of recommendations for reopening schools that were alarming in their laxity, including recommendations that students not be required to wear masks or to physically distance themselves during outdoor play. The recommendations were based on a Swedish study that has since been criticized as flawed, and it ignored the risks of staff infecting each other, though infectious disease expert Zain Chagla, in a recent TVO interview, noted that this has actually been a driving factor in the spread of infection of health-care workers in hospitals.  

Despite all this, some parent groups continue to latch onto the Sick Kids report as proof that schools can and should open as usual, and these are dangerous demands with a tight-fisted government.  

The Sick Kids recommendations were made out of concern for students' mental health and the recognition that most did not fare well under emergency remote learning. But you know what else is bad for mental health? Death. It's difficult to maintain a sense of well-being when you're hooked up to a ventilator or dead. It's also not conducive to good mental health to know that because you passed on your infection you are indirectly responsible for the deaths of your teachers, friends, and family members.  

And make no mistake, without adequate funding and proper safety plans, there will be deaths. The question is how many the public is prepared to accept for a return to business as usual.

In the meantime, as we wait this week for the announcement from Education Minister Stephen Lecce about what the plans will be for the fall, I'll be completing my will and collecting my $100 rebates from Teachers Life. I'm hoping it'll cover the cost of bagels at my shiva. My family eats a lot of bagels.  

Jason Kunin is a Toronto teacher and writer. 

Image: Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash

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[l] at 7/28/20 8:09am
July 28, 2020 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in November 2019. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO If Trudeau led a coalition government, he'd be in a stronger position now In Canada, parties do not form coalitions with other parties when they fail to win a majority of seats. It might be time to take a different approach.
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[l] at 7/28/20 8:05am
Karl Nerenberg Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in November 2019. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

Here is a what-could-have-been story.

In the spring of 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's coalition cabinet met to consider measures to deal with the severe economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the table, together with 26 Liberal cabinet ministers, were: Environment Minister Elizabeth May of the Green party, and, from the NDP, Justice Minister Jagmeet Singh, Communities and Infrastructure Minister Peter Julian, Immigration Minister Jenny Kwan, and Indigenous Services Minister Niki Ashton.

Among the many measures to come before that cabinet was a $900-million program to encourage and foster youth volunteerism. The plan included a no-bid deal with one non-governmental organization (NGO), which would distribute the cash on behalf of the government -- and get paid upwards of $40 million for its trouble. 

The name of that NGO was WE.

Senior cabinet members, including the prime minister and minister of finance, explained to their colleagues that, given the need to get the $900 million out the door almost immediately, the sole-sourced agreement with WE was the best way to proceed. 

The government must engage outside help, they explained, because the federal bureaucracy was overwhelmed with the demands of implementing other COVID-related programs, such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. 

And even if they had the time and resources, federal bureaucrats present at the meeting told the cabinet they were too far removed from the grassroots voluntary sector to do a quick and effective job on the youth volunteering program. 

WE, the bureaucrats said, possessed all the necessary connections to youth and youth-focused organizations, in every part of Canada, to get this huge program off the ground in time for the summer vacation period. 

Dissent only from non-Liberal ministers

The Liberal cabinet ministers in the room nodded quiet assent, especially since, officially, the recommendation came from the professional public service. 

But the five non-Liberals in cabinet expressed doubt. 

Elizabeth May referred to her own vast experience in the voluntary sector, as head of Sierra Club Canada. The Green leader said she had seen research on WE that indicated the organization had governance issues, that it tended to blur the lines between its business and charitable activities.

Peter Julian wondered aloud about the fact that this was a sole source agreement. Public servants explained to him it would normally take months to undertake a competition. Julian then asked if they could not use their collective imagination to make that competitive process quicker. The most senior civil servant present, the clerk of the Privy Council, recognized that the NDP minister had a point. Given all the other unprecedented procedures the pandemic had necessitated, the clerk said, Julian's suggestion was, indeed, feasible.

For his part, Jagmeet Singh politely but firmly asked Justin Trudeau about the prime minister's well-known ties to WE. Just recently, the NDP leader noted, the prime minister's wife had contracted the coronavirus while attending a WE event in the U.K. On that trip, he added, the prime minister's mother accompanied Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

All of those questions from non-Liberals gave the government leadership pause. In the end, the cabinet decided to ask the public service to go back to the drawing board and come up with other options, within 72 hours. 

Thus was a scandal-in-the-making averted.

That is all a fantasy, of course. What happened, in fact, was that a cabinet composed entirely of Liberals, all of them beholden to their leader for their jobs, agreed quickly and quietly to the sole-source arrangement with WE. If any of them expressed any reservations, privately, they have kept them to themselves. 

We cannot be sure that cabinet ministers from other parties would have blown the whistle on the ill-advised youth volunteering scheme. 

Still, had we a coalition cabinet and had the non-Liberal ministers gone along with the WE proposal, it would have looked much better for the Liberals when the media and public started asking questions. The prime minister would have been able to say, justifiably: "This was not just a Liberal idea. The other parties in our coalition supported this decision."

We lack political imagination in Canada

Canada does not have any tradition of power-sharing among parties at the executive level. 

We have lots of experience, thanks to many minority governments, of de facto power-sharing at the legislative level. The current Liberal minority is a good example of that. Since the onset of the pandemic, and all the huge needs it has created, the Liberals have accepted multiple ideas and suggestions from the opposition, most notably from the NDP. 

But here in Canada, parties do not form coalitions with other parties when they fail to win a majority of seats. They keep all of the executive power and privileges -- in cabinet -- to themselves, and only engage with the other parties when they have bills to pass.

It might be time to take another approach, and borrow a leaf from other countries, such as Germany, which, since the Second World War, has always had stable, long-lasting coalitions. 

Over the decades there have been various permutations and combinations in German coalition governments -- from a (small-c conservative) Christian Democrat / (free-market-oriented) Free Democrat partnership, to a Social-Democrat/Green coalition, to a grand coalition of the two biggest parties, the Christian and Social Democrats. Those coalition governments have all been stable, and, on the whole, achieved significant success.

After the WE scandal broke, Fair Vote Canada, which advocates for electoral reform, came out with a statement arguing that our first-past-the-post voting system, which frequently translates a mere plurality of the votes into a majority of seats, was the real culprit. If we had a proportional system in 2019, Fair Vote said, we would have elected a Parliament in which parties had no choice but to work together.

The problem with that argument is that, in fact, the most recent election produced a roughly proportional result. The Greens and New Democrats are underrepresented relative to their popular vote, while the Bloc Québécois is overrepresented. And the Liberals came first in seats, but were second to the Conservatives in votes. 

The most important outcome of the 2019 vote, however, is that no party won a majority. In other countries that would have almost automatically resulted in a coalition government, such as the fictitious one we describe above. 

Not in Canada. 

Here, even when a party wins only 30 per cent of the vote, and would seem to have scant moral authority to claim 100 per cent of executive power and control, it will still form a cabinet composed only of its own members, leaving out the representatives of 70 per cent of the electorate.

To pass bills, such a party will need other parties' support, of course, and will have to negotiate and compromise with them. But when government decisions are forged around the cabinet table, the other parties have to wait outside the door. 

It is an arrogant, top-down approach to democratic governance, which only seems reasonable to Canadians because we have never tried anything else. 

And there are times when a single-party cabinet can come up with a genuinely ill-advised decision, as our current cabinet did on the WE matter.

Too bad for Justin Trudeau that he lacked the creativity and boldness to think outside the box when he formed a new government after last October's near-death experience for his party. He'd probably be in a far stronger position right now. 

Maybe next time. 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter. 

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

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[l] at 7/28/20 12:51am
David J. Climenhaga It should be a crazy week under the socially distanced dome of the Alberta legislature. Image: David J. Climenhaga

You can just tell it's likely to be a crazy week in Alberta politics.

To understand just how crazy, you have to think about what the Kenney government is noisily focusing on, and what is actually happening.

In the legislature, Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government are busy ramming through a couple of bad laws -- one setting the stage for further privatization of public heath care and the continuation of the government's mid-pandemic war on physicians, the other designed to reduce the rights of working people in the name of cutting "red tape" and to hamstring unions by smothering them in the same stuff.

Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, will allow businesses to run medical clinics that treat doctors as employees, let private surgical clinics be fast-tracked and permit the Health Ministry to write contracts with doctors to cut the Alberta Medical Association out of the process.

As AMA president Christine Molnar asked in a letter to her members yesterday: "Could this support a scenario where all physicians' funds for a particular specialty are given to a for-profit corporation, resulting in the physicians having no option but to seek employment from that corporation to practice their specialty in Alberta?"

Bill 32, the tendentiously named Restoring Balance in Alberta's Workplaces Act, would allow employers to avoid paying minimum wages, deny employees overtime pay in the form of a "work averaging" scam, and try to force unions put every single activity not defined by the government as basic labour relations to a membership vote in which each member was assumed to have opted out. The goal is to immobilize unions with red tape. The bill also includes provisions that make organizing unions harder, breaking them easier and picketing ineffective.

"I don't, in my career as a lawyer, in this house, recall ever seeing a bill that breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as many times and in many ways as Bill 32 does," remarked Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

But don't expect fulsome debate in the legislature. Both bills have already passed second reading and UCP house leader Jason Nixon has given notice the government will use closure to limit debate on both to two hours if the NDP Opposition tries too hard to illustrate the flaws of the bills in the house.

Naturally, debate is less likely to do the government harm if it's restricted to partisans yelling at each other on social media, letting Premier Kenney get the session wrapped on Thursday.

At the same time, the government is pushing ahead with its plan to reopen schools is September with less funding than last year and no thoughtful safety plan to counter the spread of COVID-19 among children beyond a wing and a prayer that Alberta can somehow pull this off first and Kenney can look great for whatever job he plans to go after next.

Probably the only things that could stop this jerrybuilt back-to-school plan now would be a mass refusal by parents to send their kids go back, or a wildcat teachers' strike. Both seem unlikely, but neither is impossible.

Meanwhile, the story the UCP would very much like all of us to ignore, the resurgence of COVID-19 in Alberta, proceeds apace thanks to Kenney's hurry to be the first Canadian premier to completely reopen his province's economy.

"The curve is no longer flat in Alberta," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at yesterday afternoon's daily COVID-19 briefing. This may sound faintly illogical, but I think we all understand what she was trying to say. To wit: the progress of the coronavirus disease is trending upward again, and if we're not careful we'll end up in the same fix as Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and the other places Kenney looks to for his economic and social models.

How bad is it? Not quite as bad as some predicted on Friday, but not great. There were eight more deaths and 304 new cases on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the highest level of active cases in the province since May 10.

Remember that with this disease infection spikes lag dumb decisions by about two weeks. The government sent large numbers of civil servants back to their offices yesterday, so we can probably expect an increase in cases as a result of that by mid August.

On the other hand, Calgary starts mandatory masking in public spaces on August 14, a policy conspicuously not supported by the UCP, but that may create an improvement for which Kenney can claim credit.

Finally, next Monday the government plans a one-day debate on Finance Minister Travis Toews's quarterly fiscal update, which is expected to be dire. The result, almost certainly, will be austerity, austerity and more austerity, with the possibility of another tax cut thrown in. The chances the government will acknowledge reality and impose a sales tax are, it is said here, nil.

We Albertans, of course, are going to have to live with this stuff. But it's important for Canadians in other provinces to pay attention to what's happening here too.

After all, Alberta is the test bed for what they will be subjected to if the Conservative Party of Canada somehow manages to get another kick at the national can.

When Stephen Harper and the CPC were run out of power in 2015, Alberta was the place they retreated to nurse their grievances with a Confederation that didn't see much benefit in a rigidly neoliberal future.

When Kenney, Harper's loyal retainer and chief lieutenant in Ottawa, became premier here last year, they imagined Alberta would be the beachhead of their campaign to regain the government of Canada.

It's hard to believe that what they're doing here on a policy level will play in Prince Rupert, Peterborough or Pointe-Claire, but Canadians still need to be alert to what happens when ideological fervour and dangerous incompetence are mixed during a real crisis like the one caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The result isn't pretty, as we've already seen south of the Medicine Line. Keep your eye on Alberta too.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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[l] at 7/27/20 1:58pm
David J. Climenhaga Suncor building in Calgary. Image: Bernard SpraggNZ/Flickr

Interesting timing.

Mid-morning Sunday, the press secretary to Environment Minister Jason Nixon published a 79-word press release -- 111 words if you count the headline and the sub-head required by the format of the Alberta government's website.

It was about as uninformative as a press release can be and still qualify for the title. Just the same, it contained some information that was quite interesting, to wit, that the province "has laid seven charges against Suncor Energy Inc. related to an incident that took place at the company's refinery located in Strathcona County in 2018."

Combined with the release of this tidbit on the Sabbath, one might be tempted to come to the conclusion someone at the Environment Ministry would have been just as happy if media had paid no attention at all.

The remainder of press secretary Jess Sinclair's statement, in its entirety, read as follows:

"The company faces five charges for contravening a term or condition of an approval. The company is also charged with releasing a substance into the environment that may cause an adverse effect and failing to report the release in a timely manner. All of the charges are contraventions under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The incident is alleged to have occurred in July 2018. Suncor Energy Inc. has a court date scheduled for July 29 in Sherwood Park."

No information was to be found there about why it took the department two years to lay charges.

Sending us a discreet message that there's nothing to see here, just move along please, is a bit of a change for Sinclair, who like a lot of United Conservative Party press secretaries has been spending a certain amount of time and energy calling the government's critics liars and the like on social media.

In the case of the environment portfolio, this is because Opposition MLAs have described Nixon's decision announced in March to close all or part of 20 provincial parks and hand another 164 over to private-sector managers as a plan to sell off or lease parks for purposes that may include industrial development, such as oil and gas development.

The United Conservative Party claim is that it's not a plan to sell or lease parks -- because they won't be parks any more when any decision is made to sell or lease regular old Crown land that just happened to be a park once upon a time.

Readers can decide for themselves who is closer to the truth and who is hiding behind a nice legal distinction.

In Sinclair's defence, at least her sharply worded tweets have been directed at members of the Opposition, who are paid to take it as well as to dish it out. Other UCP press secretaries seem to have no restraint when it comes to insulting citizens who dare to criticize their ministers.

As the Canadian Press reported Friday, Nixon and his communications advisors overruled senior Environment Department staffers when they recommended closing no parks without extensive public consultations. The CP story explained: "a document labelled advice to cabinet states: 'As recommended by (the minister's office) and communications, recommended option is to not do consultation.'"

The CP story pointed out that this is a bit of a change from the days where the UCP screamed bloody murder about an NDP plan to create a park because, you know, there wasn't nearly enough consultation

Getting back to Sunday's statement, whatever the intention was, mainstream media did pick up on the announcement with short rewrites of the release from the CBC and CP. Someone at Global News even bothered to dig into the files.

Two full years ago in July 2018, Global said there was a release of hydrogen sulphide gas at Suncor's Edmonton refinery. Several people were sent to hospital for assessment.

Well, we may know more on Wednesday, if anyone makes it to the courthouse in Sherwood Park.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Bernard SpraggNZ/Flickr​

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[l] at 7/27/20 12:36pm
US Politics Combatting Violent Crime in American Cities. Image: White House/Flickr/Shealah Craighead

Is it fascism? "Protesters are being snatched from the streets without warrants. Can we call it fascism yet?" asks a Michelle Goldberg column in the New York Times. Yes, Michelle, you can, though it doesn't matter much. Goon squads would suffice, or storm troopers (Nancy Pelosi). There's always been arbitrary power rained on the weak by police, Pinkertons, and other "security." Fascism just added some theory and structure to the low-lifes it recruited.

Timing also matters. There are large sectors for whom "yet" doesn't apply, they are "still" under attack and intimidation, as they've always been. But I agree there was a new shock seeing protesters scooped off the streets into vans (rented from Enterprise) by thugs in camo with no ID, though we're told they're a pastiche of federal agencies, like the FBI, Border Police, even TSA guys from the airports.

"Disappearing" U.S. citizens is a new wrinkle, derived from Latin American military dictatorships. If you're arrested by commonplace cops, you know who's got you and others know where to try to get you out or at least see how badly beaten up you are, usually by the same cop who charged you for assaulting them. But when you're disappeared, no one knows who snatched you or where you are. It's spooky, like the deliberate Star Wars gear that these federal agents wear. They drive you around awhile, ask questions, then release you. The scariest time under arrest is often in the van or wagon, when no one knows where you are, including you.

Revive the concept of the police riot. I wonder how people who were never there, picture the rioting anarchists that Trump decries. In fact, the riot is almost always conducted by the police. Most protesters are by their nature and wisdom peaceful, plus a small group that throw fireworks or bricks from a distance, or beat on bank machines, like one at Toronto's G20 summit.

It's the police who charge, pummeling everyone in their path. I first saw this at Columbia University in 1968, when they cleared protesters from campus buildings, cracking limbs and heads. I last saw it (personally) in Buenos Aires a year and a half ago, when a pregnant woman barely got out of their way.

I stress this is normal. An anomaly occurred in the late '60s when the U.S. "weather people" decided to attack the cops first. You could see the surprise on the police faces when the protesters came running at them, said a witness. The weather folks were eventually decimated. If you want to take on state force, blow for blow, you go into the hills, or retreat into inner cities, to form an actual rebel army. Good luck with that.

What would Victor Serge say? He is my favourite figure from the Russian Revolution. He fought with the Bolsheviks, turned against Stalin, joined the Trotskyite opposition, was imprisoned, wrote prolifically, and died poor in Mexico City. He never gave up (which isn't the same as never losing hope). What a disaster, he keeps saying, in various ways. Ah well, we had no choice. Let's keep going and hope it works out.

Another volume of his journals was recently published. The reason I think of him now is that, if you're inside a mortal struggle, you aren't fundamentally concerned with understanding it, though you try. Your imperative is to keep going. If you don't, anything gained till then, will be lost along with the future.

There are those, like Leninists, who thought you need a "correct analysis" in order to prevail, but I think history and common sense indicate no one's ever quite smart enough to nail it all. If you somehow can carry on, eventually everything that worked against you might start, with luck, working for you. That's why I don't think it matters much if this is fascism yet.

The deep logic of Trump's turn to deputized goonery, is that military force is the only thing, in recent decades, that the U.S. state has been granted full legitimacy for. Health? Education? Not so much. Mostly they've inflicted it on others but, since that hasn't gone well lately, why not turn it on their own?

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: White House/Flickr/Shealah Craighead

Donald Trump fascism Rick Salutin July 27, 2020 U.S. cities need personal protective equipment and tests, not shock troops The response in Oregon to U.S. President Donald Trump's outrageous and likely unconstitutional deployment of federal agents has been resoundingly critical. U.S. should switch to mail-in ballot to circumvent threats to democracy The U.S. Supreme Court recently clamped down on "faithless electors," but other dangers to American democracy remain. Mount Rushmore, and the United States' white supremacist-in-chief President Trump's planned rally at Mount Rushmore occurs as the U.S. suffers an explosion of COVID-19 cases and a national debate on how to deal with symbols enshrining systemic racism.
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[l] at 7/27/20 12:01pm
Beric German An affordable housing building in Vancouver with inspiring signage such as "dignity, vision, work, home." Image: Cathy Crowe

An old friend I hadn't seen in ages recently visited me. Immersed in the present, his main complaint wasn't being isolated at home during the lockdown, it was the terrible uncertainty. After he left, I began to muse.

The vacuum is palpable. Social distancing and the pandemic have produced little advice about the economic disaster that has been unleashed. If we are entering the worst crisis since the 1930s, there is little to alarm us to the fact that we need a major emergency and long-term response to survive. The enormity of the response will have to be unprecedented in its scope and resolve.

Before the entry of this COVID disease, warning abounded of a daunting economic collapse, similar or worse than that of 2008. It happened. We now need a new deal like the one that came out of the fightback in the 1930s. Investment in infrastructure brought us jobs. But today, there is a caveat. Our planet is hot and polluted and can't take it anymore. Thus, our deal must be green. Our survival depends on it.

We need affordable housing, safe shelter, adequate income, health care, education, daycare, and services for all. People are losing their jobs, income and housing at an alarming rate. Tent cities are exploding around the world.

Chatter predicts that many workplaces will never open again. We are not going back to the good old days or even the bad old days.

Yes, we need a new green deal with which to enter the next one hundred years and onwards.

COVID-19 has exposed some of our fault line. It helps us see what must be done.

Austerity has damaged our health-care system. We now have many unhealthy people, and a rusting and rusty public health that welcomes new and old diseases. Seniors were particularly injured, and many died during the pandemic. There wasn't enough care or caregivers, and they weren't adequately trained or paid properly. The results were catastrophic. In the end we all want safety from disease, but we also deserve to live and die with dignity.

There are stark choices to be made. At all costs, we have to end neoliberalism and its cruel austerity measures. Instead, debts -- even national debts -- have to be forgiven.

There must be full employment for those who need work. A four-day work week can be established. New support programs to serve seniors, youth and those with mental and physical disabilities are vital. Factories can produce solar panels, wind turbines and trains. A national housing program, ensuring affordability and supports for those who need them, is imperative.

Let's subsidize good food which will be grown next to where it is eaten. We must wean ourselves out of the sky and ground ourselves with a sustainable energy program. Cruise ships will go the way of the carnival, and like planes will no longer be petri dishes for the spread of disease.

Capitalism and its lack of planning, and its allowance of capital to rule must be relegated to the dustbin of history. This has been long promised. What certainty we can muster will come with plans.

Friends are warning us about climate change and the threat of war. If we listen, we can hear them pleading "C'mon now, we don't have a lot of time."

We have to answer them.  Our youth and our tomorrows are in great peril. "We're coming, we won't be long now!"

Thankfully, Black lives and Indigenous peoples are leading us into the streets. You can hear our voices mingle and gain strength. Many of us muse and act.

We extend our hand to the future and hope that she clasps it.

Beric German is a long-time anti-poverty activist and co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee which declared homelessness a national disaster in 1998.

Image: Cathy Crowe

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[l] at 7/24/20 12:51pm
July 24, 2020 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks on the phone with Donald Trump. Image: JustinTrudeau/Twitter Are the Liberals shopping for a new leader? If there is any threat to Trudeau's leadership, it comes from his own party. A good many Liberals are growing weary of the prime minister's questionable judgment.
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[l] at 7/24/20 12:40pm
Karl Nerenberg Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks on the phone with Donald Trump. Image: JustinTrudeau/Twitter

The Trudeau government's troubles arising out of its close relationship with WE Charity keep growing.

This past spring, the WE organization entered into a sole-sourced agreement with the government to manage nearly a billion dollars of public money. Then, Canadians found out WE had paid the prime minister's mother and brother to make speeches, and that the finance minister's daughter worked for WE.

WE pulled out of the agreement and reimbursed the government for any money it had received, while both PM Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau apologized for failing to recuse themselves when the cabinet made its decision on WE.

But the bad news kept on coming. 

First, we learned that the agreement was not with the principal charity, WE, founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger in the 1990s, but with a recently formed spinoff organization, which has a very thin resumé of accomplishments. 

Then, on Tuesday, July 22, Morneau revealed that he and his family had received more than $40,000 worth of paid travel from WE, which he only, belatedly, repaid last week.

Add to that the swirling concerns about the way WE manages its affairs -- mixing profit with charity and holding tens of millions of dollars in prime real estate in Toronto -- and you have the recipe for a political disaster for the governing Liberals.

Nobody wants to force an election

For the time being, the government seems to be safe, however, despite the opposition parties' rhetorical outrage. Nobody in Parliament seems to have the slightest interest in bringing down this minority government in a time of pandemic.

In fact, just as the WE scandal was reaching a boiling point, all parties in the House of Commons put partisan interests aside to quickly enact new government COVID-19 spending measures. Those measures include an extension of the wage subsidy, which enables struggling businesses to keep their staff working, and funds to aid Canadians living with disabilities. 

While Charlie Angus of the NDP -- to choose one opposition party -- was effectively eviscerating Trudeau and Morneau for their ethical lapses, his leader, Jagmeet Singh, was taking credit for a number of the new spending measures the Liberals adopted.

On the Liberals' agreement to increase support for disabled Canadians, Singh explained his party's role this way:

"The earlier proposal by the government, if you recall, would only help about 40 per cent of Canadians living with disabilities. We were able to push them to include more help to more Canadians living with disabilities, which gets the number of a majority of Canadians that live with disabilities. It's still not enough but we're going to continue fighting."

On the new wage subsidy provisions Singh boasted that "we broadened the scope of the wage subsidy program so that more people would get the help they need to get employed or to stay at their jobs."

The Conservatives said that in exchange for their support for fast passage of the new spending measures they got the government to agree to continued sittings, throughout the summer, for the Commons' Canada-China and public safety committees.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet had been most vociferous in calling for Trudeau to step down because of the WE scandal, and yet the Bloc was the first party out of the gates to offer support for the Liberals' new spending measures, without, apparently, any conditions.

Opposition parties sincerely believe it is their role to hold the government accountable over its management of the WE fiasco -- and, naturally, they also hope to gain political advantage from it. But they're obviously not ready to push the crisis to its limit and vote non-confidence in the government.

Some Liberals are losing confidence in their leader

Indeed, if there is any threat to Trudeau's leadership, it comes from his own party. A good many Liberals are growing weary of the prime minister's questionable judgment, and of the -- at best, inadequate -- advice given by the members of his inner circle.

Disgruntled Liberals could not blame Trudeau's advisers for the vacation he and his family took at the Aga Khan's private Bahamas island, in the winter of 2016-2017, for which the ethics commissioner rebuked him. 

But many Liberals were, privately at least, extremely unhappy with the entire management of the SNC-Lavalin affair prior to the last election. There did not seem to be any adults in the room when the prime minister and key cabinet ministers made some fateful choices, they said. They attributed the flaws in that process to Trudeau's shunning of seasoned political counsellors in favour of his youth brigade.

In the end, there was no effort at a coup before the 2019 election. Since then, and especially during most of the pandemic, the consensus is that Trudeau had been doing just about everything right. Opinion polls certainly bore out that view.

The entirely self-inflicted WE affair has severely shaken many Liberals' confidence in Trudeau. Some among them are starting to talk about getting themselves a new leader before the next election. 

And who could that be?

Everybody mentions Chrystia Freeland, currently deputy prime minister. She has somehow managed to distance herself from the WE decision, even though she was sitting at the table when cabinet took that decision.

Few would doubt Freeland's intelligence and knowledge. She was a rookie in politics when she took over former interim leader Bob Rae's Toronto seat in a byelection before the 2015 vote that swept the Liberals back to power, but has come a long way since then. Her greatest success was in quarterbacking the renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement with the dysfunctional and irrational Trump administration. 

Freeland is difficult to categorize, ideologically, and does not seem to belong to either the more progressive or more small-c conservative wing of the party. In her previous roles at trade and global affairs and her current role as, in effect, the government's chief operating officer, she has taken a managerial approach.

She does not give the impression that she has any deeply held ideals or that there is any great goal she wants to accomplish for Canada -- even as the pandemic forces many to reconsider their ideas of economic, environmental and social justice.

As a leader, Freeland would inspire confidence, but would not likely excite.

There are others in the cabinet and the Liberal universe who might be interested in the leadership, should the opportunity present itself. 

Among those are Navdeep Bains, minister of industry and science, and Catherine McKenna, who had been environment minister and now heads the big-spending infrastructure ministry. 

Current treasury board minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, an economist, might be convinced to run, if for no other reason than to have a Quebec candidate. He would more logically fit in the finance minister job, should the current minister, Bill Morneau, decide to fall on his sword.  

A saviour from outside?

There is another name, however, someone outside of politics (for the time being), who does actually excite Liberal insiders: Mark Carney.

The last time the Liberals chose a non-politician they got Michael Ignatieff, and it turned out to be a disaster. But Ignatieff was a lifelong intellectual with zero managerial or leadership experience -- and he had cozied up to the George W. Bush regime in the U.S. He supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for instance.

Carney headed both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, which gives him well more than a decade in senior managerial leadership roles. 

At the Bank of Canada, he took bold action during the crisis of 2008, when, still new to the job, he slashed the interest rate by half a point to help make credit more available to a floundering economy. He was ahead of the curve then. His European colleagues were still raising rates. 

Recently, Carney has moved somewhat to the progressive side of the political field, working on climate change for the United Nations.  More important, he has written tantalizingly about how the current pandemic has made it necessary for us to radically rethink our ideas of equality, fairness, opportunity and of the sacrosanct market economy itself. 

Carney outlined some of his thoughts in an article for The Economist magazine in April. A good deal of what he had to say is tantamount to heresy in the world of investment bankers, where he cut his teeth.

"We have been moving from a market economy to a market society," Carney wrote. "Increasingly, to be valued, an asset or activity has to be in a market. For example, Amazon is one of the world's most valuable companies, yet the Amazon region appears on no ledger until it is stripped of its foliage, and converted to farmland … In this crisis, we know we need to act as an interdependent community, not independent individuals, so the values of economic dynamism and efficiency have been joined by those of solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion."

Carney is a banker and an economist, and so one could not expect him to abandon ideas of "efficiency." 

But when he evokes solidarity and compassion, Carney opens the door to a far more interventionist, even socialistic approach to governing than we would expect from a one-time denizen of the Wall Street behemoth Goldman Sachs.

He just might be a game changing leader for the beleaguered Liberals.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.  

Image: JustinTrudeau/Twitter

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[l] at 7/24/20 11:31am
Doreen Nicoll Cheyenne Sundance on the farm. Image: Submitted

Cheyenne Sundance is a Black femme farmer, and owner of Sundance Harvest located in Toronto, Ontario. For 23-year-old Sundance, land and learning are the greatest barriers faced by these people of the land. But Black women also have to challenge gender norms that traditionally put white men and women in charge of food production and a handful of predominantly white men in control of limited resources, markets and distribution methods.

When Sundance shared her dream of starting her own farm, she was told to take an unpaid internship in order to learn more about growing food. She balked at the idea because in her words: "Labour is labour and unpaid labour is exploitation."

With hard work and ingenuity, Sundance created her ethical, non-exploitative Black femme farm inside a 240 square metre greenhouse in Downsview Park where she offers free education to marginalized youth so they can feed themselves and start their own farms.

Sundance focuses her energy on food justice. She offers access to a wide variety of resources, knowledge and guidance so Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) can empower themselves and start their own food and land sovereignty movements. BIPOC inclusion and participation is the best way to eradicate the institutionalized racism rooted in the conventional Canadian food system.

When Black women control the food system from seed to table, they ensure their communities are healthy. According to Sundance, "These neighbourhoods need justice to be able to grow food not only in response to hunger. They need Black food sovereignty which benefits all people because it creates more farms which increases food security while addressing underlying issues like a lack of income due to overpolicing and gentrification of Black neighbourhoods which pushes up housing costs."

The farm's overwhelming success means Sundance is ready to expand. She's in the process of purchasing 1.2 hectares of land in the Chatham-Kent area where she'll continue growing heritage, organic, fresh produce.

So, what should white allies do to improve Black food sovereignty? They should be having conversations around the fact true inclusion will be impossible until they are willing to share their power.

Then, allies should move out of the way and give resources to Black folk because it's their time to lead the food movement utilizing their lived experiences, knowledge, food work, and relationships with the land. Black youth need to see Black role models so they embrace their right to Black food sovereignty and know it is possible.

Sundance points out that well-meaning white people taking food grants actually creates more harm as Black folk need that funding. Instead, put a Black femme farmer in your place and provide the money to pay for her position. Open dialogues with other white people to prioritize Black sovereignty at food banks and NGOs.

If you have a frontyard, backyard, or rooftop that can be cultivated, offer it to a Black farmer. Consider land trusts and lobby municipal governments to let Black farmers use parkland to grow food for local communities. Go one step further and ask those with farmland to consider letting BIPOC folk farm it when they retire.

Integral to food sovereignty is supporting the living wage campaign; speaking out against gentrification; encouraging cities and conservation authorities to make land accessible to Black farmers; to make room for co-ops and collective land ownership all while resisting replicating the capitalist food system that has failed too many in this country.

It's time for allies to educate themselves. Then, turn that knowledge into action using your privilege and power to dismantle the old food system while building a new one based on social equity and justice -- and that includes embracing Black femme food sovereignty.

Become an accomplice by donating to Sundance Harvest's community fundraiser here.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Cheyenne Sundance on the farm. Image: Submitted

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[l] at 7/24/20 11:21am
Paul Taylor

Dear rabble visitors

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling hopeful and inspired by progressive social movements and the organizing taking hold this year, saying "business as usual will not suffice." Despite the pandemic and a literal physical distance keeping many people (largely) at home, communities have come together in a myriad of ways to denounce racialized police violence and oppression, and to call for their end. Through this amazing work -- led by BIPOC activists and organizers -- there is a guarantee that no one is backing down.

I appreciate the work of the team at rabble to provide a progressive platform for urgent underreported issues about race, class and transformative change. I'm proud to contribute writing, opinions and analysis to rabble readers.

Will you join me in supporting rabble through its summer 2020 fundraiser? To continue to grow and expand their content, rabble must reach its $50,000 goal this summer! Your donation right now will make a big difference.

Your support enables, among other things, for rabble to continue to explore avenues to bring progressive discussion and debate to the forefront. I'm pleased that I have been able to join a strong team of panelists -- including MP Leah Gazan, rabble parliamentary reporter Karl Nerenberg, host Libby Davies and rotating guests such as Pamela Palmater, and David Macdonald and Sheila Block from the CCPA -- in the Off the Hill webinar series. 

These online discussions help address issues in federal politics from a grassroots perspective and share vital insights and stories for progressive communities so much that it's been hard to say goodbye each episode!

I hope you can take a minute to donate to rabble's programming and support it in its annual fundraiser. Of course, if you can’t donate, there are many other ways to be involved -- from telling your friends to read rabble and signing up for the weekly newsletter, to sharing this post on your social feeds.

I hope you can join the call. 

In solidarity,

Paul Taylor, activist and non-profit leader

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[l] at 7/24/20 6:34am
Dennis Gruending NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Image: Submitted

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been so omnipresent during the COVID-19 pandemic that it is easy to forget we have a minority government in Canada. The Liberals must rely upon some combination of support from the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Green party. The NDP and its leader Jagmeet Singh have, in particular, used their leverage to secure increased support for struggling Canadians, although the party has not received much public credit for its actions.

NDP pushes Liberals

After the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic in mid-March, the federal and provincial governments were forced to lock down most of the economy. The result was immediate and massive unemployment. The Liberals' first instinct was to use employment insurance to provide an income bridge for workers. The NDP argued that restrictive rules imposed by successive Liberal and Conservative governments meant that only 40 per cent of unemployed workers qualify for insurance. In addition, there is a designated wait time before benefits can flow, not to mention the additional bureaucratic delay in processing claims.

The NDP insisted on a quicker and more universal way to send money to people who lost their jobs. The Liberals responded with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provided financial support for 16 weeks to employed and self-employed Canadians directly affected by COVID-19. Singh and the NDP pushed for the extension and the government moved it to 24 weeks. The NDP pressed for aid to students who were ineligible for the CERB and the Liberals created the Canada Emergency Student Benefit.

The government also introduced a program to subsidize employers in keeping their workers employed. However, the program as first announced would only cover 10 per cent of wages. The NDP said that was not enough to make the program attractive or viable and instead called for the subsidy to cover at least 75 per cent of a worker’s wage. The Liberals increased the percentage to 75.

Sick leave

John Horgan, the NDP premier of British Columbia, took the lead in pushing the federal and other provincial governments to provide a paid sick leave program to help prevent workers avoid spreading COVID-19 at their jobs. As a result, Ottawa announced that it is offering a temporary income support program that will provide workers 10 days of paid sick leave related to COVID-19, if they don’t already have access to this benefit. The federal NDP pushed for this program as well.

It would be exaggerating to say that the Liberals have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic as they have only because the NDP was pushing them into it; but it is undeniably true that the NDP has played an important role and continues to do so.

NDP tradition

There is a tradition in Canadian politics of having the NDP or its precursors prod governments of the day to support the needs and interests of ordinary Canadians, usually during periods of minority government or national crisis. In 1925, J.S. Woodsworth and his tiny group of Labour MPs propped up the minority government of William Lyon Mackenzie King on the condition that the Liberals promise to establish old age pensions.

The CCF became increasingly popular during the late stages of the Second World War and its aftermath. Canadians had sacrificed and had no desire to return to the cruelties of the Great Depression. To head off the CCF, King and the Liberals promised a new social order which would include family allowances and a national health insurance plan. Canadians did get family allowance but it was left to the CCF government in Saskatchewan to introduce Medicare in 1962. Within a decade all provinces had followed Saskatchewan's lead, with the costs being shared with Ottawa.

The NDP, led by David Lewis, extracted a variety of promises and programs from the minority government of Pierre Trudeau in 1972-1974. Jack Layton was able to win concessions from both Liberal and Conservative minority governments in the 2000s.

Great expectations

The current moment resembles the later years of the Second World War. Most people do not want to go back to things as they were, in this case pre-COVID. For example, the pandemic has exposed many privately run, long-term care homes as death traps for the elderly. The NDP wants long-term care to be placed under the umbrella of Medicare.

And as schools and daycare centres remain closed, or at least partially so, there is a crushing burden being placed upon working families. Many parents, mostlly women, will be forced to abandon the work force to care for their children. It is apparent that Canada badly lags  behind most developed nations in providing for their children. The NDP has long advocated for a program of publicly funded and affordable child care.

New public investments are urgently required but they will have to be paid for. The parliamentary budget officer estimates that the deficit for this pandemic year has risen to about $260 billion, up ten-fold from $21.8 billion in 2019-2020. Accumulated federal debt could soon approach $1 trillion.

Tax reform

Since their election in 2015, the Liberals have chosen to finance new programs and initiatives through deficit spending while largely ignoring a tax system which benefits the wealthy. The NDP is calling for a wealth tax on fortunes worth more than $20 million. It is a proposal which has become even more popular since a report from the parliamentary budget officer showing that the richest one per cent of Canadians control 26 per cent of the country's wealth.

The wealth tax would raise between $6 and $8 billion per year but much more could be collected if a myriad of tax loopholes were closed, and if the government were to crack down on tax fraud by rich people who hide money in off shore havens. Then there is the question of restoring the balance between personal and corporate income tax. Historically, the amount of corporate tax exceeded that collected from individuals, but this has been reversed over time by successive Liberal and Conservative reductions in corporate taxation.

NDP and just recovery

The COVID-19 crisis has connected people to government in an unprecedented way. The Liberals have used that to their advantage while the NDP plays its traditional role in prodding the government to do more for people in need. In political terms, the NDP must ensure that the Liberals do not receive all the credit and use it to eat away at NDP support in the next election. The NDP's role in promoting a just recovery will be important for all Canadians but also for the  political future of the party.

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer and blogger and a former NDP member of Parliament. 

Image: Submitted

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[l] at 7/24/20 1:29am
David J. Climenhaga Rachel Notley and Sarah Hoffman when they were Alberta's premier and health minister -- admit it, don't you wish they still were? Image: David J. Climenhaga

Alberta's United Conservative Party, it turns out, is almost as bad at governing as it is good at campaigning.

That's probably a better place to be from a political party's perspective than the opposite, as could credibly said of the Alberta NDP, which with 20/20 hindsight looks as if it was pretty good at governing but not so great at the dark arts of campaigning.

Admit it, wouldn't you rather be facing the global coronavirus pandemic with Rachel Notley as premier and Sarah Hoffman as health minister than with the occupants of Premier Jason Kenney's clown car cabinet at the provincial steering wheel?

Well, to be fair, Kenney has his believers, and if there's a silver lining to the cloud that darkens Alberta's government today it's that we don't have to hear them shouting "Lock 'er up!" as they blame Notley for personally inventing COVID-19 and smuggling it in from China in her handbag.

Every afternoon nowadays the chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw, tells us that the surging rate of COVID-19 infections in Alberta is a "wake-up call" for all of us. "This needs to be a wake-up call," she said yesterday of the 114 new cases reported in the province the day before. "I am very concerned by these numbers."

And every morning, the UCP government sleeps through the alarm, dreaming of fun Twitter battles, beach parties at privatized parks, and beating the stuffing out of the Alberta Medical Association.

Well, as Hinshaw warned yesterday, the intensive care units are starting to get crowded, so maybe the government will find some courage today and do something about it. Or maybe they'll slough off the problem on underfunded municipalities and grumble about them sotto voce for taking away our freedom to infect our neighbours.

It's not just me that feels this way, apparently. There's actual evidence in the political party financial disclosures published this week by Elections Alberta, which show that for the first time in 11 quarters Alberta's New Democrats raised more money than the UCP.

The 2020 second-quarter report for April, May and June shows the NDP raised $1,032,796.85 while the UCP took in $642,677.29.

What do you want to bet a lot of those donations were made by disillusioned physicians in between sending out resumés to clinics in B.C.?

As blogger Dave Cournoyer observed, "this is almost the opposite of the first quarter of 2020, in which the UCP raised $1.2 million and the NDP trailed with $582.130."

This may not be quite the horse race it seems, of course, since the UCP has access to plenty of dark money via PACs ready to campaign on the party's talking points that is inaccessible to a party like the NDP -- except for a very few labour unions, a source of money the UCP has legislative plans to unconstitutionally block and defund.

NDP donations also tend to be smaller even if this time they were more plentiful. As Cournoyer pointed out on his Daveberta.ca blog -- "more than half of the donations to the NDP were in amounts of $250 or less, while almost two-thirds of donations to the UCP were in denominations over $250."

The Alberta Party received donations of $20,851.40 in the quarter; the Alberta Liberals, $14,344.53; the Alberta Greens, $3,915; and the Wildrose Independence Party, 2,997.70. A few fringe-of-the-fringe parties received even more paltry sums.

Interestingly, mainstream media, which covered the UCP's first-quarter fundraising success, seems to have been strangely silent up to now about this week's Elections Alberta disclosures.

There have been recent news stories about the UCP's supposed recent financial problems. It pitched its members in March by warning them it would have to cease operations if more money didn't roll in -- a highly unlikely story. And it ended last year with a deficit of $2.3 million and net liabilities totalling $1.1 million, according to Elections Alberta's year-end disclosures.

The NDP, by comparison, ended 2019 in the black with a $748,548 surplus and a net liabilities of $376,977.

Shamelessly, in May the UCP also applied for -- and got -- funds from Ottawa's Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to keep its party staff busy assailing the federal Liberals for not forking over more dough to the oil industry and less to working people left jobless by the pandemic lockdown.

But the alternative, UCP communications director Evan Menzies said at the time, would have been to have to lay off eight staffers, who would then have had to apply to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to keep body and soul together until their federal employment insurance came through.

The NDP chose not to apply for federal funds. Who knows? Maybe donors approved of that, too.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga​

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[l] at 7/23/20 6:09pm
US Politics President Donald J. Trump on July 22, 2020. (Image: The White House/Flickr)

Camouflage-clad paramilitary vigilantes have been terrorizing Portland, Oregon, grabbing people protesting racism and police brutality, pulling them into unmarked minivans and driving off. These roving shock troops, with no insignia or badges, proved to be federal agents from a slew of agencies, ordered to Portland after President Donald Trump issued an executive order on June 26, a month and a day after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police.

Trump's order, "Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence," was a rambling diatribe against the massive, diverse protest movement that has swept the country in the wake of Floyd's murder and the police killings of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and so many more.

Juxtapose these fallen innocents with the statues Trump is desperately trying to protect: Confederate President Jefferson Davis; General Robert E. Lee; John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the U.S. and a strident defender of slavery, and Roger Taney, chief justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision denying citizenship to African Americans. Add to these the Southern military bases named after Confederate officers, which Trump has declared will not be renamed under his watch: Benning, Bragg, Hood and others.

As more Confederate statues and shrines to slavery and genocide have fallen, so too have Trump's poll numbers. In response, he is putting into practice his frightening penchant for authoritarianism, unleashing a clandestine shadow army on the citizenry, criminalizing protest as he struggles to inflame white supremacy.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic surges through the country, and Trump is utterly failing to provide essential federal resources, from personal protective equipment (PPE) to testing and contact tracing, all the basic elements needed to contain this deadly virus. Democratic Washington governor Jay Inslee recently summed up the situation, saying, "I wish he cared more about living Americans instead of dead Confederates."

On March 16, early in the pandemic, Trump told U.S. governors, "Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment -- try getting it yourselves." This pitted fifty governors against each other and the federal government in the open market for masks, gloves, testing swabs, reagents and other supplies, driving up prices and causing lethal shortages. Tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily as a result of Trump's dereliction of duty.

"We saw healthcare workers in garbage bag gowns and reusing the same N95 masks for days on end while they risked their lives to save others," senators Leahy, Durbin, Murray and Tester wrote to Trump this week, demanding to know why an estimated US$8 billion of taxpayer money appropriated for the COVID-19 response, specifically for masks, testing and other supplies, remains unspent.

Reports in recents days, based on unnamed White House sources, suggest Trump wants to completely cut funding to the CDC and NIH for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, angering even Senate Republicans.

The U.S. has a quarter of the global COVID-19 infections and deaths, but less than five percent of the world's population. Nationwide, 60,000 people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 and 1,000 people dying from the disease every day. Shortages of masks, ICU beds and space for the dead in morgues are mounting.

Currently, on a per capita basis, the hardest hit states are Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Idaho, Tennessee and Georgia -- a list that includes all seven of the original Confederate states. Despite the worsening catastrophe, the Republican governors of Florida, Georgia and Arizona, all staunch Trump allies, refuse to issue state-wide mask mandates.

They are only following their leader, President Trump, who also won't issue a national mask mandate, claiming to respect state and local authority. In almost the same breath, though, Trump threatens to send a "surge" of armed federal agents to major cities across the country, against the wishes of those very cities and states. President Trump's job is to protect public safety. That includes protecting the public health, especially in this time of the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and police brutality.

The response in Oregon to Trump's outrageous and likely unconstitutional deployment of federal agents has been resoundingly critical. Governor Kate Brown denounced "secret police abducting people," and Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum has sued several of the federal agencies involved. In the streets, a contingent of women has grown nightly, protecting protesters by forming a "wall of moms." Senator Ron Wyden, describing the federal agents as "essentially fascist," warned, "if the line is not drawn in the sand right now, America may be staring down the barrel of martial law in the middle of a presidential election."

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: The White House/Flickr

Donald Trump COVID-19 Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan July 23, 2020 U.S. should switch to mail-in ballot to circumvent threats to democracy The U.S. Supreme Court recently clamped down on "faithless electors," but other dangers to American democracy remain. Mount Rushmore, and the United States' white supremacist-in-chief President Trump's planned rally at Mount Rushmore occurs as the U.S. suffers an explosion of COVID-19 cases and a national debate on how to deal with symbols enshrining systemic racism. Noam Chomsky discusses prospects for post-COVID-19 society Powerful elites are running scared, says Chomsky. "The peasants are coming with the pitchforks."
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[l] at 7/23/20 4:00pm
Melissa Johnston frankie cordoba/Unsplash

The current pandemic has illuminated some very distinct inequalities that exist in Canada's workforce. In March, it became glaringly apparent who the essential workers are, and how undervalued they have been. 

Grocery store workers, cleaning staff, health-care workers and many others were granted the title of "essential worker." For a brief moment, pay increases were offered in many grocery stores across Canada (as well as in other sectors). We applauded that finally some recognition and compensation was being offered to workers in a sector which has traditionally been ignored and increasingly marginalized.  

Fast forward to the summer: now the state of the pandemic in many parts of the country has seemed to be partially under control (for now) and cases in some areas are largely declining. 

Our newly crowned "essential workers" had done their duty (and some had gone so far as to give their lives). Predictably, the $2-per-hour "pandemic pay raise" could now be revoked. What a relief for the corporations who oversee them. They could get back to the business of making profits and ensuring that they are going to the truly "needy" (the shareholders). 

In addition to the most tragic loss of lives among some front-line retail workers, the tragedy in all of this is that grocery store workers and indeed other front-line minimum-wage workers finally had a bargaining chip with their employers. Their services were desperately needed to keep our economy running and keep food on our tables. 

Of course, this was always the case, but it became increasingly apparent during this period as we fretted over the safety of our food supply. Arguably, most front-line minimum-wage workers had no choice but to continue to work through the pandemic, though their health and safety was on the line (most notably in early March when plexiglass shields and other protective measures were not yet in place).

Likely, the true risks that many retail workers were facing were not fully understood. Nor were they aware of their rights to a workplace that is safe and free from unnecessary or undue harm. 

Unionized workers in this unique time and place have slowly begun to realize how relatively privileged and fortunate they are. There is a sense of comfort in knowing that you have a union advocating for your health and safety in the workplace (especially in a time when your health and safety might actually be in real jeopardy each time you go to work). 

This sense of comfort and protection does not exist though for many workers in Canada, especially those in some of the most precarious positions. There is a growing realization that there are grave disparities in our system of labour, and in the measures (or lack thereof) in place to offer protection from life-threatening diseases, disability and loss of wages due to illness.

I would argue that we are entering an extremely unusual time where an opportunity exists to make meaningful and long-lasting changes to our current system of labour.

The fight must not be left up to those who are already fighting to pay their bills, to keep their job, to stay healthy and free from a most uncertain disease. Those of us who already have the luxury of having labour protection (i.e. a union) must be the ones to take on this formidable challenge. 

We must be willing to act as advocates and allies to support the "essential workers" who are deemed so essential that they are still being paid minimum wage and still being asked to face wage losses due to illness. If we truly believe in the rights of workers, then it is imperative that we advocate for that right to be afforded to all, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.   

Melissa Johnston is a an elementary teacher and a proud union member who lives in Eastern Ontario. She is passionate about labour and anti-poverty issues in both her local community and on a larger scale. She is obsessed with the written word and hopes her own writing can offer a little enlightenment and (perhaps) some inspiration in these strange times. 

Image: frankie cordoba/Unsplash

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[l] at 7/23/20 3:25pm
Jeff Shantz Eva Ureta Larry Farr/Unsplash

Properly assessing calls to defund the police and other carceral institutions means a proper reckoning with what these systems are actually doing -- not what we imagine them to be doing.

If more people were aware of these realities, they would realize we can start abolishing most of it right now with little threat to "public safety," and with community resources for care and support instead to improve social well-being.

Police and penal preservationists (police, politicians and some criminologists) insist that these systems are all about keeping us safe. And they especially wield fears of personal threats of physical violence and responses to physical violence of various sorts.

In fact, however, most crimes in Canada do not involve physical violence or harm.

We can look at crime records over several years (while recognizing that many criminologists have come to conclude that "crime" is not an especially useful way of talking about social harms).

Crimes against property: 88,664 charges or 22.87 per cent in 2013; 85,301 charges or 22.50 per cent in 2014; and 76,356 charges or 23.28 per cent in 2015.

Most of the activities processed through criminal justice systems in Canada do not fit the image of fear and personal threat that preservationists portray. Most crime involves property offenses (typically low level or low cost), victimless crimes, consumption offenses and administrative offenses. These might involve no physical harm, and may, in fact, have no victims at all.

In 2018, non-violent crime accounted for 79 per cent of police-reported Criminal Code incidents (excluding traffic).

While obviously these will involve activities that are of concern to people, they do not involve personal physical injury. There are other ways to deal with property crimes than policing and incarceration. We can also think about ways to address what are often issues of class, poverty,or economic need in relation to property crimes.

Another 13 per cent of criminalized activity in Canada is made up of drug offenses, and a further 13 per cent involves traffic offenses.

Crimes against the person: 91,033 charges or 23.49 per cent in 2013; 87,887 charges or 23.19 per cent in 2014; and 76,888 charges or 23.44 per cent in 2015.

These are overall numbers, but 14 per cent of this is common assault and uttering threats. These may not involve any physical harm to the person at all.

Only 0.7 per cent consists of "Homicide and related." And as we know, many of these are singular events that will not be repeated by the person responsible in the absence of police. Locking them up is not about keeping us safe (which is not to say no harm occurred, only that the carceral systems cannot necessarily claim to have stopped additional such harms).

Among these cases are also instances of women who are incarcerated for defending themselves against a violent partner. 

Addressing sexual assault is often put forward by preservationists. A study of criminal justice outcomes over a six year period (2009-2014) found that around one in 10 (12 per cent) of police-reported sexual assaults led to a criminal conviction, while seven per cent resulted in a custody sentence. Only 21 per cent total went to court. It is well known that many victims do not report at all due to mistrust of the system.

Administration of justice offenses: 85,554 charges or 22.07 per cent in 2013; 84,213 charges or 22.22 per cent in 2014; and 74,811 charges or 22.81 per cent in 2015.

Many criminalized activities involve administration of justice offenses. These are matters of systems maintenance, not harm to individuals or society.

Administration of justice cases involve matters related to case proceedings (such as failure to appear in court, failure to comply with a court order, breach of probation and unlawfully at large). They account for more than one-fifth of cases completed in adult criminal courts.

In addition to administration of justice cases, theft and impaired driving are the most frequent cases in adult courts in Canada.

The financial costs

This is the basis on which the Canadian state has built a vast infrastructure of containment and control -- to punish people for acts that involve no physical harm to persons, have no victims, involve personal consumption choices, or restrain people who have not been convicted of anything. These are hardly the structures of public safety or security that preservationists make them out to be.

At the same time, containing and controlling people on this basis requires that incredible social wealth, labour and services be diverted from community resources and infrastructures. 

In 2014-15, expenditures on federal corrections in Canada totaled approximately $2.63 billion. Since 2005-06, expenditures on federal corrections have increased 55 per cent, from $1.63 billion to $2.63 billion. This represents an increase of 51.5 per cent in constant dollars.

Provincial and territorial expenditures totalled an additional cost of about $2.21 billion in 2014-15. This represents an increase of 52.7 per cent since 2005-06. In constant dollars, this is an increase of 49.3 per cent.

Abolitionists have long pointed out that social resources would be better used supporting community care, harm reduction, health care, housing and community centres.

Carceral institutions are a social transfer

Social resources used to punish people in the way the Canadian state does represent a social transfer away from necessary social services that can make society and our communities healthier, safer, and more secure, towards institutions and practices that reproduce social inequality, and often reflect lobbying priorities of boards of trade and business improvement associations locally -- a transfer away from resources that might be most useful for poor and racialized people and communities.

Systems of racism, colonialism and class

Carceral systems in settler colonial states like Canada are not institutions of justice as preservationists claim. In reality, they are institutions of domination and control which operate on a basis of racialization and social stratification within a context of social class inequality. As only one example, the prisoner population in Canada had increased by 7.1 per cent over the five-year period up to 2013, with much of this increase coming from oppressed groups, such as Indigenous and Black people.

We can see this too if we look at incarceration rates for women, which increased by 60 per cent between 2003 and 2013, with marginalized Indigenous and Black women again being disproportionately represented in the Canadian prison population.

The majority of Black women are incarcerated for drug offenses, including so-called drug-trafficking, which many of them pursued, according to interviews with prisoners, in an effort to rise above poverty.

Indigenous women are Canada's fastest growing imprisoned population, with the rate rising by over 100 per cent between 2001 and 2016.

Conclusion

Abolitionists emphasize that penal systems (police through prisons) do not do what they claim they do. They are not institutions of public safety, they do not protect us. Realizing that a very small proportion of criminal justice activity actually deals with stopping or even responding to violence should help us better contextualize calls for defunding. 

Decriminalizing drug use, survival strategies, sex work and other activities authorities view as nuisances would allow for defunding and dismantling large parts of carceral systems right now.

Knowing that the carceral system serves functions other than those preservationists claim for it should be at the forefront when we think about defunding those systems, including police. And, it should cause us to ask what exactly we are funding in the first place.

Image: Larry Farr/Unsplash

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[l] at 7/23/20 12:13am
David J. Climenhaga Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta’s Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange during a news conference on May 28, 2020 (Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr)

Alberta has been relatively lucky up to now with the impact of the global coronavirus epidemic on its population.

Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government are ready to bet your life that good luck will continue.

Desperate to relaunch the economy but ideologically opposed to spending much money on government services to make the re-opening safe, the premier and his party are determined to send three quarters of a million children and youths back to school in September -- never mind the troubling midsummer surge in COVID-19 cases hitting the province right now.

Don't worry about it, Kenney implied during Tuesday's daily COVID-19 briefing, at which he trotted out Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to announce the school reopening plan, which sounded pretty much like any other year's back-to-school plan.

"The overwhelming evidence is that schools can be operated safely with little health risk for children and teachers and low risk of causing serious outbreaks in the communities that surround them," the premier told the credulous media on the phone lines, pointing to studies this spring from several European countries.

Europe isn't Alberta, of course, and for some reason Kenney didn't mention the large South Korean study cited by The New York Times on July 18 that concluded "children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do."

In other words, the Times cautioned, "the findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages."

So despite the premier's confidence, the auguries are not auspicious for a reopening in which school operations will be "nearly normal" and the government isn't prepared to spend the money needed to ensure physical distancing, more aggressive cleaning or even to provide masks, let alone require students to wear them.

Nor have been Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw's reassurances been particularly reassuring lately.

"We heard from Albertans that they didn't need formal restrictions to protect each other," she tweeted yesterday. "Now is the time to show that is correct."

"The best way to have safe & healthy schools this fall is to start the school year with a low count of cases," she continued. "New measures will require students & staff to monitor symptoms daily & stay home if they're feeling sick. Students must wash or sanitize their hands before & after entering school & classrooms."

Seriously? Remember, we're talking about children. You'd almost think the good doctor had been cooped up with the UCP's operatives so long she's come down with a case of Stockholm syndrome!

As former Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason responded to Hinshaw's commentary, saying that you've heard from Albertans is a political statement, something he knows a thing or two about, not a medical observation.

"You've now sanctioned the premature opening of packing plants, bars, and now schools," Mason said. "Cases are rising again. It appears you are taking orders from Kenny, NOT insisting on the best practices to control the spread."

When Alberta Teachers Association President Jason Schilling weighed in, he observed "government needs to set and fund clear and specific mandates for risk mitigation."

"Teachers just want the government to give us a fighting chance to make this work," he said plaintively. "We believe that with clear, supported measures schools could be a safe space for learning -- but outstanding concerns need to be addressed before that can happen."

Well, we'll have a chance to see a dress rehearsal of how this might work when the Kenney government calls about 10,000 nervous civil servants back to their offices, many of them as soon as next Monday.

They are grownups, after all, capable of understanding the risks and governing themselves accordingly. And their numbers are much smaller. If that small-scale dress rehearsal for September results in another spike in COVID-19 cases, it doesn't bode well for Alberta's fall and winter.

Which brings us to the question of what parents will do this September, and how the Kenney government will respond.

Will significant numbers of parents who have the means to make the choice keep their kids home and reluctantly home-school them until there's a vaccine?

Consider this, when schools remained open in Chicago during the 1918 influenza epidemic, absentee rates were 30 per cent by mid-October, and had hit 50 per cent by the end of that month. Of course, in those days, more households had only one breadwinner.

In Ontario, schools also opened that year in September, but some had to be closed again for periods of one week to three months in response to the epidemic, the report of the Ontario minister of education for 1918 noted. (In addition to the epidemic, a world war and the "call of Cupid" also hindered adequate staffing of the province's schools that year, the minister complained.)

If enough Alberta parents in 2020 keep their kids home too, will the UCP cut funding to schools with lower than expected enrolment? School funding is no linger adjusted based on the actual headcount, but it's hard to imagine this government in particular wouldn't be tempted to cut anyway.

And would that funding be restored when students start showing up again after their parents burn out or a vaccine becomes available?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr​

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[l] at 7/22/20 12:15pm
Philip Lee Chris Yang/Unsplash

Electronic tagging has always been controversial. Today it is being touted in the name of health security. 

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, intrusive monitoring tools adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic may further normalize the surveillance of individuals by governments and private entities. 

Governments have been promoting "wearables" (devices worn on the body) in their efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. But many such tools raise problems that may undermine the public health goals for which they are being adopted, and lead to unintended consequences for privacy, association and freedom of expression. 

"Wearables" can be mandated by the government or made voluntary (although apparently users don't always understand exactly what it is they're being asked to do). "Wearables" may contain an electronic sensor to collect health information (by measuring vital signs) which acts as an early warning to identify likely COVID-19 patients before they show any symptoms. They can also be used to detect and/or log people's proximity to one another (to enforce social distancing) or between the "wearable" and a person's mobile phone or a stationary home beacon (to enforce quarantine). 

For quarantine enforcement, the devices might also use a GPS receiver to inform authorities of the wearer's location. Some use Bluetooth radio beacons to let authorities confirm when the wearer is within range of a phone that is running a contact tracing app (rather than leaving the phone at home and going outside in violation of a health order). And some "wearables" may be low-tech wristbands carrying a QR code, which authorities may regularly ask the user to photograph with a mobile app. 

In Canada, a locally-developed Bluetooth-based COVID-19 contact tracing app is expected to be launched for testing this month. While federal and provincial officials have assured Canadians that the app will protect the privacy of those who download them, some experts and NGOs have expressed concern about possible risks.  

The app has the potential to create "a totally new class or form of surveillance," said Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.  

"Much has been made of the privacy protections built into the app, but we mustn't lose sight of the reality that being asked by the state to allow our contacts with others to be traced pre-emptively is a significant, unprecedented ask," said the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) in a statement to Radio Canada.  

"If there's one thing we know, it's that technology doesn't go backwards, and there's a real risk that if we take measures now that we consider necessary in the current state of emergency, it will be difficult to dial them back later unless the right legal, policy, and technical constraints are in place from the start," the CCLA also said in a publication released during the pandemic titled "Privacy, Access to Information, and You: The COVID-19 Edition.

The global market for wearable devices is expected to top $52 billion by 2022, the allure being that smart watches and other "wearables" act as an extension of a smartphone. They give instant access to apps, email, text messages and the web. That raises questions. Who gets to see all or part of the data? How securely are data stored? How much is divulged in the name of national security? 

The technical term the U.S. government uses to refer to tracking its citizens' movements is "physical activity surveillance." Privacy is not a priority -- and all the more so in other countries, such as China, where surveillance is aimed at state coercion and control. But hey, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you! 

Philip Lee is WACC general secretary and editor of its international journal Media Development. His edited publications include The Democratization of Communication (1995), Many Voices, One Vision: The Right to Communicate in Practice (2004); Communicating Peace: Entertaining Angels Unawares (2008); and Public Memory, Public Media, and the Politics of Justice (ed. with Pradip N. Thomas) (2012). WACC Global is an international NGO that promotes communication as a basic human right, essential to people's dignity and community. 

Image: Chris Yang/Unsplash

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[l] at 7/22/20 11:01am
Doreen Nicoll Lloyd Dirks/Unsplash

For the past 16 summers people have been flocking to the Hamilton Fringe Festival, an action-packed 12 days of non-juried performances that showcases over 50 companies in more than 400 performances of musicals, dance, comedies, magic shows, dramas and music.

This year, COVID forced the festival to rethink and reinvent itself. Organizers were up for the challenge and last night launched the first virtual What the Fest?! From July 21 to the 26th, artists will perform live shows that will also be made available online for ticketholders until August 9.

There are shows for adults, kids and even a free daily online series of live and pre-recorded events. If you really want to impress a date or celebrate a birthday in style, you can "skip the glitches" and order up a theatrical curbside delivery of a live performance for your special someone.

The mini-festival launched online this week with five live performances ranging from 20 to 35 minutes in length -- although one or two seemed like they were a never-ending story.

I highly recommend "Great Blue Dram," part of the "virtual piano bar" series. James Medeiros performed a fabulous selection of Broadway hits. Medeiros has a wonderfully adaptable voice and way of making you feel like you're sitting in his living room with him, his piano and your favourite drink.

Medeiros performs the music of James Bond on Thursday, July 23, followed by an evening of Britney Spears on Saturday, July 25.

Conspiracy of Michael, written and performed by Stephen Near is a monologue dealing with education, grief and parentage, but mainly the impact fear has on our decisions and lives. This play makes you think.

Waiting For Mark, performed by Diana DiMauro, Joel Haszard, Annie Massey, Rob Scavone and Harold Tausch centres around four mismatched people meeting up in a chat room discussing their lives and the issues of the day -- until Vlad arrives to take them home with the help of Mark.

Strange Bed Fellows, was strange, to say the least. Ilene Elkaim, Ryan Terera, Ray Rivers, Valeri Kay and Ridhi Kalra tell the story of a middle-age couple returning to Canada from the U.S. when their car breaks down, forcing them to quarantine with a random couple and their adult daughter.

It's a simplistic plot rehashing old and new issues through the lenses of youth and age. The daughters relied far too heavily the f-word, which didn't compensate for thin material.

When Karen Met Katnis – Femmepire was created and performed by Kitoko Mai, Claud Spadafora and Jesse Horvath. Apparently, the Hunger Games are not over, and somehow it involves Harry Potter.

I will never know the outcome, because I struggled through 14 minutes before shutting it down. The highlight of this effort was the over the top use of "WTF" (and this doesn't mean What The Fest?!) -- I counted 20 times -- and a misogynist joke that would have been better left unsaid.

All-in-all, not worth 20 minutes of my life.

What The Fest?! has made the best of a terrible situation and is providing a much-needed break from endless Zoom meetings and webinars and the daily grind of boredom. But it would be so refreshing to see writers and performers take a page from artists who performed 20 minutes plays during the regular fringe festival.

A couple of favourites that would be excellent online are plays like No Dick Pics Please or any of the stories from The Hamilton 7.

Still, I'm forever hopeful and will be tuning in again tonight.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image: Lloyd Dirks/Unsplash

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