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[l] at 11/13/19 9:04pm
November 13, 2019 National War Memorial in Ottawa. Image: Paul Gorbould/Flickr Balancing remembrance and memory in an age of anxiety All wars are fought twice, "the first time on the battlefield, and the second time in memory." What is often forgotten is the memory of those who were oppressed, exploited and unrecognized.
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[l] at 11/12/19 8:05pm
November 13, 2019 Care and community in times of crisis Reimagining and acting to create a better world can be a deeply positive experience. In the act of coming together, we can rewire the status quo so that taking care of each other becomes the norm.
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[l] at 11/11/19 4:14pm
November 11, 2019 On Remembrance Day, honour the fallen by working for peace When we commemorate the sacrifices of Canadians who have gone to battle over the years, let's honour not only the soldiers, but those who take risks to prevent war or to repair its damage.
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[l] at 11/8/19 12:42pm
November 8, 2019 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr Facing opposition from left, Democrats fuel impeachment mania The Trump impeachment frenzy in the U.S. among Democrats, especially by party heavies like Nancy Pelosi, makes zero sense on its face.
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[l] at 11/8/19 8:18am
Zaid Noorsumar Natalie Guitead (left) and Lyle Skrapek (right). Images: Used with permission

Natalie Guitead, 26, has been working as a janitor for three years now, and the job is beginning to take a toll. The physical stress from repetitive motions builds up over time, especially when she is lifting 22 kilograms worth of garbage.

"I'm always just bending down, picking up garbage and then dumping into my bin," she says. 

"And I notice at the end of the week, that I feel it in my back, or my arm is sore. And if it's a really bad day where there's a lot of heavy garbage. I just feel very exhausted."

Her current workplace at a commercial building in downtown Ottawa is better than some of the other locations she has worked in. 

"For our building, we have three people who work on one floor," she says. "So one [person] will take care of garbage and dusting. One will take care of washrooms, and then one employee will vacuum and mop floors. Whereas I've worked in other locations where I've done [all tasks] for one entire floor."

Addressing disparity in working conditions

The disparity in working conditions based on managerial whims inspired Guitead to join the Service Employees International Union's Justice for Janitors Council in Ottawa. 

In Ottawa, as in other cities, SEIU's J4J Council functions as a bargaining committee that negotiates a single city-wide contract with multiple employers. By having the major cleaning companies on one bargaining table, the union can push for higher standards across the board. 

"I got to learn that the standards that I may have in mine are not the same as at other companies. And, and it usually rings true that a lot of companies do not care about their employees, which is very sad," says Guitead.

The inconsistency in employers' expectations and treatment of workers take many forms. In the last round of bargaining earlier this year, the application of bereavement leave became an issue. 

SEIU ultimately negotiated a paid day off for bereavement that would apply in the case of a relative outside of the immediate family passing away, such as an aunt or uncle. 

"I know that if I had gone to my manager, I most likely would have gotten [the day off]," Guitead says. "It may not have been paid, but I would have gotten it for sure. Whereas others, they would not even be approved for that day."

Guitead points out that the norms vary depending on the employer and even the industry. Cleaners in hotel, for instance, have more demanding jobs. 

Based on her experience, Guitead can attest to the relative peace of fairer working conditions. At her current job, she cleans multiple floors but only picks up garbage and cleans glass walls. 

"The focus on certain tasks can really help with just keeping your general sanity," Guitead says with a laugh. "[Plus] time management and keeping your body in better shape."

The daily grind

One of the misconceptions about custodial work is that it's easy, says Lyle Skrapek, who has been working as a cleaner for 10 years and is an SEIU union steward at the federal government building where he works for a private contractor.

It isn't just the physical exertion of the job, but the pace at which janitors are expected to work that makes a difference.

Standards vary across the industry, according to Jorge Villa, an organizer for SEIU Local 2. In his own experience as a former janitor, a supervisor would use an app to determine the quality of work. 

"Most companies have a person who will go through your whole floor and they will estimate how much time it will take to clean it," Guitead says. "They usually do that type of thing on a yearly basis."

That assessment helps firms determine staff allocation. According to Guitead, experts consider how fast a person is able to work, as opposed to how long certain tasks take in a reasonable amount of time.

"Sometimes these experts will come back and say, these amount of floors should be done in four hours," she says. 

"When in reality, most employees might take four and a half hours. But they also don't think to say, if [the cleaners] had a long day at work, or if the day before they had to lift like 50 pounds [22 kg] of paper."

Her own pace has to be relatively fast, as she can't predict the amount of garbage on the next floor. For instance, if there has been an office party the day before, her work suddenly piles up.

Since cleaning companies' major expense is labour, and they win bids based on minimizing costs, the problem is systemic.

Villa says understaffing is a persistent problem across the industry, placing additional physical demands on cleaners.

"I work five hours, and I believe I'm supposed to get a half-hour break," Guitead says. "And the most I can even spare myself is about 15 minutes on a good day, five minutes if it's a bad day."

When asked how he would redesign the workflow of the job, Skrapek agrees that breaks can go a long way -- just a couple of minutes every hour. 

"Just to catch one's breath, you know -- do a review: 'Okay, I did this, what do I have to do going forward?'" he says. 

"Just a small break that allows the person to have a little bit of regrouping. Gives them that physical and mental rest. And it makes a big difference to do that and just go on for the rest of the day."

The physical challenges

The physical challenges of custodial jobs are hard to overstate. Skrapek says that sometimes at the end of the day, he feels like he has played a game of hockey.

"It's that same fatigue of, you know, 'Go go go,'" he says. "It's not the short, intense, hour to an hour and a half. It's stretched over a day but instead of skating and taking shots, you're mopping, sweeping and vacuuming. And with injuries it's like taking a body check or something -- it feels like that!"

In his first year on the job, before his workplace was unionized, Skrapek injured his back. 

"I was emptying my mop bucket and it slipped out of my hands," he says. "And as I tried to catch it, I fell down and injured my back."

Skrapek was fortunate enough that his employer paid for his physiotherapy as he didn't have benefits at the time.

"This was just before the union was coming in, but the company actually took pretty good care of me," he says. "They had a pretty good physiotherapist and everything [which they paid for] and I was pretty fortunate that way but now it solidifies that type of access with the union."

Workers are entitled to about $200 worth of physiotherapy per year, which amounts to four sessions. SEIU organizer Villa says it isn't a lot, but is important to workers nonetheless -- particularly those who get injured and await workplace insurance benefits.

Winning a pension

In the last round of bargaining, SEIU janitors in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver won pensions. Starting in 2022, one per cent of cleaners' pay will go towards the plan, with the employer matching that contribution. 

Guitead notes that it's a modest start, and will need to improve greatly during future negotiations.

"If you make 30,000 a year, then that's only $300," she says. "That's $600 after it's matched by the employer. And after 10 years, it's [only] six grand."

Villa agrees it's a small amount but says that the establishment of a plan alone is a win. 

He notes that other benefits and perks too began in a minimalistic fashion, but expanded with subsequent collective agreements. For instance, workers only used to have only one personal day several years ago compared to the four they have now.

With many SEIU janitors in their 40s and 50s, the pension plan will become increasingly important to maintain and expand. 

Future prospects

Skrapek's career trajectory took an unexpected turn when after completing a 17-month course in audio engineering from Ontario Institute for Audio Recording Technology in London, he had to move to Saskatchewan to take care of his ailing mother.

Custodial work was a "survival job" back when he moved to Ottawa and looked for opportunities in his field.

Over time, as he became involved with the union and assumed the role of a steward, the job became infused with more meaning. But he eventually wants to go back to audio engineering.

Guitead, too, has other prospects. She has been seeking event-planning opportunities as they arise, which alongside a nanny job supplements her 25-hour a week custodial work.

"I've already gone to school for event management, and hospitality management. So I'm most likely looking to do something in that field. It's just because I don't see myself working [as a cleaner] for the next 25 years," she says.

"I've been doing this for three years now. And I feel it -- I feel the pain. I even take days off just so I can rest my back."

Last week: Part 1 of rabble's series: "These Canadian Janitors Live to Work."

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Images: Used with permission​

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[l] at 11/7/19 1:02pm
Robert Hackett Poppies on National War Memorial in Ottawa. Image: Robbie/Flickr

Each year, we commemorate the sacrifices of thousands of Canadians who have fallen in battle over the years, including the heroic and necessary struggle to defeat fascism from 1939-1945. But I am mindful that the specific date of Remembrance Day -- November 11 -- marks the armistice that ended the First World War in 1918. For me, and doubtless for many others, that occasion poses a dilemma: how do we honour our ancestors' sacrifices in that horrific conflict, without celebrating the arguably needless slaughter in which they participated?

Both my grandfathers were career soldiers in the British army -- one a colonel, the other an eventual member of the Queen's honour guard. Amongst the heirloom plaques in our living room, one is a service commendation from Field Marshal Douglas Haig -- nicknamed the "butcher of the Somme" for sending thousands of young men over the top into deadly machine gun fire.

The best way to honour my grandfathers is to work to ensure that no future generation endures a similar hell. 

And yet, there are disturbing signs that a century after 17 million died in the First World War, some of the same ugly forces are re-emerging, like ghouls from a medieval graveyard.

Historians have long debated the war's causes. Was it inevitable, or did the European powers simply blunder into an avoidable catastrophe? Was it the systemic offspring of rapacious capitalism, or colonialist rivalry between European empires? Or were particular regimes especially at fault?  

But whoever lit the fuse, nationalism and militarism were clearly ingredients in the powder keg. Historian Gary Sheffield, who identifies Germany and Austria-Hungary as prime instigators, nevertheless concedes that the pre-war arms race "helped create an atmosphere of distrust between the powers that fed into the wider mood of militarism; not just readiness to use armed force in support of state policy, but the excessive admiration of military culture, deference to armed forces, [and] belief in the benefits of war."  

Militarism's equally evil twin was nationalism. Not the peaceful inclusive kind Gandhi practiced in leading India to independence, but rather, more virulent and chauvinistic varieties. Major European powers defined their identities via the possession of colonies. Within the heart of the European empires, minority nationalities rebelled against alien rule. However, they too often equated their own nation with a dominant ethnic group, relegating minorities to second-class status at best, and prizing national independence over other human values. 

That kind of ethno-nationalism is resurfacing in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere today. It is arguably in part a reaction against the breakneck globalization of "free" markets, which has generated wealth but also widespread economic insecurity and obscene levels of inequality. 

Ethno-nationalism builds on a media diet of stories demonizing supposed enemies, as well as deeper myths of cultural or racial superiority, of long-ago grievances demanding redress, of national victimhood and righteousness. Is today's Fox News much different from the "yellow press" of yesteryear?

War is rightly understood in relation to armaments, failed diplomacy, domestic political pressures, and economic interests. But we should also pay attention to structural violence -- such as the denial of dignity through poverty, social exclusion and racism -- and cultural violence. 

"We think others to death as we define them as the other, enemy, non-people," wrote historian E.P. Thompson in Protest and Survive. "The deformed human mind is the ultimate doomsday weapon."

Chillingly, that statement might apply to too many nations' leaders today who find ethno-nationalism a useful political device for maintaining power.

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau usefully distinguished between patriotism (love of country) and nationalism. Sometimes patriotism means standing apart from the crowd to oppose a lemming-like rush to disaster.

Let's honour not only the soldiers, but those who take risks to prevent war or to repair its damage. One example: Jean Jaures, the French statesman who foresaw the carnage that a European conflict would unleash, and worked tirelessly to prevent it -- until he was murdered by a nationalist fanatic in 1914. Another tragedy of 1914 was the international workers' movement's failure to fulfill its pledge to stop European war through a general strike.

My family walked in the largest antiwar rallies in history, on the eve of the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. Just as in 1914, it was fuelled by mass media-disseminated propaganda -- that Saddam Hussein's dictatorship was not only brutal (true) but had weapons of mass destruction, and was connected to al-Qaida (false).

Maybe excessive nationalism could be tempered by a peace curriculum that teaches students about their country's historical sins as well as achievements. When I attended public school, we learned nothing about residential schools, let alone internal colonialism more broadly.

Cultural change is a long-term process. The school curriculum is surely now more inclusive and accurate than in my day. Meanwhile, consider observing Remembrance Day with special ceremonies, like the one at Vancouver's Seaforth Peace Park, that commemorate refugees and other civilian victims of war, groups not normally included in traditional ceremonies.

I see this is a fitting way to remember the courage of our ancestors, but also the suffering and injustice associated with militarism and destructive forms of nationalism.

Robert Hackett is professor emeritus of communication at Simon Fraser University. He has published eight (mostly collaborative) academic books on media and politics, most recently Journalism and Climate Crisis in 2017. A version of this article was originally published in the Burnaby Now.

Image: Robbie/Flickr

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[l] at 11/7/19 9:34am
Zaid Noorsumar Protesting against the Ford Conservatives' planned cuts to education. Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr

Seventy-nine per cent of CUPE education workers have voted in favour of the agreement the union's bargaining committee reached with the Ontario government last month. 

The union announced the results of the ratification vote at a press conference at Queen's Park on Monday morning.  

The agreement retains $58 million in funding that the Ontario government had originally threatened to cut, while securing an additional $20 million. According to the Canadian Union of Public Employee (CUPE), 1,300 jobs have been saved as a result of this funding. 

CUPE represents approximately 55,000 support staff in the province including special needs assistants, early childhood educators and custodians.

Other terms of the agreement include an annual one per cent wage increase for workers, plus the maintenance of the current sick leave package, which had come under fire from the school boards.

The union attributed the reversal of the funding cuts to the solidarity between education workers, parents and students in the midst of massive cuts by the Ford government

"The message to the Ford government is clear," said Rachel Huot, a parent at Carleton Village Junior and Senior school, who shared the stage with CUPE representatives. 

"Families will not be pitted against teachers and education workers. We are united and together we can stop cuts and strengthen the public education system to build schools all kids deserve." 

Parents and students have participated in multiple actions over the last several months to oppose the government's education cuts, including a massive walkout in April and a province-wide rally on October 10. 

Other education unions are currently in the midst of bargaining, with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario having voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action

Lowest wages in the education sector: CUPE

Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), said that with the average union member earning $38,000, they were the lowest paid education workers in the province.

"When you have hydro going up 1.8 per cent and your wage only going up 1 per cent, it really highlights where there may be a problem," she said, highlighting the below-inflation wage increases.

When asked whether the government was unwilling to budge on wages, Walton said the union was focused on the services required by students. 

However, she referred to the "me too" clause in the agreement, which means that if other unions in the sector bargain higher wage increases, those would automatically apply to CUPE workers as well. 

"Now we're hoping that our colleagues and at other bargaining tables can take up the fight for wages," Walton said.

Next steps

While this agreement deals with broader issues such as wages and funding, the 109 local CUPE bargaining units will now mediate with school boards on issues including scheduling, pay equity and contracting out.

The province and school boards had been using non-unionized workers to do the job of CUPE members, Walton said.

Walton also highlighted that the union wanted to maintain a dialogue with the government on effectively investing in education, noting that there were many pending issues including violence against workers, maintenance of school buildings and protection of the kindergarten program. 

Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario president, said the agreement was an important step but systemic issues still need to be addressed.

"We will continue to keep the spotlight on the damage that chronic underfunding has done to Ontario's system of public education," he said.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr

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[l] at 11/7/19 7:45am
November 7, 2019 Peace River MLA Dan Williams being sworn into office. Image: Dan Williams/Facebook UCP gets ready to make its first move to restrict reproductive rights This ploy is a well-understood part of the anti-choice playbook, so it seems likely the bill is an attempt to find a way to limit access to abortion services and contraception.
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[l] at 11/6/19 6:50am
Alex Cosh Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced plans to meet opposition party leaders one-on-one on the week of November 11, amid signs he will continue governing from the centre-right after campaigning on the centre-left.

The goal of the meetings, Liberal strategist David Zimmer told CTV, is to help Trudeau figure out "what they (other party leaders) want from him to ensure their cooperation."

As conditions for any kind of agreement with the Liberals, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh indicated his party will demand action on introducing national pharmacare and that the government drop its legal challenge of Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's decision ordering Ottawa to pay compensation to Indigenous children and their families.

However, although some early reactions to last month's election results expressed excitement about the possibility of the NDP and Greens winning meaningful concessions from a weakened Liberal party, that prospect was quickly tempered by Trudeau's first policy announcements.

Two days after losing his majority, Trudeau said his first priorities were to proceed with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and to introduce what he calls "lower taxes for the middle class."

As economist Andrew Jackson wrote in National Newswatch, people earning as much as $150,000 per year will enjoy the full benefit of the tax cut, while those making less than $15,000 will receive no benefit. 

Plus, the plan will reduce poverty by barely 0.1 per cent, and create a $6-billion loss in public revenue -- funds that could be spent on social programs.

"Most progressives would prefer the Liberals to abandon their tax cut, and use it to fund other priorities such as investment in affordable housing, clean and renewable energy, public transit, public health care, child care, or post secondary education," Jackson wrote. 

"$6 billion added to seriously inadequate Liberal promises to fund a national pharmacare program would be sufficient to make the promise a reality."

Others pointed out that the Liberals' tax cut is similar to the one Andrew Scheer offered in the Conservative party platform. 

"While the Liberal plan is slightly more progressive than the Conservative proposal which provides the biggest benefit to the top decile," wrote Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist David Macdonald during the election campaign, "it's still not terribly progressive on the whole."

Looking ahead to the leader-to-leader talks, Conservative strategist Neil Brodie told CTV that in order to avoid an early election, Trudeau might rely on the NDP and Greens only to pass legislation on social issues, while counting on the Tories to support fiscal measures.

"Trudeau has enough dance partners in the House of Commons to move an agenda forward," said Brodie.

If Trudeau governs in such a cynical and opportunistic way, it's unlikely the NDP and Greens will be in a position to force many significant concessions from the Liberals. This reality has led to calls from some, such as Michal Rozworski, for a focus on mobilizing social movements outside of Parliament.

"The task now is to build up campaigns, organizations, and movements around demands that open up the left's newfound breathing space," he wrote on Ricochet.

In the meantime, an online Leger poll found that one-third of Canadians voted strategically in the election to stop another party from winning. Of those who voted Liberal on election day, 46 per cent said they considered voting NDP at some point during the campaign.

If Trudeau courts Tory votes for centre-right fiscal packages, then the Liberals' claim that they offer a real alternative to the Conservatives will become increasingly hard to sell to progressive voters -- perhaps even to those who weren't already turned off by the last four years of Trudeau's doublespeak and policy flip flops.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Adam Scotti/PMO

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[l] at 11/5/19 12:36pm
November 5, 2019 Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook Elizabeth May succeeded despite the barriers of first-past-the-post Given the built-in biases of our electoral system, it is a minor miracle that the Greens managed to win any seats at all in the House of Commons.
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[l] at 11/5/19 12:34pm
Karl Nerenberg Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook

Elizabeth May has stepped down as leader of the Green Party of Canada and will focus on her work as a parliamentarian, a role in which she has been exemplary. She will continue to act as leader of her three-member caucus, and will, no doubt, work hard to mentor her two rookie MP colleagues.

In her years as a leader, both on the political stage and in the environmental movement, May earned her reputation as a knowledgeable, determined -- and always candid -- advocate for the planet. Many opinion polls rated her at the top of the party leader standings. 

That favourable rating did not do the Greens much good when it came to winning seats in elections. In fact, given the built-in biases of our electoral system, it is a minor miracle that May’s party managed to win any seats at all in the House of Commons.

The German Greens’ experience provides a striking contrast

In the most recent Canadian election, Elizabeth May’s Greens, who ran candidates in most of Canada’s 338 ridings, won 6.5 per cent of the vote. That gave them only three seats, less than one per cent of the total. 

By contrast, the Bloc Québécois only ran candidates in Quebec’s 78 ridings, where it won a bit more than 7.5 per cent of the entire Canadian vote. That gave the Bloc 32 seats, more than 10 times as many as May’s party.

Contrast this to what happened in Germany in 1998. 

In the election of that year, the German Greens, led by Joschka Fischer, won a little over 6.5 per cent of the vote (as did May’s party in Canada this past October). But that percentage of the vote gave Fischer’s Greens 47 seats in the German equivalent of our House of Commons, the Bundestag, about seven per cent of the total.

Fischer went on to become a partner in the left-of-centre coalition government which Gerhard Schroeder, leader of the Social Democrats, put together. Schroeder became chancellor and Fischer vice chancellor and foreign minister, where he served with distinction for more than six years. 

Like Elizabeth May, Joschka Fischer often topped the polls as Germany’s favourite political leader. Unlike May, for Fischer that personal popularity translated into a significant role in Germany’s government.

If Germany had our winner-take-all, single member plurality (or first-past-the-post) system, the Greens would never have won even a single seat in the Bundestag. 

But the Germans have a mixed system. They vote twice: once for single constituency members, just like ours, and once for parties, with seats apportioned proportionately on a regional basis. In 1998, the Greens did not win any of the single-member, first-past-the-post seats. All of its 47 seats came from the party vote, distributed proportionately. 

The German mixed system has prevented what so often happens here in Canada: an excessive geographic concentration of support for political parties. 

If post-war Germany had adopted our system, its two main parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, would have become, in essence, regional parties, with the latter completely dominating the north and the former the south. 

We know all about that sort of geographic distortion in Canada. Just look at the recent results in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the Conservatives won all, save one seat. The Liberals had similar lopsided results, completely out-of-whack with the popular vote, in two elections in the 1990s in Ontario. 

If Canada had a blend of our first-past-the-post system with a balancing element of proportionality, there would now be a handful of NDP and Liberal members from Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Bloc’s parliamentary caucus would be somewhat smaller and the NDP’s bigger, and the Greens would have more than the 12 members needed for full-party status in the House.

The distortions of first-past-the-post exacerbate regional differences

The official line of the Ottawa power elite since the election is that first-past-the-post spared us the spectre of Maxime Bernier’s party (which was shut out on October 21) gaining a foothold in Parliament. 

That is false alarmism. 

It disregards the fact that nearly all proportional or partly proportional systems set a minimum popular vote threshold below which a party gets zero seats. Israel sets that minimum limit quite low, at 3.5 per cent. But even under that low threshold, Bernier’s Peoples’ Party would not have won a single seat this past October. 

In any case, one could make a good argument that the pernicious, distorting results of our first-past-the-post system far outweigh the possibility of electing a few fringe party MPs in a mixed system. 

Our system exacerbates and exaggerates regional differences. The incentives in the system motivate national parties to maximize their regional appeal -- which is what the Conservatives have done in the West. 

Worse, our system gives outsized rewards to geographically-focused parties such as the Bloc, while it punishes parties, such as the Greens, which seek to appeal to voters in all parts of the country on the basis of ideas and policies, not (real or perceived) regional grievances.

It is entirely to May's credit that she managed to make the Green party a relevant force despite the massive disadvantage of our skewed and undemocratic electoral system.  

The good news for all of us is that May is not leaving the House of Commons. And so, we can expect her to be a continuing and strong voice not only for the environment and serious action in the face of a warming planet, but for a long-past-due reform our electoral system.

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

Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook​
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[l] at 11/1/19 8:23pm
November 1, 2019 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with federal party leaders November 28, 2018. Image: Adam Scotti/PMO What does a Liberal minority government mean for Canada's internet? The verdict of the election is here. So what is going to happen to the future of digital policy in Canada?
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[l] at 10/31/19 8:11am
Zaid Noorsumar Enrique Turnainsky (left photo) and Martin Echevarrieta (right photo). Image: Zaid Noorsumar

Martin Echevarrieta finishes his eight-and-a-half-hour janitorial shift around 4 p.m. at a residential building in Toronto's North York area.

The 39-year-old is in charge of cleaning 22 floors, and takes pride in standing up to the rigours of the job. When initially recommended for the position two years ago, he was told that the employer wanted someone responsible who could handle the workload.

"I said, 'Why not?' Plus they give me good benefits plus a little more money [than my previous job]. But it's what I like. I like to work," he says, in his customary soft-spoken manner.

The management trusts him now, he says, crediting his strong work ethic. One day, he hopes to be promoted to superintendent.

After about a minute's drive, Echevarrieta unites daily with his old friend, Enrique Turnainsky, 63. The older of the two Hispanic men also finishes his cleaning shift around the same time. 

But they're not headed home, or meeting for an after-work drink at a bar or café. 

From 5:30 until 11:30 p.m., they lead the janitorial staff at a commercial building for a major telecommunications firm, where they have been employed for over a decade.

As the white collar workforce begins to empty out of the office tower, the two men start their second job of the day.

Reversing a pattern of disrespect

Turnainsky and Echevarrieta were part of the group who unionized in 2011, motivated by a toxic workplace atmosphere. Their organizing drive was part of the Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) cross-border Justice for Janitors campaign that has made gains for over 225,000 custodial staff in dozens of North American cities including Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto. 

As a union steward for SEIU Local 2, Turnainsky is the liaison between the management and workers. He is the point man for grievances, safety issues and any major problems that might arise at work. 

Echevarrieta is the lead hand, a cleaner who coordinates with the building management on day-to-day tasks for the janitorial staff.  

"The conditions at the workplace were stressful," says Turnainsky, recalling the period before unionization. "It was kind of abusive."

"Let's say if the workers didn't complete the job at the end of the shift, or if the workers didn't do a proper job, it was constant menace -- [the management would say], 'I want to fire you.' And they fired people, straight away," Turnainsky says.

Workers faced harassment in the form of insults, and from supervisors who often lurked and hovered, alongside a myriad of other issues such as staff being prevented from going on planned vacations at the last minute.

After unionization, the routine confrontations gradually gave way to a more congenial workplace, where the janitors asserted their rights, thanks to the language enshrined in their contract. 

"It took time to change the mentality, for them to follow the rules," Echevarrieta says.

Management reps were forced to adjust, but as a union steward, Turnainsky too had a learning curve. 

Over time he educated himself on labour laws, the Ontario Labour Relations Board's procedures and the provisions of the collective agreement.

"We started to know how to use the rights that we had through the union, and balance it with the obligation that we had to the company, right? This is so important," Turnainsky says.

The two have formed a workplace environment they are clearly proud of -- a cordial relationship between the workers and the employer, grounded in respect and relatively fair working conditions. 

An industry-wide problem

The harassment of custodial workers is rampant in the industry, according to Jorge Villa, an organizer with SEIU Local 2. 

Villa's insights are based on five years of experience dealing with the problems of custodial workers in Ottawa and Toronto. The union represents close to 6,500 janitors across the two cities.

He says management's prerogative is to get the job done, and they will hire supervisors who can be enforcers in the workplace. In that sense, unfriendliness can be an asset for prospective middle-managers.

"The supervisors only care about getting the work done. So if that means yelling at somebody, or being a little mean to them, or doing anything to get them to hurry up, that's all the supervisor really cares about. And that's all the company cares about," Villa says. 

"As long as work's getting done, it does not matter if the worker's going through hell every day, you know. If they are losing their mental health by being in this workplace, it doesn't matter at all."

The largely racialized, female and immigrant workforce can make for easy prey. Villa says that newcomers in particular can be targeted because they may not necessarily be informed about their own rights. 

While having a union helps, it doesn't provide blanket protection. Villa says he often has to guide workers on documenting abuse, in order to file official complaints. 

He finds that when workers take a stand and file formal complaints, management often backs down. However, for workers in precarious situations who are desperate for work, and relatively new to Canada, challenging authority at the workplace isn't simple -- especially when employers use a range of range of divisive, anti-union tactics.

Among the management's bag of tricks is to hire supervisors who can favour workers from their own racial group, in order to disenfranchise other workers. 

"If there's a group of Filipino and Spanish speaking workers in the building, they might try to get a Spanish-speaking supervisor to split the workplace," Villa says. 

The role of the union's workplace leaders becomes imperative then, in maintaining a sense of cohesion and unity, which can be a powerful force to overcome.

"When it works, it really works. It's a great sight to see the diversity and everyone working together to lift everyone up," Villa says.

Solidifying their gains

Over the years, aside from providing a channel for amicably resolving workplace conflicts, the union has brought in better health and safety standards at Turnainsky and Echevarrieta's office building. 

Workers have guidelines in respect to using cleaning chemicals and detergents, their application, the use of gloves, safety equipment and so on. 

"Back then, they were using the vacuum maybe with the wire cut," Turnainsky says. "Right now [they can't do that], we have a committee."

"If you don't have a union, some companies don't care about [health and safety]," he says.

Turnainsky and Echevarrieta illustrate a transition whereby workers have gone from being disposable to having their humanity respected.

"Sometimes people do disgusting stuff in the bathroom," says Echevarrieta. "Before you had to clean it. Now you have a choice. You can say, 'I'm not comfortable.'" 

If they find themselves in such a predicament, janitors have access to a protective suit and a mask. Or if there is a stain that is too high on the wall, they have the right to get a ladder and be accompanied by a colleague to ensure their safety. 

Working hard -- and struggling

Even as Turnainsky and Echevarrieta can celebrate the evolution of their workplace environment, low wages continue to be a persistent problem across the industry. Janitors represented by SEIU typically make between $14.95 to $16 an hour, with some reaching a high of $17.75 at the end of the latest three-year contract in 2022.

Inadequate pay is the reason for their 16-hour work days. Neither of them complain much, accepting their grueling schedules as normal in the exploitative system of low-wage work for racialized immigrants. 

Turnainsky was studying to become a lawyer in Uruguay before political turmoil forced him to emigrate in 1989. Custodial work was his source of survival.

Echevarrieta arrived from Argentina in 2005 to follow in his father's footsteps, who worked as a janitor besides briefly operating a trucking business in Canada.

For someone who began working at age 11, Echevarrieta is accustomed to a life of hardship. 

"Every day that I wake up, life is a struggle," he says matter-of-factly, when asked about his work schedule. 

"[It's a] surprise for my co-workers to see me in the morning so happy. I have problems too. I leave my problems in the car or my house," he says. "But I try and make it better for me. And I like what I do."

Enjoying work is a theme that comes up in conversation with the duo every so often. 

Echevarrieta takes pride in his obligation to work, and keeping his employers happy. 

"I don't say, 'Oh no, it's not my job, this is not my responsibility.' When you [want] something [to be done], we have to respond."

At both jobs, his managers also entrust him with responsibilities, which grants him autonomy and a measure of respect.

That empowerment allows him to push back on behalf of his team, when the demands of management are overwhelming.  

Much as it's understandable that in some ways the job works for Turnainsky and Echevarrieta, surely there is something wrong with a system that necessitates people working 70-hour weeks to provide a decent standard of living for their families?

Turnainsky agrees.

"That is a part of the societal problem -- the organization of the country," he says.

"If you [and your wife] want to work only eight hours here in Canada right now -- probably your life will be just from the work to your place. Pay the rent, pay expenses a little bit, but probably you are not allowed to go on vacation, to enjoy your life because why? Because here, it is too expensive."

"If you have children or you want to help children with university or college, you have to do what Martin [Echevarrieta] and myself are doing," says Turnainsky, who helped pay for his daughter's education at Toronto's Ryerson University. 

The spiralling costs of living essentially require people in the low-wage sector to work themselves to exhaustion and forgo time with their families, if they are to have any hope of upward mobility.

The same old fears 

Over the years, SEIU has substantially improved working conditions for its members in Ontario -- including several victories on the bargaining table such as health benefits, personal days and a recently won pension plan. 

However, inadequate wages continue to profoundly impact the lives of janitors, and others in low-wage jobs. As a recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study showed, minimum wage workers cannot even afford to rent a modest one-bedroom apartment in major Canadian cities. 

The ability of unions to fight for fairer wages is, however, constrained by larger systemic forces.

Janitorial work is handled by cleaning companies that bid for contracts for government-owned and commercial buildings. Contracts are awarded to the lowest bidders, who minimize costs through low wages and understaffing. 

"When the contractor wins the bid, 99 per cent of times they've outbid the existing contractor [through underbidding] to make more money," says Luis Aguiar, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, who has extensively researched janitorial work.

"One of the key features of [contracting out] is to make a profit on the back of workers, and especially those most vulnerable," he says.

In a particularly blatant recent example, a new contractor at a downtown Toronto condo attempted to drastically reduce the benefits and compensation package of five Filipino cleaners, ultimately locking them out of their jobs for months. 

The conception of the work as "dirty" and low-value, and the largely new-immigrant, racialized and female workforce, helps normalize the societal discourse of the "unskilled" workers who must "work their way up" to achieve a better standard of living. 

This narrative works particularly well if it can be internalized by immigrants themselves.

"When I come to Canada, my father sit with me and he said to me, 'Martin. This is not your country. You have to respect this country. This is like we are born again,'" Echevarrieta says.

The undervaluing of their labour, and the invisibility that has become intrinsically tied to custodial workers -- due to the interplay of gender, race and immigrant status as well as the predominance of night-time work -- helps perpetuate systemic discrimination. 

And then, despite the many successes of Justice for Janitors, the jobs themselves are intrinsically precarious. Since cleaning jobs at offices are predominantly done after regular business hours, most of SEIU's members work part time and require other sources of income. 

To be sure, workers like Turnainsky and Echevarrieta have made their jobs work for them, through the support of their union. Due to their sacrifices, their children can live a better life.

But there is a vulnerability to low earnings that is not lost on those who have traditionally been consigned to the margins of society.

In regard to implementing discipline among his three children -- doing chores, being financially prudent -- Echevarrieta says that his wife jokes that he is a dictator at home. 

"I say, 'You don't know what's gonna happen. In the years coming, maybe it's gonna be hard.' You never know, they need to be prepared."

Next week: Part 2 of rabble's series: The Physical Challenges of Being a Janitor. 

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Zaid Noorsumar

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[l] at 10/31/19 7:12am
October 31, 2019 Joe Brusky/Flickr Youth lawsuit draws attention to climate crisis A group of youth activists decided marching isn't enough. The 15 youth, ranging in age from seven to 19, are taking the federal government to court. Forget settlements, their goal is climate action.
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[l] at 10/29/19 2:16pm
October 29, 2019 Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr Canada's Conservatives: Republicans or Tories? In election 2019, the Conservatives ran a campaign mimicking U.S. Republicans: presenting themselves to voters as a low-tax, anti-government party, comfortable with a social conservative agenda.
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[l] at 10/28/19 12:25pm
October 28, 2019 Green Party of Canada/Twitter What happened to the Green party on Vancouver Island? The Greens' pan-ideological approach might partly explain why the party struggled to make new gains in an NDP-dominated area like Vancouver Island.
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[l] at 10/28/19 12:17pm
Alex Cosh Green Party of Canada/Twitter

This year's federal election campaign looked like a perfect storm for the Green party to make substantial gains, particularly on the party's home turf of Vancouver Island. However, on election night, the Greens only managed to hold on to their two seats in British Columbia, while winning a third in New Brunswick.

At the start of the campaign, the political landscape looked favourable for the Greens. The Liberal party called the election with Canada on course to miss its greenhouse gas-reduction targets (which were set under Stephen Harper), the continuation of fossil-fuel subsidies and with a $4.5 billion diluted bitumen pipeline project in the federal government's possession. The NDP, meanwhile, initially struggled to articulate a clear position on fracking, particularly in regards to the B.C. NDP government's liquefied natural gas projects. That issue, observers said, was partly to blame for the NDP losing a byelection to the Green party's Paul Manly in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

All the Green party had to do, it seemed, was champion its flagship commitment to reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels, while offering a coherent set of proposals to address other major issues, such as the lack of affordable housing, the urgent need for a national drug-coverage plan and the shortage of childcare spaces.  

As the campaign got underway, the Green party came out with some positive proposals: it promised to introduce universal pharmacare, in addition to dental care for low-income Canadians. The Greens also pledged to work with provinces to create more childcare spaces, and was the only party that said it would expand access to safe abortion services.

However, several policy areas could have been much more ambitious. For example, the Green party's housing platform, while promising to build 25,000 new units of dedicated affordable housing per year, offered half the equivalent supply proposed by the NDP. The Greens pledged to work towards zero-carbon public transportation, but made no mention of working towards fare-free transit. The party has also faced criticism over its approach to Indigenous issues, and for lacking concrete policies for combating racism (like abolishing carding).

By the Greens' own admission, they are a political movement that actively disavows ideological categorization, running instead on what the party calls "evidence-based policy." They celebrate cross-partisanship, and recruit voters and candidates from all major political parties: Manly is an ex-NDP member; the party's Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke candidate David Merner ran for the Liberals in 2015 and leader Elizabeth May once served as a senior policy advisor to former Progressive Conservative environment minister Thomas McMillan. 

The Greens' pan-ideological approach might partly explain why the party struggled to establish itself in an NDP-dominated area like Vancouver Island as a solidly "progressive" force capable of synthesizing a comprehensive program for tackling the climate emergency with struggles for economic and social justice. Or, to put it another way, the Greens had difficulty shaking off the charge that they remain a single-issue party.

"I think what gets exploited is their focus," said Alexander Netherton, a political science professor at Vancouver Island University. "The Greens had a good start. It was aided by international social movements, and the Extinction Rebellion and so forth. But the danger of that is that they get painted into, as they always do, no matter how comprehensive they are, a one-act show, a uni-dimensional party."

In the last days of the campaign, the NDP distributed thousands of leaflets across southern Vancouver Island quoting May saying she was open to working with a Conservative minority government, and highlighting the Greens' confusing statements on whipping votes on the issue of abortion. While criticized as a dirty tactic, that strategy may have may have spoken to some voters' preconceptions of the Greens as "conservatives on bikes," and cost May's party votes in some key ridings.

"May and the Greens strongly refuted [the leaflets] as incorrect or misleading, but it probably contributed to the perceptible last-minute decline of the Greens and growth in the NDP in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke and in Victoria," said Jamie Lawson, a political science professor at the University of Victoria. "Given the coverage of the B.C. Greens initial openness to talk with both the NDP and the B.C. Liberals after the last provincial election, given the historic pattern of the Greens being successful with former Conservatives and Liberals in wealthier constituencies, this probably struck some key constituencies as plausible, but unworthy of their vote."

Lawson also attributes the Greens lacklustre electoral performance to the party's comparatively limited resources, costing errors in the party's manifesto (which raised red flags with the Parliamentary Budget Officer) and the fact that the NDP won over ex-Liberal voters disillusioned with Trudeau's policy flip-flops over the last four years. 

"Their polling was going up in B.C. while Liberal support was going down. That would have reinforced their position against the Greens."

It's also fair to say that Green party was, once again, ripped off by first-past-the-post voting. Despite not making significant gains in terms of seats, the party more than doubled its popular vote share, and managed to increase its popular support in most ridings across Vancouver Island.

Notably, however, the party's support in May's riding, Saanich-Gulf Islands, slipped to 48 per cent (down from 54 per cent in 2015) -- the first time May's own vote-share decreased since she first won the seat in 2011.

Of course, Lawson notes, May still commands a majority in her riding that most MPs would "give blood for." 

"And that's without major party infrastructure of NDP, Conservative or Liberal scale to back her," he added.

Still, May's recent indication that she plans to step down as party leader before the next election might be a sign that the Green party's current approach to politics and ideology has run its course, and in need of a rethink -- especially if the party is to be taken seriously as part of a coalition in the fight against global warming and against social and economic injustice.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Green Party of Canada/Twitter​

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[l] at 10/25/19 2:55pm
October 25, 2019 Dennis Sylvester Hurd/Flickr Canadian voters express consensus across differences An impressive consensus, about 65 per cent, on basics like climate, was spread across at least four parties, determined to throttle each other.
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[l] at 10/24/19 11:47am
October 24, 2019 Ontario Power Generation's Sir Adam Beck Generating Complex. Image: Ontario Power Generation/Adam Beck Complex/Wikimedia Commons Linda McQuaig on how private enterprise took over Canada's public wealth McQuaig's new book "The Sport and Prey of Capitalists" tells the story of how politicians have gradually ceded our country's public goods to private capital.
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[l] at 10/23/19 3:16pm
October 23, 2019 Justin Trudeau/Facebook Trudeau should now work with NDP and Greens on a progressive agenda To give his weakened party a greater measure of legitimacy, Trudeau might want to govern in such a way that takes into account all progressive voters, not just those who voted Liberal.
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[l] at 10/22/19 12:16pm
Karl Nerenberg Justin Trudeau/Facebook

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's plea for progressives to vote strategically -- echoed by many voices on social media -- appeared to work on election day. 

Trudeau will remain prime minister, with a strong minority of seats in the House -- 157, thirteen short of a majority -- even though his party dropped by six points, to second place in the popular vote. 

The Liberals lost seats in almost every part of the country, with the significant exception of Ontario. The unpopular Doug Ford Conservative government in Ontario helped win the election for Trudeau's federal Liberals.

Andrew Scheer's Conservatives picked up more than 20 seats, mostly in the West, where they swept Saskatchewan and won every seat in Alberta, save one for the NDP in Edmonton Strathcona. 

Nationwide, the Conservatives got a bit more than a third of the popular vote, about a quarter million votes more than the Liberals. Based on the popular vote, Scheer is claiming some sort of moral victory. That and 25 cents won't get you a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons. 

More important, this result does not have Conservatives calling for electoral reform. They know our first-past-the-post electoral system gives them their best shot at ever winning a majority of seats. Few voters for the other parties -- the Greens, the New Democrats and the Bloc -- would choose the current hard-right, anti-environmental incarnation of Canadian conservatism as a second, or even third or fourth choice.

Andrew Scheer tried to encourage his supporters by saying this election reminds him of the 2004 vote, in which Liberal Paul Martin was reduced to a minority, after more than a decade of Liberal rule. Two years after that, enough Canadians rejected a tired and scandal-plagued Liberal party to give Stephen Harper a minority win, the first of the Conservative's three electoral victories. 

Justin Trudeau seems to believe he is one election away from another majority

From the tone of his speech, it was clear Justin Trudeau was thinking not of 2004, but of his father's bare minority win in 1972. That year, Pierre Trudeau's Liberals lost seats everywhere except Quebec and ended up only two seats ahead of the Progressive Conservatives. 

The Pierre Trudeau Liberals went on to govern as a minority. Prodded by the NDP, which held the balance of power, they enacted such progressive measures as the creation of a government-owned oil company, Petro-Canada (which has since been privatised). In the subsequent election, two years later, the Liberals roared back to a renewed majority, while the NDP lost half its seats.

Justin Trudeau hopes history will repeat itself for him. 

Indeed, in his victory speech the younger Trudeau sounded as though he thinks that is a foregone conclusion. Even Liberal supporters were taken aback by the current prime minister's lack of humility.

While Trudeau was speaking, one long time Liberal backroom operator took to Facebook to say: 

"I'm sorry, but I'm listening to my leader, whom I support, saying we have a strong mandate. We don't. I want us to acknowledge that, and do stuff the 'centre' may not want, but people do. We're lucky Canada. We dodged a bullet tonight. But folks want us to step up to the plate. They want us to really speak for them."

When his own supporters fear that he is tone deaf and arrogant on election night, a party leader should take note. 

Yet another skewed result

First-past-the-post did its usual work in this election. 

It gave the Bloc, whose vote was 7.7 per cent, more seats than the NDP, which had about twice the Bloc's votes. 

The Greens were about a point behind the Bloc at 6.5 per cent, but won only three seats to the Bloc's 32. It was a disappointing result for Elizabeth May's party, but they can take consolation in having won a seat in New Brunswick, added to their two on Vancouver Island. 

Green Leader May is philosophical. She notes how hard it is for a party that seeks support based on policy ideas, rather than narrow regional appeal, to break through under the current electoral system.

The result, on the face of it, is also a disappointment for the NDP, which lost all save one of its seats in Quebec, lost all of its seats in Saskatchewan and was reduced to six seats in Ontario. 

The New Democrats had hoped to win back some of the Toronto seats they lost in 2015, but that did not happen. Voters in those downtown ridings, which have swung back and forth between New Democrats and Liberals in recent times, told this writer that they chose to hold their noses and vote for Trudeau's party, despite their disillusionment with the Liberal record. This was not because they feared Conservative wins in their areas, but because they wanted to avoid the uncertainty of the Conservatives winning more seats overall than the Liberals.

Late campaign opinion polls had raised expectations for at least a mini-Orange wave for the NDP. Instead, for Jagmeet Singh's party it was more of a save-the-furniture election.

Still, despite losing 20 seats compared to its 2015 result, the NDP might be in a stronger position now than it has been for a long time. 

New Democrats were real winners; the Bloc, losers

Montreal political philosopher Daniel Weinstock, a professor at McGill, took to Facebook after the vote to argue that the NDP were actually the big winners on the election.

"The point of an election, "Weinstock wrote, "is to find yourself in a position where, when the dust settles, you can exercise some influence over the process of policy-making."

In that light, the political philosopher concluded, the New Democrats "are the natural dance partner for the Liberals, which will heighten their visibility and influence over the next Parliament. As long as they don't succumb to the temptation of a formal coalition, they can retain their identity, push the Liberals in the direction of good policies like pharmacare, and then be able to claim credit for having made minority government work in the next election."

As for the Bloc Québécois, the McGill professor believes they were, in reality, the big losers. 

"They didn't win enough seats to make themselves indispensable," Weinstock wrote. "They are caught on the horns of a very unattractive dilemma. They can either play obstructionist, without the power to actually obstruct, and achieve exactly zilch for Quebec. Or they can play ball, and do exactly what Blanchet said they wouldn't do, which is to show everyone that federalism works."

In his election night speech, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet pretty much dropped his environment-and-social-justice-advocate mask. His only (indirect) reference to climate change was to say he opposes any pipelines crossing Quebec.  

Instead of the climate and the fate of the planet, Blanchet -- a former Quebec environment minister -- talked at length about what in Quebec they call les enjeux identitaires, identity issues. He placed his greatest emphasis on his party's support for Quebec's Law 21. That measure denies basic rights to citizens on the basis of the way they dress. 

Justin Trudeau set a dubious record in this election. He won a notional victory with the lowest proportion of the popular vote of any winning party in Canadian history. 

On election night, Trudeau seemed to recognize this difficult fact when he alluded to a "victory for progressives," which would include the NDP and Green vote, as well as his party's. Together the three so-called progressive parties won about 55 per cent of the popular vote.

Can Trudeau send Butts packing and govern collaboratively?

To give his weakened party a greater measure of legitimacy, Trudeau might want to govern in such a way that takes into account all progressive voters, not just those who voted Liberal. 

To impress the more than a fifth of the voters who chose New Democrats or Greens, and the many who voted Liberal more out of fear than enthusiasm, Trudeau will want to look at measures that address income and wealth inequality, that enhance the social safety net, and that push Canada more quickly toward a zero carbon future.

That will take a transparent approach to policy-making, a willingness to listen to experts, and a readiness to collaborate with other parties. 

Trudeau might also consider reviving the electoral reform agenda, an article of faith for both New Democrats and Greens. 

Adopting some form of electoral reform, even Trudeau's own option for a preferential ballot, would mitigate against any party seeking a narrow majority victor, with only 38 or 39 per cent of the vote.

The smart-set talking heads on mainstream media say electoral reform is dead on arrival. On election night they said even the Greens and New Democrats have other priorities now. But Trudeau might want to show some visionary leadership and prove them wrong.

To succeed in his new role as head of a minority government, Trudeau will have to abandon the tight Prime Minister's Office's control he exercised after the last election. 

Jody Wilson-Raybould will be sitting in the next Parliament as the sole independent MP. Her presence should remind Trudeau, daily, how operating his government like a backroom cabal -- after promising the exact opposite -- caused him so much grief.

In this new Parliament, Trudeau will have a chance to foster open, transparent and candid discussion of legislative proposals to deal with the huge challenges Canada faces, in the House and, even more important, in parliamentary committees. Will he take that opportunity, which might only come once?

For starters, Justin Trudeau might find it useful to lose Gerald Butts' phone number. 

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

Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

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[l] at 10/22/19 8:13am
October 22, 2019 Justin Trudeau/Facebook Liberals lose majority in election 2019, will dominate minority Parliament After a short and difficult election campaign, the Liberals won 157 seats, 27 fewer than in the 2015 election but enough to form a minority government.
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[l] at 10/21/19 10:10am
October 21, 2019 Climate strike activists in Edmonton. Image: Paula E. Kirman Indigenous voices raised at Edmonton climate strike Greta Thunberg helps amplify, but is not the true centre of protest.
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[l] at 10/21/19 10:03am
Alex Cosh Svend Robinson/Twitter

This year's federal election began with a bleak outlook for the NDP. At its lowest points, the party was lagging in polls, struggling to raise campaign funds and facing questions about whether it would win enough seats to hold onto official party status in the House of Commons. However, a recent surge in support for leader Jagmeet Singh has improved the NDP's chances of winning seats in some key Liberal-held ridings.

Whether or not victories in those ridings will be enough to produce a net increase in the NDP's overall seat count remains to be seen. Vote splitting with the Green party might put some NDP-held seats at risk on Vancouver Island, for example.

Still, given the real possibility of today's election giving no party a majority, turning (or keeping) even a modest number of seats orange could put the NDP in a solid position to discuss a power-sharing deal or confidence and supply agreement with other parties.

Here is a brief (and by no means exhaustive) selection of ridings to keep an eye on as election night unfolds.

Burnaby North-Seymour

Former longtime Burnaby MP Svend Robinson returned to federal politics in January, championing radical climate action and vowing to tackle the housing affordability crisis head on. He was also a leading voice in calling on Singh to oppose British Columbia's fracking and liquefied natural gas projects, after the NDP lost a byelection to the Greens.

Robinson's lifelong dedication to environmental causes earned him high profile endorsements from David Suzuki, Tzeporah Berman and former BC Green party leader Stuart Parker.

However, although federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May appears to be supporting independent Jody Wilson-Raybould's candidacy in Vancouver Granville (despite the Greens officially running their own candidate in the same riding), May didn't extend the same support to Robinson. 

Another key factor in this riding is the awkward standing of Conservative candidate Heather Leung, who Andrew Scheer tried to drop after an old video of her making homophobic and transphobic comments came to light this month. Despite attempts by Conservative HQ to remove Leung as the Tory contender, Elections Canada said it's too late to remove Leung's name from the ballot, and that all votes for her will still count as votes for the Conservative party. Will the Conservative vote (mostly located in the Seymour portion of the riding) predominantly break down in favour of the Liberals or the NDP -- or simply stick with Leung?

Either way, Robinson is in play to unseat Liberal MP Terry Beech. 

Winnipeg Centre

Leah Gazan won the NDP nomination for her riding in a campaign that observers likened to the rise of U.S. Democratic congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Gazan, like Ocasio-Cortez, ran a grassroots campaign to beat out a senior member of her party (longtime Manitoba MLA Andrew Swan). Gazan's nomination campaign tripled her riding association's membership.

Gazan is an Indigenous activist and self-described socialist. Back in July, She told The Tyee:

"I think we need to start looking at things differently. You know, the Liberal government bailed out a pipeline company for $4.5 billion. Why not invest that in something like a guaranteed annual liveable income, free tuition for postsecondary students? I think that we're at a point where we are living in a growing corporate dictatorship where the value of human life and human beings and the value of the environment means less than the wealth and prestige and power of big multinational corporations."

In the same interview, Gazan also emphasized the value of "people power," the need to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the importance of placing indigenous rights at the centre of any Green New Deal.

The NDP lost Winnipeg Centre to the Liberal party's Robert Falcon in 2015 after holding the seat since it was re-established back in 1997. Polling suggests Gazan has a good chance of winning back the seat for the NDP. 

Ottawa Centre

Observers say Liberal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna's riding is among those that are too close to call. McKenna won the riding from the NDP in 2015 by a narrow margin, and this year faces a challenge from the NDP's Emilie Taman.

"We've been knocking on doors twice a day for seven months and you can feel, in the last three weeks, the shift," Taman told the Ottawa Citizen, last week. 

Taman narrowly secured the NDP riding nomination after beating Green New Deal advocate and progressive activist Graciela Hernandez-Cruz.

Also on the ballot, Green candidate Angela Keller-Herzog is staking out a position slamming the Liberals' hypocrisy on climate action and accusing the federal NDP of proposing a climate-action plan that "will not move fast enough." Reports indicate climate change has dominated candidates' debates in the riding.

Interestingly, both Taman and Keller-Herzog received endorsements from the electoral reform advocacy group Fair Vote Canada.

However, the two candidates representing parties who support electoral reform -- and radical climate action -- might end up splitting voters who favour change, potentially paving the way for a Liberal win -- such is the way of first-past-post. 

On the other hand, though, could Justin Trudeau's betrayal over electoral reform help depress support the Liberals' enough to tip the NDP over the edge in this riding?

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Svend Robinson/Twitter

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[l] at 10/20/19 11:41pm
David J. Climenhaga Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

If the Conservatives led by Andrew Scheer should win the most seats in the House of Commons tonight but Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refuses to hand over power on the perfectly reasonable parliamentary grounds he thinks he can command the confidence of the House, much of Alberta will go over the edge.

The almighty howl of fury Canadians would surely hear in such circumstances is what we get, I suppose, for not requiring students to attend high school civics classes to learn how our system of parliamentary government works.

It was deeply cynical and possibly quite dangerous for Scheer -- who, as a former Speaker of the House certainly knows better -- to claim that some kind of brand new parliamentary convention requires the party that wins the most seats in a multi-party Parliament automatically to form the government.

Not only is there no such convention -- that is, one of the unwritten rules our parliamentary system inherited from the United Kingdom -- there is one that says the opposite.

To wit: If the prime minister thinks after an election he can command the confidence of the House, the real parliamentary convention says he gets to try.

Such a first minister's effort may fail on an early vote of confidence, of course, as former Liberal New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant's did last year. But it was only after that happened that Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs got to lead the government.

Higgs remains the premier, so I suppose New Brunswick Conservatives must feel the system works as intended.

But as Scheer well knows, that's not the way things are likely to play out in Ottawa this time if a pizza Parliament with party representation thinly sliced is what we get tonight. This, presumably, is why the former insurance broker, or whatever he used to be, pulled this nonsense about a new parliamentary convention from his obviously fertile imagination and keeps repeating it as if repetition will make it true.

Nevertheless, you can also count on it that in such circumstances plenty of die-hard Conservatives here in Alberta would take Scheer at his word, or at least repeat his talking point, and say and do God knows what as a result.

Of course, if the shoe is on the other foot, and Scheer manages to cobble together a deal with the separatist Bloc Québécois to form a government, all you'll hear out here is the crickets. Or, actually, not even them, seeing as it's getting too cold at night now for  chirping.

But that's just the way we roll out here in Wild Rose Country.

If you doubt me, recall that once upon a time, in a Canada not so different from the one we may be living in tonight, the Liberals and the NDP signed an agreement to form a coalition government, with a side deal with the Bloc Québécois not to pull the whole thing apart at the first opportunity.

The outrage in Conservative circles in Alberta reached near hysteria. But that was then and a Conservative government was threatened, not threatening.

The year was 2008, and I suspect those Conservatives knew that if the deal had come to fruition, Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion might still be prime minister of Canada today.

As for Dion and Jack Layton, the NDP leader at the time, agreeing to sign a side deal with the Bloc, that was frequently described around here as treason.

Well, thanks to then prime minister Stephen Harper's unconstitutional but never challenged agreement with governor general Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament in defiance of convention, the Canadian people's assembly was prevented from fulfilling its democratic role, to the great relief of Alberta's Conservatives.

What happened since is well known and brings us to where we are today.

Indeed, if we face such circumstances tonight and we create a Venn diagram of Alberta Conservatives who viewed working with the Bloc in 2018 as outright treason and cutting a deal with them 11 years later a perfectly reasonable Parliamentary tactic, we will only need to draw one circle.

Only one prediction can be made with confidence about today's election: Whatever happens, Alberta is unlikely to be happy about it.

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 with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr​

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[l] at 10/20/19 11:11am
Paula E. Kirman Climate strike activists in Edmonton. Image: Paula E. Kirman

Edmonton's climate strike on Friday, October 18, was the largest protest in the city in recent history. Over 10,000 people took to the streets, marching through downtown demanding action on climate change. 

The day started with a march. March organizers asked Indigenous community members to lead the march to acknowledge the work they have done to advocate for air, land and water, and for their rights to take back their stolen land for decades. People of colour were also called to the front of the march -- in fact, anyone who wasn't Indigenous or a person of colour was asked to move to the back. Even Greta Thunberg herself was not front and centre. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist was almost inconspicuous as she marched near the back of the line along with other young participants. 

Just a few weeks before, on September 27, approximately 4,000 people took part in a climate strike which was also an incredible number of people for a protest in Edmonton. Thunberg's presence drew many more people out, but climate action is proving to be a subject that is mobilizing young people en masse. 

Those with disabilities often get left behind in large marches which often move too fast. Therefore organizers asked them to come to the front as the marchers moved slowly through the blocks leading to the Alberta legislature. The sheer number of people created some logistical issues, like the park where the march began getting very full, very fast. 

After moving for about a block, the pro-oil counter-protesters showed up to try to steal the attention. There were a few at the park, as well as a Rebel Media truck circling the area, which elicited some jeers but was otherwise ignored. The counter-protesters were part of far-right, fascist movements such as the Yellow Vests and Proud Boys. While the police circled on bicycles, the marshals at the front of the march joined hands to form a human buffer. 

Also attempting to disrupt was a convoy of a dozen trucks that drove up from Red Deer for the occasion. Police diverted them to other streets blocks away, and while their horns could be heard from a distance, eventually they were drowned out by the growing chants of the crowd.

So many people have felt threatened by Thunberg has had to say, that we had expected more opposition. 

Several thousand more people were waiting at the legislature for the march to arrive. The speakers were all young people and were mostly Indigenous and people of colour who spoke of the current climate crisis being the results of colonialism and unfettered capitalism. The talks centred on the resulting crisis for Indigenous people who are struggling for access to clean drinking water and disease-free food. There were several land acknowledgements, prayers, and songs, particularly from Chubby Cree, a local drumming group that performs at many social justice events.

Conspicuously, there were no political speakers and no one from the United Conservative Party (UCP) government attended. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney chose not to meet with Thunberg.

At the rally, Thunberg spoke last. She did not point her finger at any industry or political party. She did not even mention Alberta specifically, except to amplify the words of the Indigenous people who had already spoken. Thunberg emphasized that as a young person her future is at stake, action needs to be taken quickly, and pointed to the science that backs her statements. She also explained the need for such mass mobilizations. 

"If you think we should be in school instead, then we suggest you take our place in the streets," she said. "Or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process." The crowd hung on her every word. 

Yes, there were still counter-protesters, but they were vastly outnumbered and their booing and other attempts to disrupt were ignored. What cannot be ignored is the growing number of young people who are concerned and passionate about their future. What is encouraging is that they are working to build alliances with other climate activists rather than usurp their work.

Their pleas appear to be going unheard by Alberta's current government. The activists, however, are building strong coalitions and they will make a change. Many of those in attendance on October 18 who are too young to vote, will vote when the next provincial election comes around and organizing like this will bring people out to the polls. 

Paula E. Kirman is a journalist, filmmaker, musician and community organizer in Edmonton.

Image: Paula E. Kirman

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[l] at 10/19/19 4:55pm
Alex Cosh Andrew Scheer/Flickr

If there is any riding in this year's federal election that warrants strategic voting by left-leaning electors, it's surely Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's district of Regina-Qu'Appelle. 

Last week, an editorial in the Saskatchewan Herald asked "Could Andrew Scheer Lose His Seat to the NDP?" drawing attention to the fact that efforts to unseat Scheer "have taken on a new energy" following a national surge in NDP support.

"One always hopes for grassroots movements to really take off suddenly, and I'm kind of feeling that right now," NDP candidate Ray Aldinger told rabble.ca. "It feels positive."

Of course, every party leader can theoretically lose their seat in the House of Commons -- just ask former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. However, two important factors have sparked discussion about the possibility of Scheer losing his riding this election, even though it remains an unlikely outcome.

First, Scheer's district encompasses 12 First Nations. As both the local MP and leader of the Conservatives, Scheer has alienated himself from many of those Indigenous communities.

For example, his party sparked outrage when it voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2018. That move, some local First Nations leaders said, followed Scheer's long track-record of ignoring their concerns.

"There is a lot of concern in First Nation country of Mr. Scheer," David Pratt, a vice chief with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) in Saskatchewan, told CBC this month. "We don't feel he has done a good enough effort of reaching out to First Nations in his own home riding."

"If he didn't want to engage as an MP and Speaker of the House, who is he going to engage as the prime minister?" added Pasqua First Nation Chief Matthew Peigan.

Some Indigenous activists in Regina-Qu'Appelle are now reportedly campaigning for an NDP victory.

Second, Scheer's share of the vote in 2015 amounted to less than the NDP, Liberal and Green votes combined. In theory, if enough Liberal and Green voters decided to rally behind Aldinger, they could form an anti-Conservative voting bloc large enough to deny the Tory leader a seat in Parliament.

Scheer losing his seat would throw the Conservatives into disarray, regardless of how many seats the party wins overall on election day. On the one hand, some Liberal voters might be tempted by that prospect enough to strategically vote NDP, in hopes of locking out Justin Trudeau's main competitor for prime minister (it's easy to imagine some strategists at Liberal headquarters would be thrilled by that outcome, too). However, persuading several thousand Liberal voters -- in addition to at least a few hundred Greens -- to throw their support behind the New Democratic contender is a tall ask.

"The rural portion of this constituency has not voted for an NDP member since the late 1970s," noted Howard Leeson, political science professor at the University of Regina, adding that he thinks the prospect of progressive voters uniting behind the NDP is "not likely, but not impossible."

Jim Farney, also a political science professor at the University of Regina, agrees.

"'It's one of those ridings where there would have had to have been some sort of formal agreement between the NDP and the Liberals to not run candidates against each other,"' he told rabble.ca. "'If there was only one candidate from the centre or centre-left running against Scheer, then yes, it would be a very close race."'

"I don't see the possibility of those progressive parties co-operating enough to bump Scheer off, but I could be wrong," he added.

Besides the logistical challenges associated with pulling off such a feat, it's also not necessarily accurate to assume that all Liberal voters prefer the idea of an NDP MP over a Conservative.

Given that fact, creating a formal alliance behind a single "progressive" candidate is tricky, and perhaps not even desirable -- especially if it means watering down policies in an attempt to appease centrist liberals.

So, Scheer's seat appears to be safe -- at least for the time being.

"He won last time by a fairly sizeable margin, and it's hard to see how that changes this time around," said Farney. "As it is with that vote splitting, I think he's in a safe seat."

However, Farney said, both the mobilization of local First Nations and Scheer's lack of roots in the district could mean that Scheer becomes vulnerable down the road.

"I think if you mobilize Indigenous folks in the riding, they'd move against Scheer, but I don't know how strongly," Farney explained, adding that, having served as House Speaker and Opposition leader, Scheer can hardly be considered a local champion.

"Both because of his biography and because of the types of roles he's had in Ottawa … he's not deeply integrated into the province's politics. That dynamic might play in a little bit, too. He's not spent his career as a constituency MP."

While this factor likely won't be enough to cost Scheer his seat this time around, it might put him at risk in the event of a left-wing surge in a future election.

"If there was some sort of real landslide against the Tories, I don't think his riding would be particularly insulated," said Farney.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

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[l] at 10/18/19 12:48pm
Zaid Noorsumar beejees/Pixabay

In long-term care facilities -- also referred to as nursing homes -- experts recommend a minimum care standard of 4.1 hours. The number refers to the direct interaction between caregivers and residents per day. 

"I think [the 4.1 hour care standard] is very important. It's been proven by several studies that it's really the minimum that people should be receiving per day," says Melanie Benard, a director at the advocacy group Canadian Health Coalition.

According to the CHC, no province has an established guideline that meets that minimum standard. Jurisdictions such as Ontario -- where the quality of care is marked with high levels of violence -- do not have a standard at all. 

Other provincial guidelines fall below that standard. For instance, CHC points out that Manitoba's 3.6 hours of minimum care includes time spent on non-care related tasks such as staff meetings, training and administrative tasks. 

"We specify direct care because sometimes the calculations are based on any type of interaction for the residents, including things like doing laundry," Benard says. "And that is not direct care." 

Navigating provincial autonomy

While health care is a provincial matter, Benard says the federal government can provide leadership through adequate funding for Canada Health Transfers and setting national standards.

The NDP is the only party to call for a national care standard, but it hasn't committed to specifics. 

Malcolm Allen, former NDP MP and current candidate for the Niagara Centre riding says that a federal NDP government would have to establish a national standard in concert with the provinces. 

"We want to make sure that when we sit down [to negotiate] and we have that standard written, everybody's on board across the country saying, 'Yes, we're going to do it,'" he says.

Care standards and the profit motive

Any improvement in the direct care provided to long-term care residents hinges upon the level of staffing. However, staffing is also contingent on the ownership of homes.

Currently, 44 per cent of long-term care homes in Canada are owned by for-profit operators. In provinces like Ontario, where 58 per cent of facilities are for-profit, the government subsidizes all homes.

The CHC's report on seniors' care cites research from several provinces that indicates that government-owned and non-profit homes provide better care as they can afford to hire more staff. Conversely, for-profit providers tend to cut costs by hiring less staff. 

The overburdening of staff creates poorer outcomes not just for seniors but also for a largely woman-dominated, immigrant workforce that faces burnout, high levels of injury, and unsafe working conditions. 

Allen affirms the NDP's stance that health care should be delivered without the need to make a profit. 

"It's pretty simple arithmetic. [Having for-profit operators] simply costs additional funds because somebody has to drag a profit out of that," he says. 

"And if they don't drag it out by [the government] giving them more money, then they'll find ways to cut things around the edges so that they can do their business." 

According to Statistics Canada, for-profit companies in the residential and long-term care sector had a nine per cent operating profit margin in 2015. 

Rising costs 

The case for public ownership is made stronger by the cost projections of last week's National Institute of Ageing report, which estimates long-term care (including home care) costs would more than triple by 2050 to $71 billion annually from the current $22 billion. 

Benard says public ownership is one way of addressing costs and delivering care more efficiently, while also emphasizing better allocation of resources.

"The focus is always on how much things will cost but we also have to look at how much we'd be saving as well," Benard says.

"For example, we're already spending inordinate amounts of money by keeping people in hospital when they are ready to be transferred to long term care facilities or sent back home, but they can't access the home care they need [because of lack of funding]. So they're sent back to hospitals [which is more costly]."

A holistic approach

The CHC has called for a national care strategy for seniors that is based on a holistic approach. Targeted spending on seniors alone is not sufficient, it says, if the overall health care system is not well funded. 

Its recommendations include better federal funding, a national pharmacare plan, affordable housing for seniors and extending the principles of the Canada Health Act to long-term care and home care. 

The CHA makes federal funding for provinces contingent on public administration, accessibility, comprehensiveness, universality and portability.

"We're calling for the criteria from the Canada Health Act to be applied to seniors care as well," Benard says. 

When asked if an NDP government would consider amending the CHA to ban for-profit delivery of long-term and home care, Allen said the party would seriously need to consider the idea. 

"We need to take a good hard look at that and see what are the tools we can use to get ourselves and get the provinces to build the public option over time," he said. 

One of those tools would be educating the public. In his experience, people are generally not aware of profit-making in long-term care.

In Ontario, Allen says, people go through the local health unit to access care and don't interact directly with private companies. 

"We have to help folks understand the difference," he says. "Because when they know that, they'll go, 'Woah! Why are they making money off the backs of my mom and dad who need to live in a long term care facility?'"

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: beejees/Pixabay

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[l] at 10/18/19 9:36am
Karl Nerenberg alirjd/Flickr

The issue of wealth and income inequality has not been front and centre in the current election campaign. 

There has been much talk about affordability, which means rather different things to different people. Some worry about whether or not they can afford a new car or a new smartphone. To others, affordability is more of a life and death affair. They can't afford a safe, clean, decent place to live.  

Overall, the fact that wealth in Canada has become more and more concentrated in the hands of a very few, while incomes at the lower end of the scale have stagnated, has not elicited much interest from those charged with reporting on the 2019 campaign. There was not a single question on this issue in any of the televised debates. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did try to put inequality on the agenda, and the Greens' Elizabeth May followed him. Coverage of their campaigns tended to focus elsewhere, however. 

Journalists and pundits carried on about Singh's preternatural ability to connect with voters on a human level and about May's persistent tendency -- too strident for many commentators -- to sound the alarm on a warming planet. 

Affordable housing, taxing the rich and support for new parents

For those of us who think the increasing gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us is an issue, a Quebec-based non-partisan institute, l'Observatoire québécois des inégalités (roughly translated as the Quebec institute for the study of inequality) has graded the platforms of the various parties as to how effectively they address economic inequality.

The Observatoire brought together experts from both the U.S. and Canada and had them grade some key promises of all the parties, without telling them which parties had made them. The institute only found three promises for each party that were specific enough to grade in terms of their potential impact, positive or negative. 

Only two campaign planks merited an A grade from the Observatoire's expert panel: the NDP's promises to institute a one per cent wealth tax on fortunes over $20 million, and to create half a million new units of affordable housing over ten years.

The experts gave high marks to the Liberal pledge to extend paternity/maternity benefits to all new parents, even those who had not worked the requisite hours in the previous year. This measure will be a boon to those who work in the insecure, gig economy. They also liked the Liberal plan to increase the guaranteed income supplement for the poorest among senior citizens. 

For the Greens, the Observatoire said the pledge to make higher education free would significantly reduce inequality, as would the Green promise to abolish the tax deduction for stock options, which high paid executives often receive as a way of avoiding taxes. This is also a longstanding NDP idea. The Liberals announced a yet-to-be-instituted $200,000 cap on this form of remuneration in their most recent budget. 

Even the Conservatives get some credit for one proposed measure, the promise to lower the tax rate on the lowest bracket.

But the Observatoire gives the Conservatives a failing grade for their promise to restore the giant loophole the Liberals closed for so-called private corporations. High income professionals, such as doctors, often set up these incorporated entities to split their income with family members, by putting them on the payroll or paying them dividends. The corporate income tax rate is also lower than the personal rate. 

The organized business lobby gave Liberals a lot of grief for these tax changes. In response, Justin Trudeau's government softened the changes somewhat. It devised a way, for instance, to avoid unnecessarily burdening family farms with increased taxes. 

The Conservatives were not placated, however, and want to scrap the Liberal changes altogether, which will be of great benefit to the wealthiest earners. 

The Observatoire gives its lowest marks to Maxime Bernier's Peoples' Party, which pledges to balance the budget in two years through severe cuts to social spending. Evaluating that fringe party hardly seems to have been worth the effort, since they are likely heading for an electoral result of between one and zero seats. 

A tough choice on election day

The results of the Observatoire's exercise underscore the agonizing nature of the choice in this election for voters who care deeply about issues of social justice and equity. 

Some of them (that is, you) might be tempted to opt for Trudeau's Liberals, who are definitely not nearly as scary as Scheer's Conservatives. 

The current Trudeau gang are not the Chrétien/Martin Liberals of the 1990s, who obsessed over deficit and debt, refused to raise taxes on even the wealthiest of the wealthy, and brutally slashed transfer payments to the provinces for social services, education and health. 

The Justin Trudeau Liberals have taken at least a preliminary stab at making the tax system more progressive, have put some money into the pockets of the poorest families and have maintained and even modestly increased transfers to the provinces for basic services.

But Liberals are a slippery breed. 

They can be social justice crusaders one day and corporate sycophants the next. You never know which Liberal is going to show up. 

During the 1990s, the New Democrats had been reduced to a handful of seats in the House. The right-wing populist Reform party was the main opposition in English Canada, while, in Quebec, the ardently separatist and politically opportunist Bloc Québécois dominated. As a result, the Liberals of the day felt a significant pull to the right -- fueled by unabashedly pro-market-solutions mainstream media -- and their policies showed it.

Today, the caring and sharing Liberal party is on display, although the NDP -- and to the extent they focus on such matters, the Greens -- have much more root and branch approaches to building a society that is more fair, just and equal.  

The question for progressive voters is: Do they succumb to the invitation to vote strategically to head off the disaster of a Conservative government, or do they vote to keep the vacillating, self-styled party of the centre from slipping back into its big business, pro-profit and pro-corporate personality?

It will not be an easy choice. Good luck with it.

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

Image: alirjd/Flickr

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[l] at 10/17/19 8:48pm
October 17, 2019 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: 2017 Canada Summer Games/Flickr Liberals fear a progressive challenger more than they fear the right wing Author Martin Lukacs speaks about his new book, "The Trudeau Formula," which argues that progressive branding has played a huge role in Liberal party operations.
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[l] at 10/17/19 9:25am
October 17, 2019 Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook Trudeau could -- and should -- govern even if Scheer wins more seats Governing from second-place position is not common in Canadian history, but there is nothing untoward or abnormal about it.
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[l] at 10/17/19 9:20am
Karl Nerenberg Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

We are heading for an election result that could look a lot like that of 1972. 

That was Pierre Trudeau's second election. Like his son, Trudeau-père had won a big majority the first-time round, in 1968. His slogan in 1972 was "the land is strong" but his result was not strong. The Liberal prime minister lost his majority and ended up just two seats ahead of Robert Stanfield's Progressive Conservatives. The NDP held the balance of power with 31 seats.

Now, in 2019, the slogan for Canadians who consider themselves to be progressive could be: "the land is apprehensive." 

Talk to friends and neighbours and look at social media and you will find many fretting about the electoral prospects created by the twin surges of the NDP and the Bloc. Liberals are playing on that anxiety. Daily, Justin Trudeau makes a connection between the NDP and Bloc doing well and the Conservatives winning.

Polls, for whatever their worth, generally show that both Conservatives and Liberals have dropped in support since the beginning of the campaign, and no poll or seat projection shows anyone winning anywhere near the 170 seats required for a majority. 

But the worry persists. 

Friends have told this writer they decided to abandon the NDP (or Greens), in favour of the Liberals they don't really love, because they are worried Andrew Scheer could end up winning more seats than Trudeau. Mainstream media have climbed on board by speculating about Scheer as prime minister.

Take a recent headline in Maclean's magazine: "Prime Minister Andrew Scheer?" That's enough to scare the pants off a good many voters who situate themselves on the left and might otherwise be tempted to vote for Jagmeet Singh's hope-filled vision rather than Trudeau's tainted record. 

A hung Parliament, not a Scheer 'minority' victory

The story was based on a seat projection, based on opinion polls, by regular Maclean's contributor Philippe J. Fournier, an astrophysicist by trade. Fournier's actual numbers hardly justify the headline. 

He projects 136 seats for the Conservatives and 135 for the Liberals. He gives the Bloc 33, the NDP 30 and the Greens 3, and adds that Scheer could become prime minister "should he manage to win the confidence of the House, which would be no small feat."

Therein lies the rub. 

The other three parties -- the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc -- have all, in one way or another, stated vehement disagreement with most Conservative policies. Some have flatly declared they will never support a Conservative government.

More to the point, the day after an election which yielded the result Fournier forecasts, we would not have a Conservative minority government. We would have -- to use the British phrase -- a hung Parliament

It will be up to Parliament to decide who gets to form government -- and, more important, the precedents and rules of that institution give the incumbent prime minister first crack at testing the House.

In other words, following an election in which no party won a majority, Justin Trudeau would remain the prime minister and would have the full right to recall the House and present a throne speech, laying out his government's plans for the coming session. If he were to win a vote on that speech he would remain in power.

That is what prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King did in 1925, after Arthur Meighen's Conservatives had won 15 more seats than King's Liberals. The agrarian, populist Progressive party had 22 seats, and King knew they preferred his party to the Conservatives. When the Liberals presented their throne speech to the House, the Progressives supported them and King stayed in power.

Governing from second-place position is not common in our history, but there is nothing untoward or abnormal about it. 

The current NDP government of British Columbia has fewer seats than the Liberals, but has provided stable government, with the support of the Greens, since 2017. The same situation prevailed in Ontario from 1985 to 1987. The Liberals did not have as many seats as the Progressive Conservatives, but formed an effective government with the support of the NDP.

If Trudeau were somewhat behind Scheer in seats, he might decide that it would give his government greater strength and legitimacy in the public mind if he formed a coalition -- a governing partnership -- with the NDP, and perhaps even the Greens. That would mean sharing cabinet positions and a governing program. 

A minority government, of which we have had many in Canada, is a different kettle of fish from a coalition. When a party governs as a minority it depends on MPs from the opposition side for support. 

B.C.'s John Horgan has an agreement with the Greens for their ongoing support, as did Ontario's David Peterson with the New Democrats back in the 1980s. Federally, minority governing parties have not tended to seek that kind of formal agreement. Instead they have sought support for each piece of legislation on a case-by-case basis.  

Nothing wrong or abnormal about coalition government

To date we have not had a formal federal coalition government in Canada. 

Robert Borden's First-World-War government was a formal union of dissident, pro-war Liberals and his own Conservatives. They all ran and got elected under the Unionist banner, however, so the government was not really a coalition of two or more separate and distinct parties, each elected in its own right. 

Britain, which gave birth to our parliamentary system, has had a number of coalition governments, the most celebrated being Winston Churchill's, during the Second World War. The most recent case was the Conservative/Liberal-Democratic coalition that David Cameron forged following the 2010 election, which had produced a hung parliament. 

It would be helpful if the Canadian news media adopted the British phrase, hung parliament -- which translates as parlement sans majorité in French -- to describe the likely outcome of Monday's vote. 

If Andrew Scheer's party wins more seats than Trudeau's, but nobody has a majority, it will be wrong for news media to say the Conservatives have won a minority or will form a minority government.

Parliament, not the news media (or even the Governor General), will decide who gets to govern. It is worth noting that voters for the Greens, New Democrats and Bloc have indicated to pollsters, in all cases, that they would far prefer Trudeau as Prime Minister to Scheer. 

Following the election, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal colleagues should be mindful of the will of the public -- expressed not merely in the vote for them, but in the votes for all parties -- and heed that will. 

If we do have a hung Parliament, and Trudeau has fewer seats than Scheer, the current prime minister should not resign.

One of the Liberal leader's options would be to hold talks with the opposition parties whose support he would need and, as soon as possible, present a throne speech -- a plan for governing that would address at least some of those parties' priorities.

Alternatively, Trudeau could choose to enter into a formal coalition with one of more of the other parties. 

In a coalition, all participating parties would normally have seats at the cabinet table. As well, the parties in the coalition would jointly draft the throne speech to kick off the new session of Parliament. 

A lot of Canadians are now yearning for a return to the kind of non-majority governments that once gave us universal health care, expanded pensions and our first ministry of the environment. 

The coming election might just provide the ingredients for that sort of government, regardless of who is in first place in seats.

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

Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

 
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[l] at 10/16/19 12:24pm
October 16, 2019 Greta Thunberg speaks at Fridays for Future protest in Berlin in July 2019. Image: Leonhard Lenz/Wikimedia Commons We owe Greta and the youth more than a Nobel Prize Greta and the young people worldwide urging adults to care about their future don't need a Nobel. They need grown-ups to take them seriously and heed the scientific evidence about global warming.
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[l] at 10/15/19 3:57pm
David Suzuki Greta Thunberg speaks at Fridays for Future protest in Berlin in July 2019. Image: Leonhard Lenz/Wikimedia Commons

Many people, including me, expected Greta Thunberg to win this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was deservedly awarded for ending more than 20 years of conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.

Greta and the young people worldwide urging adults to care about their future don't need a Nobel. They need grown-ups to take them seriously and heed the scientific evidence about global warming.

From her solitary school strike in Sweden last year to massive worldwide climate strikes in late September, Thunberg has rallied millions of young people and adults to demand change. She and the youth who have joined her cause understand the world offers all we need, if we don't destroy the natural systems that make our health and well-being possible. They also know it isn't a lack of solutions holding us back, but a lack of political will.

And they know, as scientists worldwide have warned through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that we have little time to address the crisis we're creating by wastefully burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems at an alarming rate.

Most of them understand, too, that it's about more than protecting humanity from climate chaos; it's also about human rights and justice, about changing systems that have spawned massive inequality and a greedy race to rapidly exploit Earth's resources, simply to earn money for shareholders and CEOs.

Sioux youth Tokata Iron Eyes invited Greta to Standing Rock, North Dakota, where the Sioux and their allies tried for years to block construction of a pipeline that now carries fracked Bakken shale oil to an Illinois refinery, saying it puts water, rights and climate at risk. She said she and Greta shouldn't have to do this. "No 16-year-old should have to travel the world in the first place sharing a message about having something as simple as clean water and fresh air to breathe," she told The Guardian.

But those racing to extract as much of Earth's limited fossil fuel supplies as possible before markets fall in the face of better, less-expensive alternatives and an accelerating climate crisis don't seem to care about clean air, water and land. Politicians see fossil fuels as a way to boost short-term economic growth, often blinded to any vision extending beyond the next election. Industry heads see massive profits and continuation of privilege.

All offer token responses to climate disruption. Politicians say they're doing their best but change won't happen overnight (an excuse they've been using over many nights, days, week, months, years…) and that more fossil fuel infrastructure designed to last decades, including pipelines, is needed when the world's scientists say we must leave most remaining fossil fuels buried.

Fossil fuel executives say they're reducing emissions from their operations but ignore emissions from burning their products. They also fund campaigns to sow doubt about the scientific evidence for global warming and its consequences.

Some people feel so threatened by a young woman's truth that they stoop to vicious personal attacks, logical fallacies and insults rather than addressing the science she speaks so clearly about.

But Greta's message is indisputable: If we fail to reduce emissions quickly, we face increasing consequences: extreme weather events; droughts and floods leading to food insecurity; health impacts including insect-spread diseases, respiratory issues and heat-related deaths and illness; damage to oceans, which supply food and half the world's oxygen; massive refugee movements as parts of the world become unsuitable for agriculture or human life; extinction crises; growing global conflict; and more.

Every day we fail to act on the climate crisis is a day stolen from young people and those not yet born. We owe Greta and all young people a debt of gratitude for holding a mirror to our actions. More than anything, we owe them a future, and that means getting serious about changes needed to resolve this crisis.

Young people like Greta are drawing attention to an issue that has too long been downplayed or ignored for political or economic reasons. The best prize we can give them is recognition of our need to live within our means on this small, blue planet. This is not a left-right issue. We're all in this together.

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

Image: Leonhard Lenz/Wikimedia Commons

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[l] at 10/15/19 10:01am
Zaid Noorsumar Unifor

The province-wide shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) has turned into a crisis in long-term care across Ontario. Chronic understaffing is resulting in burnt out workers who are unable to provide adequate care for residents. 

According to Katha Fortier, a Unifor spokesperson, the conditions at the Hogarth Riverview Manor long-term care facility in Thunder Bay are particularly bad. 

The union represents 9,000 workers in nursing homes across Ontario and is currently attempting to bargain a new contract for staff at the Hogarth Riverview Manor.

"Everybody at work feels like all they do is cut corners, and try to get as much done as they possibly can in a day," Fortier says. "These workers come in early, they stay late and they work through breaks."

Hogarth Riverview Manor has 544 beds and is one of the largest nursing homes in Ontario.

Workers protest alongside residents

Fortier says that management has not addressed the long-standing problem of poor staffing, which is one of the fundamental issues at the bargaining table. 

After negotiations broke down, workers were joined by residents and their family members to protest outside the home last week.  

New management, same results

St. Joseph's Care Group is the non-profit organization that owns the facility, although it is managed by a third-party.

After a sustained period of complaints and inspections, in November 2017 the government handed over the home's management to Extendicare, a for-profit corporation with a dubious track record in both Canada and the U.S.

Fortier says the change in management had not worked, pointing out the skewed staffing ratios that often require each worker to care for a dozen residents.

Last year, Unifor's 6-minute challenge campaign highlighted the unrealistic expectations placed on PSWs who have a handful of minutes to wake a resident up and get them ready for breakfast. 

The deteriorating working conditions in long-term care combined with poor wages is leading to a severe PSW shortage, which is making the situation even worse, Fortier says. 

A systemic issue

Lack of staffing has long been decried by unions, health care advocates and experts for poor quality of long-term care in Ontario.

Although the recommended minimum care standard is 4.1 hours of direct care per resident per day, the advocacy group Ontario Health Coalition's 2019 report showed the actual figure has hovered below 3 hours for the past decade. 

In 2016, the NDP put forward a bill that would legislate a minimum care standard of four hours. Although supported unanimously by all the parties -- the second reading passed 44 to zero -- the Liberal government did not pass the bill.

Even though the Conservatives also supported the bill when they were in opposition, Fortier pointed out their inaction in power.

"The Conservatives [in opposition] were really nice to talk to about the whole issue," she said. "And now that they are in power, they really don't want to talk to us about it."

Low levels of staffing has been linked to increasing violence and even deaths. According to a recent Ministry of Health and Long-Term care report, two deaths in a Walkerton, Ontario home could be traced to inadequate staffing

Ownership matters

There are three types of long-term care homes in Ontario -- 58 per cent owned by for-profit companies, 24 per cent by non-profits and 18 per cent by municipalities. 

Academic research shows that for-profit homes tend to have lower staffing (and higher rates of mortality and hospitalization) than non-profit and municipal homes, as surplus funds are channeled to owners and shareholders rather than to staffing. 

All nursing homes including for-profit facilities receive government funding, which essentially means taxpayers subsidize businesses profiting from health care services.

"What do we expect when most of the care of our nursing homes is given to for-profit operators?" Fortier asked rhetorically. 

"Extendicare is doing very well. So is Chartwell, so is Revera. All of these companies are still making profits."

 
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[l] at 10/15/19 9:46am
October 15, 2019 NDP leader addresses crowd during 2019 federal election campaign. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook Action on climate means breaking the cycle of Liberal-Conservative governments In 2019, breaking the cycle of Liberal-Conservative government -- an objective of the New Democrats -- starts with the NDP winning enough seats to play a key role in a minority Parliament.
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[l] at 10/11/19 8:22pm
October 12, 2019 Jagmeet Singh/Twitter In French debate, Trudeau wins; Singh holds his own; Scheer loses Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau came into his own, gamely defending himself on one of the most dubious parts of his time as prime minister: the SNC-Lavalin affair.
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[l] at 10/11/19 8:17pm
Karl Nerenberg Screenshot/Justin Trudeau/Twitter

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau came into his own in the French language debate on Thursday evening. He defended his record, citing such tangible accomplishments as the significant reduction in child poverty, while laying out at least a few strong reasons for voters to re-elect him.

Even on one of the most dubious parts of his time as prime minister, the SNC-Lavalin affair, Trudeau gamely defended himself.

He unapologetically argued for his government's deferred prosecution legislation, which would allow companies to escape prosecution for criminal activity. That was the legislation which triggered the SNC-Lavalin affair. Trudeau argued that it was necessary to allow for deferred prosecution of corporate crime in order to protect innocent workers and shareholders. As well, he pointed out, such agreements exist in other countries, such as the U.S. and U.K.

It was not an easy position to defend, especially when other leaders -- from the far-right Peoples Party's Maxime Bernier, to the Greens' Elizabeth May, to Jagmeet Singh, who has reinvented the NDP as a left populist party -- all made the far simpler case that everyone, no matter how rich or powerful, should be equal before the law. 

Trudeau did not back down, however, and sounded, in French, less tentative than he often does, in English, on SNC-Lavalin. Perhaps that was because he knew the Bloc Québécois leader, Yves-François Blanchet, would, in essence, agree with him. As well, the Liberal leader knows Quebec voters are far more favourable to the Montreal-based company, warts and all, than voters in the rest of the country.

Taking the fight to Ford and Kenney

Trudeau was especially strong when he pointed out that his government must pursue its environmental and social justice agendas (to the extent they have any) in the face of obdurate resistance from a cabal of Conservative premiers -- the Kenneys, Fords, et.al. 

At one point, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was making his usual (and, in general, valid) point that Trudeau is not as progressive as he pretends to be when he handed Trudeau a golden opportunity.

Singh had pointed to the fact that the Liberal leader has done nothing to stop the pending closure of the only private abortion clinic in New Brunswick. But Trudeau turned that around and cited the abortion clinic story as yet another example of how he has to fight every day against right-wingers in the provinces -- in this case the New Brunswick Conservatives.

As well, Trudeau was not loath to don his own version of the left populist cloak on a few occasions. For instance, he lambasted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford for cozying up to their oil and gas industry pals. 

Canadian Liberals, unlike their friends in the U.S. Democratic party, very rarely engage in that sort of trash talk about major corporate interests. They leave it to the NDP. 

The Liberal party has, in fact, long considered itself to be the natural ally of big finance and big business. That's why Trudeau named a major corporate figure, Bill Morneau, as finance minister. And why, for a number of years, the government's chief backroom economic counsellor was London-based Dominic Barton, managing director of the giant global consulting firm McKinsey. (Barton is now Canada's ambassador to China.)

Corporate-connected supporters of the Liberal party must have squirmed to hear their leader sounding like a grassroots socialist, denouncing the power and influence of big business, even if only for a brief moment.  And it was, indeed, more than a bit incongruous to hear Trudeau lament the outsized influence of big oil and gas in one breath only to tout the benefits of pipelines in the next.

Over-all, the fact that anti-environmentalist, borderline climate-change-denying Conservatives govern so many provinces right now is Trudeau's best argument to progressive voters to vote for him. For many Canadians, the prospect of the malleable, feckless Conservative Andrew Scheer in the federal seat of power, with Kenney and Ford pulling his strings, is profoundly frightening.

A left populist in both French and English

For his part, Jagmeet Singh got good marks, again, for his affability, humour and clear, uncomplicated message. If you don't know, by now, that the NDP is for you, whoever you are, and not the rich and powerful, you haven't been paying any attention. 

Singh is empathetic, natural, even eloquent at times, and resolutely "on message" in political professionals' parlance, almost to a fault. Some of us wish Singh would get more into the weeds of policy detail, at least on occasion.

On trade agreements, for instance, the NDP leader said he would be in favour of such deals if they favoured workers and not big business. That is not the case with the re-negotiated NAFTA Trudeau signed, he said. But he didn't explain himself. What would Singh, if he were prime minister, have looked for in the new NAFTA on workers' rights that is not in the actual deal? 

There are good, tangible arguments Singh could have made on trade and workers' rights. But he didn't. Maybe the strict time limits militated against a leader arguing in a more nuanced way, but Elizabeth May, and Trudeau and even, in his off-the-wall-extreme-libertarian way, Maxime Bernier sometimes did so. 

Singh still has time to get more policy specific, and go beyond his well-prepared talking points. The NDP has just released its final costed program. Singh could use that as an opportunity to be more tangible and detailed in his speeches and interviews. 

Scheer used the word liar while telling big lies himself

Analysts say Andrew Scheer did better in the official French debate than in the earlier one on TVA. That is a pretty low bar. 

The Conservative leader sounded vaguely unhinged when he repeatedly called Trudeau a liar. That seems to be the Conservative game plan -- personal attacks and insults. It is an entirely disingenuous strategy for Scheer, given that he has not been forthright about his citizenship (he hid the fact that he is a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen for years) or his professional activities prior to politics. 

Scheer was the only leader to attack the Bloc's Blanchet for being a separatist. The latter says he is running not to promote the separation of Quebec, but, rather, to support nationalist, but not separatist, Quebec Premier François Legault's agenda. 

Scheer wants to portray the Conservatives as the natural allies of Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). The problem is that Legault is not an Anglo-Canadian-style, small-c conservative. He might be in favour of streamlining government, but he is not for slashing social spending. And on climate change, Legault has made a great effort to align himself with the Quebec consensus, which favours carbon pricing and other measures Scheer and his provincial allies eschew.

If the unlikely day were ever to come when Scheer were to seek Blanchet's support for a Conservative minority government, his characterization of the Bloc as a separatist party might come back to haunt him. 

Outside of Quebec, political alliances with separatists are not popular. 

In 2008, then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion found that out when he tried to overturn the Harper government and form a coalition with the NDP which would have required the active support of the Bloc. It did not quite work out. Harper remained prime minister and went on to win a majority in the subsequent election. 

Scheer nearly got away with telling the biggest lie of the evening when he repeated his fraudulent promise that he could cut overseas development assistance by 25 per cent, or $1.5 billion, and not touch any assistance to the poorest countries. The Conservative leader claims he would only have cut aid for more affluent, middle-income countries. 

In fact, cutting the money to those relatively rich countries would yield only $22 million, leaving about $1.49 billion to cut from aid to the neediest cases .

Radio-Canada's Alex Castonguay, who had posed the question on his proposed aid cuts to Scheer, pushed Scheer on his false figures, but, again, the format did not permit a deeper exploration of the issue. 

Sadly, supporting aid to less developed countries is not a political winner in Canada. Of all the leaders, only the Greens' Elizabeth May has, to this point, made a determined effort to advocate for overseas international assistance. 

There is a bit more than a week left before voting day, although the advance polls are already open. Maybe, in the time that remains, the two other supposedly progressive leaders, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Singh, will find the courage and voice to educate Canadians on the vital importance -- to our own self-interest, if nothing else -- of assisting the billions around the globe who still live in poverty. 

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.   Image: Screenshot/Justin Trudeau/Twitter
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[l] at 10/11/19 6:23pm
Alex Cosh Maxime Bernier. Image: Maxime Bernier/Twitter

Viewers of Monday night's leaders' debate caught a glimpse of an ugly trend emerging in Canadian politics.

In the first round of questions, CTV's Lisa Laflamme read out some of the most divisive tweets authored by People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier:

"You called diversity in Canada a cult and extreme multiculturalism. You've used the words ghetto and tribes to describe newcomers whom you say bring distrust and potential violence. On Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist, you called her, quote, clearly mentally unstable. Are these the words of someone with the character and integrity to lead all Canadians and represent us on the world stage?"

By way of a response, Bernier labelled all the other party leaders "globalist," (a term that carries anti-Semitic undertones) and said he wanted to stop Canada from becoming "like other countries in Europe," where, he claimed, "they have a huge difficulty to integrate their immigrants." After being called out by Jagmeet Singh, Bernier fumed against what he described as the NDP leader's "socialist policy."

And so the rest of his debate performance continued in similar fashion.

But Bernier's comments, and his presence on the debate stage, marked only one example of reactionary politics stealing moments under the spotlight this election cycle.

The day after the writs dropped for the election, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was forced to drop Winnipeg North candidate Cameron Ogilvie after PressProgress unearthed a series of islamophobic and anti-immigrant Facebook posts shared by the Tory nominee. Last week in Burnaby North-Seymour, meanwhile, the Conservatives ejected candidate Heather Leung, after a video resurfaced of her making homophobic and transphobic comments in 2011 (her opposition to LGBTQ and abortion rights were already widely known before the video came to light).

The People's Party may only be polling in low single digits -- and a struggling Andrew Scheer may have booted a few of the most openly hateful social conservatives from his party -- but analysts agree that something deeper in the public discourse is changing.

"I think there is a general dwindling of civility in this election," professor Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, told rabble.ca. "Polarization is a consistent theme, pitting an array of communities against one another, vilifying some, marginalizing others."

Because the People's Party serves as a "safe space" for some of Canada's extreme right-wing elements, Perry added, Bernier's railing against immigrants risks inuring the public against xenophobic sentiments.

"The presence of the party is part of a broader environment of hate -- one also occupied by the likes of  [Donald] Trump, [Doug] Ford and other similar fear-mongers."

British Columbia NDP vice-president and LGBTQ activist Morgane Oger noted that even though Bernier's party currently sits on the statistical fringes, the PPC's extreme positions also frequently translate into personal attacks via social media.

"They may not be a party that I would consider eligible for participating," Oger explained. "It's the conduct, not the ideas that are the problem."

Back in January, Oger said she believed that reactionary parties like the PPC become more self-destructive the more loudly they express their views. That's an assessment she stands by.

"There's the terrifying fear that the PPC are the birth of fascism in Canada," she noted. However, Oger continued, "I think it's so much better to have them out in the open saying awful things, and saying things that are obviously reprehensible, rather than doing it quietly."

By contrast, Oger said, cases of extreme right-wing candidates breezing through the Conservative party vetting process are much more alarming.

"If Heather Leung had been a little bit more subtle in her anti-LGBTQ views, she would have been a very effective tool for social conservative extremism. Luckily for all of us, she went too far."

Oger's observation here might serve as a sobering reminder that Bernier came very close to winning the Conservative party leadership race in 2017. While Bernier might not be openly scorning "globalists" if he was at the helm of a mainstream party, it's troubling to see how quickly a former cabinet minister under Stephen Harper courted extreme views once they provided a timely political opportunity.

"Some politicians have no soul, and are willing to do and say anything for power," Oger said. "I find it chilling to see people trying to be elected by picking whatever they think will win, and that Maxime Bernier went to, basically fascism, to try to win."

In other words, don't count on right-wing political officials to properly check the spread of extremism within their party ranks anytime soon.

"In the end … this problem reaches far beyond the campaign trail, and requires concentrated attention to how to begin to deconstruct the walls that are being built between communities," said Perry. "The voting public also has a role to play in identifying and calling out those who engage in hateful narratives."

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Maxime Bernier/Twitter

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[l] at 10/10/19 12:57pm
October 10, 2019 Climate strike in Ottawa, September 27, 2019. Image: Mike Gifford/Flickr The real deficit is environmental, not fiscal Anybody who is truly concerned about their children and grandchildren should be anxious to talk about the environmental deficit instead of hiding out behind old fiscal mantras.
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[l] at 10/9/19 8:54am
October 9, 2019 350.org/Flickr On October 21, vote for climate solutions We should all examine the roster of candidates and parties where we live, compare their environmental platforms and records, and ask local contenders about their climate commitments.
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[l] at 10/8/19 1:30pm
Karl Nerenberg NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh before the leaders' debate. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

The media were quick to crown NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh the winner of Monday's English language leaders' debate, and voters seem to agree. As one still-undecided voter in Montreal's Outremont riding wrote to this writer: 

"I thought Singh was terrific, the only one (except a bit for May) who rose above the screaming match. He's an excellent role model for what politics could/should be like. The more people see of him, the more they like him …"

Singh sought to establish contrasts with other leaders on the basis of policy differences, and, in the case of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, inconsistencies between promises and performance. He relied on charm, warmth and humour, not anger, and never stooped to personal attacks. 

Bomb the bridge

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took the polar opposite approach to Singh's. He borrowed a leaf from previous Conservative campaigns and adopted a negative, bomb-the-bridge approach. 

Scheer went harshly negative from the very first moment of the debate. He, like all the leaders, was asked to address a voter's question about the role of leadership in a divided world, what with Brexit and our troubles with China. But instead of answering the question, the Conservative leader launched into an entirely uncivil and personal attack on Trudeau, calling him a fraud and a phony. The Conservative backroom has obviously decided that their best chance of winning is to go full-bore negative. 

"Bomb the bridge" was the term former Conservative strategist Allan Gregg employed to describe the tactic the Brian Mulroney Conservatives successfully used way back in 1988. 

That was the year of the free trade election. The Conservatives were in the process of negotiating a massive agreement with the U.S. that, over time, morphed into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its most recent iteration, NAFTA 2.0 or, if you will, the USMCA.

The Liberal leader at the time, John Turner, had gained considerable traction by painting himself as Captain Canada. Liberal television ads featured an eraser wiping away the border with the U.S. 

The Conservatives decided the only way to counter the Liberal upsurge was, in Gregg's words, to bomb the bridge of trust between Turner and the people. They went fiercely negative and it worked. Brian Mulroney managed to secure a second, if reduced, minority. 

On Monday evening, Scheer was not looking to score debating points on policy, or even on the government's record. 

The current Conservative leader did not seem to care how unsympathetic he might appear during the event itself. His only aim was to generate quotable moments that could then be reproduced by social media. If, in the days to come, there are lots of Twitter and Facebook postings of Scheer calling Trudeau a "phony and a fraud" his tactic will have worked.

Trudeau was not shaken by Scheer's approach. 

He held his own, maintained his cool, and successfully managed to tie the federal Conservative leader to the climate-change-who-cares axis of Conservative premiers Jason Kenney and Doug Ford. 

Scheer tried to use the presence of far-right, openly climate-change-denying Peoples' Party leader Maxime Bernier as a foil, to show how reasonable and moderate he is by contrast. Trudeau resisted that gambit.  He wanted viewers to notice how similar Scheer is, in reality, to Bernier. Far-right leader Bernier, Trudeau explained to voters, says openly what Scheer really believes.

Singh hammered on a progressive version of populism

NDP Leader Singh has gotten a lot of credit for his one liner about not having to choose, on climate change policy, between Mr. Delay (Trudeau) and Mr. Deny (Scheer). 

The NDP leader also had a good rejoinder to Bernier when the issue was how the far-right politician justifies his many way-out-in-right-field tweets, such as one accusing Greta Thunberg of being mentally ill. Singh told Bernier "You could have just said, 'Hey man, I messed up,' because these are pretty terrible tweets." That comment typified the NDP leader's comfortable, colloquial and personable manner throughout the two hours.

On substance, Singh tried to carve out a message that can best be characterized as class-based (as opposed to identity-based) populism. 

When talking about the rise of race and identity-based hatred and resentment in our time the NDP leader pointed to the economic factors associated with our current form of ruthless, über-greed-based capitalism. 

Many hard-working people feel left out, insecure and frustrated, Singh said. They believe the rules of the game are rigged against them, which makes them easy prey for political opportunists who manufacture scapegoats such as immigrants and Indigenous people rather than focus on the real problem, the obscene concentration of wealth at the top. 

Over and over, Singh went back to his central talking points, which focus on the increasing rate of economic inequality. The NDP leader emphasized the need for bold social programs to counter inequality's corrosive effects.

Green Leader Elizabeth May had good moments too, and was the only leader who always seemed spontaneous and unprogrammed, never resorting to rehearsed talking points. 

Commentators gave May high marks for her interventions on climate change and a woman's right to choose. But for this writer, her best comment was a rejoinder to Scheer's repeated boast that the Conservatives would cut overseas development assistance by 25 per cent. May turned to Scheer and said "that is the worst idea the Conservatives have in a very their thin platform."

The Green leader characterized the proposed $1.5 billion cut as "short term, greedy politics." 

Jagmeet Singh talks a lot about courage, with some justification, based on his life story and bold, uncompromising policies. But when it comes to defending overseas development assistance, the NDPer has remained silent. He knows spending Canadian money in foreign countries is not a natural vote getter. On that one issue, Singh does not have as much courage as Elizabeth May. 

No way to organize an exercise in democratic discourse

The biggest loser in the debate was the format. 

The Leaders' Debates Commission could not do much about the number of leaders on stage -- although there has to be a big question mark about inviting Maxime Bernier, leader of a party that has never elected a single MP and is polling in low single digits. But the commission did not have to opt for five moderators, about three too many. 

More important, the way the debate's organizers used a handful of so-called ordinary Canadians to ask questions was a waste of time and energy. It was the worst kind of patronizing tokenism, and had nothing to do with truly engaging Canadians. 

Voters watching would have been better served if the time consumed by going to a café in Yellowknife or common room in Vancouver had been given over to substantive discussion of the issues.

What was the purpose of having questions posed both by those ordinary folks and, as well, in somewhat repetitive fashion, by the moderators -- and then, incongruously and with no context, giving leaders a chance to question each other about anything under the sun? 

All the while, the time clock was ticking, as though this were a basketball game or tennis match. 

The format seemed to have been designed by folks more interested in show business than civil, democratic discourse. Is it too late to learn some lessons before the French debate on Thursday evening?

Given the 120-minute time limit, voters would be better served by a debate that focused on no more than three main areas -- say, jobs and the economy, the environment, and social programs and immigration. They could allot about 40 minutes to each. The moderators should ask all the questions, and limit themselves to at most two per subject area.

It would also be best if the producers turned off the microphones of those not speaking and thus gave the leaders enough time to coherently explain their policies, without interruption. 

The purpose of the exercise should be to force the leaders to go beyond slogans, zingers and prepared lines. The voters have a right to hear party leaders tangibly explain, in detail, what they would do in government, if given a chance. 

Elly Alboim, who was for many years CBC television's parliamentary assignment editor and later worked as a Liberal party strategist, knows a thing or two about organizing such events. Here is what he tweeted during Monday evening's exercise in futility and frustration:

"The debate commission failed in its responsibility by turning the format over to TV producers. They traded pacing for incoherence. No one had the chance to develop a thought -- all it rewarded was one-liners. Viewers and voters had little chance to hear what they wanted to hear most: who would be best to lead the country, what their vision for the country was. This had nothing to do with voters. It was about political bile, TV product and media PR. An awesome fail. The contrast was clear in the questions the 'ordinary Canadians' asked. None had barbs or hidden agendas. They just wanted information and policy answers. They ended up being props in a TV show."

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

Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

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[l] at 10/8/19 12:28pm
Alex Cosh Svend Robinson/Twitter

It was an eventful week in the Vancouver-area riding of Burnaby North-Seymour. 

The Conservative party dropped its candidate for the riding, Heather Leung, on Friday, October 4, after after a video resurfaced of her making homophobic and transphobic comments.

The video, first posted by local news outlet Burnaby Now in 2011, showed Leung protesting the Burnaby School Board's support for a policy designed to protect LGBTQ youth from bullying. In the clip, Leung claims "homosexuals recruit" children, and describes the LGBTQ community as "perverted." 

However, Leung's extreme views were already extreme views were already widely known before the video emerged. During her short-lived campaign as the Conservative nominee for this year's federal election, the ex-Tory also expressed extreme views on abortion, telling the anti-choice group Campaign Life Coalition she opposed women's reproductive rights even in cases of rape and incest. She also supports "conversion therapy," an abusive and pseudo-scientific practice designed to "cure" LGBTQ people.

It is too late for the Conservatives to field a new candidate, and Elections Canada has stated that Leung's name must appear on the ballot next to the Conservative party label. Despite officially running as an independent, Leung was reportedly campaigning last weekend still using Conservative signage and other materials.

Former Burnaby MP and current NDP candidate Svend Robinson, the first openly gay MP in Canadian history, led the calls for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to drop Leung. rabble.ca caught up with Robinson to discuss Leung's ejection from the Conservative party, the current state of LGBTQ rights in Canada and the future for progressive unity.

Alex Cosh: What do you make of the fact that Leung is still running and campaigning with Conservative materials?

Svend Robinson: She's a rogue candidate. Obviously the Conservative Party had cut her loose, and they had no choice. She should never have been approved as a candidate in the first place. I called my press conference on Friday morning and she was gone by four o'clock that same day. 

She will still obviously get some votes from her hardcore group of social conservative followers, but beyond that, the question is who are the other people that are going to support her?

AC: Do you think the exposure of Leung's views is an opportunity to get some traditionally conservative voters committed to a progressive platform?

SR: I've been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have contacted my office saying they were appalled and disgusted with her as a candidate, and they can't vote for Justin Trudeau, so for the first time in their life they're going to vote for me. I had a couple who came in and said they wanted to replace their Conservative sign with a big Svend Robinson sign.

I hope I get more [Conservatives voting for me] but it won't be because of the radical platform. Many of them on the Burnaby side of the constituency will be voting for me because of the work I did, because they've said they thought very highly of me as a hard-working and dedicated constituency representative. I'm under no illusions, they're not going to suddenly transform from conservatives into socialists, but they may very well vote for me as the best representative for this community.

AC: Leung is not the first Conservative candidate this election cycle that Scheer has dropped for making hateful remarks. Are you concerned that Scheer has lost control over a growing thread of anti-LGBTQ proponents within his party?

SR: No, I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say he's lost control over that. They've been kept on a pretty tight leash for the most part. She [Leung] was particularly outrageous.

They're not fools. They realize virulent homophobia and transphobia is politically toxic now, and that's pretty amazing actually. It's not been that many years when that absolutely wouldn't have been the case. When I came out in '88, my office was trashed, I got death threats; the premier of B.C. [and] the premier of Saskatchewan attacked me as a bad role model. That discourse now is just completely beyond the acceptable political discourse. Certainly we've made progress on that front, not to say that there certainly isn't homophobia and transphobia out there that we have to confront. But among the mainstream parties -- I'm of course excluding the People's Party and [Maxime] Bernier -- that discourse is not acceptable.

AC: What will you be saying to constituents in your riding who are alarmed by Leung's comments and who might be concerned these kinds of views are making a comeback?

SR: After I called my press conference, both the Green party candidate and the Liberal MP, Terry Beech, strongly supported my call for her to be dumped. She was so far outside the values this community represents and celebrates. I don't think anybody should be concerned beyond a tiny, fringe element of people that she dragged to the nomination meeting, and will obviously continue to support her. She's in a very tiny minority. 

AC: Your call for Leung's resignation seems to have galvanized quite a bit of cross-party support, and you've also received an endorsement from the former B.C. Green party leader Stuart Parker. Given the scale of the global climate emergency, do you hope that progressives will work harder towards eventually uniting behind a single platform? Is there any hope of the federal Green party getting behind your candidacy in this riding?

SR: The short answer to the second question is: not likely. Obviously it would be great if Elizabeth May took the same position with my candidacy as she has with Jody Wilson-Raybould's candidacy in Vancouver Granville. Elizabeth and I go back 30 years. She knows my environmental track record. I'm the only New Democrat that David Suzuki is endorsing. Tzeporah Berman came out with a strong endorsement as well, and that means a lot. 

I'm hoping that progressives and environmentalists who might otherwise be tempted to vote Green will recognize that my track record and long history of environmental activism will get those values reflected in this election. But also, it's a first-past-the-post system, and we're not both going to win. They've got to take a good hard look at who has the best chance of taking this constituency back from Terry Beech, and the answer is very clear: it's me.

AC: How is the campaign going on the ground?

SR: The feedback has been very positive. We've had a terrific campaign. Lots of dedicated volunteers. My riding now encompasses the North Shore, which is more challenging, politically and demographically, than Burnaby, but I'm feeling very optimistic and hopeful. Two weeks is an eternity in politics, but at this point it's feeling good. 

AC: Is there a long-term role that you would like to play in uniting strands of the progressive movement?

SR: Absolutely. If I can play that role, that's something that I would very much hope to be able to do, the day after the election. Those of us who care passionately about the future of the planet and taking on corporate power are going to have to, hopefully, find common ground.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Svend Robinson/Twitter

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[l] at 10/8/19 9:14am
October 8, 2019 Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr The Andrew Scheer factor in election 2019 Despite the efforts of many Conservative voices inside and outside media to cover for him, Andrew Scheer is still having trouble talking to Canadians about why he should be the next prime minister.
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[l] at 10/8/19 8:45am
Zaid Noorsumar A Tim Hortons in Cochrane, Ontario. Image: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr

About 45 Tim Hortons workers in Fort Frances, Ontario, banded together to form a union this past year, joining the United Food and Commercial Workers -- Canada's largest private sector union.

The outlet is the only Tim Hortons in the small northern Ontario town of about 8,000 people. 

"Job security was the number one factor why they decided to join UFCW," said Nathalie Vengal, an organizer with the union.

Workers bargained annual wage increases, three days paid bereavement leave as well as seniority rights for scheduling and vacation time. Moreover, both full-time and part-time staff will be entitled to benefits.

Vengal said that prior to unionization, access to benefits was restricted without a clear explanation of eligibility. The collective agreement language removed that ambiguity.

Cross-generational allyship

Many of the workers at the outlet are close to retirement age and sought job security and benefits. 

Vengal said that the older employees found allyship among the younger cohort -- many of them high school and college students -- who wanted to fight for their older counterparts. 

"For [the younger workers] it's a part-time job," she said. "But they cared so much about more senior workers and they said, 'You know, I want to do it for them.'"

"[It shows] working together brings a lot of momentum, it brings a lot of strength, to stand together and bargain," Vengal said. "That's what the whole labour movement should be about, right? Allyship and solidarity."

A quick resolution

The process from the start of the organizing campaign to the certification of the union spanned about a month. Vengal said the employer, a franchisee, was eager to reach a deal. 

Some Ontario Tim Hortons locations drew widespread criticism in 2018 after they cut paid breaks and benefits for workers after the minimum wage went up in January 2018. 

But Vengal said this particular franchisee cared about the workers and had built a relationship with his staff. 

"A lot of the workers have worked for the employer for a long time," she said. "And they have a relationship. And I think he understood the importance of giving workers a voice in their working conditions." 

Fighting against discrimination

The workplace is very diverse, according to Vengal, and the employees were adamant about entrenching anti-discrimination and anti-harassment language in the contract.

"We wanted to make sure that there was no discrimination based on age, ethnic group, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other intersectionality of identity," she said. 

The younger workers in particular wanted to secure such language, and they keenly participated in the bargaining process.

Lessons for other workplaces

Vengal said that in today's climate, "workers now more than ever need to stand together and secure the working conditions through organizing and collective bargaining."

The big lesson is not to be afraid of organizing, she said.

"Organizing is an empowering process for workers -- to take a stand and have a say in their working conditions."

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Image: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr

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[l] at 10/6/19 10:40pm
David J. Climenhaga Environmental Defence Canada's executive director Tim Gray at a recent panel in Edmonton. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Research published this morning by Environmental Defence Canada concludes that adoption of the powerful Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers lobby group's election wish list would increase Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by 116 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.

"In that scenario, Canada's oil and gas sector would be emitting 311 million tonnes, making emissions from that one industry representing one-fourteenth of the Canadian economy greater than the emissions of 170 countries in the world," the report stated.

This goes to the respected Toronto-based environmental group's assertion well-funded fossil fuel industry lobbying is the single biggest barrier to effective climate action being taken by Canada.

"Oil and gas companies haven't just played an outsized role in emitting GHGs and accelerating climate change," said the report, which was put together for Environmental Defence Canada by the EnviroEconomics research organization. "Their lobbying efforts have also contributed to weakening existing environmental policies and killing or delaying proposed climate policies."

The report noted that academic research shows corporate fossil fuel lobbyists met with Canadian government officials about 11,000 times between 2011 and 2017. That's eleven thousand times -- not a typo.

Fossil fuel industry lobbying sought to weaken or kill six important areas of environmental protection, the report said: environmental assessment rules, water protection, carbon-pricing policies, methane controls, impact assessment and clean fuel standards.

The report also accuses some of Canada's major fossil fuel companies of using subsidiaries in foreign tax havens to avoid taxes, although the researchers said they were unable to estimate the amount of money that may have been squirrelled away abroad.

If CAPP's wish list were granted after the October 21 federal election, Environmental Defence Canada said, GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector "would use 60 per cent of Canada's 2030 carbon budget under the Paris Agreement." It noted that the sector, despite its power and influence, represents 7 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product and 1.3 per cent of Canada’s employment.

The report also noted that between 2000 and 2018, while oil production in Canada has increased by 80 per cent, royalties paid by the sector have plummeted by 63 per cent and the corporate taxes it pays have fallen by more than half.

"Canadians should demand that federal party leaders explicitly reject the dangerous agenda being pushed by the oil and gas lobby," said Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray in a statement accompanying the report. Gray is a former executive director of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and has a reputation for being a stickler for accuracy in research.

It will be interesting to see how both CAPP and Alberta's United Conservative Party government's "war room" react to this criticism from a credible organization.

The belligerent tactics adopted by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and the implication his government will hound opponents of the oil industry through lawsuits, inquiries, Trumpian Twitter storms and other techniques to suppress their free expression rights suggests the credibility of the industry with the Canadian public is waning, not the opposite.

Nevertheless, it isn't exactly news that that CAPP and other corporate fossil fuel lobby groups continue to wield a lot of influence over policy makers and have essentially, as former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft argued in his 2017 bestseller Oil's Deep State, "captured" the government of Alberta regardless of which party is in power at any time.

"A swath of Alberta's important democratic institutions have been captured by the oil industry," Taft wrote in a guest post on my blog two years ago. "I spent 11 years in the legislature and all the major political parties -- sometimes even the PCs -- asked tough questions about royalties, the environment, and reclamation. Now there is barely a murmur, not because these issues have been solved but because political parties have become instruments of the industry."

Toward the end of former prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative federal government, which hoped to transform Canada into an "energy superpower" despite growing concern about global warming, Environmental Defence Canada's charitable status was attacked by the Canada Revenue Agency for opposing the government's pipeline policies.

Before moving from Ottawa to Alberta, Kenney was a senior minister in Harper's cabinet and a trusted lieutenant of the prime minister.

The audit of Environmental Defence Canada by the CRA, which had been thoroughly politicized by the Conservative government, was based on a complaint by EthicalOil.org, the pro-oilsands pressure group founded by Ezra Levant that has many informal links to both the Conservative Party and the fossil fuel industry.

Environmental Defence Canada never lost its charitable status, however. In December 2018, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced new legislation dealing with charitable status and political activity. Under the new law, charities were permitted to devote unlimited resources to public policy dialogue and non-partisan activities for the purpose of furthering their charitable mandates.

Conservative Party and UCP supporters and oil industry boosters have conspiracy theories to explain this policy decision. However, a simpler and more likely explanation is the implications of the ruling by the Ontario Superior Court the previous July that the CRA's audits of political activity by charities infringed on Canadians' constitutional right to free expression.

About 60 charities were targetted by the CRA before Justice Edward Morgan's decision effectively ended the practice. The federal government dropped an appeal of the ruling in February 2019.

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 with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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[l] at 10/5/19 12:31pm
October 5, 2019 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter The big debates are coming and they could change the story of the campaign As they prepare for the next round of debates, all of the federal party leaders are fighting their own demons.
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[l] at 10/5/19 12:29pm
Karl Nerenberg NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

As they prepare for the next round of debates -- the big ones, starting Monday night with the English language debate, broadcast on all the main networks -- all of the federal party leaders are fighting their own demons.

Andrew Scheer will have to explain why he never previously shared the fact that he has dual Canada-U.S. citizenship. Who knew that would become an election issue?

The Conservative leader will also have to recover from what all Quebec commentators say was his weak and defensive performance in the recent French language TVA debate. 

Scheer had considerable trouble reconciling his personal anti-choice position on abortion with his commitment not to re-open the issue, if elected. He was not too strong on climate change either. 

Scheer should be taking flack for being the first major party leader ever to promise a huge cut in overseas development assistance, based on flagrantly false statistics about the current apportionment of that money -- but he isn't. The other parties, it seems, do not think there is political mileage in defending the idea of spending taxpayers' money in foreign countries

That's a sad commentary on the state of our political discourse.

Trudeau shot himself in the foot with the First Nations child welfare appeal

As for Justin Trudeau, just when he seemed to have battled the SNC-Lavalin and brown-and-blackface scandals to a standstill, and was having some success in framing the election as a choice between his pragmatic version of progressive politics versus the heedless slash and burn policies of the Conservatives, he inflicted a wound on himself. His government decided to challenge the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's decision on First Nations child welfare in federal court.

As a result of the tireless efforts of Cindy Blackstock and her First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, the tribunal had ordered the federal government to pay $40,000 for each of the Indigenous children taken by the welfare system from their homes and communities since 2006.

David Lametti, the federal attorney general who replaced Jody Wilson-Raybould, filed the appeal on behalf of the government. Trudeau and his new minister of Indigenous services, his close personal friend Seamus O'Regan, explained this mid-campaign lurch by saying the government wants "clarity" before it does anything about the pain and suffering of First Nations and their children.

This decision to appeal gives us an idea of what Jody Wilson-Raybould was up against when she was in cabinet. 

The former attorney general's view was that the federal government should stop treating First Nations as adversaries. When Indigenous communities sought judicial or quasi-judicial redress for historic injustices, Wilson-Raybould encouraged her department's lawyers and officials to negotiate in a spirit of reconciliation, rather than fight every inch of the way. 

But the onetime Liberal cabinet minister ran into entrenched bureaucratic and political resistance. 

Inside the bureaucracy -- and the prime minister's political office -- there was a strong view that the federal government should not show the slightest degree of weakness, could not afford to give in to each and every Indigenous demand.

In truth, reconciliation has been, in many respects, more of a slogan for the Trudeau government than a guiding principle.

On the First Nations child welfare issue, Trudeau finds himself in 100 per cent alignment with his Conservative adversary. Before, during and after the leaders' debate, we can expect both the NDP and Green leaders to vigorously point that out.

May's Greens do have a separatist candidate

As for the Green leader herself, Elizabeth May is growing frustrated at NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's attacks on her. 

The NDP leader frequently points to May's willingness to prop up a Conservative minority government, however far-fetched that idea seems. He also needles her for having a few candidates who are, he claims, wobbly on abortion, and for tolerating one candidate, former NDPer Pierre Nantel, who has openly declared himself to be a sovereigntist (translation: separatist). 

May says none of that is true. At best, she says, the charges are based on a distorted interpretation of her statements. 

On the prospect of the Greens propping up a Conservative government, May has a point. There is no chance Andrew Scheer could ever meet her demands on climate change. 

When it comes to the supposedly anti-abortion candidates, well, that seems to be something of a gray area. But on Green candidate Pierre Nantel declaring himself to be a separatist, the NDP has Elizabeth May dead to rights. Nantel did just that, unequivocally, and has not backed down.

Singh will have to make his ambitious plans sound practical

For his part, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh goes into the next round of debates with a breeze, if not a hard wind, in his sails. 

He did well in the first two leaders' debates, the earlier Maclean's debate and the more recent French language TVA debate. On the latter, Quebec pundits and analysts gave Singh high marks for being genuine and natural, and for connecting with progressive values shared by many Quebecers -- on the environment, on income redistribution and on a woman's right to choose. 

National Post columnist John Ivison does not have much sympathy for the 2019 NDP's left populist positions, which pit the people against the rich and powerful. But Ivision begrudgingly admits Singh and the NDP might be connecting with voters

For Ivison, there are echoes here of the 1972 campaign, when then-NDP leader David Lewis campaigned against corporate welfare bums and won what was then a record number of seats for his party, 31. Pierre Trudeau's Liberals, who, like Justin Trudeau's Liberals in 2015, had been elected with a big majority in 1968, were reduced to a minority, with just two seats more than the Progressive Conservatives

Ivison points to a recent Angus Reid Institute poll that gives Singh the highest favourability rating among all leaders. That does not translate, yet, into support for the party, but there's still lots of campaign to go. 

Having said that, it is important to recognize that the NDP's talk of massively expanding public health coverage to include not only prescription drugs, but dental and other forms of health care, of moving toward a national child care program, and of putting measures to combat climate change on a fast track, strike many as appealing, but overly ambitious and unrealistic. 

Singh says he would pay for the NDP's promises by raising the corporate tax rate, increasing income taxes on the super-rich, going after offshore tax havens and closing loopholes such as the one governing stock options. 

But when the NDP leader talked about all this on CBC's The National, with supposedly undecided voters, many worried that higher taxes would scare away investment and jobs.

Sunny Rajwan of Abbotsford, British Columbia, told Singh: "The last time I checked we work in a capitalist economy … corporations aren't in it to play at charity …" 

This handpicked, straight-from-central-CBC-casting undecided voter said he worried that someday in the future, after high taxes will have chased investors and jobs away, the NDP will knock on his door and say "hey, we have to pay for all our promises" and ask him to pony up. 

Singh made a game effort to defend himself, pointing out that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has posited that for the rich there would be a big cost to picking up stakes and leaving Canada. Singh said his party has limited its proposed tax increase on the wealthy to one per cent, precisely because at that small rate it would be more expensive for wealthy individuals to leave than to stay.

Host Rosemary Barton then chimed in.  

She asked Singh if he realized it was corporations that created jobs, arguing that we in Canada cannot afford to raise our corporate tax rate given that Donald Trump has slashed the U.S. rate. 

Singh did his best to answer, although he might consider working on his talking points on this one. 

The NDP leader failed to explain, for instance, that Canada's single-payer health insurance system, even as currently constituted, gives this country a competitive advantage in attracting jobs. South of the border, companies have to pay for expensive private group health plans for their workers. 

If Canada were to significantly expand coverage of health services, in line with the NDP's proposal, that would only add to our competitive advantage. 

Employers would no longer have to finance a costly suite of extended health benefits for their workers. It would mean a considerable saving for businesses operating in Canada. 

Singh will also have to find some way of explaining that it is okay for him to have said he hopes Donald Trump is impeached. He will have to tell Canadians how, if he were to become prime minister, he would still be able to deal effectively with the U.S. president. 

And the NDP leader should consider how he would handle equally tough questions on the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement and on his position that Canada should break its agreement to sell military vehicles to Saudi Arabia. 

For all of the leaders, and for voters, the debates will be both a challenge and an opportunity. The leaders will have to defend themselves, their records and their past statements. But they will also have the opportunity to enunciate something resembling a vision for the country.

Voters will have a chance to see how well they do very soon. 

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

Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

 
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[l] at 10/4/19 4:43pm
October 4, 2019 Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer, when he was a starship captain … really! Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr. Andrew Scheer lacks ambition when it comes to twisting the truth Who knew that Andrew Scheer would turn out to have a trunkful of dirty little secrets, with the emphasis on little?
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[l] at 10/3/19 10:59am
October 3, 2019 Six books to help you understand key election issues Campaign soundbites don't always capture the bigger issues at play in an election. We've rounded up six books that dive deeper into major issues in the 2019 federal campaign.
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[l] at 10/2/19 11:54pm
David J. Climenhaga Alberta's historic Legislature Building in Edmonton as climate protesters gathered last Friday. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Who knew? It turns out anyone can stick up anything they like in the windows of the stately and historic Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton and they won't be breaking any rules.

This even includes Matt Wolf, Jason Kenney's personal Twitter troll, formally known as the Alberta premier's director of issues management, who during last Friday's climate action protest could be seen peering past an I-[HEART]-[MAPLE LEAF]-Oil+Gas sign at the 4,000-plus mostly youthful demonstrators below.

The explanation: There are no rules.

This must make the granite and sandstone Beaux Arts pile overlooking the North Saskatchewan River Valley, completed in 1913 at the then substantial cost of $2 million, unusual and possibly unique among major public buildings just about anywhere.

I imagine it would make the three architects who had a hand in its design -- Allan Merrick Jeffers, Richard Blakey, and Percy Nobbs -- spin like tops in their crypts if they knew!

But there it is. I have this on very good authority. Lianne Bell, chief of staff to Speaker Nathan Cooper, responded to my query about the rules for signage informatively and succinctly yesterday: "There are no rules or guidelines around signage in windows of the Legislative Building."

End of story? Probably not.

Opposition leader Rachel Notley, at a pre-budget town hall in St. Albert last night, observed that "there were four thousand people who were talking about the future of our planet out there and all our leadership could do was put up signs trolling them from the safety of the inside of the cabinet room!"

"Frankly, I think you should go out and talk to protesters,' she said, recalling the days when she was premier and her NDP government's farm-safety legislation was unpopular with many farmers. "We had 1,000 people protesting when we introduced legislation to protect farm workers, and our ministers and MLAs went out and spoke to people."

She noted that she couldn't recall a similar example of political staff or politicians posting signs in the more than a decade she’s been a member of the legislature, and dismissed the absence of any UCP ministers or MLAs in the crowd as cowardice.

Notley is certainly right that sophomoric displays of partisan signs in the building are highly unusual, and nothing much controversial in this vein seems to have happened since interlopers unknown lowered a Bolshevik banner from the press gallery of the legislative chamber onto the Speaker's throne in the 1920s.

Of course, the legislature is pretty much the fiefdom of the Speaker, so Cooper can make any rule he likes if he perceives that MLAs or their staffers are starting to go bolshie.

And with friends like Wolf in the building, that might not be a bad idea. As soon as word there are no rules starts to get around -- sorry about that, mea maxima culpa -- it wouldn't be surprising if the premiers' boys in short pants start carving their initials in the sandstone.

Notley on that ambassadorial rumour: 'I'm staying on until the next election"

While Notley was in St. Albert, I took the opportunity to ask her about Wolf's pre-federal-election creative writing on Twitter to the effect a re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will name her ambassador to Washington.

While many of us might think Notley would do a fine job for Canada in such a role, it's just not on, she assured me. "I've been very clear. I'm staying on until the next election.

"That's what I said election night, that's what I've been saying to everybody since. I'm flattered that the UCP wants me to go so much, but unfortunately for them it's my plan to stay around and stand up for Albertans."

It's interesting, she added, that the premier's issues management guy -- salary, $194,253 per annum; Twitter followers, 1,222 -- "is so worried about my future that he's actually dedicating time to trying to create groundless rumours."

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 with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga
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[l] at 10/2/19 3:14pm
October 2, 2019 Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Image: Screenshot/Andrew Scheer/Twitter Andrew Scheer promises a 25 percent foreign aid cut based on false figures For the Conservatives, overseas development assistance, like immigration or Canada's stance on the Middle East, is a political punching bag, designed to attract votes by spreading fear and resentment.
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[l] at 10/2/19 3:06pm
Karl Nerenberg Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Image: Screenshot/Andrew Scheer/Twitter

Canadian political leaders don't like telling voters what programs or services they plan to cut. They would rather talk about finding efficiencies and cutting waste. 

The exception, it seems, are programs and services aimed at people who do not live in Canada. They are fair game, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has them in his sights. He has promised to cut Canada's overseas development assistance (ODA) by a whopping $1.5 billion, or 25 per cent.

In support of this bold, new policy, Scheer is now inveighing against Justin Trudeau for spending Canadian tax dollars to "build roads and bridges in foreign countries" rather than on hard-working Canadians. 

The Conservative leader does not want to sound heartless, cruel and callous, of course, so he says his government would focus on cutting ODA to middle- and upper-income countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and G7 member Italy. A Conservative government would, he says, still provide assistance to the poorest and most needy countries, those in the least developed group as measured by the United Nations' Human Development Index.

When you look at the facts, however, that is a hollow and entirely fraudulent promise. The CBC's fact checker has devastatingly (for Scheer) crunched the numbers

Ridiculous and fictitious claims about aid to wealthy and middle-income countries 

When he announced the 25 per cent reduction in the aid budget, Scheer named 10 middle- and upper-income countries -- which include, in addition to those named above, Turkey, Russia, Barbados and China -- to which he would cut assistance altogether. But here's the rub. In the most recent fiscal year, Canada contributed a paltry total of $22 million to all of those combined. In the case of Italy, it was about two million dollars for earthquake relief. 

Cutting that $22 million would bring Scheer less than two per cent of the way to his goal of slashing $1.5 billion from the aid budget. And where would he have to look for the other 98 per cent? Scheer and his Conservatives would have no choice but to cut deeply into assistance for those least developed countries to which they claim they want to redirect funds.

On CBC Radio's As It Happens, Conservative global affairs critic Erin O'Toole refused to answer when host Carol Off pointed out that fact to him. 

O'Toole kept repeating his talking points about cutting aid to countries such as Italy and Brazil, until, in the end, he was forced to claim the Conservatives, as an opposition party, do not have access to the "granular" information about current ODA spending they would need to get into detail as to how they would go about cutting the $1.5 billion.

It was a telling admission of ignorance. 

If true, it would mean the Conservatives just made a grossly irresponsible promise, without the necessary knowledge to back it up. 

But, in fact, O'Toole's claim that his party lacks access to essential information is patently false. 

Global Affairs Canada, the federal department responsible for ODA, makes detailed information about its spending and programs available, online and accessible to everyone, including opposition parties. 

As well, all political parties have access to the excellent, professional and non-partisan research services of the Library of Parliament, which are not available to the general public. They just have to ask.

In other words, there is no excuse for an opposition party to claim it does not have enough information on existing government spending programs to fully elaborate how they would carry out a policy change.

For the Conservatives, overseas development assistance, like immigration or Canada's stance on the Middle East, is a political punching bag, designed to attract votes by spreading fear and resentment.   

Liberal record is poor; Scheer would do worse, much worse

The sick irony of all this is that the Liberal government has been a huge disappointment in the area of overseas development assistance. 

For many, many years, both the OECD, of which Canada is a member, and the United Nations have recommended that wealthy countries spend no less than 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on development assistance. Five decades ago, in 1969, a commission headed by former Canadian Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson reaffirmed this target.

And yet, Canada has never come close to meeting that target. The current Liberal government spends a paltry 0.28 per cent of our GDP on assistance, less than the Harper Conservatives, who invested 0.30 per cent.

Former Conservative British prime minister David Cameron is making the media rounds to talk about his new book of memoirs, and, when asked about accomplishments of which he is proud, never fails to mention the fact that his government boosted British ODA spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP. 

By comparison Canada is a laggard wealthy country, not pulling its weight. 

When we drill down to specifics, the Trudeau government looks even worse, especially given its penchant for virtuous rhetoric on such matters as concern for the poor and for building democratic institutions. 

The McLeod Group, an Ottawa development experts' think tank, recently did a study focused on assistance for democracy and combatting authoritarianism in the developing world. It shows the Trudeau Liberals have entirely failed to live up to their high expectations .

"Canada does not currently have any institution whose mandate is to coordinate and support Canada's international democracy assistance," the report states. "The Office of Democratic Governance, which was created in 2006 within the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), seems to have been dissolved. Rights & Democracy, an independent institution created by Parliament in 1988 to support human rights and promote democracy around the world, was abolished in 2012 by the Harper government, among other things because of its work on Palestinian rights and on access to abortion for women."

Given the mess the Harper government made of this file one would have expected the Trudeau government to do better. However, the McLeod experts point out, the Liberals "have failed to distinguish themselves from the previous government."

The McLeod study shows that Canadian government funding for democratic development has declined over the past decade. 

In 2004-2005 the now-abolished CIDA invested $341 million in governance and democratic development. In 2017-2018, the Canadian government spent about half that, $169.5 million.

Trudeau's approach to overseas development assistance policy has been, in essence, to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

But Andrew Scheer now promises to do much worse than both Trudeau and Stephen Harper. If elected, the current Conservative leader will start throwing deck chairs overboard.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.   Image: Screenshot/Andrew Scheer/Twitter
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[l] at 10/2/19 3:06pm
Karl Nerenberg Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Image: Screenshot/Andrew Scheer/Twitter

Canadian political leaders don't like telling voters what programs or services they plan to cut. They would rather talk about finding efficiencies and cutting waste. 

The exception, it seems, are programs and services aimed at people who do not live in Canada. They are fair game, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has them in his sights. He has promised to cut Canada's overseas development assistance (ODA) by a whopping $1.5 billion, or 25 per cent.

In support of this bold, new policy, Scheer is now inveighing against Justin Trudeau for spending Canadian tax dollars to "build roads and bridges in foreign countries" rather than on hard-working Canadians. 

The Conservative leader does not want to sound heartless, cruel and callous, of course, so he says his government would focus on cutting ODA to middle- and upper-income countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and G7 member Italy. A Conservative government would, he says, still provide assistance to the poorest and most needy countries, those in the least developed group as measured by the United Nations' Human Development Index.

When you look at the facts, however, that is a hollow and entirely fraudulent promise. The CBC's fact checker has devastatingly (for Scheer) crunched the numbers

Ridiculous and fictitious claims about aid to wealthy and middle-income countries 

When he announced the 25 per cent reduction in the aid budget, Scheer named 10 middle- and upper-income countries -- which include, in addition to those named above, Turkey, Russia, Barbados and China -- to which he would cut assistance altogether. But here's the rub. In the most recent fiscal year, Canada contributed a paltry total of $22 million to all of those combined. In the case of Italy, it was about two million dollars for earthquake relief. 

Cutting that $22 million would bring Scheer less than two per cent of the way to his goal of slashing $1.5 billion from the aid budget. And where would he have to look for the other 98 per cent? Scheer and his Conservatives would have no choice but to cut deeply into assistance for those least developed countries to which they claim they want to redirect funds.

On CBC Radio's As It Happens, Conservative global affairs critic Erin O'Toole refused to answer when host Carol Off pointed out that fact to him. 

O'Toole kept repeating his talking points about cutting aid to countries such as Italy and Brazil, until, in the end, he was forced to claim the Conservatives, as an opposition party, do not have access to the "granular" information about current ODA spending they would need to get into detail as to how they would go about cutting the $1.5 billion.

It was a telling admission of ignorance. 

If true, it would mean the Conservatives just made a grossly irresponsible promise, without the necessary knowledge to back it up. 

But, in fact, O'Toole's claim that his party lacks access to essential information is patently false. 

Global Affairs Canada, the federal department responsible for ODA, makes detailed information about its spending and programs available, online and accessible to everyone, including opposition parties. 

As well, all political parties have access to the excellent, professional and non-partisan research services of the Library of Parliament, which are not available to the general public. They just have to ask.

In other words, there is no excuse for an opposition party to claim it does not have enough information on existing government spending programs to fully elaborate how they would carry out a policy change.

For the Conservatives, overseas development assistance, like immigration or Canada's stance on the Middle East, is a political punching bag, designed to attract votes by spreading fear and resentment.   

Liberal record is poor; Scheer would do worse, much worse

The sick irony of all this is that the Liberal government has been a huge disappointment in the area of overseas development assistance. 

For many, many years, both the OECD, of which Canada is a member, and the United Nations have recommended that wealthy countries spend no less than 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on development assistance. Five decades ago, in 1969, a commission headed by former Canadian Liberal prime minister Lester Pearson reaffirmed this target.

And yet, Canada has never come close to meeting that target. The current Liberal government spends a paltry 0.28 per cent of our GDP on assistance, less than the Harper Conservatives, who invested 0.30 per cent.

Former Conservative British prime minister David Cameron is making the media rounds to talk about his new book of memoirs, and, when asked about accomplishments of which he is proud, never fails to mention the fact that his government boosted British ODA spending to 0.7 per cent of GDP. 

By comparison Canada is a laggard wealthy country, not pulling its weight. 

When we drill down to specifics, the Trudeau government looks even worse, especially given its penchant for virtuous rhetoric on such matters as concern for the poor and for building democratic institutions. 

The McLeod Group, an Ottawa development experts' think tank, recently did a study focused on assistance for democracy and combatting authoritarianism in the developing world. It shows the Trudeau Liberals have entirely failed to live up to their high expectations .

"Canada does not currently have any institution whose mandate is to coordinate and support Canada's international democracy assistance," the report states. "The Office of Democratic Governance, which was created in 2006 within the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), seems to have been dissolved. Rights & Democracy, an independent institution created by Parliament in 1988 to support human rights and promote democracy around the world, was abolished in 2012 by the Harper government, among other things because of its work on Palestinian rights and on access to abortion for women."

Given the mess the Harper government made of this file one would have expected the Trudeau government to do better. However, the McLeod experts point out, the Liberals "have failed to distinguish themselves from the previous government."

The McLeod study shows that Canadian government funding for democratic development has declined over the past decade. 

In 2004-2005 the now-abolished CIDA invested $341 million in governance and democratic development. In 2017-2018, the Canadian government spent about half that, $169.5 million.

Trudeau's approach to overseas development assistance policy has been, in essence, to shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

But Andrew Scheer now promises to do much worse than both Trudeau and Stephen Harper. If elected, the current Conservative leader will start throwing deck chairs overboard.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.   Image: Screenshot/Andrew Scheer/Twitter
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[l] at 10/1/19 1:13pm
October 1, 2019 NDP leader addresses crowd during 2019 federal election campaign. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook At midpoint, election 2019 still awaits narrative to inspire voters A successful election campaign tells a story. Finding and amplifying narratives key to attracting voter support is what will drive the next weeks of the campaign.
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[l] at 10/1/19 9:07am
Alex Cosh Madeleine Sauvé and some of her campaign team. Image: Twitter/Madeleine Sauvé

Abbotsford is one of the most staunchly Conservative federal ridings in British Columbia.

In fact, Conservative MPs have represented the district since it was created in 2004, and, despite dropping 18.6 percentage points, incumbent Ed Fast won the district handily with 48.3 per cent  of the vote in 2015.

However, this year's NDP challenger, Madeleine Sauvé believes the city is changing. For example, the NDP candidate said that some families moving into the city from Vancouver and the interior are importing pro-LGBTQ views that are at odds with the socially conservative positions typically associated with some of the Fraser Valley region's Christian communities. 

"I attended a pride event this summer, and I was very proud of Abbotsford," she told rabble.ca. "It was very well attended, and it was a very diverse crowd. It was a celebration, and there was no controversy or backlash present."

While it's unlikely Sauvé will even come close to unseating Fast, the NDP candidate says her campaign is working hard to at least establish a progressive beachhead in the city. She is one of several candidates carrying a left-leaning platform deep into B.C.'s right-wing heartlands.

Sauvé said the NDP's attention to housing, transportation, climate action and access to education is connecting particularly well with pockets of voters in her community.

"People are definitely looking for stability," she explained. "If they're working-class people, they still feel at risk of being displaced. There's that precariousness that is worrisome and stressful."

Although rent in Abbotsford is more affordable than Vancouver, the Canadian Rental Housing Index still ranks the Fraser Valley region as "severely unaffordable" for households earning up to $22,749 per year, and "unaffordable" for those earning up to $42,903 per year. The NDP platform promises to create 500,000 units of affordable housing across Canada in 10 years.

However, Sauvé said deeply entrenched conservative views spanning generations can present major challenges to getting that message across.

"I will encounter families walking together, and when I say 'NDP,' the older people in the group immediately shutdown, and the younger people are somewhat interested," she said.

Sauvé added that during the nomination process, she met women voters who said they had to ask permission from their husbands before signing the NDP candidate's papers.

Despite these deep-seated obstacles, however, Sauvé said that the BC NDP provincial government's measures aimed at addressing affordability issues -- such as the Speculation and Vacancy Tax -- have helped bolster the federal party's brand in some parts of the district.

"I'm not talking to people who are investors, I'm talking to people who are renting or who are new buyers," she said. "For the longest time, Christy Clark's Liberals said the solution was to build more condos, and that just seemed to exacerbate the issue."

But if pitching investment in public services sounds difficult in a district largely ruled by conservative thinking, imagine campaigning for a large-scale transition away from fossil fuels in oil and gas-producing regions.

That's what the Green Party's Catharine Kendall is doing in the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies riding.

The region is home to several fossil fuel sites, including a refinery in Prince George and natural gas facilities around the Montney formation.

Perhaps not surprisingly, various conservative MPs have represented the area since 1972. The current representative, Bob Zimmer, won in 2015 with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

"I'm coming from a place of just going to listen to everybody," Kendall said. " I feel that everybody's story is valid, and so I don't really expect there to be much hostility or negativity."

Kendall noted it's not only oil and gas workers who live and vote in the riding. The Green candidate previously worked with Health Canada in the Blueberry River Nation, which was exposed to a sour gas well leak in 1979.

"They were literally moved a kilometre away, and were still surrounded by sour gas well leaks," Kendall said. "They are still in court as of this year, expecting some kind of compensation."

A 2016 report by Ecotrust found that, according to B.C. government data, up to 84 per cent of the Blueberry River traditional territory has been negatively affected by industrial activity.

"That really woke me up to the impact on people that live in these areas," Kendall continued, "people who don't have choices about what's behind their front and back door. I want to bring those perspectives to the broader public."

The Green candidate said she could imagine her party's "Mission Possible" climate action program creating more jobs in waste management, local food production, and hemp farming in the region. However, she added, the immediate challenge in northern B.C. is overcoming the region's petro-identity conservatism, which oil and gas industry-sponsored astro-turf groups continue to fuel.

"It's all about special interest groups, and the larger the special interest group the more power they have," Kendall said, "so then we have First Nations people who are basically under the auspices of the corporations because that's who's in their backyard."

Both Kendall and Sauvé agree Canada's first-past-the-post voting system is shutting out significant pockets of support for progressive counter narratives.

"It was a real visceral disappointment [when Trudeau broke his promise on electoral reform]," Sauvé said, "and I feel like other things have overshadowed that disappointment."

"There are clusters of people who think one way, and are going to be run by a political voice that's taken by the majority," Kendall said. "Overall we still need to educate lots of people about voting, period."

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[l] at 9/30/19 1:20pm
September 30, 2019 An anti-LGBTQ march in Toronto. Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr Media need guidelines for reporting on hate How should the news media identify and report on hate and extremist groups in Canada? Should they report on them at all?
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[l] at 9/29/19 1:53pm
John Miller An anti-LGBTQ march in Toronto. Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr

How should the news media identify and report on hate and extremist groups in Canada? Should they report on them at all?

Across North America and Europe, there is no doubt that extremism -- especially by right-wing groups like white supremacists and anti-Muslims -- is on the rise. In Canada, the number of reported hate crimes skyrocketed 47 per cent in 2017, according to the latest figures available from Statistics Canada. It marked the fourth consecutive year that they have gone up. The increase was fueled by incidents primarily taking place in Ontario and Quebec targeting Canada's Jewish, Muslim and Black populations. But issues like abortion and sexual orientation have also attracted extremist opposition.

This is clearly news worth covering.

But how it should be covered is a problem that our news media are still wrestling with.

A good example is how last Saturday's provocative march by a fringe group of anti-LGBTQ activists was covered in the Toronto media. Police kept the rally from reaching its destination in the Gay Village but the commotion caused downtown streets to be blocked to traffic for several hours.

On a slow news day, the Toronto Star devoted two-thirds of page 3 in its Sunday edition to the story. Its headline -- "Christian Rally in Village Sparks Tense Showdown" -- inaccurately said the protesters reached their destination. It described the organizers as "a Christian group" led by an "evangelist preacher" whose "ministry" espouses "radical" preaching -- more or less how the group describes itself on its website. 

A counter demonstration was held by several hundred supporters of the LGBTQ community, fresh from a "Unite for Love" rally addressed by Toronto's mayor and mainstream faith leaders. Details about that appeared seven paragraphs into the story. However, to its credit, the newspaper covered the rally extensively, devoting 17 of the story's 32 paragraphs to it, and quoting Mayor John Tory as saying that he stands firmly against the "haters" -- those who he said are about division, polarization, stigmatization and discrimination.

Wait a minute. I thought it was a rally mounted by "Christians," not haters?

The Star was careful to provide background information on the organizer, David Lynn, who was described as an "evangelical preacher" and a founding member of something called Christ's Forgiveness Ministries. It noted that he was arrested in June for causing a disturbance while attempting to preach in the Gay Village, and "is widely viewed by the community as a threat." 

It described his followers as carrying Maxime Bernier signs and ones that read "Civil rights are for Christians too." A supporter was quoted as saying the gay community has too many rights and this was a rally about freedom of speech, not hate. 

The Star story and cutline described Lynn as an “evangelist preacher” and his followers as a "Christian group" -- perhaps giving them a certain religious legitimacy they did not deserve. Their only known church is the street corner at Yonge and Dundas. 

The Toronto Sun, on the other hand, covered the rally not as a news story but in a 13-paragraph column by Liz Braun, headlined "Christians March; LGBTQ2 Community Turns Other Cheek." It focused on the community's demonstration against what Braun called "a Christian group known for anti-LGBTQ2 and anti-muslim (sic) rhetoric."

She said "It was peace, love and understanding in Barbara Hall Park, as Unite For Love brought out religious and political leaders to speak passionately about unity, equality, and conquering hate." She contrasted that to a "controversial" rally organized "ostensibly to defend the rights and freedoms of Christians."

In contrast to the Star's description of a tense showdown, Braun wrote: "A line of police on foot and on bicycles separated the two factions, ensuring a potentially volatile situation remained peaceful. It was a good day to be a Torontonian."

The rally was also downplayed by The Canadian Press. The agency filed a 9-paragraph news story that it sent out by wire to other news outlets across the country. It did not quote Lynn or describe any of his group's rhetoric. The story began: "Umbrella-toting crowds rallied for unity in rainy Toronto on Saturday in response to an anti-LGBTQ group's planned march through the city's gay village."

It said only that the protesters "call themselves Christian free-speech advocates."

So three different news outlets, three different standards for coverage. Which way served society best?

Most news organizations have written standards of practice, covering how their journalists should ensure accuracy, and what they should do to verify facts, maintain their independence and be accountable to the public. None that I know of have developed standards for covering extremist groups, but these standards are clearly needed.

Here are some questions news organizations should think about asking themselves, in my opinion:

What constitutes extremism? Most experts define it as beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions or strategies that target someone or something else and go beyond the norm. In conflicts involving race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, extremism manifests itself in groups that espouse hatred, violence, confrontation, open demonstrations or disruption to make their point.

Extremism can come from both the right and the left. Right-wing extremists generally criticize the democratic state for its liberal social welfare policies and tolerance of diverse opinion. White supremacists and anti-immigration activists can fall in this category. Left-wing extremism, on the other hand, refers to the use or threat of violence by groups that oppose capitalism, imperialism and colonialism. Some environmental or animal rights groups can fall into this category, as can anarchists.

Why should extremist groups be covered at all? Because it's important to know they're out there and on the rise. Barbara Perry, a professor and expert on hate crime, claims there are at least 130 active far-right extremist groups in Canada -- a 30 per cent increase, she says, from 2015. She is co-author of Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right-Wing Extremist Movement in Canada, a three-year study involving interviews with Canadian law enforcement officials, community organizations and right-wing activists.

Most of these groups are organized around ideologies against certain religions and races, with anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiments being the most common, followed by hatred for immigrants, Indigenous people, women, LGBTQ communities and other minority groups.

How should extremist groups be described? In the case of Saturday's demonstration, "Christian" is clearly a misnomer. There was nothing "Christian" about their intent, nor was the rally about free speech. Media should be wary about letting these groups characterize themselves. Lynn and his followers were clearly acting as anti-LGBTQ activists and provocateurs.

Cloaking extremist groups in respectability is misleading. Avoid terms like "alt-right" and "white nationalists." Research their activities and characterize them accordingly, perhaps as "white supremacists" or "anti-Muslim," if those terms fit. "Free speech" is often a false banner of respectability too. We all have freedom of speech guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution, so it doesn’t need to be claimed in the streets, disrupting civil society.

How should stories about extremism be framed? Responsible reporters should not gratuitously spread the messages that hate groups want to spread. On Saturday, was the news about a hundred or so extremists disrupting traffic, or was it about hundreds of citizens, the mayor, church leaders and the LGBTQ community turning the tables and celebrating and defending their hard-won rights? Lead with the more responsible news angle.

What should we do and not do? Don't link to their websites, as I might have done when I mentioned how Lynn's group described itself. Be careful about quoting incendiary and hateful rhetoric; paraphrase it when you can. Do know sources you can contact to counter hateful, extreme or misleading opinion. Investigate the actions, background, views and funding of extreme groups so you can accurately describe them for readers.

Be cautious and skeptical, and remember: What we consider extremism today can mean something else tomorrow.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. criticized use of that descriptor by the mainstream media in his Letter from Burmingham Jail. "But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love…Was not Amos an extremist for justice…Was not Martin Luther an extremist…So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"

Here, good people, endeth the lesson.

From media executive to media critic, John Miller has seen journalism from all sides (and he often doesn't like what he sees). He draws on his 40 years in news, including five years as deputy managing editor of the Toronto Star, and 10 years as chairman of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University. His 1998 book Yesterday's News documented how newspapers were forfeiting their role as our primary information source. This column originally appeared on John's blog.

Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr

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[l] at 9/27/19 8:45am
September 27, 2019 Greta Thunberg/Twitter Message of the youth climate strike threatens comfortable illusions of baby boomers When it comes to per capita emissions, only three countries exceed Canada's: Australia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
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[l] at 9/26/19 9:08pm
Karl Nerenberg Greta Thunberg/Twitter

While young people in Canada are taking part in the global climate strike, some of my baby boomer generation are, however timidly, expressing solidarity and support. But a good many others are at best bemused and indifferent; at worst, openly hostile to the anguish and anger of the young.

I know fellow baby boomers who take comfort in the fact that, in the aggregate, Canada, only contributes two per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

We are only 38 million, they say. We might be wealthy enough to be included in the G7, but we are only a medium-size country. What we contribute to global warming has got to be tiny, compared to much larger countries, such as the U.S., China, India, Russia and Germany.

Those are, indeed, comforting thoughts for those among us who want to get back into their SUVs and book this coming winter's flights to a sunny destination. 

But before we wallow too happily in our complacency, consider this: Although by population we rank 39th, when it comes to total emissions we are ninth in the world

Canada's total carbon dioxide emissions for 2016 were 541 million tonnes. That was more than Indonesia's, which has eight times our population, or Brazil's with more than five times our population. 

And even if we only compare ourselves to fellow affluent G7 countries, in 2016, Canada emitted 170 million tonnes more than the U.K., in excess of 200 million tonnes more than Italy, and 250 million tonnes more than France. 

Things get even worse for Canada when you consider per capita emissions.

As a country, we in Canada emit 14.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. The per capita figure for Japan is 9 million tonnes, for Germany 8.9 million tonnes, and for France it is less than a third of ours, 4.5 million tonnes. 

When it comes to per capita emissions, only three countries exceed ours: Australia, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Yes, we are a big country, with vast distances and a cold climate. That, at least, is the argument some make to defend our embarrassingly high rate of emissions. 

But that notion of bigness is deceptive. We are, in truth, one of the most urbanized countries on earth. We may have a vast territory, but most of us live in large, often sprawling, urban agglomerations, within hailing distance of our southern border. 

The fact is that, by and large, we do not plan our towns and cities, or our urban transit, or our agriculture, or our lifestyles to minimize our consumption of greenhouse gas producing energy. 

We overheat in the winter and maniacally use air conditioning in the summer. And we design our urban spaces in such a way that, for a huge number of us, every little task in life -- from buying a litre of milk to availing ourselves of medical services to getting to our jobs -- requires the use of the private automobile. 

There are vast regions of Canada's urban landscape where it is, literally, dangerous to walk. If you were to try to get somewhere on foot you would have to navigate streets that are, in reality, virtual highways -- long, dark, lonely stretches of road that make no provision for pedestrians, or, for that matter, cyclists. 

It is also true, of course, that we have a large and economically important industry devoted to exploiting fossil fuel. And much of that fuel is extremely difficult to extract, locked as it is in the inhospitable environment of the tar sands. To get at our reserves of oil and gas, a good part of our industry must produce massive volumes of emissions.

And so, on the one hand, our way of life means that we casually and heedlessly produce far more emissions than most similar countries, while, on the other, our continued prosperity is tied up in the powerful industry which extracts and sells the fuel that creates the emissions. 

No wonder a good many more mature Canadians will keep their distance while the young try to convince us to consider a future beyond the current fiscal year.

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

Image: Greta Thunberg/Twitter
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[l] at 9/26/19 1:35pm
Humberto da Silva Jordan and his mother, Virginia Anderson. Image: Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

In her newest film, Indigenous writer and director Alanis Obomsawin documents the short life of Jordan River Anderson, and his legacy for Aboriginal children in the form of "Jordan's Principle."

Jordan's parents were from the Norway House Cree Nation, Manitoba, located 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Jordan's mother Virginia had to be flown to Winnipeg to give birth at the children's hospital due to complications. Jordan was born in that hospital, and never left. There was a dispute between the Manitoba and federal governments as to which level was responsible for Jordan's home-care costs. So because this issue remained unresolved until Jordan died in 2005, he never went home. Ironically, the hospital care he received was ultimately also the most expensive, and tragically, the distance destroyed his family. 

Jordan's face was paralyzed, and he needed to be fed through his stomach. Jordan breathed through a hole in his throat, and he never spoke. Jordan had to be in or near a hospital in a medical foster home. The federal and provincial governments could not agree which would pay for the modifications to a medical foster home that would be needed to accommodate Jordan in his home community. So Jordan was never released from the hospital. Jordan's mother had to divide her time between Jordan in the hospital and her other three children back in Norway House. The other children were left without a mother for months at a time. Jordan died when he was barely five years old. His mother outlived him by just 10 months.

Jordan's short existence gave the lie to any assertion that all Canadians enjoy equal access to health care. Due to an effective campaign on the part of Indigenous activists, the House of Commons passed "Jordan's Principle" into law in 2007. It states, in essence, that when an Indigenous child is in need of health care, the first level of government contacted will provide the care, even if there is a jurisdictional dispute. This should have prevented any other Indigenous children falling through any jurisdictional cracks in future, but unfortunately, things are never that easy for First Nations. 

When the needs of other Indigenous children met with the same jurisdictional infighting, it took a decision in the Canadian Human Rights Commission v. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada case to finally give spirit to the letter of Jordan's Principle. The battle was taken on behalf of a 16-year-old Indigenous boy named Noah Buffalo-Jackson. When Noah's parents tried to put him in school, neither the school nor the family could not get funding for the accommodations necessary to get Noah to school, solely because they lived on a reserve. Notwithstanding Jordan's Principle, they had to take the case to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and it took two compliance orders from the commission to finally get Noah into school, like any other child in Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission daylighted the residential school cultural genocide and the Sixties Scoop in the way separating children from their families destroyed these families. However, inadvertently or otherwise, Canadian governments at every level have continued to separate Indigenous children, and heap hardship upon, Indigenous families well into the new millennium. The government bureaucracies administering the Indian Act continued to be so crystallized in their oppressive roles that they could do nothing else. Such stories continue to this day, but are not often heard or seen.

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger tells a story that would never be told were it not for the National Film Board's support for Indigenous-led productions. It is beautifully shot and edited. The subjects are permitted to articulate their respective stories with no prompting or artifice. 

Jordan's life was short and full of suffering, but through the efforts of his family and dedicated Aboriginal activists, it was certainly not without meaning. Jordan's Principle is now a law in Canada in both letter and spirit. Over 219,000 services to Indigenous children have been approved (as of February 2019) that might otherwise have been denied in the labyrinth of intergovernmental jurisdictions. Jordan's Principle and its subsequent enforcement by the Canadian Human Rights Commission has forced governments to shoulder responsibility for the laws they make and to not use their resources to avoid their obligations to Indigenous people. 

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger reminds us of the battles that continue to be fought by Indigenous communities to assure a future for their children. Although Jordan never spoke, through the legal changes his short life wrought, his voice continues to be heard across Canada.

Humberto da Silva was born and lives in Toronto. Currently he is a videographer, a citizen journalist and a radical commentator

Image: Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

As of 11/15/19 12:40am. Last new 11/13/19 11:16pm.

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