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[l] at 1/17/20 4:22pm
January 17, 2020 Personal support workers (from left) Dyana Forshner-Juby, Gloria Turney, Mona Hjort and Jodi Vergburg. Images: submitted How the hunt for profits has shaped Ontario's home care system Privatization has negatively affected both workers and patients. The work is demanding, unstable and low-paying, and staff turnover is high.
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[l] at 1/17/20 1:38pm
World GTVM92/ Wikimedia Commons

One form of collateral damage — to use an odious term — from the recent Mideast assassination and shootdown, is that they undermined a series of popular protests occurring in Iraq and Iran. Iran alone saw protests against corruption and repression that spread far beyond Tehran, the capital.

True, there’s always popular opposition to misused power anywhere (I mean that literally) and you can catalogue a long list in Iran. What's easier to forget is that the Iranian revolution of 1979 wasn't made or led by mullahs.

It involved a coalition of anti-Shah, anti-U. S. forces who battled among themselves before Islamism won out. And they still felt a need to leave room for a (limited) free press and a (restricted but not meaningless) democratic process.

There are even Iranian theological critics of the regime, like Abdolkarim Soroush, who say Islamist governments contradict Islam's core principles.

More striking yet are the popular protests in Iraq, which began last October. They oppose government corruption and foreign interference, by both Iran and the U.S. They include Sunnis and Shiites — which is disorienting if you've been told that everything happening in Iraq, and the Mideast altogether, is down to Muslim sectarian identifications.

In fact, the Iraq protests, with many Shiites, were brutally attacked by Iraqi Shiite militias funded and controlled from Iran, and guided by Qassem Soleimani, whom the U.S. assassinated two weeks ago. And even some of those militias fought internally over whether to support the protesters.

These incipient, popular, apparently non-ideological movements, appeared doomed after Soleimani's assassination and the torrent of popular rage in both countries, against it. Then came the shootdown of 752 and the humiliating admission that Iran had done it — and the protests were back. What's going on?

It seems to me they bear a kinship to other popular, largely leaderless and essentially non-ideological movements currently roiling other societies.

  • The mostly rural "yellow vests" in France, who for over a year have gathered in roundabouts to protest. They've stubbornly not gone away and provided the only effective opposition to the arrogant, elitist (and highly ideological, in the sense of neoliberal) president Macron. Even France's corrupt, sclerotic, incompetent unions are now trying to ally with the gilets jaunes.
  • Chile's remarkable "The rapist is you!" gatherings — equal parts exuberance and fury — which were admired and imitated around the world.

There are other examples but, as I said, there's always popular protest happening. The striking thing about these is how lacking in ideologies — left, right religious — they are. Is it possible that we're witnessing the end of ideology?

No, of course not. Someone is always proclaiming the end of ideology. In the 1960s, sociologist Daniel Bell became famous for his book, "The End of Ideology." Almost immediately Maoism and similar energies swept the world.

In the 1990s, post-Cold War, Francis Fukuyama wrote "The End of History." But the left ideologies that he pronounced dead were largely replaced by religious ones, and not just in the Muslim world.

Still, there may be some features making this a less ideological age.

One is the climate crisis. It transcends ideas. Even if you say capitalism is to blame, that's academic. There isn’t time for deep, long-term transformations. Part of the seething, pervasive anger of the young is directed at their elders who’d rather argue over disagreements than do anything about survival.

Another is the form of globalization that the young experience. A student I recently met said, about possible war with Iran, that he and his peers just don’t get it.

The many places they come from, the way they mingle freely, the multifarious futures they anticipate, make a thing like going to war for your nation unintelligible. They identify with youth elsewhere in ways that weren't true in earlier times. That isn't theory or ideology, it's lived life.

(What about U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who attracts the young? Aside from insisting on calling himself a socialist, there's nothing ideological there. He's a resister and enemy of self-serving power. That's more a personality than an ideology.)

So an end to ideology? Not a chance. But there's reason to hope we may be moving beyond peak ideology and can soon start sliding down the other side.

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

Image: GTVM92/ Wikimedia Commons

Iran Iraq ideology Rick Salutin January 17, 2020 Iran and U.S. are far from 'done' Ways to build the peace movement and support real change. 'America exists today to make war,' says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson We should be skeptical when Trump, or any leader, invokes secret "intelligence" to justify their violent actions. The politics of crashed UIA flight 752 There's been a growing consensus that the crash wasn't a "normal" one. The plane was new and generally reliable. Pilots were experienced. Takeoff was routine. Then crash.
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[l] at 1/17/20 8:37am
Zaid Noorsumar Personal support workers (from left) Dyana Forshner-Juby, Gloria Turney and Mona Hjort. Images: submitted

"I'm just sad that I've done [care work] for my whole career. My whole career has been taking care of people and trying to uphold a certain standard of care. And to come to this stage, so close to being able to retire and of course, I'm retiring with nothing. I got nothing. There's no pension plan. And I'm sitting here with a toothache because I don't have dental coverage, and I'm like, I take my whole life to take care of people. And nobody's taking care of me." 

Dyana Forshner-Juby, a 58-year-old personal support worker for CarePartners, a for-profit home care company


The value of care work

Dyana Forshner-Juby is a personal support worker (PSW) with over 25 years of experience working in Ontario's care sector. She works in Belleville for CarePartners, an agency that is contracted by the provincial government to provide home care services.

The work is demanding, unstable and low-paying.

Forshner-Juby and her colleagues often drive long distances to visit patients at home -- generally seniors, but also younger people with disabilities. They provide personal care including feeding, showering and toileting people, but are increasingly tasked with responsibilities traditionally handled by nurses.

About 60 per cent of the 3,000 CarePartners workers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) earn $16.50 per hour. Workers say they often earn less than minimum wage as they don't get hourly wages when travelling between clients, while still accruing expenses for gas and car maintenance.

Scheduling is unpredictable and unstable. Several back-to-back home visits may be followed by hours of no work -- time when workers must be available for their employer but which goes unpaid. As a result, workers tend to pick up shifts during off-hours.

"They will give you five or six hours, sometimes eight," says Gloria Turney, who works shifts at a local hospital to supplement her income.

"But there are days when they give you one hour, there are days when they give you two."

Forshner-Juby mentions a colleague who recently had to visit her local food bank.

"She's got four children and she's a single mom," she says. "She couldn't count on her hours and then her car broke down and that's pretty much wiped her out. And she had to rent a car so she could continue to work."

Unsurprisingly, staff turnover is high.

Same funding, different outcomes

Forshner-Juby's benefits aren't particularly generous. She has 80 per cent of her medications covered, but no dental coverage. And yet, she shells out about $250 monthly for benefits while the employer contributes $70 a month. At the bargaining table, the SEIU is urging the employer to increase its benefits contributions to $100 to no avail.

CarePartners doesn't have a pension plan. Based on provincial law, Forshner-Juby is entitled to three weeks paid vacation but her poor compensation compels her to forgo the third week. And although she and her cohorts frequently visit ill patients, her employer is refusing workers paid sick days.

In Hamilton, the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) is another home care agency contracted by the government to provide services.

Based on the agreement with Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 269, VON Hamilton's full-time personal support workers are eligible for 18 paid sick days, benefits, a defined pension plan, hourly pay encompassing travelling time and up to seven weeks paid vacation.

However, as home care providers contracted by the government, both VON and CarePartners receive approximately $36 of public funds per hour of personal support service provided to clients.

What accounts for this huge disparity in compensation and benefits? The most notable distinction is in their raison d'etre -- VON is a charitable organization while CarePartners is a for-profit company.

Based on Statistics Canada data, operating profit margins for Ontario home care companies in 2017 were 7.8 per cent.

The for-profit takeover of the home care industry

Until the early 1990s, most providers in the home care industry in Ontario were non-profits. Agencies such as VON had a long history of catering to seniors and people with disabilities, stretching back to the late 19th century.

The sector was based on a co-operative model, whereby agencies in their quest to improve services shared information, knowledge and resources.

That changed in 1996 when the newly elected Conservative government led by Mike Harris introduced "managed competition," pitting providers against each other.

The province created 43 Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), Crown agencies that would contract home care services out to providers such as VON. The purported logic was to "create efficiencies" through a competitive bidding process.

But competition in the market comes down to lowering costs, which was in sync with the Conservatives' "Common Sense Revolution" of reducing government expenditures.

"The whole point of bringing competitive bidding was to open the so-called market to for-profits, and to invite them to go against the non-profits," says Natalie Mehra, executive director of the advocacy group Ontario Health Coalition.

"The for-profits were able to underbid non-profits by reducing the cost of labour."

In a 2001 report, the Ontario Health Coalition pointed out the disruptive role of the competitive bidding process. In 1999, VON lost a contract in Windsor to Olsten, a for-profit corporation  which had been convicted and fined $61 million for defrauding American Medicare.

As noted in the Centre for Policy Alternatives publication, "Unsafe Practices," VON's proposal was costlier by $7 an hour.

Olsten also won a contract in Sault Ste. Marie, despite having a sole staff member in the community.

The funding across CCACs was inequitable, arbitrary and inadequate. Clients with the same assessments were treated differently based on their region -- a problem that has persisted ever since.

Services were reduced for seniors and people with disabilities, many of whom had to swallow the bitter pill of losing workers they had formed bonds with.

Due to funding cuts, non-profits that had provided services for decades in some communities closed due to bankruptcy. In Haliburton and Victoria, VON shuttered after 26 years of operations after losing $240,000 in government funding.

The charitable Red Cross closed down in Windsor in 1999 after workers refused to accept a 50 per cent reduction in travel compensation.

But the market had spoken. In 2011, the OHC reported that for-profits were providing 64 per cent of home care personal support services compared to 18 per cent in 1995.

In 2009, in response to protests by unions and advocacy groups, the Liberals imposed a moratorium. The existing contracts were frozen in place and have largely remained unchanged since.

Currently, CarePartners is one of two home care agencies delivering service across all 14 local health units. The company initially operated in partnership with the non-profit Red Cross, before the latter exited the sector.

The CEO of CarePartners, Linda Knight, is also the chair of Home Care Ontario, the association that predominantly represents for-profit providers.

Workers pay the costs of privatization

Lucy Morton, president of OPSEU local 269, has worked as a nurse at VON Hamilton since 1982. Over the past two decades, she has witnessed the deterioration of the home care system.

It used to be a great job back when she first joined, she says.

The job came with respect, security and benefits. But she says privatization and for-profit delivery has negatively affected both workers and patients.

"There's only two ways to make money," Morton says. "It's either off the backs of the workers, or to cut back service on the very people who depend on you."

Prior to competitive bidding, home care was a more unionized sector. When for-profit corporations began to replace unionized non-profits, workers' rights were among the first casualties.

As the Conservatives rolled back successor rights (legislated by NDP), when contracts changed hands between employers, workers did not retain their unions.

According to Statistics Canada data from 2018, 31.8 per cent of home care workers in Ontario are unionized.

The for-profits tended to pay "piecework," had employees on split-shifts, and replaced full-time work with part-time, precarious roles without benefits.

"Working conditions deteriorated and there have been staffing shortages in health care ever since," Mehra says.

One study honing in on a mid-sized Ontario city, noticed that 52 per cent of nurses and personal support workers left their agency in the five years following the introduction of competitive bidding.

Currently, only 38 per cent of PSWs in home and community care are currently employed full time. According to Home Care Ontario, PSWs provide 74 per cent of the care in the sector.

Falling standards across the sector

Mehra says that for-profit takeover of the industry has shaped the working conditions across the sector even as non-profits retain the ability to compensate better.

"The wages and working conditions are better in non-profits as a general rule than in for-profit [companies]," Mehra says. "[But due to the legacy of competitive bidding] we see the non-profits copy the behavior of for-profits in order to compete."

This point of view is echoed by Charlene Nero, a regional director for the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA), which represents about 5,500 health care workers.

Nero says that although LiUNA's contracts with VON provides members with stable working hours, benefits, pension and sick days, these entitlements are largely given to full-time workers.

"Because they're competing with the for-profit sector, [non-profits] are constantly constantly engaging in the same activities that the for-profit sector engages in," Nero says. "So they have to avoid hiring full-time people and hire part-time people [instead]."

Indeed, the working conditions for many non-profits are terrible, especially when they are not unionized.

"There doesn't seem to be a big difference [based on ownership] at all," says Debbie Oldfield, organizer for CUPE in Kingston.

"And it's hard to know because when you interview people and they tell you what their wages are, they may be making more than someone else in the same [organization who's earning a lower wage]."

According to Deborah Simon, the CEO of Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA), the organization that represents non-profits, agencies struggle with compensating workers due to inadequate funding.

She says this is particularly a challenge in rural communities where workers travel long distances to reach clients.

Simon says better compensation for workers would also help with recruitment and retention, pointing to the PSW shortage.

However, the OCSA's members are now restricted by the Ford government's recently passed wage constraint legislation, which restricts publicly funded employers to one per cent wage increases. The legislation exempts for-profit providers.

"We've written a letter to Minister of Health [Christine] Elliot, asking for an exemption for our members to not be part of the legislation," Simon says.

The Ministry of Health, responding to questions over email, cites increased funding for personal support services and improving minimum wage for PSWs in its effort to improve working conditions.

The government's increased rates for hourly services amount to two per cent over a two-year period for the vast majority of personal support contracts.

Meanwhile, the current PSW minimum wage of $16.50 was enacted by the previous Liberal government, which phased in a $4 raise over three years from 2014 to 2016.

The government's response was influenced by the 16-day SEIU strike by CarePartners workers in December 2013.

'I'm retiring with nothing'

Dyana Forshner-Juby spent over a decade working in nursing homes until the late-1990s, before spending a few years in Mozambique and South Africa.

When she returned and decided to work in home care in 2007, she chose the charitable organization, Red Cross, as she was aware of their work in Africa. Over time, the non-profit merged with CarePartners before ultimately exiting the sector.

The job was a lot better before CarePartners came on board, Forshner-Juby says.

Because the Quinte office was among the last ones to merge with CarePartners, Forshner-Juby and her colleagues retained one of the last vestiges of their previous employment contracts -- pro-rated hourly wages for travelling time. However, the employer has forcibly removed that basic accommodation.

Forshner-Juby, a member of SEIU's bargaining committee and a union steward, is determined to fight. It's not like she has other options.

She has worked her way up within CarePartners to the top of the wage grid. Elsewhere, she will have to start at the bottom.

"I'm just sad that I've done [care work] for my whole career. My whole career has been taking care of people and trying to uphold a certain standard of care," she says, in a voice tinged with exasperation and disappointment.

"And to come to this stage, so close to being able to retire and of course, I'm retiring with nothing. I got nothing. There's no pension plan. And I'm sitting here with a toothache because I don't have dental coverage, and I'm like, I take my whole life to take care of people. And nobody's taking care of me."

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: submitted


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[l] at 1/17/20 12:28am
David J. Climenhaga Manning Centre founder and former Reform Party Leader Preston Manning (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

On Wednesday, former prime minister Stephen Harper abruptly quit the Conservative Party of Canada's fund-raising board, supposedly to give himself time to prevent Jean Charest from becoming leader of Canada's Conservatives or prime minister of Canada.

Yesterday, we learned that Preston Manning would quit his eponymous market-fundamentalist call centre in Calgary, and what's more, the folks now at the helm of the Manning Centre are in a big fat hurry to change its name.

Coincidence? Or what?

Coincidences happen, of course. But in politics, they are always suspect.

Harper and Manning do not have an entirely comfortable history together. Harper quit the Reform Party in a huff under Manning's leadership in 1997 and purged the successor Canadian Alliance Party of staffers loyal to Manning after returning to politics and becoming leader in 2002.

But having worked together to destroy the old federal Progressive Conservative Party and turn it into the Conservative-Reform-Alliance replicant, the pair resembles incompatible Siamese twins: not necessarily buddies, but joined at the hip just the same.

So does this indicate tectonic change in the ranks of the federal Conservative Party, embittered by its loss in the election it expected to win and troubled by the inevitable risks of a new leadership campaign when they expected to be ordering new curtains for 24 Sussex Drive, whenever it's made habitable?

One of those risks from Harper's perspective is surely a moderate and electable old-style Red Tory like Charest emerging as Conservative leader after all the work he and Manning did to destroy the old PCs.

What could be the only thing from Harper's perspective worse than a Trudeau as prime minister? Quite possibly a Tory like Charest as Conservative leader!

After all, in addition to being the former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, Charest is moderate, urbane, comfortably bilingual and as a former (Liberal!) Quebec premier fully aware of that unique province's place in Confederation. In other words, the antithesis of the modern Western-dominated Canadian Conservative Party.

Harper might well be worried the election of an old-style Tory might tear the current party apart -- and even more worried it might not!

As for Manning, at 77 you might think it's time for him to retire anyway.

Not to worry, Manning will be writing a book and going on a seven-city tour to flog it, assured someone at the nowadays somewhat-diminished Manning Centre in an email to supporters.

Quickly pivoting to the real news, the email continued: "Preston is not all that is going into retirement. The Manning name will be coming off the Centre and its networking conferences."

Perhaps the author was recently appointed Manning Centre President and CEO Troy Lanigan, a hardy perennial of the right-wing propaganda infrastructure late of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and sundry other such outfits. His name was on the bottom of the email along with some others.

Whoever it was, the author of the note asked supporters for a little help answering four questions, which I'm happy to share with readers of this blog, although I cannot, alas, provide a link to the online survey:

  • What new (future) name should the Manning Centre adopt?

  • Are there any names or themes that the Manning Centre should avoid?

  • What new (future) name should the Manning Networking Conferences be called?

  • Are their any (future) networking activities or related ideas a re-branding organization should consider?

While the Manning Centre is probably not all that interested in the responses of readers of this blog, we at AlbertaPolitics.ca most certainly are. Use the comments section below.

Whether or not anything more profound is going on, all this leaves at least one immediate question unanswered: Did Manning want his name removed from the outfit he founded, or is it the Manning Centre staff or its donors who are driving the re-branding?

File all this under Unsolved Political Mysteries.

Meanwhile, over on the Left Coast …

Meanwhile, out on Canada's West Coast, a similar political mystery is emerging:

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has revealed he has pulled the plug on his own three-member caucus and will sit as an Independent in the B.C. Legislature in Victoria.

Weaver has been facing health challenges in his family, so his earlier announcement he was stepping down as party leader was less of a surprise. Still, this makes him seem like a one-man parade who can't lead and won't follow.

What the decision means for the willingness of the tiny Green Caucus, which holds the balance of power in the B.C. Legislature, to continue to prop up the surprisingly stable government of NDP Premier John Horgan remains to be seen.

This is interesting in light of yesterday's unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to reject B.C.'s appeal of a lower court decision that quashed its effort to regulate what can flow through the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

While on its face this is a victory both for Alberta's United Conservative Party Government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals, which while far from allies have both been working hard to see the project completed, it may also create opportunities for B.C.'s Greens -- thereby creating an incentive for them to pull the props out from under the NDP and try to incite an election.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, naturally, took the opportunity to crow about the ruling, claiming tendentiously "the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the rule of law and put an end to the British Columbia government's campaign of obstruction against Alberta energy."

What was upheld, of course, was the federal government's argument Ottawa clearly has the authority to approve and regulate any pipeline that crosses provincial borders, which was pretty close to a legal slam-dunk, whatever you happen to think of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

It will be interesting to see if Schweitzer is as enthusiastic when the Supreme Court also dismisses for similar reasons the arguments against the federal carbon tax being made by Alberta and other Conservative-run provinces, as also seems quite likely.

Of course, Schweitzer's claim that completing the TMX Project will ensure a fair price for Alberta bitumen and put thousands of people to work will be decided by the market, and not the courts. So the rule of law will have nothing at all to do with 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 at 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 1/16/20 4:15pm
US Politics Moms 4 Housing/ Twitter

Early Tuesday morning, a day before the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth, a small army of police, sheriff's deputies and a tactical SWAT team with a military robot laid siege to a house in Oakland, California. The threat they were confronting? Women and children nonviolently struggling for safe and affordable housing. They had occupied the vacant home at 2928 Magnolia St. in west Oakland since November 18.

Moms 4 Housing "is a collective of homeless and marginally housed mothers," their website states. "Before we found each other, we felt alone in this struggle. But there are thousands of others like us here in Oakland and all across the Bay Area. We are coming together with the ultimate goal of reclaiming housing for the community from speculators and profiteers." Two mothers and two supporters were arrested during the pre-dawn raid, and the house, owned by real estate speculation corporation Wedgewood Properties, was quickly boarded up.

Dominique Walker is one of the Moms 4 Housing, but wasn’t arrested; at 5 a.m. that morning, she was in a TV studio, appearing live on the Democracy Now! news hour. The police raid had not yet begun. "We’ve provided shelter for our children," she said on the program. "This came out of absolute desperation, out of going through every program set up to help families in this predicament. Nothing helped. We were turned away. The funding was cut from programs that were set up to help … it just gives light to the bigger issue."

Carroll Fife, who runs the Oakland office of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, sat next to Walker on the broadcast. "After the housing crisis and the foreclosure crisis of 2008, many homeowners lost their primary residences — their only residences," Fife explained. "That allowed speculators and the banks that were bailed out by the government at that time to come in and scoop up homes at rock-bottom prices … We’re still experiencing the impacts of the foreclosure crisis, with speculators owning 35 per cent of the housing stock in America."

Had Martin Luther King Jr. not been assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39, he would have turned 91 on January 15. His civil-rights work in the South is well-known. Speaking at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965, he said, "We are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. … The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us … Let us march on segregated housing until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe and sanitary housing."

In the following months, King set his sights on confronting racism in the North. He launched the Chicago Freedom Movement, attacking racism and housing segregation in that city and its suburbs. He was violently attacked there, and told reporters, after being struck in the head with a rock: "I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hateful as I’ve seen here in Chicago. Yes, it’s definitely a closed society. We’re going to make it an open society."

That campaign successfully challenged systemic racism, redlining and other forms of housing discrimination in Chicago, and helped spur the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Violations of that law forced developer Fred Trump and his son Donald Trump to settle with the federal government in 1975 over allegations that the Trumps systematically discriminated against African-American apartment seekers in their Queens, New York, housing complexes.

Back in Oakland on Tuesday, as Democracy Now! was wrapping up at 6 a.m. Pacific time, Carroll Fife concluded: "We need to take speculation out of real estate, and we need to decommodify housing … we look forward to the fight." They received a text message that the raid was underway, and rushed off to join the other mothers and their supporters on Magnolia Street. Police used a battering ram to break down the door of the house, terrifying the mothers inside before hauling them out.

Later that day, halfway across the country, six white candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination gathered in Iowa, one of the whitest states in the nation, for the final televised debate before the Iowa caucuses. Outside, Rev. William Barber was leading a "Moral March on the Debate." Barber and his Poor People's Campaign are demanding that the candidates participate in a nationally televised debate on poverty, including the crisis of homelessness. The movement continues Martin Luther King's final campaign, the Poor People's Movement, which he was launching when he was assassinated. More than 50 years later, from Chicago to Oakland to Des Moines, the fight continues.

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

Image: Moms 4 Housing/ Twitter

Martin Luther King Jr. Housing justice Moms 4 Housing Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan January 17, 2020 'America exists today to make war,' says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson We should be skeptical when Trump, or any leader, invokes secret "intelligence" to justify their violent actions. The struggle to vote in the U.S. Democracy is a constant struggle. From the suffragettes to today's voting rights advocates, securing the right to vote should be a common pursuit of us all. The impeachment of President Donald Trump It seems clear that the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit Trump of these articles of impeachment, and he will remain in office. But that does not deter Congressman Al Green.
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[l] at 1/16/20 1:50pm
Duncan Cameron Wikimedia Commons/Sollok29

Dear rabble readers,

The media were once thought to be no more than the mirror society held up to itself. Today, however, the media act more like the agents of powerful interests. 

News is reported from the point of view of private business owners and investors. Mainstream media reflects the existing power structure, and the views of the 1%. 

Media coverage shapes what society thinks is important.

At rabble, we know that without independent media, debate is distorted, issues get ignored, and injustices get overlooked.  And so I'm writing today to ask if you can contribute whatever you can to keep this publication running strong and into its 20th year! You can do so at: rabble.ca/donate

Traditionally, newspapers claimed neutrality and objectivity as the basic values that drive news and reporting. In commentary on events and issues, newspapers and broadcasters sought to achieve balance by including diverse points of view.

However, the last 30 years have seen a "sell an audience to advertisers" business model dominate and twist journalistic practices. Instead of deciding that revenue would follow properly researched, quality writing, media outlets now produce directly for advertisers. Readers and viewers are the losers in this money-driven media world.

The results of the advertising-driven model have been disappointing. Media outlets are closing. Predatory hedge funds control Postmedia, Canada's leading newspaper chain, demanding extravagant interest payments, met by management through regular cutbacks of editorial resources. 

Media ownership (print, radio and television) has become concentrated in fewer hands. As a result, reliable information about political, economic and social trends is harder to find. Media outlets are more likely to exclude points of view other than those held by the advertisers, and pushed by the owners. 

Whole sectors of Canadian life are no longer covered by the media. There is virtually no unbiased reporting on labour and social issues. No mainstream media covers the economy as it actually works: people working, and providing services to each other that meet real needs. 

Commentary on Canadian affairs representing the point of view of labour and social groups is difficult to find. Coverage of science, technology, higher education and public services in general is dominated by a "what does this mean for business" perspective. 

But since 2001, rabble.ca has been on the job working to provide "news for the rest of us." With the advent of the internet, it became possible to challenge the dominance and authority of established media outlets. Our website was one of the first in the world to bring an alternative news perspective online. Can you help keep this reader-funded site up and running?

The rise of social media like Twitter and Facebook allows people to pass on -- to a wide audience -- information which at one time would have been suppressed or underreported. Today, we desperately need solid, reliable, authoritative news, properly edited and presented. Without solid information, evidence-based reasoning becomes impossible, and democracy a sham. 

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Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.   Image: Wikimedia Commons/Sollok29
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[l] at 1/16/20 1:32pm
World People in Khlong Khwang, Nonthaburi, Thailand compete with the excavator to collect recyclable items and sell them. Thibaud Saintin/Flickr

One can understand the desire to be positive, especially at the end of a pretty grim year. Even so, this headline from the usually thoughtful New York Times left me gasping:

"This has been the best year ever: for humanity over all, life just keeps getting better."

Images of the increasingly comfy life inside Third World shacks danced in my head.

The New York Times piece recycled the narrative, peddled by the billionaire crowd, that the well-being of the human race has never been better.

Amid growing criticism of extreme inequality, expect to hear lots more about how today’s capitalism is benefiting the world — especially next week when the global elite meets for their annual self-celebration in Davos, Switzerland.

It’s a powerful narrative. If capitalism is working wonders for humanity, maybe it doesn't matter that a small number of billionaires have an increasing share of the world's wealth.

But is the narrative true?

The billionaire crowd is correct in arguing that, along with the rise of capitalism in the last five centuries, there have been significant advances in human life expectancy.

But should capitalism get the credit?

No, according to British anthropologist Jason Hickel, who notes that the dawn of capitalism plunged much of humanity into misery, with reduced nutrition. As a result, life expectancy actually fell in Britain, dropping from a lifespan of about 43 years in the 1500s down to the low 30s by the 1700s.

Life expectancy only began to improve towards the end of the 1800s — and only because of the public health movement, which pushed for separating sewage from drinking water. This extremely good idea was vigorously opposed by capitalists, who raged against paying taxes to fund it.

So sanitation, not capitalism, may be humanity’s true elixir.

Indeed, things only truly got better, says British historian Simon Szreter, after ordinary people won the right to vote and to join unions that pushed for higher wages and helped secure public access to health care, education and housing — again over the fierce objections of capitalists.

This suggests that it’s not capitalism but rather the forces fighting to curb capitalism’s worst excesses — unions and progressive political movements — that have improved people’s lives.

Hickel also argues that, when properly measured, global poverty has increased in the last four decades, contrary to the claims of triumphant capitalists.

All this is central to a burning question: is today’s unbridled capitalism serving us all, or just those at the top?

The question is suddenly in play in U.S. politics, with millions of Democrats supporting presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who openly advocate significant new taxes on the superrich.

Public polling — in the U.S. and Canada — show strong support for such taxes.

Even if billionaires are losing public support, they have a fallback threat: Don’t even think of taxing us, because we’ll just move our money offshore.

But this might be changing too, according to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, economists at the University of California, Berkeley.

In their influential new book, The Triumph of Injustice, they argue that advanced nations could effectively clamp down on tax havens if they co-ordinated their efforts, just as they do in other areas, like trade policy.

Saez and Zucman point out there’s nothing to prevent advanced nations from simply collecting the corporate taxes that the tax havens don’t.

Recent reporting requirements make this possible. "It has never been easier for big countries to police their own multinationals," they argue. "Should the G20 countries tomorrow impose a 25 per cent minimum tax on their multinationals, more than 90 per cent of the world’s profits would immediately become effectively taxed at 25 per cent or more."

One can understand why the corporate crowd resorts to threats and bogus claims. Without them, it's hard to defend today's unbridled capitalism.

How does one, for instance, justify this: While most people saw little or no gain last year, the world's 500 richest people saw their wealth grow by an astonishing 25 per cent, so they’re richer this year by another $1.2 trillion (an average of $2.4 billion each).

It's hard to argue that money couldn't have been better directed somewhere else — almost anywhere else.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists, which explores the different energy policies of Alberta and Norway. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Image: Thibaud Saintin/Flickr 

inequality Capitalism wealth tax Linda McQuaig January 16, 2020 Canadian bankers get 'bleak' $15-billion payout The country's six largest banks are dishing out $15 billion in bonuses this year. But, in the eyes of some, this isn't enough. Denounced in media, taxing the super-rich turns out to be popular with Canadians A wealth tax has received little media coverage -- beyond denunciations in the National Post, which surely has nothing to do with the fact the media is largely owned by billionaires. Billionaire claims about capitalism's benefits are wrong Claims by billionaires like Bill Gates about capitalism heroically lifting humankind out of poverty turn out to be easily debunked. Imagine if that news got out.
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[l] at 1/16/20 9:33am
Brent Patterson Facebook

The Globe and Mail headline reads "RCMP viewed B.C. Coastal GasLink protesters as 'radicalized,' court documents show."

That article reports that on January 8, 2019, the day after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raided the Gidimt'en checkpoint on Wet'suwet'en territory in British Columbia, RCMP Sergeant John Uzelac stated in an affidavit, "I am aware that critical infrastructure can be targeted by persons with radicalized ideology."

Sgt. Uzelac was reportedly referring to unarmed Indigenous land defenders who had gathered at the Gidimt’en checkpoint in opposition to a fracked gas pipeline being constructed on their unceded territory without the free, prior and informed consent of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, the recognized governance body of those lands.

Furthermore, The Guardian has reported, "Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline… The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to 'use as much violence toward the gate as you want'… The RCMP were [also] prepared to arrest children and grandparents…"

This despite, the article notes, police intelligence reporting "no single threat indicating that [land defenders] will use firearms."

Criminalization of land defenders globally

On April 24, 2019, a United Nations media release highlighted: "Indigenous peoples face a worrying escalation in their criminalization and harassment, especially when defending and exercising rights to their territories and natural resources, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today as it continued its third day of discussions."

The Inter‑American Commission on Human Rights has defined criminalization as the "manipulation of the punitive power of the State by State and non-State actors in order to control, punish, or prevent the exercise of the right to defend human rights."

Land Rights Now adds, "Portraying community leaders and activists as obstacles to development, a risk to national security, undermining traditional values or contributing to disruptive violent events is a common strategy."

And Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, stated: "Extractive activities within indigenous peoples' lands and territories undertaken without adequate consultation or consent are the main source of serious violations of their human rights, including violence, criminalization and forced displacement."

This criminalization can have the direst of consequences.

The Dublin-based human rights organization Front Line Defenders recently reported that of the 304 human rights defenders killed around the world in 2019, 40 per cent of them were working on land rights, indigenous peoples' rights and environmental rights.

The current situation in the Wet'suwet'en Nation

On December 13, 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada "to guarantee that no force will be used against Secwepemc and Wet'suwet'en peoples and that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and associated security and policing services will be withdrawn from their traditional lands."

But just one month later, on January 13, the RCMP established an Access Control Checkpoint at the 27-kilometre mark of the Morice West Forest Service Road on Wet'suwet'en territory.

That's in part because a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted Coastal GasLink's application for an interlocutory injunction that prohibits land defenders from impeding Coastal GasLink workers on their territory.

Yellowhead Institute research director Shiri Pasternak notes, "When the court refused to recognize Wet'suwet'en hereditary authority, [the land defenders] become de facto lawless and so are labelled and treated as criminals. So a spectre of danger around these supposed criminals is created by the RCMP and other actors."

Significantly, Pasternak asks, "But how can the injunction override a Supreme Court decision that recognized hereditary leaders as the proper title and rights holders?"

And yet the exclusion zone has been set up by the RCMP and Hereditary Chiefs are required to produce identification to them to access the territory.

Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Na'Moks comments, "This isn't a war zone. We're not terrorists and that's how they're treating us."

And Harsha Walia, the Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), says, "The RCMP, in our opinion in this case, has instituted an exclusion zone that is arbitrary and unnecessary and reinforces a criminalizing approach to dealing with Wet'suwet'en rights and title, and Wet'suwet'en jurisdiction."

A key aspect to the peaceful resolution of this situation is the state refraining from the criminalization of Indigenous peoples on their own territories and the recognition of constitutional and human rights obligations, rather than the presumed supremacy of a corporate fossil fuel mega-project.

Given their experiences to date, Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs have already "submitted a formal request to the United Nations to monitor RCMP, government and Coastal GasLink actions on our traditional, unceded territory."

Brent Patterson is the Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website.

Image: Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory/ Facebook

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[l] at 1/16/20 8:25am
January 16, 2020 Alicia Steels/Unsplash Opting out of 'digital serfdom' Platforms like Facebook and Twitter extract their users' labour for profit. The solution, says author Richard Seymour in his new book, is a social industry strike.
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[l] at 1/16/20 12:04am
David J. Climenhaga Government of Alberta/ Flickr

Good Lord, can Alberta survive another spring of renewal like the last one?

Another springtime of renewal -- that's what Government House Leader Jason Nixon and the United Conservative Party's meme machine were promising yesterday with the announcement the Alberta Legislature will get back to business on February 25.

"At only 12% of the way though our mandate, we've delivered on 43% of our commitments to Albertans so far," Premier Jason Kenney or one of his social media surrogates tweeted merrily with a huckster's love of spurious statistics. "Looking forward to another spring of renewal."

In case you weren't already feeling a sense of foreboding, the two Jasons were promising "a busy and engaging sitting" and an "ambitious legislative agenda." It's enough to remind one of the best selling novel ever written: "It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair," etc., etc. Well, at least neither Jason was wearing a hockey mask.

Considering what the last springtime of Conservative renewal brought us, the auguries are not promising!

There's that drop in full-time employment since Kenney's United Conservative Party Government decided to give a $4.7-billion tax break to Alberta's corporate greenhouse gasbags, likely somewhat underestimated by the NDP Opposition at about 50,000 lost jobs.

Of those, 24,000 were recorded last month. Eight thousand lost jobs were in the oilpatch, by the way, which Kenney had promised to magically fix just by getting elected.

And thanks to the UCP's revenge policy of eliminating public sector positions to get back at educated folks whose work continued through the recession, Edmonton now has the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada. That may satisfy high-school dropouts in Grande Prairie who used to make $200,000 a year in the oilpatch, but it sure doesn't do much for the economy.

Then there's the province's souring economic prospects for this year, as economic forecasters at the Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion Bank revise previous more-optimistic predictions downward to account for the impact of UCP austerity policies and continued uncertainty around oil prices. The results: lower growth, higher unemployment, fewer jobs created, fewer housing starts, big drops in retail sales, and so on.

And don't forget the full-notch credit downgrade by Moody's Investors Service last month, in which the New York-based bond-rating agency's analysts cited the province's continued heavy dependence on fossil fuels and the no-longer-deniable impact of global climate change.

Even with the best efforts of the Alberta Energy War Room -- which, admittedly, aren't all that good -- the business of extracting fossil fuels from the earth is starting to look like a sunset industry, even in Alberta.

Indeed, the only performance indicator Alberta's leading these days is for gloom. No wonder that Angus Reid Institute poll discovered that more than 70 per cent of Albertans are miserable about the direction Canada's heading, with which Canadians elsewhere are generally satisfied. Even our cranky neighbours in Saskatchewan aren't as disgruntled.

The UCP's response for all these things, of course, will be to blame Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But the longer the UCP remains in office, the more this seems like a bit of a reach.

Rest-of-Canadians are forgiven if they conclude us oilpatch denizens are only happy if the rest of the country is miserable, even though the evidence suggests our misery is being driven by the people we've elected.

And God only knows what the UCP will get up to if its runs out of commitments to strike off its list! Just for starters, look for more chaos in health care, the possibility of major public sector labour disputes, the end of affordable child care, and skyrocketing costs as insurers and other businesses are cut loose from reasonable regulation.

Well, if there's genuinely good news, it may be the report in Montreal's La Presse that Rona Ambrose, Kenney's putative pick for the best person to run the Conservative Party of Canada, has dropped out of the race to replace the hapless Andrew Scheer as leader.

This runs counter to the insistence of Postmedia's newspapers, it must be noted, that if it didn't happen in English, it didn't happen. Still, it would open the door to Kenney making his longed-for dash back to Ottawa, a city congenial to bachelor prime ministers since the days of Billy King and R.B. Bennett.

And that might give Albertans some hope for a springtime of renewal that doesn't have to involve ruination.

Otherwise, I suppose, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

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

Image: Government of Alberta/ Flickr

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[l] at 1/14/20 9:41pm
David J. Climenhaga Flickr/ Jeanne Menjoulet

France is in turmoil and all we hear is crickets. What gives?

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has introduced a scheme to overhaul pensions and retirement benefits for many workers, done as usual in the name of reform, rationalization and simplification. For most French workers, though, it will result in a significant reduction in pensions and loss of retirement security.

Among the changes, a higher statutory retirement age, although still lower than Canada's. Also, pensions for workers in high-risk and athletic occupations would be based on their earnings over time instead of the terms negotiated by their unions that recognize the danger they face, limits on their careers, and the contribution to society they make. Again, this is already the norm in Canada. There would also be reductions in negotiated early retirement benefits, and so on.

"The proposed change would thus, in practical terms, be financed on the backs of workers, who would be expected to work longer with less pay and security, rather than being paid for by increased taxes on corporations or the wealthy," writes cultural theorist Gabriel Rockhill in Counterpunch.

French workers have responded by pouring into the streets, organizing massive demonstrations and paralyzing the entire country through a series rotating general strikes.

The disruption is severe. The danger in the streets is real, given the vicious response of the militarized French police. Indeed, the Government of Canada recognizes this, warning Canadians in a detailed travel advisory updated last month under the heading "General Strike" that "a large-scale general strike is ongoing across the country since December 5, 2019."

"This movement could continue for an indefinite period," the advisory continued. "Demonstrations and significant service disruptions, including to transportation, are to be expected." Indeed, at one point the Paris Metro was shut down, with only a few automated trains operating.

Moreover, the Global Affairs Canada advisory goes on, "demonstrations take place regularly. Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time."

And yet, in Canada there is virtually no news in mainstream media on these significant events in a modern, Western European country. If you want to get a sense of what's going on, you’ll have to dig deep, seek alternative news sources, some of them pretty sketchy, and even then there's not much information.

One would think news of a nationwide disruption over pension policies would be of interest here in Alberta, for example, where the provincial government is hatching its own dangerous pension schemes and popular opposition, already significant, is growing. Instead, nothing but crickets.

The only point at which the ongoing general strikes and resulting nationwide chaos in France have even caused a ripple of attention in Canadian media was when President Macron's government introduced a "compromise" a few days ago to try to placate the nationwide opposition. If Rockhill's analysis is right, the changes in the compromise are not very significant. A few stories appeared, disdainful in tone when they mentioned the general strikers' positions, and then the curtain fell again.

At a glance, it would appear this phenomenon is not quite as severe elsewhere in the English-speaking world, although coverage is nevertheless sparse. The New York Times published a piece yesterday, mainly based on the oddity that in Paris, even ballet dancers are on strike. Memo to the Times News Desk: professional dancers are workers too, and like pro hockey players, they have short careers due to the limitations of the human body. The BBC publishes an occasional story.

In Canada, however, the blackout is almost total.

What gives? For those with a conspiratorial turn of mind, it would appear at least it's not the government of Canada, which is after all prepared to warn tourists of the danger and state the basic reason for it.

Is the problem finding news about this because there isn't any being written, or does it have to do with the organization of major search engines, like Google?

And why is there such a dereliction of duty day after day by Canadian media, private sector and state owned alike? Is it because they think we won't be interested because we've mostly already lost, or never had, the benefits French workers are fighting to retain?

Or do they think we're better off not knowing? Having worked many years in the newspaper industry, I find it hard to believe local managers would think thoughts like these. A riot's a riot, as far as most of them are concerned -- or used to be, anyway. But then, times have changed since I left, and the focus of the Canadian news business is more ideological, resources are fewer, and analysis is shallower.

The goal of the strikers now seems to be to bring down the government. If they succeed, will that be reported?

I certainly don't recall media refusing to cover major upheavals in Western Europe in the past. Newspapers were full of reports of similar violence in France in 1968, for example. But that was a long time ago, of course.

I suppose some combination of laziness, inattention, lack of intellectual curiosity, herd instinct and a bureaucratic turn of mind, all of which plague modern Canadian media corporations, private and public, is the simplest and most likely explanation. It's also true that there have been some other, very big stories in the past few days.

Still, I have trouble imagining a similar demonstration this week or next in Russia, say, or Hong Kong, would pass with so little notice.

And yet, we hear ... rien. This is bizarre. What's going on?

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

Image: Flickr/ Jeanne Menjoulet

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[l] at 1/14/20 10:24am
January 14, 2020 Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr Conservatives make their leadership contest pay-to-play The emphasis on fundraising will hinder caucus candidates anxious mainly to raise their profiles nationally, or draw attention to pet issues.
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[l] at 1/14/20 9:45am
Politics in Canada Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

On January 13, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) kicked off the internal fight to find a replacement for Andrew Scheer as leader. There is however a twist to the race that will culminate June 27 in Quebec City. Over the next months, aspirant leaders must be prepared to come up with a $200,000 entrance fee, plus a $100,000 deposit, making it a "pay-to-play" contest. 

The emphasis on fundraising will hinder caucus candidates anxious mainly to raise their profiles nationally, or draw attention to pet issues, including the worthy Michael Chong, along with almost all pretenders to the leadership mantle.

Pierre Poilievre is the favoured caucus leadership candidate. His political focus will be to demonize Justin Trudeau and sow doubts about his abilities, continuing the same CPC approach adopted by Stephen Harper when the new Liberal leader was selected in 2013. 

An Ottawa MP, with a Franco-Albertan background, Poilievre first came East as a parliamentary assistant with the Reform party. 

Poilievre is noted as being an obnoxious performer in the House of Commons. His campaign, managed by the equally obnoxious former cabinet minister John Baird, will reach out to the social conservative CPC base; the notorious 30,000 who respond to the shrill personal attacks on the Liberals by accessing PayPal, or more likely, opening their chequebooks.

Poilievre could corral the membership base built by Harper, those with no sympathy for environmental concerns, and who are ready to defend expansion of oil sands production. 

However, outside the oil patch, voters expect political parties to have a comprehensive  environmental protection plan focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While Stephen Harper could dismiss climate change as a "socialist plot," the 2020 CPC leadership has to be believable on climate policy.

Rona Ambrose distinguished herself as interim leader during the last leadership race but has not moved to declare her candidacy. Her competence and TV-friendly manner -- coupled with a presumed ability to attract support outside the oil patch -- make her a serious candidate from oil country. However, unless she has spent the last few years working on her French, she would have little traction in Quebec.

The western Reform party base of the CPC is needed for victory, but cannot set the agenda for a leadership candidate without endangering support needed elsewhere.

The Conservative race weighs every one of the 338 electoral ridings equally. Win 50 votes out of 100 cast in Abitibi Témiscamingue, and your 50 percent of the total cast counts for 50 points nationally, the same as 10,000 votes out of 20,000 cast in Calgary Centre.

Winning the leadership comes down to who can build a regional alliance similar to the one needed to win the next election. In other words the CPC needs enough ridings in Ontario to go with its Western base, and sufficient Quebec strength to offset where it is weak elsewhere i.e. urban Canada. The West plus heavy wins in Ontario to offset Quebec weakness is the other route to government.

Former Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest will appeal to CPC voters that recognize the importance of Quebec, who may be less numerous than he thinks. 

Notably, Charest is an able representative of the Big Business faction within the CPC. Like his mentor Brian Mulroney, Charest has always been happiest taking leadership direction from the Business Council of Canada. 

Acting like a corporate lawyer advancing the agenda of Big Business clients is a role well played by Liberal party leaders as well. Charest looks like the favoured candidate of those who want nothing more than to see the CPC replace the Liberals without expecting any policy changes as a result. 

Though the CPC entered the 2019 election campaign with a chance of growing the party in Quebec, the inability of Andrew Scheer to hold his own in the key televised French debates spelled the end of his party's dreams of forming government, and ultimately of his leadership. As he faltered, it was the Bloc Québécois, morphed into a support group for the conservative CAQ Quebec provincial government, that re-emerged as a player.

For the CPC to replace the Liberals in government, playing out the traditional change from one to the other in power of the past 150 years plus, Charest looks like the best bet. Now there is the pesky question of his being under police investigation dating from his time as premier of Quebec. And his record as presiding over the Dark Ages light (with the Duplessis era as the never forgotten Great Darkness) may yield some juicy opposition research at some point.

As for Poilievre he is the candidate the Liberals would most like to see win, believing that his House of Commons persona will not fly in an election campaign, and that he will be unable to re-invent himself in any meaningful sense. 

Peter MacKay, former Progressive Conservative leader may enter the race, but if he expects nostalgia for the good old days of moderate Tory governments to carry him to victory, he is certain to be out of luck.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.   Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr Conservative Party of Canada Pierre Poilievre Peter MacKay Rona Ambrose Jean Charest Duncan Cameron January 14, 2020 Do federal party leaders need to be bilingual? It is hard to imagine a viable leader of any major party who could not campaign vigorously and convincingly in both official languages. Scheer's departure means social conservatism is on the defensive The Conservative party leader's resignation signals that in Canada, opposition to same-sex and reproductive rights is now an out-there, fringe position, well beyond the mainstream. Maxime Bernier also done like dinner after Andrew Scheer's resignation Had he not left the Conservative party in 2018, Bernier would be a prime candidate for the party leadership after Scheer's departure.
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[l] at 1/12/20 4:08am
Maya Bhullar Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

I once read a quote by Voltaire which said "Those that can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities." In the past week, war crimes have been traded between Iran and the United States and relayed breathlessly by media outlets as if they were sporting events. We start to take action and then find ourselves befuddled by the short term chaos. Do we still need to protest? Do we still need to care? Yes we do!  However, we must remember our compass and make sure we are fighting for the long game. Despite the current claims of a "stand down" and the horrendous killing of those on Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, this conflict did not start with Soleimani and it will not end easily. 

1) Go to the rallies organized in your communities. In the past week, thousands came out to rallies organized in communities across Canada to stand against war with Iran.  Let's not step back now. We must build the peace movement to stand up against those who are mongering for war. Two things we can do are to support campaigns and other peace groups as they demand that Canada stop selling arms to autocratic governments in the Middle East. The Iranian Canadian Congress recently put out a call for volunteers to help organize rallies in Montreal, Waterloo, Vancouver and Toronto. If you want to help, reach out.

2) All 176 people on flight PS752 died; 138 were en route to Canada. The Iranian Canadian Congress released the following statement asking for accountability and for a de-escalation of tensions in the region. There are memorial services being held across Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. Families will need help. Reach out to the organizers and find out what you can do.

In the past days, I have been learning about the people who died, and I cannot begin to fathom the loss. This article from the Toronto Star, compiled tributes about a dozen people who died, who were working on academic research from advanced computer engineering to Indigenous conservation strategies. My tiny contribution, as a former Torontonian, will be to support the Tirgan Festival. I'm sorry to hear about the members of the Tirgan family who were lost. 

3) Do not make this about choosing between Trump and the government in Iran. There are people and organizations working for human rights and accountability in both the United States and in Canada. I am working with friends who have been active in the Iranian community and are working to stop Trump in 2020. Work to support them and to de-escalate the calls for war.

Image: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

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[l] at 1/10/20 7:56am
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks to the media in the press briefing room, at the Department of State, in Washington D.C., on January 7, 2020. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain] Image: U.S. Department of State/Flickr US Politics World

President Donald Trump brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran by ordering the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the second most powerful figure in Iran. After Soleimani and four others were killed in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad International Airport last Friday, Trump, offering no evidence, alleged that Soleimani was orchestrating imminent attacks on American personnel. We should be skeptical when Trump, or any leader, invokes secret "intelligence" to justify their violent actions. Perhaps no one knows this better than Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005. He witnessed, and participated in, the effort by president George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and others to promote lies to justify the disastrous, illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"That effort led to a war of choice with Iraq -- one that resulted in catastrophic losses for the region and the United States-led coalition, and that destabilized the entire Middle East," Wilkerson wrote in a New York Times editorial in 2018 titled, "I Helped Sell the False Choice of War Once. It's Happening Again." Wilkerson continued, "the Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran. This war with Iran … would be 10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs."

Back in 2003, Wilkerson helped Powell prepare his infamous February 5, 2003, speech before the United Nations Security Council. "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources," Powell said. "These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." His presentation included numerous slides, audio clips and a sample vial, purportedly containing anthrax, which Powell gingerly held aloft for the cameras. The speech lasted over two hours and, it turns out, was riddled with lies and fabrications. Powell would later describe his performance as a permanent "blot" on his record. But it did the job. Six weeks later, "shock and awe" began: The Bush/Cheney administration indiscriminately bombed Iraq.

"All across the region, the chaos that we're looking at was produced by the United States invasion in 2003," Wilkerson observed on the "Democracy Now!" news hour this week. "I watched as the intelligence was cooked, as principals in the George W. Bush government were sold by that intelligence or helped to warp that intelligence, as was the case with Dick Cheney, and I watched the inevitable march to war."

Among the similarities that Wilkerson sees between the lies that led to war in 2003 and today are Trump surrogates appearing on TV or, now, Twitter, lying to the public. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted after the assassination that Soleimani "assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States."

"Pence's words are laughable," Wilkerson said on Democracy Now! "Soleimani and his entourage were actually helping us in Afghanistan in 2001, early 2002, to fight the Taliban. We got indispensable help from Iran in that regard."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been one of the most vocal and omnipresent defenders of Trump's assassination of Soleimani. "We are going to lie, cheat and steal, as Pompeo is doing right now, as Trump, [Defense Secretary] Esper, Lindsey Graham [and] Tom Cotton [are] doing right now, and a host of other members of my political party, the Republicans, are doing right now … to continue this war complex." Wilkerson said. "That's the truth of it. And that's the agony of it."

Wilkerson is not the only Republican critical of Trump's actions. Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee spoke to the press Wednesday, reacting to what he said was "probably the worst briefing I've seen, at least on a military issue." He called the briefing "absolutely insane," and described how the briefers discouraged a debate on Iran in Congress: "I don't care whether they're with the CIA, with the Department of Defense or otherwise to come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran. It's un-American, it's unconstitutional and it's wrong."

Wilkerson, who has witnessed the war-makers behind closed doors, firsthand, is not optimistic about the prospects for peace: "Ever since 9/11, the beast of the national security state, the beast of endless wars, the beast of the alligator that came out of the swamp, for example, and bit Donald Trump just a few days ago, is alive and well," he concluded on Democracy Now! "America exists today to make war."

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

Image: U.S. Department of State/Flickr

Iran Afghanistan Iraq Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan January 10, 2020
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[l] at 1/10/20 7:33am
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau updates Canadians at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa concerning the deadly plane crash in Iran. Image: Screenshot/Justin Trudeau US Politics World

It's heartbreaking, listening to family and friends of people who died on UIA flight 752. Like the young woman in B.C. whose parents were doctors and came here from Iran in 2013, for her sake. She's trying to bring their bodies back because, she says, they felt most at home here.

That's a kind of Canadian magic. Elsewhere they'd likely be seen as Iranians who moved here. For most of us and for them, they're Canadians. People who come here from conflict zones often say they felt instantly at home because of the acceptance. The horror of this disaster was: even when you left the Mideast, it didn't leave you. You return for a wedding or visit and this happens. There's no escape.

There's been a growing consensus that the crash wasn't a "normal" one. The plane was new and generally reliable. Pilots were experienced. Takeoff was routine. Then crash. A former director of the U.S. Transportation Safety Board said investigators should put an attack "at the top of their agenda." Iran started a criminal inquiry. Its latest statement -- that it's the result of a fire on-board -- left open the cause of the fire.

It seemed weirdly coincidental that two hours before, Iran fired missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq, in response to a U.S. assassination. Sure, coincidences happen but, y'know.

So there'd been speculation on who might have attacked the plane. The Iranian military. (Though what sense did that make?) A Ukraine official suggested a Russian missile supplied to Iran. (But Ukraine's desperate to mollify the U.S.) Someone gone "rogue." Now U.S. sources are "increasingly certain" that Iran itself shot down the plane with a missile -- mistakenly, and Canada concurs.

There's no reason to automatically trust U.S. intelligence sources, as Trump himself likes to observe. But if this turns out to be true, it will be a hideous mirror version of another downed plane in the same neighbourhood, about 30 years ago. In fact, it's odd that the incident was only rarely cited this week.

The first thought for anyone in the Mideast or with knowledge of it would surely have been that 1988 crash of an Iranian airliner. It left Tehran and was shot down by a U.S. ship in Iranian waters. It was during the Iran-Iraq War, which had interference by the U.S. all over it. Two-hundred and ninety people died. The captain of the ship misidentified the plane, perhaps due to his own zeal or desire to get into the action, as described by colleagues. The U.S. tried denial and blaming Iran instead, then admitted they'd done it and paid a settlement to families of victims (without accepting legal responsibility -- shades of Weinstein!).

Now a plane again takes off from Tehran in a fraught moment. Who's involved? Iran, Iraq, the U.S. Nerves are edgy. Decisions must be made in short time frames. Overreactions are predictable. And the victims are innocent.

If it turns out that Iran did this mistakenly, like the U.S. 30 years go, or even that the U.S. did it again -- what will it show? That antagonists in these situations often have surprisingly much in common. The way that George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein somehow deserved each other, in their time of mutual infamy.

None of it, true or not, will change what happened. Could it have been avoided? Everyone has their own dog in these hunts, so here's my contribution.

What if the U.S. hadn't messed so infernally in the Mideast, for so long? In 1953, when it instigated a coup against a democratically elected Iranian government. In 1980, when it encouraged Iraq to attack Iran, followed by an eight-year bloodbath, to undermine the Iranian revolution of a year before. In 2003, by invading Iraq catastrophically for the region and the world. Last week's assassination, leading to this week's response. That's a very short list.

Without the U.S., there'd doubtless be other disasters in the region. But without all or even some of those interventions, the people who died on that plane would, or at least might, be at home, in Canada, with those who love them, now. The least they can do is let people there mess up on their own.

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

Image: Screenshot/Justin Trudeau

Iran Rick Salutin January 10, 2020
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[l] at 1/9/20 10:12am
January 9, 2020 Andrea Schoeberlein/Flickr Can poetry help us understand climate change? That's the task that Catriona Sandilands and the 45 other contributors to "Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times" have set for themselves. And it's no small challenge.
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[l] at 1/8/20 7:45am
January 8, 2020 Socialist Appeal/Flickr A 2020 vision for climate action If we had political leaders willing to act with the urgency the scientific evidence shows is necessary, curbing climate breakdown would still be a challenge this late in the game, but we could do it.
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[l] at 1/3/20 9:03am
Zaid Noorsumar Albert Banerjee

Albert Banerjee is the research chair in community health and aging at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He has conducted extensive research on long-term care, predominantly in the Canadian context. Banerjee recently spoke with rabble about the neoliberalization of the long-term care system in Ontario and its effects on workers and residents. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

rabble: In your paper Centring Care, you say that while neoliberalism is associated with deregulation, that's not true for the health and social care sectors. How does that work?

Banerjee: That's an interesting contradiction. David Harvey has a lovely book on neoliberalism and he points to some of the contradictions -- I believe he thinks of it as largely a political project to enhance capital accumulation and the power of economic elites. He says, at the end of the day, it's not as much about more or less regulation, it's about moving capital to elites.

It's about moving resources and protecting wealth accumulation. And I think that kind of helps explain what we're seeing in nursing homes because it's particular kinds of regulations that have been instituted. It's not regulations, say around staffing levels, right?

I think in the U.S., people like Charlene Harrington, who is a researcher that we've worked with, is advocating for the reporting of payroll data so you can actually see not who was supposed to be at work, but who actually was at work.*

Those kinds of regulations supporting the conditions for care, we're not finding, or are actively being removed. But we are finding regulations around monitoring staff and personal support workers being put in place, right? I think in British Columbia, care aides need to be registered now. As if they are the problem.

[*In long-term care homes, staffing is often calculated to include people who are on vacation or off-duty, as opposed to people who are actually present in the facility.]

[Note: Nursing homes have often criticized for being over-regulated. Research by Pat Armstrong and collaborators, speaks about the tendency of regulations requiring detailed documentation of tasks taking time away from providing care. However, there are no such regulations around adequate staffing, which has long been avoided by ruling parties in Ontario despite strong support from unions and advocacy groups.]

So can you help explain why the business lobby in Ontario wants to deregulate long-term care? Even they seem to be concerned with the onerous regulations around charting and documentation. It's an interesting contradiction because it seems like these regulations were instituted as part of the for-profit takeover of the industry, and yet business is opposed to it. 

I think it's important to have regulations that support the conditions of care. Pat Armstrong has a chapter at the end of her book where she talks about supporting caring relationships. 

Nursing home staff need time to care, they need autonomy to make decisions, they need consistency of employment, they need experience and expertise, and we need regulations that support those things. The counting and documenting everything that we currently have tends to get in the way of providing care. 

A lot of the staff, especially at the management level is busy doing reporting; they're not on the floor. There is a disconnect because they have to do these reports. I think it's in everybody's interest to move away from that kind of regulation and [instead] put regulations that support the conditions for care. 

I can see regardless of whether you're for-profit or not-for-profit, you would support removing some of the regulations.

To understand why the regulations regime has been structured the way it is, I believe it's important to understand how it's been shaped by for-profit ownership, right? In Ontario that's currently at 58 per cent.

Absolutely. In Ontario, you have a system that that is over-regulated and has been designed to regulate as if everyone was for-profit [with more regulations being instituted in response to media scandals].

One of the most important works in the area of regulation is by Braithwaite that looks at Australian research. They take the nursing home sector as an example, precisely because they are so over-regulated. And they talk about the growth of regulation as being part of a response to the state that is retreating from providing welfare services, but [the state] still has this moral responsibility. 

Governments, rather than funding and delivering services, they have begun to monitor services. You have the development of what they call a regulatory state as opposed to a welfare state. 

I spent a couple years in Sweden. And until recently they have been both funding and delivering services. Since they have allowed for-profit actors to come in and deliver services, there are now concerns about quality and talk about the need for more regulation as a solution.

[Researcher] Charlene Harrington talks about what happens when you get a certain intensity of for-profit [ownership in the system]. Then the regulations become heavier and they become geared to prevent abuses by for-profits, which she discusses in our paper on media scandals and the growth of nursing home regulations

It seems part of the regulations regime has to do with good intentions because it seems that in Ontario the Liberals tried to cater to different segments of society, appeasing businesses, but then also trying to take care of people and over-regulating to the point of making a complete mess.

Exactly. I think that is a little bit of what has happened and it has become a mess. It might be good intentions and certainly trying to appease people who want to see private for-profit delivery.

But you can have private delivery in terms of non-profit providers. Either way, the research shows that care delivered in private for-profit facilities is inferior to the care delivered by non-profit or public facilities. Plus, where is the profit going to come from? Your biggest expense is labour. That's were the profits will need to be taken. And that hurts care. 

Ontario is facing a personal support worker (PSW) shortage crisis, which seems to be happening across the board from municipal homes to non-profits and for-profits. How should we understand this crisis? 

I would say a couple of things. First, it is challenging work. No matter where you do it, and the intensity of the work is making it more and more challenging because the people coming into the facilities are older and sicker. Policies and funding haven't adapted to that. 

We interviewed staff in British Columbia's facilities to discuss death and dying. We think of these places as facilities where people go to live, but what we were hearing is that people come in “already palliative” and often die very quickly. Staff are having to deal with the additional work and emotion of that and they're not adequately supported.

The work is emotionally and physically challenging whether you're in a non-profit or for-profit facility. But staffing tends to be better in the public or non-profit homes than the for-profit homes.

And that makes sense, right?  If we look at the way long-term care is funded, municipal and non-profits can use additional money to put money back into care [by hiring additional staff], whereas the for-profits exist to make money. So it's only logical that they will not provide the same quality of care, which is they have higher rates of hospitalizations, mortality rates and so on. 

I agree. The logic of competition doesn't apply in this field because there is a waiting list for entrance into long-term care homes. And once you're in a home it's not like buying a pair of sneakers -- if you don't like the sneaker, you never buy that brand and buy another brand. You don't move easily from one home to another.

The logic of profit and consumer choice doesn't make a lot of sense in this particular sector.

What about the idea of technological innovation and management expertise, and economies of scale for some of the larger corporations? Is there any benefit to that?

From what I've seen informally, I would say yes. But [that's regardless] of whether it's non-profit or for-profit. For instance, there are great homes we saw in Norway and Sweden. They were quite large, but they were organized in small units.

So they had small units that benefited from economies of scale. They had on-site hairdressers, they had full-time recreation staff, they were able to organize all sorts of different events because they had those economies of scale. There are large non-profits in Canada as well that can achieve economies of scale.

You can develop and share knowledge. That has more to do with fostering a culture of innovation than it does ownership status.

When you look at health authorities in British Columbia or the health networks in Ontario they also have economies of scale. But is there a culture of innovation? Is there knowledge sharing? How do you create and foster that? These are important questions.

I think there are real opportunities here. We need to move beyond the myth that for-profits are the only organizations that innovate. It's just more about whether and how you foster a culture that is good at innovating and sharing promising practices.

But then with for-profit ownership, you don't have that right? As the corporations compete against each other and are incentivized to not share information.

True. You can end up with privatized, consumer proprietary knowledge that cannot be shared. Also what's driving the 'innovation' is often cost-reduction, not necessarily better care. 

It's cost reduction within certain parameters as you can't have the care [standards] fall too low, or at least not get caught. In some of our interviews with workers who had worked in the for-profit [homes] and were now in municipal or non-profit homes, they said as soon as they could leave the for-profits, they did. 

They just felt the culture was very different. They felt there was something very tangible and problematic in the culture of the for-profit homes, which was geared around costs rather than care, as opposed to the municipal or non-profit homes. 

And that profit motive creates these precarious working conditions and part-time work and low wages and so on.

It's certainly part of it. There is a recent study in British Columbia that tracks the impact of subcontracting for instance, which is a strategy of privatization and union busting. It contributed to overwork, precarity, low wages, poor worker retention and burnout. And if you're dealing with someone with dementia, you need to know how to read their non-verbal forms of communication and they need to be familiar with you. That takes time and consistency. If you've got a lot of casuals coming in who are also stressed and burnt out, it's not a good recipe for success.

In regard to regulations, the recent report on the PSW shortage crisis said, "The culture of work was described as punitive. PSWs report that blame is a one-way street in which they are afraid of being punished for neglect or abuse, but their own working conditions are neglectful and exploitative." So essentially, the regulations regime is bad for workers.

It's a punitive regime. It's taking advantage of a vulnerable population. It's exactly what we found a decade ago in our book, They Deserve Better, which compared Canada with Scandinavia. We found similar things that haven't changed unfortunately. 

What's really sad is that this is meaningful work. We talk about an aging population as if it were a crisis. But it also means there is opportunity for really meaningful work. The workers that we interview tell us that they care about their residents, they find their work matters, they find meaning in it. And yet they are distressed because they can't provide the care that they know they're capable of and that they would be able to if they had the time and weren't rushing.

You often hear about love and family in the way staff speak about what they do when caring for residents. But they're doing it in a situation that's exploitative. But that can be changed. There is a silver lining here that these could be great jobs if properly supported.

Which means addressing the problems that relate to a predominantly for-profit industry that is underfunded. So we need to better fund long-term care -- meaning better wages and compensation for workers. Which also means addressing the neoliberal structure of government overall, right? Because we'd need to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy to be able to pay for some of these changes

Exactly. This takes us back to neoliberalism and the politics of capital accumulation. In one of our papers, we say that most of what goes on in the home is determined outside. It's where our tax money goes and how unequal our society is. Norway for instance, does very well. And people often say that's because they're a rich society. But they're a resource-based economy like we are but what they did with their resources is very different and much more collective than what we have done. That then enables them to fund their homes better. These things are deeply connected. 

You were part of the team of experts along with Pat Armstrong and others who advised the local government on transforming Toronto's municipal nursing homes. Do you think the municipal government in Toronto understands some of the challenges we've discussing?

Yes. On the whole, I was really impressed. The people we met want to make a difference. They're inspired to innovate. What we saw in terms of conditions of care was impressive. And so part of our recommendation was not to import a single model of care but to draw from various models and local innovation -- to create something that really suits Toronto, because it is such a unique area.

These homes that you made recommendations for are all owned by the City of Toronto. So it's easier for them to implement a model of relational care [which requires much higher levels of staffing] as opposed to the [for-profit corporations] Chartwells and Extendicares, right?

Possibly. It also depends on political will and public support too. It's something that we should be proud of to have a municipality that has 10 homes and that can continue to experiment and try different things and promote a culture of innovation and flexibility. We need to encourage that by fostering a culture that is not punitive but is creative -- willing to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them. 

This can be supported by the media that is willing to report on successes and what our homes do well rather than highlight failures.

We have an obsession with costs [in relation to an aging population], which is strange because at the same time the costs of profits is not part of the conversation.

Exactly. It typically isn't spoken about. Silence around ownership is normalized. It's acceptable not to talk about profit. It's strange if you talk about it. Speaking about for-profits is considered political. I think that's something that we need to change. We're now seeing these issues being raised around climate change with people questioning neoliberalism in that context. We need to do that in the context of health care.

What I found interesting in Sweden [is the way they] talk about health care and elder care. They're an explicitly feminist country. They say that it's the role of the state to care for older people, because they recognize the gendered division of labour. Because if it's not the state, then it's typically women caring for free. 

Whereas it seems to be a given over here in Canada that unpaid caregiving will have to supplement publicly funded seniors care [driven by a for-profit model]. And that tends to impact women a lot more than men, but that's also kind of normalized and not really challenged.

Exactly. Bringing to the fore those kind of unstated assumptions is really important.

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: Albert Banerjee

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[l] at 1/2/20 9:43am
US Politics Stacey Abrams speaks at TEDWomen 2018. Image: Marla Aufmuth/TED/Flickr

One hundred years ago, women won the right to vote in the United States. The women's suffrage movement took decades of organizing to achieve success, from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, to mass civil disobedience and protest leading up to the adoption and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Now, a century later, the right to vote is on perilous ground, with aggressive and systematic efforts to disenfranchise voters in states across the country.

Voter suppression has long been a central strategy of the Republican party. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, a conservative Republican activist who founded right-wing institutions including The Heritage Foundation, said in a speech: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now … our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

States in the so-called Rust Belt, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, were critical to Donald Trump's win in 2016. In each of those states save Ohio, Trump won by less than one percentage point. Now, in Wisconsin, a county judge ruling in a case brought by a conservative organization has ordered that 209,000 people be purged from the voter rolls. The state's elections commission has delayed the purge while the case is appealed. In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by just over 23,000 votes.

2016 was the first election in which Wisconsin's strict voter ID law was in force. The progressive advocacy group Priorities USA reported that the law suppressed the votes of more than 200,000 residents in the 2016 election. Voter ID laws that require people to present photo identification at polling places disproportionately prevent poor people and people of colour from voting.

"The largest drop-off was among Black and Democratic-leaning voters," investigative journalist Ari Berman said on the "Democracy Now!" news hour, commenting on the report. "They found that there was a much larger drop-off in Wisconsin than Minnesota, which does not have a voter ID law, that counties with a large African-American population had a larger drop-off."

The Associated Press published a report two weeks ago based on a leaked audio recording from a November 21, 2019, meeting of the Wisconsin chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association. "Traditionally it's always been Republicans suppressing votes in places," Justin Clark, a senior counsel to Trump's re-election campaign, was recorded saying. "Let's start playing offense a little bit. That's what you're going to see in 2020. It's going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program." He was talking about organized poll watching activities, where party operatives position themselves at Democratic-leaning voting precincts to challenge voters, demanding election staff verify their identity or bar them from voting. Clark later said his words were misinterpreted.

In Georgia, the Republican-controlled state government purged 100,000 voters from the rolls in December. The move was approved by a federal judge, dismissing a lawsuit brought by Fair Fight, an organization founded after the 2018 election by Democrat Stacey Abrams to promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country.

The 2018 Georgia governor's race pitted Abrams against Republican candidate Brian Kemp, who was the secretary of state at the time, responsible for overseeing the election and maintaining the voter rolls. In July 2018, months before the election, Kemp oversaw what has been called the largest mass disenfranchisement in U.S. history, purging over 500,000 voters from Georgia's list of 6.6 million registered voters. Kemp received about 50,000 more votes than Abrams, out of close to 4 million cast, and claimed victory. Stacey Abrams refused to concede, noting Kemp's corruption of the election, but did not fight the results.

Despite the aggressive efforts by the right wing to suppress the vote, voting rights advocates are making progress. In Florida, voters passed Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to 1.4 million ex-felons. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill forcing those prospective voters to pay "all fines and fees" associated with their earlier convictions, significantly slowing the restoration of these "returning citizens" to the voter rolls. Many call it a poll tax.

In five Western states from Colorado to Hawaii, mail-in ballots have increased voter participation, reduced costs and provided an auditable, paper ballot trail to allow easy verification of election results. The National Vote at Home Institute is working to expand the practice state by state. And the National Popular Vote project is working with state legislatures around the country to allocate electoral college votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally.

Democracy is a constant struggle. From the suffragettes to today's voting rights advocates, securing the right to vote should be a common pursuit of us all.

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

Image: Marla Aufmuth/TED/Flickr

voting rights Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan January 2, 2020 U.S. midterm elections defined by struggle for voting rights Who will come out to vote -- and, critically, who will be denied the right to vote -- in the next U.S. midterm elections? U.S. midterm results show the fight against voter disenfranchisement is working Grassroots organizing gets results but there is a huge amount of work yet to be done to ensure a fair, representative democracy with an engaged and empowered electorate.
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[l] at 1/2/20 6:42am
January 2, 2020 Make a resolution to strengthen Canadian independent media in 2020 Independent media is not inevitable. It takes your help. It takes you making a new year's resolution to support media democracy.
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[l] at 12/24/19 8:09am
Zaid Noorsumar Ontario's Long-Term Care PSW Shortage,", developed in partnership with UNIFOR in a press conference at the Ontario legislature. Image: Ontario Health Coalition/Facebook

The predominantly female and often racialized workforce of Ontario's personal support workers (PSWs) is bearing the brunt of a chronically underfunded long-term care system, according to a new report released on December 9 by Unifor and the Ontario Health Coalition.

The report is based on eight roundtable discussions the organizations organized mainly in May and June 2019 across eight cities. More than 350 people participated in the forums including long-term care home directors, owners, administrators, PSWs, union reps, advocates and municipal councillors. 

The understaffing of homes has been a longstanding problem that has led to a severe shortage of PSWs and in the process further undermined the safety and care of vulnerable residents. 

The work in nursing homes is physically and emotionally tough -- personal support workers are responsible for a wide range of duties including clothing, bathing and toileting residents. 

The labour of taking care of an aging population is becoming ever more difficult. Seniors entering nursing homes are older with increasingly complex conditions -- they often have multiple ailments, require more medication and need closer care. 

However, according to government data, staffing levels have been declining over the past decade. 

"[As a worker] you can't watch people every single second when you're split between so many residents. The ratios are just extreme. And the reality now is that almost every shift, they're working short-staffed," says Katha Fortier, spokesperson for Unifor.

Fortier points out that alongside elderly patients are younger residents with mental health problems, creating an even more challenging work environment for staff as they have to deal with stronger, more mobile residents. 

The shortage of workers results in rushed and low-quality care, increasing staff errors, neglect of residents, conflicts and aggressive behaviors, according to the report.

A survey of 1,200 PSWs released in March this year showed alarming levels of violence in long-term care due to persistent understaffing. The study echoed findings of a 2008 York University study that also blamed inadequate staffing, but showed that the rates of violence including sexual assaults had intensified

Understaffing and PSW shortages

The OHC-Unifor report highlights that PSWs are leaving the industry due to demanding working conditions, poor compensation, high rates of injury and abuse, and lack of full-time work. 

But the exodus of PSWs is creating an even more acute shortage of staff, creating a spiralling effect without an easy fix. 

Precarity in work is a serious concern as full-time work is scarce, with workers having to negotiate multiple jobs, and balancing the scheduling needs of multiple employers. 

The report notes that some workers in Chatham, Ontario, said they were still awaiting full-time jobs a decade into their careers.

Since hourly wages often hover around the $20 mark, it makes sense for workers to seek other low-wage jobs that don't involve a stressful and volatile environment. 

The report recommends increased government funding to hire more full-time staff with benefits, which would also address better resident care. It also calls for government subsidies for students to enroll in college PSW programs, to address the barriers of high tuition fees and child care costs. 

One of the other recommendations is to build a provincial human resource strategy to ensure a sustainable solution to the problem.

In an emailed statement, Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of long-term care, said that the government was working on a comprehensive staffing strategy for nursing homes. 

The statement acknowledged that "proper staffing plays a significant role in ensuring that the needs of all long-term care residents are being met." 

She said that her government was working with its partners in the sector to address the issue. 

Thus far the government has increased funding below the rate of inflation. 

"Ford's $34-million cut to the long-term care sector is making things worse, and makes clear that his government has no intention of fixing the problems plaguing the sector," says Teresa Armstrong, the NDP critic for long-term care. 

The minimum care standard

Unions, the Ontario Health Coalition and patient advocates have long called for a minimum care standard that would guarantee residents four hours of direct care every single day. The current level of direct care in Ontario hovers around the 2.7 mark. 

While nursing homes have to abide by onerous regulations around documentation, they face no consequence for being understaffed.  

In October 2016, the NDP introduced the Time to Care Act bill, which proposed legislating a minimum care standard of four hours. The bill was enthusiastically received in the legislature, with endorsement from all three major parties. In November 2017, it passed second reading with consensus. 

However, the Liberals didn't pass the bill before the end of their term in June 2018. And the Conservatives have ignored the NDP's re-introduction of the bill since last year.

"Last summer, I re-introduced the Time to Care Act," Armstrong says. "The Ford government needs to come to the table and support this bill."

Fortier says that Unifor raised the issue of passing the bill with Conservative MPPs at Queen's Park on the day the report was released.

"The Conservatives' question was, 'How will we pay for this when we got this debt?' I think the question should be, 'How can we not pay for it?'" Fortier says. 

"There's a compliance report from Walkerton, in a home called Bruce Lee Haven, and it says that short-staffing may have contributed to the deaths of two residents. We've got people dying from short-staffing -- what's the price on that?"

The systemic issues

The current crisis of long-term care homes can be understood in the context of the privatization of care, according to Albert Banerjee, health research chair in community health and aging at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.

In Ontario, 58 per cent of long-term care homes are for-profit, while the rest are not-for-profit and government-owned.

While all homes receive the same level of base funding from the government, academic research shows that for-profit homes tend to have a lower quality of care. 

That trend is attributed to the fact that while municipal and non-profits tend to channel surplus funds back into hiring more workers, the for-profits divert money towards revenue.

"The research tends to show that the profit is coming from labour. That's your biggest expense," Banerjee says.

"Staffing tends to be better in the municipal homes [and non-profit homes] than the for-profit homes."

The for-profit domination of the industry began during the previous Conservative government of premier Mike Harris from 1995-2002. 

"We changed the model where most [nursing home care] was delivered by not-for-profit, hospitals, municipalities or charitable and religious organizations to a situation where most [beds have been contracted] to for-profit operators," Fortier says. 

In 2003, Harris became a director of Chartwell, one of the biggest for-profit corporations in the long-term care and retirement homes sector. He is currently chair of the firm's board.

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: Ontario Health Coalition/Facebook

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[l] at 12/20/19 5:24pm
December 20, 2019 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook This year started and ended with SNC-Lavalin The SNC-Lavalin affair, which cast a shadow over 2019, highlighted the Trudeau government's ambiguity, if not outright double talk, on both democratic reform and Indigenous rights.
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[l] at 12/20/19 5:11pm
Karl Nerenberg Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

The year 2019 began with the SNC-Lavalin scandal roiling the political waters and ended with the Montreal-based engineering firm getting the kind of deal it wanted all along. 

One, and only one, division of SNC-Lavalin pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud, and its punishment is no more than a slap on the wrist: a $280-million fine. There are no other sanctions on the company. 

Most important, SNC-Lavalin is not barred from bidding on federal government contracts, which was the consequence the company and its supporters most feared from criminal prosecution.

All of this happened through the normal and routine workings of the criminal justice system. SNC-Lavalin's lawyers reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, thus avoiding a trial. And that's the way most run-of-the-mill criminal cases play out. In the end, the company did not need what is known as a deferred prosecution agreement. 

A botched process for amending the criminal code 

In 2018, the Trudeau government passed legislation making such agreements possible -- with SNC-Lavalin very much in mind.

The purpose of these special arrangements, the legislation candidly states, is to avoid collateral damage to innocent employees and suppliers when a company faces criminal charges. The legislative measure stipulates that if a company in such a predicament accepts sanctions and agrees to a number of stringent conditions, the Crown can put the entire case on the backburner, most likely permanently. In this way, companies could, at least in theory, mend their ways, without the stain of a criminal record.

The government drafted the deferred prosecution provision badly, according to many knowledgeable critics, and passed it not as criminal justice legislation, but as an add-on to the 2018 federal budget. Proceeding in that way meant the House of Commons justice committee never got to give the measure the scrutiny it deserved. Such scrutiny would have included testimony from expert witnesses.

Prior to the 2015 election, the Liberal leader had promised he would never resort to such legislative legerdemain, which was a favourite tactic of the Harper government. In fact, Justin Trudeau pledged to ban the omnibus bill practice outright. Failure to do so was only one of his several broken promises on democratic reform.

As the SNC-Lavalin prosecution proceeded toward a trial, the prime minister and his entourage wanted the then justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to end the matter peremptorily by ordering the federal prosecutor to offer SNC-Lavalin the newly available option of deferred prosecution. 

Wilson-Raybould famously refused, arguing that no elected politician should interfere with the judicial process. 

The minister then faced intense pressure to change her mind, from a series of high-ranking officials. Chief among those were the prime minister's most senior political advisor, Gerald Butts, and the head of the federal public service, Michael Wernick. 

Wernick even brought up the entirely partisan political matter of pending byelections in Quebec, an odd consideration for a senior civil servant. 

Broad-based differences

When the pressure didn't work, Trudeau shuffled Wilson-Raybould out of the justice portfolio. At the same time, Ottawa insiders began a whisper campaign against the minister. 

She was not a team player, they said. She was difficult and stubborn. She was unqualified and had scant experience. She only got the job because she was an Indigenous person, and did not have the humility to recognize her own limitations and heed the advice of folks who knew better. 

It was relentless, and it continues to this day. 

Ultimately, the whole matter became public in a very messy way -- first with revelations about the pressure campaign in a Globe and Mail news story, then with public testimony from the principal players before the House justice committee. 

It quickly became clear that SNC-Lavalin was not the only point of contention between Wilson-Raybould and the Trudeau government. More fundamental than the disagreement over the advisability of using a deferred prosecution agreement in one case was a broad divergence of views on how to deal with judicial conflicts between the federal government and Indigenous communities. 

The historic position of the federal justice department is that it vigorously defends the government's interests in all cases and against all comers, including Indigenous people suing for rights or recognition. 

Wilson-Raybould advocated for a different approach. She indicated to justice department lawyers that she did not wish them to fight Indigenous groups on every front. They should favour negotiation rather than litigation, she said.

There is reference in the text messages and emails between Wilson-Raybould and officials such as Gerald Butts to the fact that the minister was getting considerable pushback from people she described as conservatives in her department. She sought greater prime ministerial support, and was frustrated when it was not forthcoming.

A double-talking government

The SNC-Lavalin affair, which cast a shadow over the entire year, highlighted the Trudeau government's ambiguity, if not outright double talk, on both democratic reform and Indigenous rights.

This is a government that had once promised to reform the electoral system, to reduce the unaccountable power from the prime minister's office, to make government information more open and transparent, and to ban the use of omnibus legislation. 

It did none of that.

The first Trudeau government also pledged to give its highest priority to relations with Indigenous peoples. It did achieve some success there, notably in increasing funding for Indigenous education and changing the assessment process for mega projects to give Indigenous communities more say.

In other ways, however, the Trudeau government found the juggling act between Indigenous demands and the expectations of powerful interests, notably those of big business, to be, at best, awkward. 

On the Trans Mountain pipeline, Trudeau's officials conducted consultations with Indigenous groups that the federal court of appeal found to be so patronizing and meaningless it sent them back to the drawing board.

Government lawyers balked at the human rights tribunal's order that the government pay $40,000 each to Indigenous children taken from their homes and communities by the child welfare system. And those lawyers had the government's ear. Now, the government is appealing that ruling in federal court. 

Most recently, on Friday, December 20, the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper published a disturbing report that shows how old attitudes and practices with regard to Indigenous people die hard. 

The Guardian got its hands on an RCMP memo that talks about using lethal force against members of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in British Columbia who have been trying to people to stop construction of a gas pipeline through their unceded territory. 

RCMP senior officers indicate in the memo that they have considered taking the hardest line possible with the Indigenous blockaders. That could include arresting women and children and making use of armed snipers.  

As the year comes to an end, a Liberal government that lost its majority shows signs it wants to lower expectations and, you guessed it, focus almost exclusively on the middle class and those working hard to join it. 

Others, however, who once invested hope in the Justin Trudeau team -- who are neither of the middle class nor aspirants to it -- are still here, and do not plan to go away. The re-elected government might, over time, discover that it chooses to ignore them at its peril.

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

Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

Enjoy rabble's parliamentary reporting? Chip in to keep Karl Nerenberg on Parliament Hill for as little as $1 per month!

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[l] at 12/20/19 2:36pm
rabble staff Mediamodifier/Pixabay

rabble.ca is pleased to announce our seventh annual Labour Beat internship. The placement will provide the successful candidate with unique opportunities to develop a grounding in reporting on national labour issues. It will involve access to meetings, conferences, media briefings and interviews with leaders in the labour movement, and may include shadowing rabble's parliamentary reporter to committees and scrums.

Lori Theresa Waller was our inaugural labour reporter, bringing even more labour coverage to rabble with original stories and labour news roundups. And last year, we were joined by Zaid Noorsumar, who was rabble.ca's seventh labour beat reporter. You can find Noorsumar's reporting right here and all of rabble's labour coverage on our labour issue page

The goal of the labour beat position is to equip the reporter with enhanced skills and knowledge of the labour movement and workers' issues so that not only will there be six months of solid reporting, but a solid base in labour issues to carry the reporter forth into their careers. 

Applications for the Labour Beat reporter are due February 21, 2020. The position is for 15 hours a week for 39 weeks. This is a paid internship.

More information on this position and how to apply can be found on our opportunities page here.

Image: Mediamodifier/Pixabay


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[l] at 12/20/19 8:38am
Bernie Sanders speaking to rally attendees in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Image: Matt A.J./Flickr US Politics World

Christmas is a populist holiday if you attend to its origin story. Kid born in outdoor shed to working parents, dad a carpenter, because the rich had booked all the hotels. He didn't yet possess populist consciousness, but as an adult he got there. It's attested by Matthew: "Blessed are the poor -- (even if he adds, "in spirit"); Mark: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven"; and Woody Guthrie: "He said to the rich, give your goods to the poor/So they laid Jesus Christ in his grave."

That was the basis for the Christian social gospel that led to creating the CCF-NDP in Canada. Also of Catholic liberation theology with its "preferential option for the poor." But being poor isn't a populist prerequisite, it's about what you say, not what you own. At Wednesday's impeachment hearings, a Trump backer said the Romans gave Jesus more rights than Democrats gave Trump.

Populism comes and goes but it defines our own era politically. It can only do so in times where wealth maldistribution is so severe that it's unescapable. Populists are for "the people" as a large, undifferentiated entity, unlike, say, identity politics, which breaks people into groups. Plus, populists always name the people's enemy. For right populists like Trump or Boris Johnson, it's the other: immigrants, foreigners, minorities. For left populists, it's the rich.

So how did Boris Johnson, the posh toff (as only the English could put it in two syllables) pull off his spectacular U.K. election win? Not by who he is but who he's against: Europe, immigrants, Muslims. It may've helped that he's so clearly a lout just under his posh accent that "the people" could think of him as one of "us." That's something his self-parodying ally, Jacob Rees-Mogg -- an English nationalist but no way a populist -- couldn't pull off. He'll always be a toff.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's leader, didn't talk much about the people, or focus on their enemy. He's more a class analysis and policy guy. He's a familiar middle class leftist type and he wore that literally, on the campaign trail, in "a bespoke suit featuring his motto, "For the many, not the few," stitched into the red pinstripes." It was a time for populism but Corbyn hadn't noticed.

This is why I don't think U.S. left populist Bernie Sanders has anything to learn from Corbyn's defeat. Corbyn hasn't a populist bone in him, Sanders rants against "millioneahs and billioneahs," probably even in his sleep. You can't picture those words in Corbyn's mouth. It's not all that hampered him but he was miscast in the moment. He was the wrong candidate in the wrong election.

Most leftists, especially those with Marxist antecedents, associate populism with the right and racism. This abandons all its power to the right and makes leftists insensitive to their own blunders, on little things like democracy. So, Corbyn effectively rejected the Brexit referendum by calling for another one. That gifted the democracy issue to the right, by denying the "will of the people." Offhand, I can think of nothing more self-defeating, in populist terms.

In the U.S. impeachment, Trump's legions tested various tacks but they've settled on one: that the Democrats have been determined to deny the "will of the people" since 2016, because they lack confidence that they can beat Trump in a fair electoral fight. So they've been trying to eliminate him legally or legislatively ever since. Presto, Trump owns the democracy issue too!

What would left populists do? Not challenge the people's will on Brexit or Trump's election. They'd lay into those millioneahs and billioneahs, who are out there in full view, making them the issue in the next test of the people's will. Maybe it sounds distasteful to them; they'd prefer to be unifiers, not attackers.

Tough. The late, great leftist writer, Alexander Cockburn, used to challenge interns at The Nation, by asking if their hatred was pure. I never liked that line myself, I'm more of a nuances guy. But to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. This happens to be populism time.

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

Image: Matt A.J./Flickr

populism Rick Salutin December 20, 2019
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[l] at 12/19/19 4:05pm
Gage Skidmore/Flickr US Politics

"And still I rise, Madam Speaker," Congressmember Al Green, Democrat of Houston, said, opening his statement during the House hearing on the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Those words were taken from Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise":

"You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise."

Angelou died five years ago but was very present in the House chamber during the historic hearing. Later in the proceedings, Maxine Waters opened her fiery remarks: "Unfortunately, the rules of debate won't allow me to cite all of the reasons why this president should be impeached; there are many. However … to quote the late Maya Angelou, 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.'"

Al Green and Maxine Waters, both prominent African American members of Congress, have been leading the drive for impeachment. Green first brought impeachment to the House floor in May 2017. Within days, he was receiving racist death threats. One caller left a voicemail that threatened: "You ain't gonna impeach nobody, you [bleep]. Try it, and we'll lynch all you [bleep]. You'll be hanging from a tree."

He has managed to get a vote on impeachment three times. In December 2017, 57 members of Congress joined him. Less than two months later, the number climbed to 65. Last July, 94 voted with him. Maxine Waters is among the first members of Congress to call for Trump's impeachment, and has done so tenaciously.

Al Green delivered his remarks Wednesday beside a large poster bearing the phrase "Impeach Now" and the image of a young Honduran girl crying as her mother is being searched by Customs and Border Protection in June 2018. The iconic photo of Sandra Maria Sanchez and her daughter Yanela went viral, capturing the cruelty of Trump's harsh immigrant detention policy. Green said: "I rise because I love my country. Madam Speaker, shall any man be beyond justice? This is the question posed in 1787 by George Mason at the Constitutional Convention."

The Houston congressman continued: "In the name of democracy, on behalf of the republic, and for the sake of the many who are suffering [Green pointed to the poster at this point], I will vote to impeach and I encourage my colleagues to do so as well. No one is beyond justice in this country."

On December 4, Green sent a memo to members of Congress that opened, "How will history judge this Congress that passed a resolution indicating President Trump made harmful, racist comments if it does not impeach him for his impeachable racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, transphobic, xenophobic language instigating enmity and inciting violence within our society?"

Donald Trump is only the third president in the country's history to be impeached, along with Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither Johnson nor Clinton was ultimately removed from office by a vote in the Senate. Richard Nixon faced impeachment in the House and removal from office by the Senate in 1974 but opted to resign instead to avoid that certain outcome.

While Maxine Waters, along with Al Green and many others, have a long list of Trump's offenses they consider impeachable, the House Democrats settled on just two: abuse of power, related to his attempts to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, and the obstruction of Congress' investigation into that abuse of power.

"Am I satisfied?" Al Green asked, speaking on the "Democracy Now!" news hour Wednesday morning, hours before Trump's impeachment hearing began. "I am at a point wherein I believe that we must go forward with these articles of impeachment. I do not believe that the Constitution prohibits additional articles of impeachment."

Green represents a majority minority district in southwest Houston. He continued, on "Democracy Now!," "If Andrew Johnson could be impeached, in Article 10 of the articles of impeachment against him, for reasons rooted in his hatred, his bigotry and racism, this president can be impeached for these reasons, as well."

At this point, it seems clear that the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit Trump of these articles of impeachment, and he will remain in office. But that does not deter Congressman Al Green.

"This may not be the end of it," Green concluded. "The Constitution allows us to impeach a president multiple times if the president commits multiple impeachable acts."

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

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

  Donald Trump impeachment Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan December 19, 2019
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[l] at 12/19/19 3:15pm
December 19, 2019 Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash rabble's favourite reads of 2019 Climate change, the federal election, #MeToo, the rise of the right: our staff's favourite books from 2019 touch on all of these important issues and more.
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[l] at 12/19/19 1:34pm
Economy Toronto's financial district. Image: Arild/Flickr

There's silly. There's absurd. And then there's this:

The country's six largest banks are dishing out $15 billion in bonuses this year. But, in the eyes of some, this isn't enough.

Indeed, Bill Vlaad, president of Vlaad & Co., which monitors bank compensation trends, described the $15-billion payout to bank executives as bleak, while noticing that it could have been worse: "It could very well have been a bloodbath."

A bloodbath? The word conjures up the sort of savagery associated with Vlad the Impaler (no relation) in the 15th century.

Certainly, the notion of bankers suffering as they gorge on $15 billion in bonuses highlights the cavernous gap between the world enjoyed by those at the top and the one occupied by the struggling masses, including bodies we step over on sidewalks surrounding our bank towers.

It also reveals how misleading media reports can be, particularly about high finance, with insiders allowed to peddle their self-serving agendas unchallenged.

Of course, "bankers are underpaid," said nobody ever. Last year, Canada's big six banks accumulated staggering profits totalling $46.6 billion.

Although banking is a tried-and-true method for making tons of money, banks enjoy a protected position at the top of the Canadian economy. With roots stretching back to before Confederation, the big banks represent the very heart of the Canadian establishment. Over the years, they've developed deeply entrenched connections to Ottawa's governing parties, making it difficult for newcomers to break in.

No matter how enterprising or innovative a Canadian citizen might be, she can't just go out and open a bank. She needs a charter from the federal government, and these aren't easy to obtain.

Yet, despite their privileged perch, Canada's big six banks have gotten away with paying extremely low taxes -- the lowest in the G7. Partly by using tax havens, our wildly profitable banks have managed to reduce their taxes to a rate that is about one-third of the rate paid by other Canadian businesses, according to a 2017 Toronto Star investigation.

Some Canadians might wonder whether we are well served by our banks. In recent years, they've shut down branches across the country, leaving hundreds of rural and remote communities without a local branch. They've also declined to offer banking services to many low-income people, obliging almost two million Canadians a year to pay the hair-raising interest rates charged by payday loan operators.

Yet, proposals that Canada Post offer banking services at its 6,200 outlets across the country have been opposed by the big banks, which insist that they serve Canadians well.

Certainly they serve themselves well, with even a "bleak" year leaving bankers divvying up $15 billion in compensation, on top of their base salaries.

We know the bank CEOs get a generous share -- led by the TD Bank's Bharat Masrani at $15.3 million -- but it's not clear how the rest of that multi-billion-dollar pie is divided, or even how many bankers get a slice.

And the $15 billion doesn't include stock options, which enjoy special tax privileges.

Stock options can be held and cashed in when a bank's stock is particularly high. The bankers qualify for a tax break that allows them to pay income tax on these gains at just half the rate that ordinary workers -- plumbers, nurses, fast-food servers -- pay on their employment income.

This special tax treatment is hard to justify, and has long been controversial. The Trudeau government has pledged to limit the loophole for employee stock options to $200,000 a year -- still a lot more than the typical worker makes.

With this limit expected to be imposed soon, bankers holding stock options will likely cash them in this year, according to David Macdonald, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Ottawa.

"The actual pay flowing to executives this year might well hit an all-time high as they rush to cash in all their old options -- especially since bank stocks are also at an almost-all-time high," Macdonald notes.

If so, the bankers will no doubt insist that the low-level employees in the office crank up the heat -- and that they do so before they dot another "i" or cross another "t."

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists, which explores the different energy policies of Alberta and Norway. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Image: Arild/Flickr

banking Linda McQuaig December 19, 2019 Denounced in media, taxing the super-rich turns out to be popular with Canadians A wealth tax has received little media coverage -- beyond denunciations in the National Post, which surely has nothing to do with the fact the media is largely owned by billionaires. Billionaire claims about capitalism's benefits are wrong Claims by billionaires like Bill Gates about capitalism heroically lifting humankind out of poverty turn out to be easily debunked. Imagine if that news got out.
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[l] at 12/18/19 12:38am
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to media December 6, 2019. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Another day, another Alberta government talking point exposed as codswallop.

Yesterday, we compared and contrasted what the United Conservative Party government used to say about the former NDP government's carbon tax with reality. Viz., it was destroying the economy (UCP), versus, it effectively had no negative impact on the Alberta economy (the government's own officials).

Today, let's take a peek at Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, which Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and other members of his government have repeatedly called "the No-More Pipelines Bill."

As in the case of the ginned-up brouhaha over the Notley government's painless but poorly sold carbon levy, Kenney's overheated rhetoric about the federal Liberals' environmental assessment bill that was finally passed by the Senate last spring and thereafter was constantly assailed in the lead-up to the federal election in October turns out also to have been vastly exaggerated.

Leastways, a short paper published yesterday by University of Calgary School of Public Policy research associate Victoria Goodday, who studies legal frameworks for natural resources management, took a look at C-69 and found much ado about nothing.

In her paper -- Demystifying Bill C-69: The Project List -- Goodday asked: "Is the backlash over the IAA justified?" Her conclusion. Nope, it isn't.

Comparing the list of project types that must be reviewed for environmental impact under the IAA with that of the previous legislation, the Harper-government-era Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, Goodday found changes, but not all that much change.

That is to say, the details changed, but the impact doesn't seem to be all that different.

"Specific to petroleum-based energy projects (oil, gas and coal), 50 per cent of projects under this activity type (14) remained unchanged from CEAA," she noted.

"Of the project descriptions changed, five became less stringent … and six became more stringent through broadened scope," she said.

Readers will get the idea. Her key finding, relative to Kenney's political rhetoric, was this: "The IAA list is arguably more lenient than CEAA on oil and gas pipeline proponents." (Emphasis added.)

"Of the four oil and gas pipeline entries, the impact is split: one removed, one less stringent, one more stringent and one new," she also noted. If you're interested in the nitty-gritty, you should read the paper yourself. It's short, and reasonably accessible to a layperson.

Here's her conclusion, which is important when we consider the sorry state of political discourse in this province: "Based solely on a comparison of projects that will automatically require federal review, it is not likely that the IAA will be a disabler of major infrastructure projects, especially oil and gas pipeline infrastructure, as compared to the outgoing CEAA."

From this, it's reasonable to conclude that all the sound and fury about Bill C-69 was a way to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and had very little to do with any change in the complexity or difficulty of getting pipelines approved.

Embarrassingly factual stuff like this is not likely to be the topic of a softball feature story by the Kenney government "war room" website -- whose mission managing director Tom Olsen recently accurately described, presumably in an unintended slip of the tongue, as "disproving true facts." Thankfully the paper is probably also too technical to inspire a news release attacking the author and setting out the Kenney government's alternative facts.

Speaking of which, I wonder how Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.'s fact warriors are getting along with their effort to straighten out the Medicine Hat News?

They talk a very good game. Perhaps later today we'll get to see what kind of a game the $30-million-a-year war room actually plays. What do you want to bet it's not a very good one?

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

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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[l] at 12/17/19 3:53pm
December 17, 2019 Andrew Scheer/Flickr Do federal party leaders need to be bilingual? It is hard to imagine a viable leader of any major party who could not campaign vigorously and convincingly in both official languages.
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[l] at 12/17/19 3:24pm
Karl Nerenberg Andrew Scheer/Flickr

When William Lyon Mackenzie King succeeded the fluently bilingual Wilfred Laurier as Liberal leader one hundred years ago, he could not speak any French. Nonetheless, in part because he was known to be Laurier's choice, most Quebec Liberals supported King over his four rivals.

King enjoyed widespread support in Quebec and among francophones outside Quebec throughout his long career, which only ended in the late 1940s. During all that time, he never made a speech, or gave an interview, or took part in a debate, in French. 

More recently, in the 1960s, Lester Pearson, whom history regards as one of our most consequential prime ministers, managed to lead the Liberal party and govern with significant support from francophones throughout the country, without the ability to speak any but the most rudimentary French.

The same was true of Pearson's predecessor, Progressive Conservative John Diefenbaker. He won overwhelming support in Quebec in one election, that of 1958. 

In fact, for more than a century, the only bilingual Canadian prime ministers were the three francophones: Laurier, Louis St. Laurent and Pierre Trudeau. None of the anglophone prime ministers, from John A. Macdonald to Robert Borden to Pearson, could speak anything approaching fluent French.

When bilingualism became a basic requirement  

That only changed in 1979 with the election of the bilingual Albertan, Progressive Conservative Joe Clark. Since that time, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have selected a unilingual anglophone leader. 

Liberals John Turner and Paul Martin spoke French fluently. Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney spoke French so well francophones thought it was his first language. His successor Kim Campbell's French was not perfect, but she could deliver speeches, conduct interviews and answer questions in the House quite comfortably in French. 

Reform party leader Preston Manning could not speak French, and his party did not even run candidates in Quebec. But when that party merged with the Progressive Conservatives, the new entity chose as leader one of the few Reform MPs who was bilingual: Stephen Harper. 

The new Conservative leader made a point of giving prominent roles to his bilingual MPs, among them: Jason Kenney, James Moore, Shelly Glover, Chris Alexander and Joe Oliver. The new Conservative party also moved away from the Reform movement's skepticism about official bilingualism and recognized Quebec as a distinct society.

As for the New Democrats, they have had an up-and-down record on bilingual leaders. 

Their first leader, Tommy Douglas, was not bilingual. The second, David Lewis, spoke excellent French. The next one, Ed Broadbent, worked hard on his French. His accent was never great, but his grammar and vocabulary were solid. That gained him a lot of respect in Quebec and francophone Canada.

After Broadbent, the party chose two leaders who could not speak credible French. 

At the 1989 NDP convention, which chose Broadbent's successor, there were no fluently bilingual candidates. But in 1995, two of the three contenders, Lorne Nystrom and Svend Robinson, were fluently bilingual. The party, however, chose the one candidate who could not speak French.

Then, in 2003, the NDP selected bilingual Jack Layton and all that changed. Layton could not only speak colloquial French quite well, if not perfectly, he could competently crack jokes in his second language -- not an easy feat. With "le bon Jack" as leader, the NDP became, for the first time, a force to be reckoned with in Quebec. 

In the two New Democratic leaders' races following Layton's death in 2011, most of the candidates were bilingual -- some, such as Niki Ashton, quite comfortably so. In the most recent race, in 2017, only one of the candidates struggled with the French language, Charlie Angus, and that probably hurt his chances.

Now it is the Conservatives' turn to elect a new leader, and they will have to face and deal with the issue of bilingualism. 

The knocks against outgoing leader Andrew Scheer are that he is too socially conservative for the majority of voters, that he is a mediocre communicator, and that he does not have a coherent climate change policy. But many have also pointed out that under fire in televised debates Scheer's French, which might have been good enough for his role as Speaker of the House, was halting and not always coherent. 

Commentators and party activists are mentioning many names of potential new Conservative leaders. Prominent among them are Peter MacKay and Rona Ambrose, neither of whom has demonstrated fluency in French. It is possible they have been working on their French language skills since stepping away from politics. We might find out soon.

Other potential Conservative leadership aspirants are quite comfortably bilingual, among them Erin O'Toole, Michael Fortier and Michael Chong. But will Conservative party members care?

To appeal to many non-francophones a leader must speak French

The fact is that it is not only necessary to have better-than-average French to appeal to Canada's eight million or so francophones; French language capacity matters, in many ways, to other voters as well. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's surprisingly strong performance in two French language TV debates during the 2019 campaign created media buzz that helped him more in the rest of Canada than in Quebec. 

By contrast, Andrew Scheer's disappointing performances in those two debates weakened his campaign nationally, as well as in Quebec.

Back in the 1990s, NDP leader Alexa McDonough, then leading a party that had been devastated in the previous election, was terrified of taking part in French language TV debates. 

McDonough was worried she would not understand questions posed to her and insisted on using a headset to receive an English translation of everything that was said. She had no choice but to respond in French however. 

The results were cringe-worthy. Even when questions were sympathetic to NDP policies, such as one on the need for a national childcare program, the NDP leader lacked the vocabulary to effectively exploit the opening. 

At the time, I asked a senior NDP staffer why they even bothered taking part in the French language debates. The party was in rebuilding mode at the time, hoping to regain seats in the Prairies, Ontario and British Columbia, and make a breakthrough in Atlantic Canada. Quebec was not a priority for them. 

The staffer's answer was instructive. 

"Even if you have no chance in Quebec, you cannot expect Canadian nationalists in downtown Toronto to support you if you don't make a serious effort to communicate in French," he explained.

To some, bilingualism might seem an unfair barrier to many good people who aspire to national political leadership. But if the shoe were on the other foot, how would English speakers react? 

Nobody has ever suggested that a person who spoke only French could lead a federal party. Indeed, there were two recent francophone leaders who did not have total fluency in English. 

One was Jean Chrétien, who overcame his linguistic deficiencies with old-style charm and affability. Sadly, for the other -- Stéphane Dion -- he did not possess Chrétien's uncanny ability to connect with voters beyond the strictures of language. Dion and his Liberal party paid the price at the polls.

Canada is not the country it was in 1867 or 1937 or 1967. 

The current political and cultural fact of life is that it is hard to imagine a viable leader of any major federal party who could not campaign vigorously and convincingly in both official languages.

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

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

Enjoy rabble's parliamentary reporting? Chip in to keep Karl Nerenberg on Parliament Hill for as little as $1 per month!


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[l] at 12/17/19 9:28am
Arts & Culture Politics in Canada Beverley McLachlin; Libby Davies; Monique Bégin

(Full disclosure: Monique Bégin and Libby Davies are friends I hold dear, while Beverley McLachlin is someone I have met, and talked with on several occasions).

Early in Truth be Told: My Journey Through Life and the Law (Simon & Schuster), Beverley McLachlin writes of her homeroom teacher taking her aside to discuss the aptitude test she and her grade school classmates had recently taken. The teacher found McLachlin's results disconcerting. She should never choose to be a telephone operator or a waitress — McLachlin had the lowest alertness scores the teacher had ever seen. 

While the Grade 8 student did have very high reading-retention results, "that will not do you any good … being a girl," the teacher explained.

Some decades later, having arrived in Ottawa, and being shown by her predecessor the office she would now occupy at the Supreme Court of Canada, McLachlin asked if judges read in their entirety each of the many books of trial evidence they received before each case (as the outgoing judge explained how well suited the closets in this particular office were to store them). He remarked that Supreme Court justices had in common at least one thing: high reading-retention.

With a gift for irony, and a fine sense of the unexpected, and unusual occurrences, McLachlin has turned her judicial writing skills into a fine memoir. 

The former chief justice tells of growing up in the area around Pincher Creek in Southern Alberta, where failing family fortunes led to a series of moves to homes increasingly distant from town. Each had no running water or electricity. 

Few would have expected to see a Supreme Court chief justice become a Canadian hero, but the way the McLachlin court overruled the social conservative legislative agenda being force fed through Parliament by the Harper majority government endeared her to many. 

Though she does not write about it in this memoir, it was the McLachlin court that recognized that freedom of association under the charter guaranteed the right to collective bargaining, rejecting decades of anti-union Supreme Court rulings.

The judicial story concludes in Vancouver with a recently retired McLachlin riding a bus. Not far from an original safe injection site -- protected by her court from attempts by the Harper government to shut it down --  a man sits down beside her. He turns his head sideways: "Aren't you that judge?" Yes, she acknowledges. 

"I just want to thank you for all you did for Canada," he says.

Any one of a great number of Vancouver bus riders could have offered a similar thank you to Libby Davies whose political memoir Outside In: A Political Memoir (Between the Lines) includes a full account of her 20-year fight to save the lives of thousands of heroin addicts dying on city streets, because the police, civic, provincial and federal authorities were too thick to understand that drug addiction was a medical problem, not a criminal matter. 

Davies superbly balanced work (she took a course at UBC on memoir writing when she retired as the member of Parliament for Vancouver East, and it shows) provides numerous lessons from real life on how to make a difference as a social justice activist, working with street people from a store front, sitting on city council, or as deputy leader of the federal NDP. 

Davies was a close associate of Jack Layton, and here she gives an engrossing account of the rise, and fall of NDP fortunes in the Layton years. 

For many, the very personal stories Davies chooses to share with her readers will be the most interesting part of this highly readable, enjoyable book. 

Like a very few other politicians (the late Marion Dewar, a former NDP MP and Ottawa mayor comes to mind) Davies was not just appreciated or admired, she was loved by her constituents.

Another elected political figure also loved by the public is Monique Bégin. In Ladies, Upstairs! My Life in Politics and After (McGill-Queen's) she gives an engaging account of her full life, from an incredible June 1940 childhood escape from Paris (partially by foot, at the age of four, with her parents and siblings) in advance of Nazis troops, to her resuming a formal university career as chair of women's studies, dean, and professor at the University of Ottawa.

Bégin, a sociologist, with a gift for observing, understanding, and relating the inner workings of government in our society, interrupted her graduate studies to become research director for the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Elected to Parliament in 1972 and the first woman to claim a seat in Quebec, Bégin would serve until 1984, leaving public life as one of the most successful cabinet ministers in Canadian history.

It was as minister of health and welfare in the Pierre Trudeau government that Bégin secured the first child tax benefit paid to women (a refundable tax credit, meaning it could be even claimed by women with no income), introduced the guaranteed income supplement to take seniors out of poverty, and secured passage of the Canada Health Act. How these accomplishments, and other amazing incidents played out is what drives her fascinating narrative.

Bégin stands in the first rank of Canadian feminists, and her memoir is an indispensable primary source for anyone interested in knowing how power can be used to displace barriers the male patriarchy builds to contain Canadian women. Readers hoping to glean her secrets about how to achieve feminist change in a male-dominated milieu will not be disappointed.

Whether you want something engaging to read over the holidays, or are looking for a gift idea, or simply to satisfy your curiosity about how things happen in public life, I can recommend these three fine books by three remarkable Canadian authors. 

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image: Beverley McLachlin; Libby Davies; Monique Bégin

Libby Davies Beverley McLachlin Monique Bégin Duncan Cameron December 17, 2019 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. Libby Davies' 'Outside In: A Political Memoir' Libby Davies' political autobiography includes not only the decisions of political elites but also the role of activists and social movements in their struggle against larger structural forces.
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[l] at 12/16/19 8:08pm
December 16, 2019 Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr Maxime Bernier also done like dinner after Andrew Scheer's resignation Had he not left the Conservative party in 2018, Bernier would be a prime candidate for the party leadership after Scheer's departure.
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[l] at 12/12/19 2:21pm
December 12, 2019 Andrew Scheer speaking at Alberta's United Conservative Party annual general meeting in November. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr Scheer's departure means social conservatism is on the defensive The Conservative party leader's resignation signals that in Canada, opposition to same-sex and reproductive rights is now an out-there, fringe position, well beyond the mainstream.
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[l] at 12/12/19 2:09pm
Karl Nerenberg Andrew Scheer speaking at Alberta's United Conservative Party annual general meeting in November. Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

It should come as little surprise to anyone who has been paying even passing attention that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer decided to resign. 

From the minute the results of October's election became official, Conservative party insiders and activists started treating Scheer as a dead opposition leader walking. Even staunch, hard-right Harper Conservative operatives openly expressed dismay at Scheer's well-documented and public record as a faith-based, social conservative, hostile to reproductive and same-sex rights. 

Since the election, Conservatives who prefer actual victory to the moral kind have been saying that it is no longer good enough to say "if elected I will not change the current laws on same-sex marriage and abortion." That careful formulation worked for Stephen Harper, and when Scheer faced questions about his own record, including his refusal to take part in Pride parades, he tried the same tack. 

Today, however, it seems that attitudes have changed. Political leaders who want to win enough votes to form a government must do more than accept the right to same-sex marriage and a woman's right to choose. They must emphatically support those rights.

That fact signals a significant political sea change. 

It was not too long ago that an Ontario NDP government could be skittish about legally recognizing same sex relationships. 

In the United States -- where, granted, religious conservatives have always been more influential than in Canada -- it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who signed the odious and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act into law. The next Democratic president, Barack Obama, took his time to say his views on that issue had "evolved."

Scheer's resignation signals that in Canada opposition to same-sex and reproductive rights has now acquired the status that rabid anti-bilingualism has long held. It is an out-there, fringe position, well beyond the mainstream. 

What kind of new leader?

We will have to wait and see who the Conservatives choose as their next leader. 

There will be many aspirants to the job. Lots of politicians will relish the chance to face a Liberal minority government that did not even win the popular vote in the last election. 

Among sitting MPs there are Erin O'Toole, a military veteran who speaks fluent French, and Michael Chong, the last of the deep-red, Red Tories. Both ran last time. 

Chong is well-placed to champion the view that the Conservatives must offer something other than a passive-aggressive policy on climate change if they expect voters to take them seriously. He has also pushed democratic reform measures in the House, and could make that agenda part of his offer to the party.

If the Conservatives seriously aspire to reinvent themselves as a centrist party, Chong would be their ideal leader. That is not too likely, however, given the makeup of the party's base.

Pierre Poilievre, the hard-right ideologue who represents an Ottawa-area riding, is much-beloved among the party faithful, and there's a good chance he might make a run for it. As minister for democratic reform, Poilievre was the author of that misnamed piece of voter suppression legislation, the Fair Elections Act.

Peter MacKay, the last Progressive Conservative leader before the merger with the renegade Canadian Alliance, and a former senior Harper minister, will be very tempted to take a shot. 

MacKay is an articulate, smart politician, with an impeccable pedigree. His father, Elmer MacKay, was the Conservative MP who stepped aside when newly chosen party leader Brian Mulroney needed a seat in the House. And the younger MacKay has another asset, a highly presentable life partner: Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a human rights activist. 

There are doubts about the fluency of MacKay's French, however, as there are about that of another appealing, notionally centrist candidate, defeated Conservative candidate and former cabinet minister Lisa Raitt. 

There are no such doubts about Jason Kenney, long time Harper front bencher and currently premier of a dyspeptic and angry Alberta, nor about Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, daughter of Brian. Both are entirely comfortable in la langue de Molière.

Mulroney might welcome the chance to get away from the listing ship captained by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. When she ran against Ford to be leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, she initially supported a price on carbon, but backed away from that position under pressure from other candidates. Still, Mulroney would have more environmental credentials than most potential candidates. 

In his heart of hearts, Kenney no doubt covets the federal leader's job. But it is hard to see how he could now re-invent himself as something other than an Alberta-firster, which is not what Conservatives need to gain support where they most need it, east of the Manitoba-Ontario border. 

Some Conservatives still whisper the name of Jean Charest, former Mulroney minister, leader of the Progressive Conservatives at their lowest point, and long-serving Liberal premier of Quebec. 

Charest was once a wunderkind. He was only 34 when he ran against Kim Campbell to succeed Brian Mulroney, not only as party leader but as prime minister. That was in 1993. He has acquired both a lot of experience and a lot of baggage since then -- and has said on numerous occasions that he is out of politics for good. 

One would have to consider Charest a long shot at this stage.

A dark horse? 

There will be plenty of other names, and we will be hearing them pretty soon. And the race could produce a surprise winner. 

When the Progressive Conservatives chose Joe Clark in 1976, he was an obscure MP for a Calgary riding. Few considered Clark to be in the top tier of candidates when he first announced. 

Clark was young (still in his 30s), slightly awkward, and lacking much in the way of experience when he narrowly won the leadership on the fourth ballot, but he went on to win the 1979 election, beating Pierre Trudeau quite handily everywhere but in Quebec. 

Had Clark and his senior advisors been more adept at handling their minority situation, he might have served as prime minister for a lot longer than the nine months he actually held the job.

And the man they called Joe Who wasn't the only dark horse to ever win the leadership. 

During the Second World War, when the Conservatives were at their nadir in public support, party elders approached the United Farmers (or Progressive Party) Manitoba premier John Bracken to take over. They considered the fact that Bracken belonged to a different political formation, and had never been a Conservative, only a minor inconvenience.

Bracken thought about the offer for a while, and agreed, as long as the party rebranded itself as the Progressive Conservative party. In the next election, with a new name and new leader, the party won 29 more seats, but still lost to Mackenzie King's Liberals. 

Despite that relative success, the knives immediately came out for the saviour-from-the-west the party had recruited just a few years earlier. 

Conservative conspirators did not even give Bracken credit for the new seats the party had won, which were mostly from Ontario. If credit was due, they said, it was to the popular Conservative Ontario premier, George Drew. As fast as you could say Progressive Conservative backwards, they chose Drew as their new leader.

Drew went on to badly lose the next election to a new Liberal leader, Louis St. Laurent. The voters thought the former Ontario premier too much of a stiff Bay Street baron compared to the amiable "Uncle Louis." 

Bracken ran as a Progressive Conservative candidate in that election, and suffered a humiliating loss to a Liberal. After that election, he retired from politics for good. He died, forgotten, 20 years later. 

All that, of course, is ancient history.

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

Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

Enjoy rabble's parliamentary reporting? Chip in to keep Karl Nerenberg on Parliament Hill for as little as $1 per month!

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[l] at 12/11/19 12:51pm
December 11, 2019 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in 2017. Image: Raul Mee/Flickr Major decisions at NATO conference overshadowed by leaders' gossip For the first time ever, NATO has acknowledged outer space as what it calls the "fifth domain" of warfare. The other warfare domains are land, air, sea and cyberspace.
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[l] at 12/11/19 12:41pm
Karl Nerenberg NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in 2017. Image: Raul Mee/Flickr

Something big and important happened at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference in London and, no, it was NOT Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, French President Macron, Princess Anne and British Prime Minister Johnson caught gossiping about U.S. President Trump on an open mic.

The highly respected organization NATO Watch reports that there were a number of consequential outcomes of the conference, notable among them a commitment to increase military spending across Europe and in Canada by a staggering US$400 billion. 

That little fact, alone, might have been more worthy of media attention than some leaders' inconsequential comments at a cocktail party. But the story does not end at the massive increase in spending on the capacity to make war. NATO Watch has documented other worrisome new NATO initiatives. 

For the first time ever, NATO has acknowledged outer space as what it calls the "fifth domain" of warfare. The other warfare domains are land, air, sea and cyberspace.

Another worrying development is that NATO is backing down from a commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. 

As NATO Watch reports, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledges "these are tough times for arms control … the global arms control regime that has served us so well is eroding."  Stoltenberg cites "Russia's disregard for its international commitments, and the emergence of new actors and new technologies."

The London conference's declaration does uphold NATO'S commitment "to full implementation of the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament." But that should not lull us into a false sense of security, because the declaration goes on to say, ominously, that "as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance." 

NATO Watch's acerbic comment on this pretzel position is: "If the strongest and most successful alliance in history is unable to break this nuclear catch-22 then the long-term prospects for the non-proliferation treaty are not promising."

Making matters worse is the fact that this past August the United States withdrew from another existing treaty, the one on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF).

"The collapse of the INF Treaty could spark a new arms race," NATO Watch warns. It adds that "the United States wasted little time in testing a medium-range cruise missile (that would have violated the treaty had it still been in force) only 16 days after pulling out of the treaty."

U.S. withdrawing from Open Skies as well

And we're not through yet with the bad news.  

NATO will have to deal with the fact that Donald Trump's U.S. government has signalled its intent to withdraw from yet another key piece of the international arms control system, the Open Skies Treaty, which dates back 27 years to 1992. 

This agreement between Russia and western countries (including Canada) allows reconnaissance flights over each other's territories. It is designed to promote openness and transparency when it comes to all military activities. 

A lot more that happened in London, including the creation of an expert working group to look at the future of the alliance, largely in reaction to French President Macron's complaint that NATO has become "brain dead" -- a view that seems to be widely shared among NATO members.

The Canadian Rideau Institute, which specializes in peace and security issues, argues that this working group presents an opportunity for Canada to work with other like-minded NATO members to ensure that the organization's mandate includes a strong arms control component.

That opportunity is, of course, fraught with major challenges, given the alliance's profound ambivalence on arms control.

For the Rideau Institute, the fact that Canadian media coverage of the London conference overwhelmingly focused on the bits and pieces of a leaders' conversation picked up by an errant microphone is a source of major frustration. 

As the Institute's president Peggy Mason put it:

"Did CBC or other major Canadian outlets discuss the new reflection process agreed at the London Meeting?  Did they lament the secrecy surrounding the new NATO Military Strategy that may well incorporate the absolute worst aspects of Trumpian nuclear policy? Did they explore why there are such stark differences among NATO members on how to approach Russia?

"No, they spent their time hyping silly gossip, to the delight of Trump-friendly Fox news. Canadians deserve better, much better."  

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

Image: Raul Mee/Flickr

Enjoy rabble's parliamentary reporting? Chip in to keep Karl Nerenberg on Parliament Hill for as little as $1 per month!

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[l] at 12/10/19 8:03am
December 10, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks to media December 6, 2019. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr Alberta government attacks knowledge with cuts to post-secondary education In an incomprehensible attack on the foundations of an advanced society, the Kenney government has decided to slash funding to 21 post-secondary Alberta institutions.
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[l] at 12/6/19 8:05am
December 6, 2019 Queen's University/Flickr Remembering the Montreal Massacre Thirty years later, remembering the killings at L'École Polytechnique and what came next.
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[l] at 12/6/19 7:46am
Judy Rebick L'École Polytechnique

It is the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. The misogyny that is the background in most mass killings was in the foreground in Montreal that terrible day, December 6, 1989. After dividing the men from the women in an engineering school classroom at L'École Polytechnique, he slaughtered the women, saying: "You're all a bunch of feminists and I hate feminists."

Even though the killer told us why he was killing women, most of the media, especially in Quebec, at first refused to accept the explanation of feminists that this was an extreme example of the male violence women face every day.

In this excerpt from her 2018 memoir Heroes in My Head, author Judy Rebick remembers the massacre and its aftermath:

I functioned by compartmentalizing. In therapy, I was willing to explore my hidden mind, but in my life I was still avoiding the memories. So much so, that as an active feminist for more than a decade, I had never gotten involved in issues that addressed violence against women; I hadn't even attended the Take Back the Night marches. Subconsciously, I feared they would bring up my own history of abuse.

All that changed on December 6, 1989. It is a day I will never forget. I was driving home from work when I heard the news on the radio: a gunman was shooting students at the École Polytechnique, an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal. I slowed down and turned up the volume. Who was he killing? How many? Why?

I parked my car in front of my apartment and listened to the radio. Then I heard it: the man had separated the men from the women then shot 28 students, killing 14 women. While he was on his rampage, he said, "You're all a bunch of feminists and I hate feminists."

I could hardly breathe. A man had targeted the female students at a school where the vast majority were male. He killed them because he believed that feminists had ruined his life. He killed them because they were training for a man's job. He killed them because they were women.

I felt sick. I ran up to my apartment. The minute I got in I turned on the radio and the TV. I started feeling cold, really cold. I looked at the thermostat; it was at 21 degrees. The apartment wasn't cold. I was cold. A deep sorrow started to build in my belly. It grew and spread until I started to cry; the cry became a sob and the sob became a scream. I ran into the bedroom to get a pillow to stifle my screams.

Violence against women was epidemic but it wasn't until December 6, 1989, that the veil covering misogyny was lifted through this act of fury and hatred. The media were saying this was the act of a madman but most feminists recognized that rage. We had been talking about it for decades. We knew that it was an extreme act of misogyny we had spent our lives fighting. It was a profound public moment that had a deep impact on anyone who had ever experienced male violence.

I was only just beginning to understand how my father's rage and abuse had affected my life. The depth of grief I felt at the massacre was also personal grief. My father had not taken my life, but he had taken my innocence, my ability to love and be loved. He had taken my memory, my history. Up until that moment, my wounds were private. I had never consciously connected them to my politics. But now I was starting to make that link.

I called a friend to find out if there was a vigil or a rally. I needed to be with other women. A spontaneous memorial was planned for the next day. When I arrived at the location I saw about a hundred women bundled up in winter coats, quietly talking in front of the Crucified Woman statue at the University of Toronto's Emmanuel College. It was late afternoon on a cold grey day. I hardly knew anyone. The first person I saw was Marilou McPhedran, a feminist lawyer whom I had debated recently on constitutional issues. Her usual confidence and energy was gone. It seemed as if the muscles in her face had collapsed. She was grief-stricken. I put my arms around her, not knowing what else to do. Neither one of us had ever cried in public. We came from the generation that believed tears showed weakness and we were strong women.

We didn't have a megaphone or a mic, so we gathered in circles around the Crucified Woman. There were a few men there, but it was the women I remember, their heads down, eyes lowered, soaked in sadness, still in shock. Some women were crying. Then someone began singing a Holly Near song: "We are gentle angry women, and we are singing, singing for our lives." We were grieving together as women, as feminists, as mothers, as sisters.

I'm pretty sure Mary Lou said a few words, or someone did, but mostly we talked about what had happened and what we were feeling. There were media asking questions and we answered in subdued voices, eyes downcast.

The week after the December 6 massacre, I was invited to speak at a rally on abortion rights in Montreal. Initially, the rally was to focus on Chantal Daigle, whose right to abortion case was going to the Supreme Court. But since it was only a week after the Montreal Massacre, it became a huge feminist memorial. Every well-known Quebec feminist -- in the arts, the unions, politics, and the women's movement -- was there. When I walked into the huge auditorium at the Métropolis de Montréal on Saint Denis Street, I was overwhelmed by the size of the crowd.

The women's movement in Quebec had been remarkably successful. They came from a highly patriarchal culture where women didn't even have the right to vote until 1940, 20 years after the rest of the country. The women in that room had fought for and won the same degree of equality as elsewhere in Canada in much less time. In one generation they went from the highest birth rate and the highest rate of weddings to the lowest. Women's status in society changed in a truly revolutionary way. Many feminists believed that the action of the assassin was part of a backlash against those dramatic changes.

However stunned we were in Toronto, it was much worse in Montreal. The hall was full, but it was quiet. In the bathroom, I ran into Françoise,  She was a tough left-wing feminist who was never afraid to take a stand and speak her mind.

"He hated feminists." She was slumped over the sink trying to stop crying. "He hated us but he killed these young women. How do I deal with that?"

I nodded sympathetically.

"I feel guilty," she continued. "I know I shouldn't but I do."

"I understand, Françoise, but it isn't your fault they died. It's his fault."

"Yes, but one of the young women even said, 'We are not feminist.' Imagine! They blamed us, too."

"No, they didn't. She was just trying to save herself and the others."

That she felt guilty surprised me at first. But I found guilt in many of the women I talked to. He wanted to kill them, prominent feminists, but he couldn't get to them so he killed these innocent young women instead. Was it survivor guilt? No, it was another form of oppression. Blaming the victim is a component of oppression. It's part of patriarchy and sexism and it is part of colonialism and racism. What young women today call "rape culture" is full of this kind of shaming and blaming.

Radical feminists think all acts of violence against women are political. Violence against women exists to stop women from fighting back, from achieving equality both at a personal and at a societal level. There's little question that the École Polytechnique killer's act was political, just as there is little question that it was also personal, coming out of a rage against women taking his place in society. With the exception of a few prominent feminists, at the time no one in Quebec was willing to accept this explanation.

The events of December 6 reverberated through my body, my mind, and my memory. The pain of the original trauma of my father's abuse and anger, and of all the male violence I had shut out of my mind for years and years, flooded my consciousness. Today we call it a trigger, but back then I didn't really understand what was happening to me.

Excerpted from Heroes in My Head copyright © 2018 by Judy Rebick. Reproduced by permission of House of Anansi Press Inc., Toronto. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher. www.houseofanansi.com

Judy Rebick is the founding publisher of rabble.ca. Her latest book is a memoir Heroes in My Head.

Image: L'École Polytechnique

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[l] at 12/4/19 6:13am
December 4, 2019 Aerial view of person using computer laptop and a smartphone. Image: Rawpixel Ltd/Flickr Big Telecom wants to make lower internet prices in Canada virtually impossible Big Telecom is fighting tooth and nail to reverse a landmark CRTC decision that already lowered internet prices in Canada. But we can still stop them.
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[l] at 12/1/19 11:09am
December 1, 2019 Food & Health Politics in Canada With 5,000 job cuts planned, perpetual chaos returns to Alberta's health system Widespread privatization, shuttered health care facilities, and service cuts are all in Kenney's cards as Alberta's government breaks earlier promises on health care. AB
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[l] at 11/29/19 2:42pm
Medea Benjamin Evo Morales in 2017. Image: Ministério das Relações Exteriores/Flickr

On November 11, Bolivia's Evo Morales, the first Indigenous president in a country with an Indigenous majority, was forced to flee to Mexico after he, his family and party leaders received death threats and attacks -- including the burning of his sister's house. In just a few weeks, the coup leaders managed to take over the reins of the executive branch (including naming a brand new cabinet), consolidate support from the military and police, crush much of the opposition, and pass legislation for new elections that bars Evo Morales from participating. They have also taken over the media, denying millions of Bolivians the opportunity to know what is really happening in their country.

Regardless of the criticisms people may have of Evo Morales -- especially his decision to seek a fourth term -- it is undeniable that he oversaw a growing economy that decreased poverty and inequality. He also brought relative stability to a country with a history of coups and upheavals. Perhaps most importantly, Morales was a symbol that the country's Indigenous majority could no longer be ignored.

The de facto government that took over in this well-orchestrated coup has defaced Indigenous symbols and insisted on the supremacy of Christianity and the Bible over Indigenous traditions that the self-declared president, Jeanine Áñez, has characterized as "satanic." 

Áñez, who was the third highest ranking member of the Bolivian Senate, swore herself in as president after Morales' resignation, despite not having a necessary quorum in the Legislature to approve her as president. The people in front of her in the line of succession -- all of whom belong to Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party -- resigned under duress. One of those is Victor Borda, president of the lower House of Congress, who stepped down after his home was set on fire and his brother was taken hostage.

Upon taking power, Áñez's government threatened to arrest MAS legislators, accusing them of "subversion and sedition," despite the fact that this party holds a majority in both chambers of Congress. The de facto government then issued a decree granting immunity to the military in its efforts to reestablish order and stability. This decree was described as a "licence to kill" and "carte blanche" to repress, and was strongly criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The result of this decree has been death, repression and massive violations of human rights, especially against the Indigenous community that has risen up to repudiate what they consider a racist, illegitimate government.

One example of intense repression that I personally witnessed was at the gas plant called Senkata, in the majority-Indigenous city of El Alto. Residents had set up barricades all around the gas plant, stopping tankers from leaving the plant and effectively cutting off La Paz's main source of gasoline.

Determined to break the blockade, the government sent in helicopters, tanks and heavily armed soldiers on the evening of November 18. The next day, mayhem broke out when the soldiers began firing tear gas at residents, then shooting into the crowd. I arrived just after the shooting. The furious residents took me to local clinics where the wounded were taken. I saw the doctors and nurses desperately trying to save lives, carrying out emergency surgeries in difficult conditions with a shortage of medical equipment. I saw five dead bodies and dozens of people with bullet wounds. Some had just been walking to work when they were struck by bullets. A grieving mother whose son was shot cried out between sobs: "They're killing us like dogs." In the end, there were eight confirmed dead. If put in the national context, in less than two weeks, 32 people were killed in protests, more than 700 wounded, and hundreds more rounded up and thrown in jail.

Most Bolivians did not even get the news about the repression because of the effective takeover of the media. The de facto government threatened journalists with sedition should they spread "disinformation" by covering protests. Some were arrested; others fell in line out of fear. The main state-run TV station blamed the violence on the protesters, giving airtime to the new Defense Minister Fernando Lopez who made the absurd claims that soldiers did not fire "a single bullet" and that the deaths were due to clashes among the violent protesters.

It's little wonder that many Bolivians have no idea what is happening. I interviewed and spoke to dozens of people on both sides of the political divide. Many of those who support the de facto government justified the repression as a way to restore stability. They refused to call Evo Morales' ouster a coup and claimed that his demise was due to fraud in the October 20 elections.

These claims of fraud, which were prompted by a report by the Organization of American States, have been debunked by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C., and other expert analysts. Despite this, both the Trump administration and the Canadian government quickly sided with Morales' right-wing opponents declaring the re-election of Bolivia's president to a fourth term invalid due to voter fraud.

Although no date has yet been set for new elections, on November 24, de facto President Jeanine Áñez signed a new law setting the groundwork for another vote for president and the assembly that should take place within the next few months. Unfortunately, with the control that the right-wing coup leaders have consolidated in record time, and the intimidation and fear felt by opponents, it is hard to see how free and fair elections can take place. The United Nations and independent international observers should monitor the elections, not the biased pro-coup Organization of American States. The international community should continue to speak out against repression, call for Evo Morales to be allowed to return without facing criminal charges, and shine a light on the anti-democratic practices of those who usurped a government that had -- for almost 14 years -- lifted millions out of poverty and empowered the Indigenous community.

Medea Benjamin, co-director of the peace group CODEPINK, was in Bolivia reporting on the coup.

Image: Ministério das Relações Exteriores/Flickr

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[l] at 11/29/19 1:17pm
Karl Nerenberg Peter Blanchard/Flickr

I live in one of the few Ottawa neighbourhoods which real estate specialists qualify as "walkable."  

That means I can get myself to shops, restaurants and other services on foot. I can even walk to an Ontario provincial office to get a car registration or driver's licence.  

It is a rare privilege to be able to use nothing more than one's own human power to carry out the daily tasks of life. 

Most people in Canada's capital, as in virtually all other cities and towns throughout this continent, have no choice but to use some form of motorized transportation to carry out the slightest task -- from buying a litre of milk, to mailing a parcel, to seeing a dentist, to attending a live theatre performance or grabbing a drink at a bar. 

For me, all of the above are easily accessible by foot. I can go to the fish market, the butcher, the baker, a small grocery store, a playhouse or one of many restaurants or bars without worrying about parking or traffic.  

But there is a fly in that lovely ointment -- an annoying bug that has grown bigger and peskier over the years. That fly, or, rather, those flies, are idling vehicles. One cannot take even a short stroll in my part of town without running a gauntlet of heedless folks sitting in large trucks or SUVs (or occasionally simple cars) with their engines running full blast. 

There were always some drivers who thought they might avoid a ticket if they sat with their engines on in a no-parking zone, or who wanted to listen to the radio and keep their vehicles warm while waiting for passengers. Idling is as old as the automobile. Like second-hand smoke, it was not considered to be harmful, until recently. 

But the advent of the mobile phone has made this noxious practice ubiquitous. 

Take a stroll along Wellington West in Ottawa, through a pleasant neighbourhood of food shops, coffee shops, restaurants and small boutiques, and every third or fourth parked car you pass will have its engine running, with a driver or passenger inside intensely focused on a handheld device.  

And woe betide the busybody who dares knock on any idler's window to gently request they turn off their polluting internal combustion engines. I know one person who got her ribs broken when she tried. 

Indifferent both to global warming and local pollution

These idlers don't seem to have read any of the massive literature on global warming, including the most recent report from the United Nations body known as the World Meteorological Agency (WMO). Less than a week ago, the agency warned that increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other related pollutants mean "the future of mankind is at stake.

Since 1990, the WMO reports, there has been a 43 per cent increase in the warming effect on the climate by greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide. 

"There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," the WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warns.   

 "It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of carbon dioxide was 3-5 million years ago. Back then, the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now," Taalas adds.

And those happy-go-lucky folks checking their social media, while their vehicles spew noxious emissions, almost certainly haven't seen another far less reported-on study that establishes a link between particulate matter from car and truck emissions and brain cancer. A researcher at McGill University in Montreal conducted that study, which was not widely reported in Canada's mainstream media. 

The blithely indifferent idlers might have noticed that Canada's Ecofiscal Commission just issued a report which argues that carbon taxes are the most effective means for reducing emissions. The independent economic and environmental organization pointed out, however, that Canada's carbon taxes will have to go up to a much higher level than currently planned if they are to be effective

If that story penetrated idlers' consciousnesses, they could probably take comfort from the fact that the Canadian politicians in power, in the provinces and in Ottawa, are either hostile to the very idea of carbon taxes or are skittish about pushing that envelope too far. 

Federal Liberals have become hyper-cautious on climate change

In the immediate wake of the federal election, environmental scientists and activists took comfort from the fact that close to two thirds of voters opted for parties that favour serious measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the weeks since the election, however, the loud and aggressive voices of western alienation have taken centre stage. When the new environment minister -- onetime NDP activist and environmental entrepreneur, Jonathan Wilkinson -- responded to the Ecofiscal and WMO reports, he made a point of tempering his comments with a deferential nod to Canadians who make their living from fossil fuels. Those folks, Wilkinson averred, are feeling "anxious and concerned."

The environment minister went on to pooh-pooh the United Nations' conclusion that Canada will fall short of its Paris emissions reduction target by at least 15 per cent. The new minister mumbled something about federal plans to invest in public transit and electric cars, and to plant two billion trees over the next decade. At this stage, all three of those plans are not much more than election promises. 

Given the magnitude and gravity of the problem, vehicle idlers -- or frequent flyers, or fireplace burners, or others who make personal choices not helpful to the health of the planet -- could tell themselves nothing they, as individuals, do would make any real difference either way.

There is a similar argument to the effect that Canada's total emissions are only a small fraction of the global total, so why should we make big sacrifices?

We do know, of course, that despite our small-ish population, Canada is in the top 10 for total emissions, while, on a per capita basis, we are one of the biggest emitters of all, surpassed by only a very few countries. 

The Ecofiscal Commission points out that even at the high carbon tax rate it proposes, gasoline would be cheaper here than in France, a country whose total emissions, with close to twice our population, are significantly lower than ours. 

If, as a country, we aspire to a global leadership role we are going to have to step up our game on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. 

To achieve that, it might not be going too far to suggest that all of us will have to start considering our own choices. That includes those sitting in their idling vehicles on Wellington West in Ottawa.

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

Image: Peter Blanchard/Flickr​

Enjoy rabble's parliamentary reporting? Chip in to keep Karl Nerenberg on Parliament Hill for as little as $1 per month!

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[l] at 11/29/19 12:52pm
November 29, 2019 Ai.Comput'In/Flickr Fighting for digital equity, in Canada and beyond About 96 per cent of Canadians are now connected to the internet, but a digital divide still exists.
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[l] at 11/28/19 8:27am
Zaid Noorsumar Mona Hjort

CarePartners, a for-profit company which provides home care services in Ontario, has been locked in a months-long stalemate with the union that represents nearly 2,800 of its personal support workers (PSWs). Women and racialized immigrants comprise the majority of the workforce, which has been without a contract since March.

On November 10, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 announced that CarePartners had filed a "no board report" with the Ministry of Labour. Filing this report starts a 17-day (or more) cooling-off period before a strike or lockout deadline. After the deadline, the union can vote to strike, or the employer can lock out workers.

To better understand the conflict between SEIU and CarePartners, rabble had in-depth conversations with two personal support workers and the director of home care at the union. CarePartners did not respond to our request for comments, despite multiple attempts to reach the firm through emails and phone calls.

Minimizing wages for profit

There are days when Mona Hjort, a personal support worker at CarePartners, drives over 100 kilometres to see clients spread across the Fergus community in Ontario's predominantly rural Wellington Country. 

For over a decade, the 66-year-old personal support worker has been taking care of people who require assistance at home, such as the elderly and those living with disabilities. 

As a "full-time employee," Hjort is obliged to dedicate 45 hours of her week to CarePartners. However, she is only guaranteed 30 hours of paid work. 

Hjort earns $19 per hour for every hour she spends with clients -- but virtually nothing for time spent travelling between clients or waiting to be assigned work. CarePartners reimburses her 37 cents for every kilometre plus a minute's pay for every three kilometres (32 cents). 

If on a given day she spends five hours with clients, three hours on-call and two hours travelling 90 kilometres, she makes about $138. 

But Hjort is among the highest paid PSWs. For those whose wages are capped at $16.50, the compensation would be approximately $124 -- amounting to an hourly rate below the $14 minimum wage. 

And that's before factoring in the costs of car maintenance and gas -- as well as other unexpected costs.

The uneven countryside terrain, especially in winter conditions, sometimes leaves home care workers vulnerable to potentially costly vehicle expenses.

"I have broken stuff in my front wheels," Hjort says. "It cost me $2,200 to have it fixed because of potholes in somebody's driveway. So if that happens, well, you are on your own [there is no reimbursement from the employer]."

The costs of regular car servicing, winter tires and other expenses are carried by the workers. 

"I always say, it almost costs us to go to work," Hjort says.

Like other home care agencies, CarePartners receives $35.83 from the government for every hour of care it provides. On days when Hjort earns $138 for her day-long slog, her employer generates $179.15 in revenue. 

Although the union would ideally like workers to be paid hourly wages while travelling, its demands on the bargaining table are modest: it is asking for 40 cents per kilometre and a minute's pay for every two kilometres. Under that proposal, Hjort would earn $145.25. 

Wage discrepancy 

Due to the complicated nature of Ontario's severely underfunded health-care system, PSWs earn different rates depending on the clients they visit. As home care in the province is rationed, government-funded care is limited to those with the greatest needs.

For publicly funded patients, Hjort earns $19 an hour. However, for clients in the private market, CarePartners remunerates according to her base wage: $15.44. The lowest base wage at the firm is $14.02. 

Tali Zrehen, the director of home and community care at SEIU, points to the dilemma of workers when asked to service non-publicly funded clients. 

"A lot of our PSWs are so desperate that they pick up a lot of these private clients, even if they're making less money, because it's less money versus no money, right?" she says.

Hjort says most workers scrape by on low pay cheques.

"A lot of the girls are making probably around $800 every two weeks," Hjort says of CarePartners' predominantly female workforce. "I am getting a little bit more because I am one of the highest ones on the seniority list."

Part-time and precarious

Zrehen says that most of the union's members at CarePartners are part-time and thus ineligible for benefits accorded to full-time staff.

She says the union appreciates that it would be costly for the company to provide benefits for everyone, which is why they are focused on improving the existing package.

"Right now the employer pays only $70 per month towards eligible employees towards the cost of core benefits. We are asking to increase that to over $100," Zrehen says.

According to Zrehen, many of the ostensibly part-time members end up working full-time hours anyway, but are denied full-time status. 

"So what ends up happening is that you produce 40 hours a week, you work like any other full-time worker but you're not getting the benefits of a full-time worker," she says.

Based on SEIU's experience, the problem is systemic as many home care companies replace departing full-time staff with multiple part-time positions.

Retirement savings are another issue on the bargaining table. SEIU has its own retirement plan for its members, but is asking CarePartners to contribute to administrative fees. 

Health and safety risks

The terrain of home care poses unique challenges for workers who can be accosted by hidden hazards when visiting strangers at their homes. 

Bedbugs, off-the-leash dogs and sexual assault pose serious risks that CarePartners' employees say are not always taken seriously by the firm. 

For instance, Hjort recounts being sexually assaulted by a man on separate occasions. The second time, he cornered her in the bathroom. 

"I said, 'You can't do that' and he said, 'I can do whatever damn I want because you work for me,'" Hjort remembers. "So, I got past him and I just went out and I called the office and I said, I'm not going back in there.'"

As CarePartners investigated, Hjort found out that he had previously done the same to other PSWs. She says the company should have informed her about the patient's history.

"They just remove [the workers] from the home and send somebody else in without telling us anything about what this guy has been doing to previous PSWs," she complains.

Hjort says that the company provides a protective kit to mitigate risk from sick clients but there are times when the workers are in the dark about a patient's illness for several weeks.

"A lot of times we don't get notified [about a contagious disease] before or after you've been there like two or three times," Hjort laments. "We get people coming home from the hospital with MRSA. And it's like three, four weeks before we get a voicemail [from CarePartners]."

Losing paid sick days

Like many other workers in Ontario, CarePartners' employees lost their two paid sick days when the Ford government rolled back labour reforms.

The union has now had to ask for sick days at the bargaining table, something the company has refused to budge on.

The workers are frustrated by this, as patients are often quickly sent home from hospitals while not fully recovered -- another symptom of Ontario's underfunded health care.

"Basically you have to be on your guard everywhere you go," Hjort says. "If you get the flu from one of the clients and you get sick for eight days -- well, you're not covered."

Why work as a PSW?

Considering the burden of employment in home care, Hjort says it makes more sense to work at Tim Hortons -- where one can at least be guaranteed a minimum wage.

Ontario is facing a shortage of PSWs across home care and long-term care, as the profession is failing to attract and retain workers.

According to SEIU, the turnover rate among their members who are employed by for-profit companies such as CarePartners is close to 40 per cent. 

For those who choose to stay in the job, the reasons vary. Some stay because starting somewhere else would mean losing their seniority.

For Gloria Turney, a full-time CarePartners employee of seven years who supplements her income by picking up shifts at a hospital, being a [racialized] immigrant influences her situation.

"I'm an immigrant right. I was new to this country. You have your bills to pay," she says. "My son was in college -- I'm not jumping ship because the thing is, this company might be bad but based on the feedback, it's like everywhere you go it's the same thing."

The love of the work is also a factor for those who might consider switching jobs.

"I love making somebody's life better. Don't do it for the money because if it was the money I would have been long gone," Turney says.

"I have a client who stands at the door and she waits for me and I get a hug and a kiss [upon arrival]," she says, citing the fact that for some clients the time with their PSW may be their only human interaction for the day.

"It's the smile on their faces. The difference you make in your life. For me, it makes me feel that I'm doing something [meaningful]."

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: Mona Hjort

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[l] at 11/27/19 8:39am
Humberto DaSilva November 27, 2019 World Not Rex Humberto daSilva. Youtube Screenshot

Justin Trudeau is all for truth and reconciliation at home, but when it comes to Indigenous people choosing their destiny in Bolivia, J.T. is right on side with Washington.

Bolivia Justin Trudeau
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[l] at 11/27/19 8:28am
November 27, 2019 GUE/NGL/Flickr Failure to address climate crisis puts children at risk Children are especially vulnerable to climate disruption. But governments around the world are still putting the fossil fuel industry's interests first.
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[l] at 11/26/19 4:33pm
November 26, 2019 Jason Kenney/Facebook Make booing Alberta's premier at public events a 'Battle of Alberta' thing There's nothing like a good-natured rivalry to raise spirits during a government-inflicted recession. David Climenhaga bets Edmontonians can do a better job booing Jason Kenney than Calgarians.
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[l] at 11/25/19 3:13pm
November 25, 2019 Justin Trudeau/Facebook Trudeau drives a stake through the heart of any hope for electoral reform The Liberals have abandoned any pretence to the idealistic and aspirational spirit of reform that -- at least rhetorically -- informed their first mandate.
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[l] at 11/25/19 3:05pm
Karl Nerenberg Justin Trudeau/Facebook

In one of his less-noticed cabinet changes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has abolished the job of minister for democratic reform. He replaced what had been a key role in the Liberals' first government with a new position bearing the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-ish title of minister of middle-class prosperity. 

That change tells us a lot. 

It says the Liberals have abandoned any pretence to an idealistic and aspirational spirit of reform that, at least rhetorically, informed their first mandate. Their new look is entirely managerial and practical. They want Canadians to know the 2019 Liberal government is focused on pocketbook issues and nothing else, certainly not such trivia as the health and effectiveness of our democratic institutions.

Ironically, three days after the cabinet announcement, the Angus Reid Institute came out with a poll showing a big spike in support for electoral reform, which was one of the main preoccupations of the now defunct democratic institutions ministry. 

Angus Reid found that Conservative party supporters, previously cool to the idea of changing the way we vote, have jumped onto the reform bandwagon. It seems Conservatives are chagrined by the fact their party won the popular vote, but lost the election nonetheless. 

Different systems create different incentives and options

A voting system different from first-past-the-post would not necessarily have given the most seats to the Conservatives. 

It would be a mistake to superimpose the results of an election under one system onto a hypothetical election under another. Electoral systems create differing incentives and opportunities for voters. The way a system is designed will have an impact on the way voters make their choices. 

Let's say, for example, we had a ranked ballot system -- the one that Justin Trudeau once favoured -- this past October. 

That system allows voters to indicate their first, second, third, and further choices. When no candidate succeeds in winning more than half of the first choices, second, then third and other choices are counted. 

In such a scenario many who leaned Green or NDP but, in the end, decided to vote Liberal to block the Conservatives, might have stuck with their first choice, and opted for the Liberals as their second rather than first choice. We would probably have had a Parliament in which no party had a majority, as we have now, but with more New Democrats and Greens. 

Polling during the most recent campaign showed the NDP with the highest second choice support and the Conservatives with the lowest. For many decades now the Conservatives have made the choice to, in effect, narrowcast. They take hard-right ideological positions, aiming only to motivate what pundits call their base supporters and without much effort to draw in wavering voters in the middle.

Had Canada adopted a system that included significant elements of proportionality before the last election, voters would have had another set of incentives and options. One reform many have advocated for Canada is a version of the German two-vote system, which blends first-past-the-post with an apportionment of seats by party, based on their percentage of the vote within regions.

That system would correct what has been the biggest drawback of first-past-the-post for Canada: the tendency to exaggerate the support of the first-place party in each region. 

Electoral reform and national unity

Our electoral system delivered all save one seat to the Conservatives in two provinces, while giving all of the seats in the city of Toronto to the Liberals. 

A mixed member proportional system would have given both the New Democrats and Conservatives a handful of seats in Toronto. 

It would also have rewarded the 27 per cent of Alberta voters and 33 per cent of Saskatchewan voters who chose the Liberals, New Democrats or Greens with some representation in the House of Commons. More important, such a result would temper some of the excessive and exaggerated talk we're hearing now about the chimera of western alienation. 

A reformed electoral system would reward the Bloc Québécois for its support in certain regions of one province, but not to the point of giving it more seats than the New Democrats, with half the votes -- and 10 times more than the Greens, with only a slightly higher vote count. 

The bottom line is that there are legitimate issues not only of democratic representation but of national unity at play here. 

A farsighted government, focused not only on short- and medium-term survival, but on the good of the country, would have those issues on its radar. 

Prior to the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau gave the impression that his would be that kind of government.  This time, he's not even pretending.

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

Image: Justin Trudeau/Facebook

Enjoy rabble's parliamentary reporting? Chip in to keep Karl Nerenberg on Parliament Hill for as little as $1 per month!

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[l] at 11/22/19 10:08pm
November 23, 2019 Anti-Trump protest, Washington D.C., March 21, 2016. Image: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr A slow return to respectability for anti-Semitism Anti-Semitism doesn't go away but it waxes, wanes, and transforms. That's its power. It's a version of racism but with particular features, always capable of surprises.
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[l] at 11/21/19 7:07pm
November 21, 2019 Ford's destructive cuts will have sweeping effects on health care Among Doug Ford's extensive cutbacks -- aimed at reducing the deficit without tapping the corporate elite for more tax revenues -- are a dizzying array of cuts to our public health-care system.
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[l] at 11/20/19 8:36am
November 20, 2019 Premier Jason Kenney announces the launch of a public inquiry into foreign-funded anti-Alberta energy campaigns in July 2019. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr Jason Kenney should not be allowed to dictate federal agenda The Alberta premier's aggressive manner, coupled with the rise of a fringe western separatist movement, have too many Ottawa insiders overly worried.
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[l] at 11/20/19 8:34am
Karl Nerenberg Premier Jason Kenney announces the launch of a public inquiry into foreign-funded anti-Alberta energy campaigns in July 2019. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

On election night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau portrayed the result as a victory for the progressive side of the political ledger. 

Trudeau said, in effect, that the combined force of Canadians who voted Liberal, NDP and Green (and to some extent even Bloc Québécois) expressed a desire for a government that would work for social justice and the environment.

In particular, the new minority government would have to double down on the challenge of climate change. The majority of Canadian voters had clearly indicated that's what they expected, Trudeau told his supporters.

Since that night, however, those who want to minimize the importance of the environment, and portray the oil and gas industry as innocent victims, have sucked almost all the oxygen out of the political atmosphere. 

Jason Kenney and his empty threats

The most noisy and insistent political voice since the election has been that of Jason Kenney, Alberta premier and former senior minister in Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Kenney does not care that the Trudeau government is so staunchly pro-pipeline that it bought one. Kenney doesn't show appreciation when Liberals talk about balancing the economy and the environment. 

Instead, the Alberta premier portrays the centrist, pro-big-business federal Liberals as a hostile force, dedicated to destroying Alberta's main industry. And he threatens a series of incoherent and mostly meaningless retaliatory measures if the rest of Canada does not change its tune on climate change and fossil fuels.

One of Kenney's threats relates to equalization payments, which come from federal consolidated revenues and go to provinces below a certain revenue level. Their aim is to provide roughly equal services across the country. 

We do not have province-to-province equalization in Canada, as they do in some other countries. Equalization is entirely a federal enterprise here. And so, Kenney's bluster on the subject is not much more than empty rhetoric. He has no leverage, and his case is weakened by the fact that the Alberta government starves itself of revenue by refusing to impose even the most minimal sales tax. 

Another of Kenney's hobby horses relates to policing in his province.

Like many other provinces, Alberta rents the services of the RCMP as its provincial police force. If, as Kenney threatens, Alberta were to follow Quebec's and Ontario's example and set up its own provincial force, that would only cost the province money. It would not in any way punish the rest of us.

The same is true of the threat to collect Alberta's provincial income taxes -- again, following the example of Quebec. 

Currently, the (federal) Canada Revenue Agency collects income and estate taxes for all provinces save Quebec. That is the result of a series of agreements, starting in the 1940s, whereby the federal government provides a service to provinces, without significantly limiting their fiscal capacity. 

Quebec did not go along with that idea at its inception, in 1941, nor when the agreement was renewed in 1962. 

The premier of Quebec at the time of the original accord was the ardent, almost fanatical, proponent of provincial autonomy, Maurice Duplessis. His motives in turning down the Ottawa offer had little to do with giving Quebec any more fiscal decision-making power than other provinces. Collecting its own taxes did not mean Quebec had more say over how it spent its money than did, say, Ontario.

Duplessis simply did not trust the federal government. The Quebec premier of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s even turned down federal money in aid of post-secondary education, arguing that schools were exclusively provincial territory. After his death, Duplessis' successors quickly recognized his refusal of federal funds to be cutting off one's nose to spite one's face and enthusiastically accepted the virtually-no-strings-attached money from Ottawa. 

If Jason Kenney aspires to be a latter-day, Alberta version of Maurice Duplessis, the rest of Canada should tell him: "Fill your boots. It will be no skin off our backsides."

Government should finally tackle oil and gas subsidies

Sadly, Kenney's aggressive manner, coupled with the rise of a fringe separatist movement in Alberta, have too many Ottawa insiders doing a lot of hand-wringing. After all, didn't Kenney's federal Conservative allies just win all save one seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan, leaving the two provinces with no place at the federal table of power?

That's true, although the results are as much artifacts of the first-past-the-post electoral system as of popular will in the two provinces. 

Hundreds of thousands of voters in Saskatchewan and Alberta voted NDP, Liberal and Green, with very little to show for it, just as, in 2015, hundreds of thousands of Atlantic Canadians voted for parties other than Trudeau's Liberals, with nothing to show for it. The Liberals won every Atlantic seat in 2015.

In any case, the current Liberal government is not shut-out in western Canada. It has, in fact, 15 seats in the west, 17 if you include the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The Liberals have seats in both Manitoba and British Columbia. That's a lot more than Justin Trudeau's father had in the 1980 election, in which the elder Trudeau's entire western contingent consisted of two seats in Manitoba.

Canada somehow survived. 

Once the federal Parliament gets going again, and we hear voices from the progressive opposition as well as the truculent climate-change-who-cares gang, we can hope the national political discussion will focus as much on the need to do something for a burning planet as on Jason Kenney's exaggerated claims of victimhood.

Indeed, if the Liberals really mean it when they say they intend to ramp up their game on climate change, they might take seriously the issue they avoided during their first term, that of federal subsidies for oil and gas. 

Those subsidies are controversial. The petroleum industry says they do not even exist, because they do not take the form of funds directly doled out to oil and gas companies. 

Oil and gas subsidies are, for the most part, tax measures, such as write-offs for exploration; but objective observers, such as the federal environment commissioner, consider them to be genuine subsidies all the same.

In her spring report, the last in her tenure in the role, Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand expressed extreme disappointment at the lack of progress on climate change. 

"Slow action on climate change … is disturbing," she said.

Gelfand, in essence, set out a clear challenge for the new government. 

"For decades," she wrote, "successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate. This must change." 

Will the new minority Parliament bring the change we need?

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

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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As of 1/18/20 3:54pm. Last new 1/17/20 5:00pm.

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