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[l] at 8/22/19 10:15am
August 22, 2019 Elections Canada poll sign. Image: Dennis Sylvester Hurd/Flickr Ethics and truth in election advertising Ready or not, we are embarking on an experiment to see whether Harper's legacy of election laws can support an actual election. For example, take the ethics commissioner.
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[l] at 8/22/19 10:04am
Zaid Noorsumar The Mearns Centre at the University of Victoria. Image: Page DeWolfe/Flickr

Sarah (not her real name) has been teaching at the University of Victoria for over 15 years. Unlike many of her colleagues, she is lucky enough to be teaching full-time with benefits. 

However, as a sessional lecturer, her job is not secure. Like some of her colleagues, she fears she could be demoted to part time. 

According to the union, as some full-time instructors have lost courses and faced demotion, they have been forced into other part-time jobs and increasing precarity.

Bargaining for job security

Job security is the main goal for the 450 sessional lecturers and music instructors currently in negotiations with the university, according to CUPE 4163 president Greg Melnechuk.

On Friday, August 9, the two sides reached an impasse within two days of another round of bargaining talks. The talks have been ongoing for five months, under the looming threat of job action. 

The membership has already voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, if the need arises.

Only 70 out of the 450 members of the bargaining unit have a "measure of job security," according to Melnechuk. They are called "continuing sessional lecturers," who have a full-time course load.

The more common type of lecturers are "term sessionals" who typically work part time, potentially teaching one or two courses a semester. They may qualify for benefits, depending on their course load, but are constantly competing for courses against other instructors. 

"For the term instructors, it can be pretty tough. They're working at UVic, but they're most likely working elsewhere to be able to pay the bills," Melnechuk says.

Graduating to "continuing sessional" and maintaining that status requires a certain number of courses within a five-year period. 

But that can be easily manipulated by the university, says Melnechuk, as the administration can award and withhold courses to save costs.

Hence, according to the union, the number of term sessionals has increased over the past several years.

"We have some proposals around job security. And the university is not taking them seriously," Melnechuk says. 

He says that one of the union's proposals would have cost the university only $23,000 annually, but even such modest overtures continue to be ignored. 

BC government's bargaining mandate

Melnechuk says UVic is in a solid financial place. The university posted a $34 million surplus, according to its 2017-2018 financial statements.

In an emailed statement, Kane Kilbey, UVic's vice president of human resources, said, "The total cost for the renewed contract must not exceed the BC government's financial mandate."  

The government's mandate applies to public sector employers, and limits them to providing 2 per cent annual wage increases. The wiggle room for employers is limited, with some flexibility in negotiating "modest and conditional" funding.

However, according to B.C.'s Ministry of Finance, universities manage their budgets independently, including how they allocate staff. 

The myth of the well-paid lecturer

According to Melnechuk, one of the reasons UVic can get away with treating its workers so disrespectfully, is that most people have no idea about the hierarchy within academic ranks. 

"I went to UVic 20 years ago, and I had no idea really about the difference between faculty and sessionals," he says. "And now I think back and go, 'Wow, half my favorite instructors were actually sessional instructors.'"

"[Most people] probably assume that everybody that's teaching them at UVic is making a really good wage and that's not true."

Systemic issues

Melnechuk says that the increasing precarity at the university stems in part from post-secondary funding cuts by the previous provincial Liberal government. He says while instructors are more likely to be working part time, the size of the university administration continues to grow.

"I think [the current NDP] government should really take a look at how the universities are being run, because, you know, the manager class is growing and growing. And their wages don't seem to be suffering at all."

Pointing to increasing class sizes paired with increasing workloads for instructors, Melnechuk says that an in-depth study of the way universities operate would be revealing, and potentially 'shocking' for the government.  

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: Page DeWolfe/Flickr

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[l] at 8/21/19 11:11am
August 21, 2019 Vladvictoria/Pixabay When corporate interests hijack government, beware claims about 'public interest' Nearly any democratic institution in Canada is susceptible to manipulation by corporate interests, making claims about serving the "public interest" or "public security" highly dubious.
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[l] at 8/20/19 11:54am
August 20, 2019 The new central branch of the Calgary Public Library is 240,000 square feet and has more than 600,000 items in its collection. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble How Canada's libraries are bridging social-service gaps Public libraries are changing how they serve vulnerable and marginalized patrons -- and proving that they're home to more than just books.
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[l] at 8/20/19 11:41am
Olivia Robinson The new central branch of the Calgary Public Library is 240,000 square feet and has more than 600,000 items in its collection. Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble

A quiet intersection in Calgary's East Village is marked by a futuristic, oblong building. It's meant to resemble an oil lamp, evoking knowledge and wisdom. The exterior is decorated with hexagonal shapes like a honeycomb, with the Salvation Army flanked in its shadows next door.

It's a sunny, December morning. A woman parks a shopping cart filled with her belongings near the building's entrance. Students with bulging backpacks meander at the top of the steps, while parents hold squirming toddlers in their arms and wait for the building to open.

The entrance of the new central branch of the Calgary Public Library -- which opened on November 1, 2018 -- doesn't really feel like a library at all. The airy $245-million space is packed with more than just books. It boasts a recording studio, interactive history exhibits, a book escalator that shuttles books from the drop bin up to a sorting room and an interfaith room where patrons can pray or meditate. The building feels like an amalgam of a library and an architect's attempt to earn a spot on a tourist's must-see list. But to some, it represents much more. It is a vision for public libraries to come. Cities like Ottawa are looking to replicate Calgary's success with its own forthcoming central library branch, and Edmonton, whose new central branch will open in February 2020.

Users of the third-floor computer station offer up a smorgasbord of demographics normally found at any public library: a female library staff member teaches an elderly man how to manipulate a mouse to check his emails; young professionals work through an online distance course together; a man speaks to someone over Skype -- raising his voice slightly -- as he recounts how his clothes were taken from him at a nearby shelter.

But hiding amid the blinking computer screens and between the pages of the books there is one truth about the library -- it's an institution greater than that of just the Calgary Public Library -- a public institution that has survived centuries. 

For more than two decades, public libraries in North America have had to prove their worth to sustain funding. Their mere existence hinged on pushing back against budget cuts. They've countered questions about their relevance in a digital age and where access to information — regardless of whether or not it's accurate — has permeated the mainstream.

The library has its champions, but politicians rarely include more funding for libraries as one of their top campaign promises. According to Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life, elected officials think that a public institution that lends out printed resources in the 21st century seems almost quaint, if not obsolete. Regardless, he believes that "the library is among the most critical forms of social infrastructure that we have."

And he's not alone.

While the types of materials in a library's collection and how they store them may fluctuate over time -- depending on things such as the condition of the books, new technologies and passing literary trends -- the framework to support vulnerable library patrons has shifted considerably in the past decade.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study about the perception of libraries in the United States, the public supported removing books and shelves from the library in favour of new technologies -- a ripple also felt in Canada as book publishers pivoted towards pushing out more ebook content. But just a year later, Pew had found that attitudes on discarding physical books had cooled, suggesting that the digital takedown of libraries wasn't as widespread as previously thought.

Meanwhile, the traditional guardians and curators of information -- librarians -- have been stretched beyond the confines of their traditional roles. Each day they work with patrons struggling with mental health issues, homelessness or addictions. Librarians do what they do best -- trying to connect these patrons with resources and information, but increasingly many are realizing they just can't do it alone.

Social workers began teaming up with librarians nearly a decade ago with a trend that started on the West Coast of the United States where higher homeless populations had begun to change the clientele of libraries in states like California. According to the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there were 133,129 homeless people living in that state. That same year, the San Francisco Public Library was the first North American library to hire a social worker after serious safety concerns, such as drug use, violence and people having sex in the library's washrooms could no longer be ignored. Adding more security personnel wasn't a sustainable long-term solution for the well-being of these vulnerable library patrons. Now, there are more than 30 public libraries with social workers in the United States. At least eight public libraries have social or outreach workers in Canada -- the city of Edmonton having one of the oldest and most well-established of these programs.

In high-density urban centres, daily interactions with someone sleeping on city streets is just part of what it means to be a modern-day librarian in Edmonton.

"I really like the hustle and bustle of things downtown -- there's adrenaline," says Richard Thornley. He's a former biochemist turned librarian -- the current manager of the downtown Enterprise Square branch at the Edmonton Public Library.

"I've been assaulted, and while I don't welcome that, those situations really force you to think about what you did to contribute to the situation. Working downtown really tests me every day," he says.

Thornley is intimately acquainted with the stereotypes that plague libraries, but he prefers to look at it as if each branch "has its own flavour and culture," having worked not only at the downtown branch, but at libraries in the west and south ends of the city.

Edmonton's Lois Hole branch in the west end, for example, serves a diverse group of patrons, including new Canadians and vulnerable populations, while the Idylwylde branch in the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood -- a nod to Alberta's first premier Alexander Cameron Rutherford's Scottish roots -- has a high number of Francophone patrons.

The Abbottsfield–Penny McKee branch in northeast Edmonton doesn't quite resemble a traditional library from the outside. It's housed in a strip-mall style building, although later this year it'll move to a new location one block east. The colourful rectangles of the Edmonton Public Library's logo, meant to resemble book spines, stands out against the concrete backdrop.

The branch serves many vulnerable individuals living in a lower socioeconomic neighbourhood with a diverse ethnic make-up. The neighbourhood also has one of the largest First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations in the city.

Inside the building, all the desktop computers are in use, but some users are hunched over their keyboards, nearly asleep in their chairs.

"It really is a third space, particularly in an area like this where we have so many people experiencing homelessness, this is literally their living room," branch manager Margo Till-Rogers says. "If you're coming into your living room, you're going to expect that you can be comfortable, you can trust that you'll be safe and that you'll be heard."

The room is small, but cozy -- dotted with colourful library book displays, bright red computer chairs and interactive children's activity stations. The gaming and computer consoles are usually a big hit with children and teenagers at this branch because they may not have access to these devices at home. Some don't even have Internet, says Till-Rogers.

"At this branch in particular we are extraordinarily relationship focused," she says. "We greet everyone that comes here. We often can do it by first name."

Calling people by their first name can be used as a security precaution -- making it clear to patrons that they are physically seen by staff as they walk in, but also as a means of recognizing them as an individual. It could also be the only human-to-human interaction they have that day.

"It may be the only time they hear their name in a day," Till-Rogers says. "That's pretty powerful, and that's what makes me want to come to work. That's why I'm a librarian."

Back at Enterprise Square, Thornley not only deals with day-to-day issues within the library -- from broken toilet seats, to exhaust fumes coming up from the parkade below the library, to classic library questions, about book availability, Wi-Fi access or help with research. In addition to overseeing his staff, Thornley is tasked with managing the outreach team -- a group of social workers based out of the library.

The outreach team was conceived as a limited three-year pilot project in 2011 funded through a provincial program called the Safe Communities Innovation Fund. The project required a stringent evaluation process and expected a high return on investment in the program, which was reported back to the provincial government. The program wasn't without its critics -- people who thought it would attract problems to the library, says Thornley.

"The goal wasn't actually to bring more vulnerable people to the library, but to work with the vulnerable people who were using the library anyway," he says.

Since 2015, three full-time outreach worker positions have been added to the library's staff, based mostly out of the Enterprise Square branch, but they do occasionally work at other branches. Initially, the outreach worker would wander through the library to connect with patrons. Now the outreach team has its own office space to allow conversations with more privacy.

According to Thornley, people who use the library's outreach services are usually going through multiple stressors at the same time such as addictions, mental health, food security or divorce -- but it's not up to the library to define what issue should be tackled first. It's about letting the patron express to the outreach worker what their needs are at that moment.

For Thornley, it's difficult to define a typical day. He walks around the library and talks with patrons, paying special attention to those he's been concerned about, interacting with the security team, and handling patron complaints "about the size of the library: it's not big enough or it's too big, there aren't enough computers or that there are too many of 'those people' in the library."

By those people -- Thornley refers to homeless patrons or other vulnerable patrons that may be dealing with addictions or struggling with mental health disorders. The Edmonton Public Library will often work with people who have been banned because of bad behaviour from Alberta Hospital -- a mental health institution in northeast Edmonton. So long as these patrons haven't done anything wrong in the library, Thornley says, they are still welcome here.

For homeless patrons -- each day is fraught with challenges, like finding a safe and dry place to sleep at night, accessing healthcare for chronic illnesses or knowing where they can spend their days without being asked to leave for loitering. While Thornley says it's not against the rules to carry knives in the library, patrons aren't allowed to take them out while in the building.

"People are carrying knives in the downtown and it's not because they're looking to rob people -- it's a defensive thing because of the life they lead. They have to defend themselves," says Thornley. This could mean bringing most of their belongings into the library space with them.

Although library rules differ by library system across Canada, some libraries have imposed strict bag checks and scans using metal detectors.

Winnipeg's downtown Millennium branch recently levied stricter security measures in February in the hopes of catching people carrying weapons before they enter the library.

The reaction from Winnipeggers was swift. Millennium for All -- a community group who opposes the recent library security changes -- organized a read-in to protest the new security measures on April 2, saying that these bag checks disproportionately affected homeless individuals. It's not uncommon to see homeless patrons lugging a buggy, stroller or wheelie bag containing clothes, food, a hot plate and other necessities into the library with them.

Two days after the read-in where protesters peacefully demonstrated in the library's lobby, a city committee ordered a verbal report about security incidents at the library be delivered back to the city. 

Joelle Schmidt with the City of Winnipeg's communications team said the decision to add security measures was based on a marked increase in the severity of incidents in the library, though she did not say how many incidents occurred or the nature of these incidents.

"The Millennium Library remains a welcoming place for all," Schmidt replied in a March 12 emailed statement. "The front lobby area is open extended hours where people are able to take shelter from the elements. In addition, the library also has two community crisis workers on staff who are qualified to assess and assist as required. Staff and crisis workers continually reach out to social organizations to discuss ideas on how to reduce harm and better reach vulnerable people in the library."

The Winnipeg Free Press reported in late June that an advocacy group accused library management and city staff of having "deliberately exaggerated incidents of violence" as grounds to implement security scans, not unlike those found at an airport.

Other Canadian libraries have introduced library policies that could disproportionately affect homeless people navigating the shelter system. In 2016, libraries in Newmarket and Kingston, Ontario, were criticized for new policies that banned foul body odour -- which many advocacy groups said mostly impacted the homeless who use the library.

In Mississauga, librarians at the central branch began noticing that some of their patrons were going through the shelter system while grappling with mental health issues or dealing with substance abuse.

Librarians at the Mississauga Public Library knew some of their patrons were hurting. So, they took action.

"It was increasingly stressful on staff to be seeing this diverse group of people who they weren't feeling they could help or give them the supports they needed," says Laura Reed, a Mississauga library manager. "We aren't social workers, we don't have that background, and don't necessarily have that same skillset."

With cooperation from the city's recreation department, staff at the library drafted a proposal for Innovative Solutions to Homelessness, a microgrant offered by Employment and Social Development Canada. The competition was open to non-profits, municipal governments and Indigenous groups whose projects set out to reduce and prevent homelessness in Canada.

Peel Region -- an area that includes Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon — reported in 2017 that nearly 17 per cent of its residents lived below the poverty line.

Of the 50 microgrant recipients across the country, Mississauga was the only library system to receive a grant from the organization. With $122,524 in federal financing, Mississauga created the Open Window Hub. The one-year program offered a drop-in space and support for Mississauga's homeless populations, as well as training for library staff to help them de-escalate verbal and physical confrontations in the library.

Mississauga Public Library's drop-in sessions are held in a small room furnished with four matching red arm chairs and a blue loveseat. At first glance, the space looks more like a teacher's lounge than a counselling space. But a box of tissues on an end table hints at the difficult conversations that unfold here.

Kevin Berry is the lone social worker with the Open Window Hub program. He's been the social worker at the library since the program launched in September 2017. Berry is proficient in "system navigation," able to connect people who may be homeless with social services in the city.

In the library, when Berry would approach someone who may be homeless to see how he could help, most were wary of a stranger coming up to them.

"From there, it's about getting a little piece of their story and providing support," he says.

Berry has compiled a number of success stories from library patrons: the 27-year-old man with a schizoaffective disorder who barely made eye contact is now enrolled in an adult math course; the man who uses a wheelchair who slept in bus shelters now has a housing subsidy; the young pregnant couple who slept behind the library was eventually connected with the library's youth services program.

Mississauga's Open Window Hub program caught the attention of the Ontario Library Association in the winter of 2018, which asked Reed and Berry to share their knowledge with other librarians through a webinar. Berry says that Ontario seems to be at the vanguard for mixing social service programs into library space.

Through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport's Ontario Libraries Capacity Fund, a $10-million grant offered over three years that ended in March 2018, the Windsor Public Library received $200,000 to launch the Library Hubs Meeting Community Needs program. It was a program similar to Mississauga's Open Window Hub and equipped with a social worker, acting as a blueprint for other libraries in Essex County.

Reed predicts that more social workers will be stationed in libraries in the future. Although Mississauga's microgrant only financed the Open Window Hub until the end of 2018, the library received a donation from the P. and L. Odette Foundation for $390,000 to continue the program for another three years.

"It just makes so much sense now for public libraries. It's a way for us to connect with the community in a new way and it's really positive for staff, too," Reed says. "That pressure and stress on staff seeing people in need and not being able to help -- you can't overstate that."

Working with homeless and vulnerable populations can lead to burnout for library staff -- especially in urban centres where librarians voice that emotional and physical fatigue is a common complaint.

The Edmonton Public Library offers counselling support for its staff. This, in tandem with crisis intervention training, focuses on how to de-escalate confrontational situations in the library space. The library also offers job exchanges, allowing library staff who have experienced distressing situations in the workplace the opportunity to work in another branch to decompress.

"You have to be the kind of person who can work with the guy in three-piece suit who's looking for stock market stuff but you also got to be ready to talk to the guy who you know you suspended last week because he urinated in a garbage can in the library," says Thornley. "But today he's back, he's sober, he's no longer suspended and he's looking for a copy of the newspaper. You've got to treat him with the same dignity and respect that you treat the other guy and vice versa."

"I don't feel that the library is an unsafe place but there are unsafe situations that arise," he says. "But they're just as likely to arise on the streets, in the mall or in city hall."

These unsafe situations could manifest themselves as violent outbursts or drug use; seemingly heightened in the library because it's a natural gathering place for people from differing socioeconomic groups. Unlike another transient spaces such as a coffee shop that may kick out homeless people for loitering, the library welcomes that people spend their entire day in the library -- so long as they abide by the rules.

Thornley rattles off situations in which he has been snubbed by patrons: given the silent treatment for handing out a suspension to a patron for viewing pornography on a library computer; to being followed home; or someone becoming irate at being suspended for being visibly intoxicated. Meth use in the library is also an issue and one mirrored in Edmonton's downtown core.

"We do genuinely care about people who've done some awful things in the library," he says. "Oftentimes it's not their fault."

In some cases, Thornley says patrons may forget they were suspended, only to realize it when they can't log into a computer. People living in and out of homeless shelters are just trying to survive day-by-day. Even if verbally informed of their suspension, sometimes their mental health impedes them from remembering that a suspension has been handed out in the first place.

But when Thornley looks at the bigger picture, he says other issues may complicate things.

"Maybe you are a residential school survivor or maybe your family is scattered to the winds. Maybe there was alcohol and child abuse. All of these things play into who that person is."

Thornley says the library is in the early stages of developing a restorative justice approach for youth at the Edmonton Public Library -- a strategy that takes into account a rehabilitative versus punitive approach. Some restorative justice methods look at remedies that emphasize healing the harm and rehabilitation to avoid repetition of these actions, often in concordance with Indigenous practices.

All in all, Thornley enjoys working with such a diverse group of library-goers.

"I really wanted to work with real people," he says. "These are my neighbours this is my community and personally I feel much more rewarded."

Last week: Part 1 of rabble's series: "The Future of the Public Library is Under Attack."

Next week: Part 3 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019

Image: Olivia Robinson/rabble
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[l] at 8/19/19 2:19pm
August 19, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr UCP purges NDP appointees from Alberta's boards, agencies and commissions The changes, and the way they were made, are harbingers of both how radical the UCP program is likely to be and the shock strategy it will use to implement them.
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[l] at 8/17/19 11:50pm
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Teachers Association president Jason Schilling. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Almost completely missed in media coverage of Friday's purge of NDP appointees to agencies, boards and commissions by Alberta's United Conservative Party government was the revelation that the same day the government abruptly cancelled a three-year-old memorandum of agreement with the Alberta Teachers Association to co-operate on curriculum development.

While all eyes were on the Friday Morning Massacre, the government informed the ATA late in the day that it was pulling the plug on the curriculum agreement, ATA president Jason Schilling revealed in a statement yesterday. It was done "without meaningful advance notice or any consultation," he said.

"The decision followed on statements made by Premier Kenney the previous day that made unfounded claims about the content of the draft grades K to 4 curriculum and about Alberta student achievement," Schilling's statement said.

Schilling, according to the statement posted to the ATA website, "received the news with disappointment and resignation."

Schilling was sworn in as president on July 1 after beating incumbent Greg Jeffrey in a contested election. So this will probably not be his last difficult day with the UCP government.

The ATA, which acts as both the union for 40,000 public and Catholic school teachers and their regulatory and disciplinary college, is nowadays a bête noir to the united Kenney party, which resembles the Progressive Conservatives of yore in name only.

The PCs of old had many teachers in their ranks and an often mutually satisfactory relationship with the ATA over many years. So much so, indeed, that I've teased the ATA in this space by calling them "the Alberta Tory Association." Even under Ralph Klein's premiership, teachers were influential in the government. The late Halvar Jonson, an ATA president before entering politics, served as Klein's minister of education and in other important portfolios.

But that seems to have ended with the departure of most traditional progressive Tories from the UCP's ranks under Kenney's leadership. As a private-school-educated religious zealot with strong anti-union leanings, Kenney would have been less sympathetic to the ATA than previous Conservative premiers even if it hadn't dared to sign a memorandum of agreement with an NDP government.

But since the UCP narrative is that election of Rachel Notley's NDP in 2015 was a fluke at best, and that any legislation or policy of the New Democrats is therefore not legitimate, the willingness of any group to work with that government was bound to be treated as ideological unsoundness bordering on outright betrayal.

Moreover, under Kenney, the UCP made common cause with the operators of private religious academies, including overtly homophobic groups that objected to PC and NDP policies on gay-straight alliances, as a wedge issue to split the NDP from religious voters.

In an apparent response to Schilling's statement, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange tweeted Saturday afternoon: "By withdrawing from the MOU Alberta Education now has the ability to work equally with all partners in #abed, including @albertateachers." Interestingly, there was no statement making this point on the government's website Saturday.

Schilling said the ATA "rejected the notion that the Memorandum excluded participation by other stakeholder groups," arguing the government could have done that anyway without walking away from co-operation with the ATA. "This decision and this government's approach seems to be motivated more by ideology than by a desire to ensure authentic engagement to benefit students."

Friday's slap at the ATA is unlikely to be the end of the organization's troubles with the Kenney government.

The ATA has determinedly defended its professional conduct function, a dual role that is controversial not just in conservative circles but in the union movement as well. Past Conservative governments have often talked about splitting the ATA into separate regulatory and collective bargaining organizations, but with its connections to the PCs the organization has always been able to forestall any action on that front.

Many observers of the UCP believe it will now move ahead with such a change, which ironically could have the effect of creating on the union side a collective bargaining organization much less inclined to accept the depredations of the government with just disappointment and resignation.

Since Kenney is an acolyte of the blitzkrieg political tactics of Sir Roger Douglas, author of New Zealand's failed experiment with radical market fundamentalism in the late 1980s, we may soon discover that Albertans other than the ATA are also reeling from unexpected announcements made at the last moment. And if not, they likely will be as soon as that pesky federal election is out of the way.

Curriculum 'expert panel' being cobbled together

Meanwhile, we know Kenney's promised "expert panel" on school curriculum is in the process of being cobbled together, but we don't yet know who will be on it.

Here are some of my bets for potential panel members:

  • Donna Trimble, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, an advocacy organization influential with the UCP that describes itself as supporting "maximum parental choice."
  • Brian Coldwell, a member of the PCE board, pastor of New Testament Baptist Church in Edmonton, and chair of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, which defied the law requiring GSAs to be allowed in all schools.
  • Neil Webber, president and founder of Calgary's Webber Academy private school, a former four-term Calgary-Bow MLA and PC cabinet minister first elected in 1975.
  • Jeff Wilson, former Wildrose MLA who is now board chair of the Foundations for the Future Charter Academy in Calgary.

Whatever happens next, it seems likely there will be serious consideration of topics like "creation science" and abstinence-based sex education in Alberta school curricula.

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

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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[l] at 8/17/19 11:45pm
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

You almost have to admire Alberta's United Conservative Party government for the thoroughness of its sudden purge of NDP appointees to government agencies, boards and commissions on Friday.

The Friday Morning Massacre began with news the UCP was clearing out NDP appointments on the boards of 10 post-secondary institutions and the Banff Centre.

Through the day the purge extended to governing boards of the Workers Compensation Board, the Alberta Health Services Board, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Municipal Governance Board and sundry similar bodies.

Premier Jason Kenney, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides and other ministers appear not to have been around to defend the dramatic restructuring, leaving that task to the premier's press secretary.

New appointees included a former Ottawa crony of the premier, a member of Kenney's transition team, a failed UCP candidate, a lawyer for the Ethical Oil Institute, and a former Canadian Taxpayers Federation chair and signatory to the notorious 2001 sovereignist Firewall Manifesto that called for Alberta to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Health Act.

At least 18 of the new UCP appointees were donors of significant sums to the party or UCP-friendly PACs set up to skirt election-financing laws. A scan of financing disclosures by Duncan Kinney of Progress Alberta showed 16 donors who together contributed more than $100,000 to various conservative political causes were appointed to post-secondary boards yesterday. Progress Alberta will publish a more detailed report on Monday.

In truth, though, something like this is what the NDP needed to do when it came to power in 2015.

After 44 years of Conservative government, an NDP premier would have had considerably more justification to act decisively as well, given the depth to which agencies, boards and commissions, not to mention the senior levels of the civil service, were packed with Conservative sympathizers.

The government of Rachel Notley, however, chose to do what it believed to be the responsible thing and left much of this potential Conservative fifth column in place to do what it could to derail or delay the NDP program.

Not only did the NDP leave likely Conservative sympathizers in senior public jobs where they could do real damage, it waited politely to fill board, agency and commission governing boards until vacancies came open.

The NDP also professionalized the selection process -- holding interviews and insisting applicants were genuinely qualified for the role they were selected to play.

This showed either commendable respect for the Canadian tradition of a disinterested public service as a key democratic norm -- or a degree of naivety that suggests there's something to the old adage nice guys finish last.

The UCP, by comparison, are not nice guys. Whether you like it or not -- and some Albertans do, of course -- that should be quite evident by now.

Nevertheless, Friday's events in Alberta can also be a teaching moment for progressive parties that come to power in Canada’s provincial capitals, and in Ottawa.

It is all very well for progressives to defend the idea of professionalism in the civil service and on public boards. But it's also important to remember that if a government wants to implement even a moderately progressive agenda, it had better be prepared put in place people who will carry it out.

As for the UCP's very, very angry base, it will be delighted -- even though the events it presages may blow back in their faces. It will be hard to feel much sympathy for them when it does -- when rural hospitals are closed, for example -- but I suppose we'll have to summon up the effort.

For their part, most Alberta New Democrats will be outraged -- and therefore risk learning little or taking the wrong lessons from the purge.

The Kenney Government's changes yesterday, and the way they were made, are harbingers of both how radical the UCP program is likely to be after the October 21 federal election, and the strategy it will use of making swift changes hatched in secret before its opposition has a chance to organize.

That said, NDP appointees who claim to have been blindsided by yesterday's events have no excuse. It was obvious from before the April election that the UCP would do this if given the chance, and some of those NDP appointees' friends said just that and were scoffed at.

Looking ahead, if you are a health care worker like a nurse, don't expect the Alberta Health Services Board to oppose a government attack on your pay and working conditions.

If you're a public employee of any kind, don't expect the so-called "blue-ribbon" panel to conclude you deserve fair pay and a decent pension.

If you are a student, don't expect your institution's board to defend you when tuition fees rise stratospherically.

If you are injured at work under the new setup at the Workers Compensation Board, you can count on it being just like the old corporate setup before the NDP came along, only worse.

If you're trapped in precarious work, don't expect the minimum wage "expert panel" to discover that the majority of economists are right after all in their view your $15-per-hour minimum wage does no harm to the economy and plenty of good.

And even if you're a UCP supporter who imagines your government is doing battle with "elites" on your behalf, I expect you won't have to wait long before discovering the big money and perks like golf club memberships are being restored to the UCP apparatchiks who run government ABCs.

But if you're any of these things, don't despair either.

The complete absence of moderate, restraining voices in the organs of this government clears the decks for the only response that is ever effective against an authoritarian regime: solidarity and direct action.

Democracy doesn't only happen in the polling booth.

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

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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[l] at 8/16/19 1:01pm
August 16, 2019 Police tape. Image: British Columbia Emergency Photography/Flickr Imagine Canada's response if the B.C. murder suspects were Muslims Why do we tolerate certain actions when it comes to violating the rights of Muslims but hate groups get a free pass no matter how violent the ideologies they espouse?
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[l] at 8/14/19 2:42pm
August 14, 2019 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Photo: Obert Madondo/Flickr Canadian health care will be front and centre in both Canadian and U.S. elections Many Canadians perceive our system to be more socialized than it actually is, because they think of health care only as doctors' visits and hospitalization.
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[l] at 8/14/19 2:39pm
Karl Nerenberg NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Photo: Obert Madondo/Flickr

This year, the Canadian health-care system will be a contentious issue in both the Canadian and U.S. election campaigns.

In Canada, health care is a perennial top-of-mind issue, but the nature of the conversation has changed over the years.

In the 1960s, the focus was on getting it done; on implementing universal health insurance across the country, following the example of Saskatchewan. Spurred by the NDP, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives alike -- at both the federal and provincial levels -- embraced the idea of a system of publicly funded insurance that would cover all basic health needs. At that time, basic needs included doctors' visits, surgery and hospitalization, but not medical drugs, eyeglasses, hearing aids or dentistry.

In the decades after the implementation of the notionally universal system, the battle for health care took on a defensive posture. The main fight was to preserve what we had, not expand the system.

By the 1980s, many provinces had allowed the system to erode. They permitted practices that undermined the principle of universality and accessibility. One of those was extra billing, which meant doctors would collect the fees paid by the public insurance and then turn around and send patients a bill for additional charges. 

When I went under the knife for an emergency appendectomy at Ottawa General Hospital in the early 1980s, a friend who worked as an anesthesiologist there told me their team at Ottawa General ran a closed shop. They systematically blocked access to any anesthesiologist who refused to extra bill. 

That meant that I could expect to pay a fairly hefty charge for the anesthetic part of my life-saving surgery. I was in excruciating agony, and did not protest. 

Not too long after that day, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's health minister, Monique Bégin, brought in the Canada Health Act, which used the federal financial contribution as a lever to push the provinces to end practices that eroded the system. Extra billing was one of those practices. 

Since that time, the prevailing political discourse on health care in Canada has been almost exclusively about maintaining, protecting -- and paying for -- the system as it is.

Head-to-toe coverage -- NDP 

This year, however, the party that championed health care in the original instance is pushing not just to defend the status quo but to significantly expand it. 

The NDP wants to grow the concept of universal coverage to include eye care, dental care, audiology, pharma care, physiotherapy, foot care and psychotherapy -- in short, what it calls head-to-toe coverage.

The Liberals, too, have jumped on the health-care expansion bandwagon. They focus mostly on bringing in some form of pharma care, over time, taking a more step-by-step and gradualist approach than the NDP. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's minions say NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is being unrealistic, selling pie-in-the-sky to the voters. In the past, mainstream parties routinely leveled that accusation at every proposal to expand Canada's welfare state, from public pensions to unemployment insurance to supports for families with children.

Even Andrew Scheer's Conservatives have gotten into the "we-support-universal-health-care" act. Earlier this summer, Scheer wrote all provincial premiers to promise that, if elected, he would increase the federal health and social transfer by at least three per cent per year, every year he was in power. 

For the Conservatives this is, in fact, playing defence. They can expect the parties to their left to accuse them of having an agenda of cuts to health transfers, which would open the door to more privately provided health services and a two-tier system. The example of the Ford government in Ontario is not helpful to Scheer. 

More important, however, is that fact that even Canada's party of overt anti-environmentalism, restrictions on refugees, lower taxes and overall fiscal restraint believes it has no choice, politically, but to affirm some sort of commitment to the "socialistic" principle of universal health care. Health care as we know it seems to have become something approaching a political sacred cow in Canada.

Others join Bernie in pushing for Canadian system for the U.S.

While the Canadian conversation on health has moved from protection to enhancement, in the U.S. support for the Canadian system -- or something that appears to resemble it -- has become more politically mainstream than ever before. The majority of candidates vying for the Democratic party's presidential nomination say they support what they call "Medicare for all" -- which has many features of the Canadian system.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders -- an avowed democratic socialist -- has been advocating this idea for decades and frequently cites the Canadian model, but, until recently, his was a lonely voice. 

Now Sanders has been joined by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, California Senator Kamala Harris, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a number of other, lesser-known candidates. 

There is no unanimity among Democrats, of course. 

The current leader in the opinion polls, former vice-president Joe Biden, opposes "Medicare for all," as do a number of other supposedly centrist Democrats, such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. 

Canadians should note that in the U.S. the term Medicare -- which is what we in Canada used to call our system as a whole -- denotes the publicly funded federal health insurance plan for seniors, which president Lyndon Johnson instituted in the 1960s, as part of the vast expansion of social programs he called the Great Society. 

Unlike Canadian Conservatives, U.S. Republicans do not even pay lip service to the goal of providing universal coverage. They want to move in the opposite direction and undo the gains for the millions of uninsured achieved by president Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Hardly anyone portrays Canadian system accurately

In the U.S., and to some extent even here in Canada, everybody who evokes the Canadian system tends to exaggerate the extent to which it is public. In fact, the way Canada delivers health care is a blend of public and private. The same is true in comparable countries such as Germany, France, Sweden, Australia and the Netherlands.

Per person, Canada spent between US$4,500 and US$5,000 on health services in 2016.

Seventy per cent of that was public money; 30 per cent private. 

This ratio is very similar to that of other countries such as Australia and Israel. In fact, Canada's private sector in health care is larger, in proportional terms, than that of most other countries with comparable systems.

In France, the public portion of spending is over 75 per cent, as it is in Finland. In the U.K., Japan, and Germany the public share is over 80 per cent. 

Many in Canada perceive our system to be more socialized than it actually is, because they think of health care only as doctors' visits and hospitalization. 

Most other health-care systems similar to Canada's cast a far wider net for their coverage. They include health-care goods and services, such as the key ones of pharmaceutical drugs and dentistry, that Canada mostly excludes.

The truth is that, in Canada, as in almost all similar developed countries, health care is a mixed system. Countries that aim for something close to universal coverage might choose different ways to mix their systems, but all have vigorous private sectors, including private insurance.  

U.S. politicians who refer to the Canadian system -- whether negatively or positively -- would do well to recognize its true nature as a mixed, public-private enterprise. 

In fact, even the U.S., which prides itself as the bastion of private enterprise in all fields, has a mixed system. That is because of the huge public sector presence via Medicare, Medicaid (the similar program for low-income people) and publicly funded health services for the military.

In the U.S., in 2016, per capita public spending on health care was US$4,860. Private spending, per capita, was only slightly more: US$5,032. 

The glaring statistic for the U.S. is not the public-private split. It is for total spending, which is considerably in excess of that for all other countries -- while achieving only fair to middling results. 

Average life expectancy in the U.S. -- to cite just one important health measurement -- is one of the lowest among developed countries. 

The U.S. ranks number 31 in the world for average life expectancy, more than four years less than Japan, Switzerland and Singapore, and more than three years less than France, Sweden, Italy, South Korea and Canada. 

Clearly Americans are not getting their money's worth for health care.

Presidential candidates who propose moving the U.S. in a more public direction might want to emphasize not just how doing so would cover the millions of uninsured. They could add that a larger public presence in the health sector would mean better health outcomes for all, at a far lower cost.

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

Photo: Obert Madondo/Flickr​

 
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[l] at 8/13/19 10:25am
August 13, 2019 Gerd Altmann/Pixabay The future of the public library is under attack As libraries across Canada face mounting challenges and funding cuts, the question asked by skeptics is the same: does the public library still matter?
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[l] at 8/13/19 9:52am
Olivia Robinson Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Imagine a place where you can sit, read, eat, write, learn or create -- all without having to pay $6 for a latte or a flaky pastry, or without feeling guilty for camping out in a coffee shop for an afternoon. Wildly diverging populations continue to seek out an elusive sanctuary, a great equalizer where parents, toddlers, teenagers, seniors or even someone sleeping rough on city streets at night can spend the day.

Chances are that you, like the majority of Canadians, have a card that can access a place like this and all its resources. But unlike the other plastic cards stuffed in your wallet, it's free.

It's your public library card.

Public libraries have long been considered a vital "third place" -- a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1989 book The Great Good Place -- a space where people come to meet and congregate regardless of socioeconomic status. Since 1800 when the first public library opened in Niagara-on-the-Lake, pre-Confederation public libraries in Canada have attempted to elevate and educate the masses through access to books -- often as a complement to traditional education. In the last decade, there has been a marked push from libraries to prioritize the mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of their patrons. Instead of focusing on an outreach-based approach, Canadian public libraries are moving to a community-development model to give their most vulnerable patrons access to life-changing and life-saving services in what's being called the third generation of public libraries. Across Canada, libraries are at the frontlines for the homeless; they are the sites for social work amid mental health crises and the opioid epidemic, while others are decolonizing their spaces for marginalized patrons as Canada moves towards reconciliation.

This is the future of the public library -- but the institution itself is under attack.

In Ontario, many grant programs facilitate the start-up of outreach programs to help vulnerable patrons, such as the former Ontario Libraries Capacity Fund or federally, like through Employment and Social Development Canada.

In that province, municipal councils appoint public library boards, which in turn provide funding for libraries based on municipal tax dollars, whereas the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport manages the Public Libraries Act. While some provinces have clearer commitments to funding libraries for now -- including programs and initiatives aimed at vulnerable and marginalized communities -- the forecast for Ontario's libraries under Premier Doug Ford does not look promising.

In a March 18, 2019, email to rabble.ca, media relations for Ontario's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said they were "unable to accommodate [the] request" to interview then-minister of tourism, culture and sport Michael Tibollo about the provincial government's future funding opportunities and for libraries.

This comes after repeated and consistent attempts to speak with the culture minister following the Progressive Conservatives' election win on June 7, 2018 -- initially with then-minister of tourism, culture and sport Sylvia Jones, then her successor Michael Tibollo, and now the current minister, Lisa MacLeod. During Tibollo's tenure, he made just a handful of appearances at various library functions across the province. Twice he called libraries "important hubs in communities across the province" on Twitter but did not offer insight on how the Progressive Conservatives would maintain this vision for the province's libraries.

Then, on April 11, 2019, the Ontario PCs tabled their first budget.

Though a library was featured on the cover of the 382-page document, there was no mention of public libraries or libraries of any kind within its pages. In contrast, the Ontario Liberals' 2018 budget promised to increase the public library operating grant by $51 million over three years. The lack of details caused concern in the library community that service cuts would soon follow -- and they weren't wrong.

A day after the budget was unveiled, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport contacted the Southern Ontario Library Service and Ontario Library Service -- North to inform them that both of their budgets had been reduced by 50 per cent. Both organizations are tasked to help public library boards with training, development and cooperation between libraries and through programs like inter-library loans -- a means of accessing books from another library's collection by shipping them to another library for free. Interlibrary loans have suffered the most because of the budget cuts, especially in small, northern and rural libraries. The library community is upset, bemoaning the sudden cuts.

In an August 12 emailed statement to rabble, a ministry official said that it "strongly believes in Ontario's libraries and appreciates everything that libraries do to enrich the lives of Ontarians." 

The statement further said that as of June 1, 2019, a "solution was found to restore the interlibrary loan services" across Ontario. 

In reality the beleaguered interlibrary loan service hasn't been fully reinstated in all Ontario public libraries.

SOLS and OLS-N released a joint statement in June that both organizations would provide "partial reimbursement to libraries for delivery costs through Canada Post" for interlibrary loan materials. This partial reimbursement means that some library systems still can't afford to take on any added costs associated with interlibrary loan service. Others have reinstated the interlibrary loan program, but have restrictions on the services that they offer and how long the program will be put in place. The King Township Public Library, is one of them. Now, they don't allow interlibrary loans on children's books or books that have been released in the past year.

Halting interlibrary loans means that an elderly person living in northern Ontario who reads large print books thanks to an interlibrary loan from a larger library system will no longer be able to do so. In rural communities, people who use mobility aids or low-income young families with no access to a vehicle are limited to their home branch's collection. 

Ford spokesperson Laryssa Waler said in The St. Catharines Standard that although "the concept is admirable, couriering books on demand by vans between different library boards all across southern and northern Ontario is actually slow, inefficient, environmentally unfriendly and expensive, especially now that digital resources are available."

The PCs' statements suggest that all printed materials are also available online, so interlibrary loans are redundant -- when this isn't true of all books. They incorrectly assume that all library users are also e-readers or have access to that technology in the first place and that all materials found in the library can also be found online, which is not true of rare books and other borrowable archival materials. This is amid public libraries across Canada lobbying major book publishers to lower the cost of their ebooks and electronic audiobooks, because the cost for a library to purchase an ebook is three to four times the price of the physical version.

While libraries in Ontario receive the majority of their funding through their municipality, they depend on programs, grants and services such as interlibrary loans to supplement their services. Although slashing interlibrary loan service is a blow to small, rural and Indigenous public libraries in Ontario, it wasn't all that surprising when tracking Ford's tempestuous history with libraries.

In 2011, Ford, a then-city councillor in Toronto, and his brother, then-mayor Rob Ford, both had strong opinions about libraries. Doug promised to close libraries "in a heartbeat" after a consultant's report suggested reducing service at some library branches or shutting them down completely -- such as one of the three libraries then-located in his Etobicoke North ward. (Ford also falsely stated that there were more libraries in Etobicoke than there were Tim Hortons franchises.)

One Toronto Public Library employee feared that Ford's provincial bill to reduce the size of Toronto's city council would affect public libraries -- meaning councillors might be unable to devote enough time to serving on the Toronto Public Library's board.

While the future of funding opportunities like grants remain uncertain in Ontario, librarians are pushing harder than ever to prove their worth to the likes of Ford and others who question the library's significance in the digital world. 

And it's not just Ontario libraries that face uncertainty -- Alberta's provincial government announced earlier in August that funding to its public library system would be suspended until late October. 

But all libraries -- even ones within the same library system -- have their own unique set of challenges based on their community's needs. Some have a higher density of immigrants and newcomers to Canada or are in close proximity to homeless shelters. Others may be at the epicentre of an opioid overdose crisis.

For Ontario public libraries outside urban centres, the issues may be more hidden, like in Haliburton County. The region is speckled with lakes and it's a quaint cottaging destination in the summertime when it swells from a population of 18,062 to almost 45,000 people. For Haliburton County Public Library CEO Bessie Sullivan, there are three distinct challenges for her library system: vast geographical regions and limited transportation options, lack of broadband technology, and the poverty that is a reality for many of the county's year-round residents.

"We're fighting a very low tax base so that means a lack of resources," she says.

For libraries in rural areas across Canada like in Haliburton County -- this base funding comes from the municipality, so when there's a smaller amount to begin with, they're already at a disadvantage. Sullivan says her municipality is trying to do what it can to help those in the community who may face financial and social setbacks while trying to balance the cost of keeping the branches open.

"I've always thought that as a public service, our job was to find those gaps," she says.

But convincing politicians that they need to fund the library is another issue.

"We're arguing if we fill that gap, we're helping with economic development. We're giving you a workforce," Sullivan says.

She points to the popularity of return on investment in the library -- the idea that every dollar invested in the library gives back to patrons and community members in some way. The Toronto Public Library's first economic impact study was done in 2013, concluding that for every dollar that goes into the library, there is $5.63 of economic impact in the community.

Regardless of whether a patron visits the Dawson City Community Library in the Yukon or the Carbonear Public Library in Newfoundland -- the question asked by library skeptics is the same: does the public library still matter?

The answer is complicated or naively simple, depending on who you ask. For some who haven't stepped into a public library in many years, their belief is that since the emergence of ebooks, printed books are becoming obsolete, although new data suggests that ebook sales have started to plateau. The library has been about more than just books -- and those who think otherwise likely have a lapsed library card and haven't visited any public library in decades.

Critics assume that the library's services are non-essential so it's easy to make budget cuts. The library doesn't douse flames, organize search-and-rescue teams or chase after criminals. 

The library's purpose may be more subtle, but it is no less of a social necessity: it's a shelter, a respite, a classroom and even a counsellor's office. In a digital age where the validity of information is constantly questioned -- the public library remains one of the few places with the tools to distinguish between what is real and what is fake. It's an institution with its own troubling colonial roots, trying to do good where it was once complicit in erasing cultures. In its third generation, the library has returned to its Victorian roots -- promoting beneficial social change for its patrons -- and it's still a keeper of books and a meeting of minds worth protecting.

Next week: Part 2 of rabble's series: The Future of the Public Library. 

Olivia Robinson is a writer, journalist and book publishing professional. She is rabble.ca's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow in 2019.

Photo: Gerd Altmann/ Pixabay

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[l] at 8/12/19 8:52pm
August 12, 2019 Brent Patterson Mohawk land defender Ellen Gabriel on the continuing struggle for land and territory Peace Brigades International visited The Pines in 1991 and takes note of the escalating tensions over land ownership in 2019.
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[l] at 8/9/19 9:57am
August 9, 2019 Former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013. Photo: michael_swan/Flickr Stephen Harper's still in the game -- and looking to score n Harper is still writing the conservative playbook. The clues are everywhere, as Harper makes stops on his tour of the rubber-chicken circuit.
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[l] at 8/8/19 2:10pm
August 8, 2019 Pro-choice activists stage counter-protest. Photo: Zhu/Flickr The pro-choice movement will defeat any threats to abortion rights Canada's pro-choice movement is in good fighting form, and stronger than ever. That's the undeniable conclusion after living through ongoing anti-choice activity over the last three months.
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[l] at 8/7/19 2:59pm
August 7, 2019 Dunk/Flickr Deniers deflated as climate reality hits home Those who continue to spread doubt and confusion about climate science are starting to look even more ridiculous with their many conflicting, insubstantial arguments.
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[l] at 8/6/19 9:33am
August 6, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Photo: David J. Climenhaga Kenney pledges 'I will never give up on Canada' while stoking Alberta separatist sentiment Being exposed as a politician willing to put our country's future at risk isn't a good look for a guy who still harbours his own prime ministerial ambitions.
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[l] at 8/2/19 8:42am
August 2, 2019 Leo Gerard speaks at a Capitol Hill trade deal protest in 2010. Photo: AFL-CIO America's Unions/Flickr Leo Gerard reflects on 54 years in the union movement -- and what lies ahead As he retires from his job as president of the United Steelworkers, Leo Gerard looks back at his half century in the trade union movement and makes the case for why unions are needed more than ever.
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[l] at 8/1/19 9:53am
August 1, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr Alberta targets foreign 'special interests' -- but omits Big Oil As the debate over climate change intensifies, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's refusal to shine the spotlight on the real foreign meddlers grows ever more absurd.
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[l] at 7/31/19 11:40pm
David J. Climenhaga Premier Jason Kenney cutting red tape. Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has a well-known propensity to blame Justin Trudeau for things that were done by Stephen Harper, as the debate over who is responsible for the time it's taken to complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project nicely illustrates.

So condemning Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau for the $2.5-million federal grant for an academic study of concentrated power and influence in Canada's fossil fuel industry was obviously too tempting to resist for Kenney or whoever does his tweeting for him, even though they ought to have known the grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada was approved on Conservative PM Harper's watch.

Quietly deleting the tweet -- "why did the Trudeau Liberals give $2.5 million to a left wing special interest group to attack our energy industry?" -- without acknowledging the error or apologizing when it prompted a flurry of corrections on social media is pretty much standard operating procedure for Kenney's party.

Kenney's tweet included a link to an op-ed in a Postmedia newspaper written by a couple of Canadian Taxpayers Federation operatives, Franco Terrazzano and Kris Sims. The CTF and the Fraser Institute apparently nowadays comprise a significant part of the Kenney government's research department. The record of the CTF indicates the mysteriously funded anti-tax lobby group has long had a bee in its bonnet about the SSHRC.

In reality, given the way the federal social sciences and humanities research-funding agency has operated since the government of Pierre Trudeau created it in 1977, SSHRC grant recipients are chosen by panels of their academic peers, who volunteer their time. There is no political oversight, nor should there be. This has been true under all prime ministers, Liberal and Conservative, for the past 42 years.

In 2015, when the Corporate Mapping Project received the now controversial six-year grant, it was one of the top-rated proposals for research projects involving groups outside the academy among more than 100 applications for that kind of support from Canadian scholars, CMP director Bill Carroll told me last week.

The outside groups involved in the project was the CTF's objection, and apparently the basis of Kenney's accusation, since one of them was the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think tank partly funded by union donations. The CTF also has many anti-union links.

By the time more-detailed proposals were submitted by short-listed research groups that year, the CMP had moved up to No. 1, recalled Carroll, a professor of sociology at the University of Victoria, the project's sponsoring institution.

A key intention of the proposal and a key reason he believes it succeeded with the peer-review panel, Carroll noted, was that part of its concept was to dig out "knowledge of value to citizens in the democratic process" and then get "that analysis into the public sphere."

That is why the proposal included research into key influencers in the fossil fuel industrial ecosystem, its intricately interlocked corporate directorships, and its international connections, he explained.

The CTF broadside will likely not be the last, or the most intemperate, attack on the CMP now that it has appeared on the radar of the political right. A response by the CMP reflects the views expressed by Carroll in our conversation.

Jack Mintz, the conservative University of Calgary economist who was vice-president and chair of the SSHRC's governing council at the time the CMP grant was awarded, defends that approach to selecting grant recipients.

"It was never politically reviewed," Mintz told me last week, arguing that SSHRC grants cannot be described as being approved by either Harper's or Trudeau's government, since the process is scrupulously independent. "I didn’t know anything about it until it did become public."

That said, Mintz indicated he had reservations about the CMP project when he learned of it -- "I have to admit, my eyebrow went up" -- and wasn't particularly pleased to be identified in a CMP database as one of the key influencers behind the fossil fuel industry.

"If I was so influential, I could have stopped the grant," he said, adding quickly that he never raised the issue in council. "I didn't think that would be appropriate."

Still, Mintz worries the grant to this project sets a bad priority, and warns that "a grant like this could happen on the right."

Well, perhaps. Many scholars believe the SSHRC program under which the CMP application was made was set up to encourage partnerships between universities and industry. In other words, you might argue, more to grease the wheels of capital accumulation than to benefit ordinary Canadians.

Nevertheless, it was open to more than one kind of non-academic partner, allowing SSHRC to fund at least one project that was intended to help encourage a more robust democracy.

The SSHRC says on its website it "remains committed to engaging its stakeholder communities and demonstrating that the research it supports leads to benefits for Canadians."

The work it supports, it says, "spurs innovative researchers to learn from each other's disciplines, delve into multiparty collaborations, and achieve common goals for the betterment of Canadian society. Research is shared with communities, businesses and governments, who use the new knowledge to innovate and improve people's lives."

By that definition, the CMP is not a bad precedent at all. Do you think we should give Harper some of the credit for it?

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

Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr

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[l] at 7/31/19 1:41pm
Zaid Noorsumar SEIU

Service Employees International Union members in Ontario have been protesting wages and working conditions outside the offices of long-term care corporations.

SEIU represents 25,000 workers in the long-term care sector in Ontario, including nurses, personal support workers and dietary aides. 

Corey Johnson, a union spokesperson, says the actions have been organized in conjunction with its bargaining with around 100 nursing homes, mostly in the for-profit sector. 

Johnson says the main issue is short-staffing, as there aren't enough people to care for the residents.

"It's taking a toll on both -- the residents who aren't getting the care they deserve," he says. "And on the workers who are doing far more than they should be doing. They're burning out." 

In March this year, a CUPE-commissioned report called "Breaking Point" delved into the extensive violence long-term care workers in the sector face due to inadequate staffing. A related survey, also commissioned by CUPE, revealed that over 90 per cent of nurses and personal support workers (PSWs) face violence at least occasionally. 

"They're risking injury every day at work. And it's not fair to them at all," Johnson says.

A long festering issue

Concerns about staffing levels in Ontario's long-term care homes were raised as far back as 2002, when the Ontario Health Coalition warned that privatization of the sector was having an adverse impact on an aging population. 

In 2008, a study by York University and Carleton researchers blamed low staffing for the increasing rates of violence in nursing homes, which pitted aging residents against an overburdened workforce.

Ontario has three types of long-term care homes. Currently, 58 per cent of homes are for-profit, 24 per cent are non-profit and 18 per cent are municipally-owned. Research has shown that for-profit homes fare worse due to lower levels of staffing, leading to fewer hours of care per resident and higher rates of mortality and hospitalization

In 2018, a CBC Marketplace investigation named 40 of the worst nursing homes in Ontario, split evenly between those with the highest levels of intra-resident violence and those with the most staff-to-resident violence.

A rabble analysis shows that 15 of the 20 homes on the list with the highest levels of resident-on-resident violence were for-profits. Of the 20 homes facing the worst staff-to-resident violence, 13 were for-profits.

Low wages, high profits

The recently concluded Long-term Care Inquiry heard testimony that for-profit homes pay lower wages, which is contributing to a staffing shortage of registered nurses and PSWs in the province.

PSWs, who are responsible for clothing, feeding and bathing residents among other tasks, are typically paid in the range of $16 to $20 an hour.

Johnson says that non-profits and municipal homes invest money back into homes -- including for employee compensation -- while private homes use surplus funds for profits.

Extendicare owns 34 long-term care homes in Ontario, and manages 42 others. The company earned $18.8 million in profits from its long-term care business across Canada in 2018. Tim Lukenda, the outgoing CEO of Extendicare, earned $5.1 million in 2018.

Chartwell's CEO, Brent Binions, earned $2.5 million last year while his company posted $18.5 million in profits.

Taking action

SEIU's members have been engaged in rallies, protests and other forms of action since April.  

They have also created a letter writing campaign asking health-care companies to invest more money into care.

"It's about putting the profit into the care for the residents. It's about giving the residents better care, giving them a better experience, giving them more dignity. That's really what our whole campaign messages are about," Johnson says.

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

Photo: SEIU

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[l] at 7/31/19 10:40am
July 31, 2019 Sivanesan/Flickr It's our choice: turn down the heat or cook the planet There's room for discussion about the most effective ways to address the climate crisis, but ultimately we have to deploy every solution available and keep developing new ones.
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[l] at 7/30/19 4:09pm
David Suzuki Sivanesan/Flickr

No amount of evidence is ever enough to convince climate science deniers -- including the politicians among them. But new studies and observations should at least persuade those who profess to understand global heating but appear not to grasp its severity that it's time to start deploying the many available solutions.

We've already pumped such huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and destroyed so many natural systems that sequester excess carbon that we're missing the window to shift gradually to renewable energy and lighten our impact on Earth's natural systems.

This year, Europe has reeled under the highest temperatures ever recorded, the Arctic is burning, cities in Africa and India are running out of water and more than half the U.S. has been under excessive heat warnings. Scientists say global average temperatures for June and July are the hottest on record. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, and the past five years were the hottest -- mainly because of human activity.

Do these records simply reflect natural cycles, as the "skeptics" would have us believe? No. Three recent studies published in Nature and Nature Geoscience show temperatures have not risen this quickly and extensively for at least 2,000 years. By examining evidence from proxy records such as tree rings, pollen trapped in lake mud, cave formations, ice cores and sediment from all continents, researchers concluded that periods like the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period were not global phenomena but localized shifts that affected less than half the world and varied over time and geography.

Many previous climatic shifts were caused by volcanic eruptions, which triggered different changes -- mostly cooling -- over different regions, but those don't match the scale and speed of heating over the past few decades.

The research also confirms, along with many other studies, the 1998 "hockey stick" graph devised by scientists including Michael Mann at Penn State University, which showed a sharp spike in global temperatures starting in the 20th century.

"The familiar maxim that the climate is always changing is certainly true," University of Minnesota, Minneapolis paleoclimatologist Scott St. George wrote in a Nature article. "But even when we push our perspective back to the earliest days of the Roman Empire, we cannot discern any event that is remotely equivalent -- either in degree or extent -- to the warming over the past few decades." (St. George was not involved with the research.)

Despite the overwhelming evidence, many people we elect to represent our interests aren't acting quickly enough -- and some not at all. Even those who speak to the necessity of reining in global heating continue to promote further fossil fuel development, ignoring alarming statistics about temperature rise and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg recently told French politicians she never hears journalists, politicians, or businessmen mention the dire numbers. "It's almost like you don't even know these numbers exist. As if you haven't even read the latest IPCC report, on which much of the future of our civilization is depending. Or perhaps you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is. Because even that burden, you leave to us children," she said.

Rather than advocating for economic diversification and growing clean tech opportunities in the face of climate chaos and declining prospects for coal, oil and gas, many Canadian politicians continue to exaggerate the economic importance of dirty bitumen and fracked gas and downplay the negative consequences of processing, transporting and burning them. Even proven methods for slowing global heating, such as carbon pricing, have become contentious.

We no longer have time to piss around. There's room for discussion about the most effective ways to address the climate crisis, but ultimately we have to deploy every solution available and keep developing new ones -- including energy conservation and efficiency, carbon pricing, public transit, vehicle and industrial electrification, clean energy technologies, education and family planning to empower women and slow population growth, reducing consumerism and more.

If we want Earth to remain habitable for humans and other life that makes ours possible, we must make tough choices, promote solutions and become more politically engaged.

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

Photo: Sivanesan/Flickr

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[l] at 7/30/19 10:28am
July 30, 2019 Photo from Reclaiming our Past, Present and Future Facebook page Attawapiskat water crisis continues despite urgent calls from community Three weeks after Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over its water quality, there are no signs of concrete actions from the federal government to address the community's water crisis.
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[l] at 7/29/19 10:19am
July 29, 2019 Pengrowth Saddledome and the Calgary skyline. Photo: James Teterenko/Creative Commons Postmedia pours it to bring home the bacon for Calgary's hockey billionaires If Calgary city council had been paying attention, someone might have asked: Does Mr. Calgary really want to go down in history as the Peter Pocklington of Southern Alberta?
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[l] at 7/26/19 9:14am
July 26, 2019 Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce and the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade Luncheon. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr Ford keeps popping up, to Conservatives' chagrin You have to wonder if federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wishes he could push Ontario's Doug Ford down and out of media range between now and the federal election in October.
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[l] at 7/25/19 10:33am
July 25, 2019 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in the day. Photo: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/Flickr How much damage will Boris Johnson do to the U.K.? Meanwhile, back in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has been strangely silent about his enthusiastic support for the Brexiteers two years ago.
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[l] at 7/25/19 10:09am
Karl Nerenberg Downtown Vancouver. Photo: Magnus Larsson/Flickr

Rental housing has become prohibitively expensive for millions of Canadians in most of the country's urban centres. That is the stark and frightening conclusion of a report just released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). 

The author of the report, the CCPA's senior economist, David Macdonald, examines the situation of rental housing in Canada generally. He points out that when the federal government stopped investing in rental housing, in the 1990s, it became increasingly more expensive and less available. 

But Macdonald focuses primarily on the ability of full-time workers on minimum wage to afford reasonable rental accommodation. In 2015 there were more than one and a quarter million Canadians earning the minimum wage or less

In Vancouver, the minimum wage is $12.65 per hour; in Toronto it is $14.00. Based on the generally accepted principle that you should spend about 30 per cent of your income on rent and no more, you would need to work 84 hours a week in Vancouver and 79 in Toronto to afford a basic one-bedroom apartment. That amounts to about 15 hours per day for a five-day week. Not much time for sleep, let alone anything else.  

In Victoria, a working person would need to work 67 hours at minimum wage to pay rent on a one-bedroom home. In Ottawa it would be 61 hours, while in Calgary it would be 56. Those workers would get a bit more sleep than their counterparts in Vancouver and Toronto, but would still be working 12 hours a day or more.

The only glimmer of good news comes from Montreal, where, at a minimum wage of $12 per hour, a working person would only have to work 47 hours per week to afford a basic one-bedroom apartment. David Macdonald points out that not only does Montreal have the largest stock of affordable rental units in the country, it also has the best public transit. Quebec's largest city is not exactly a renter's paradise, but it is way ahead of nearly all other major metropolises in Canada.

Majority of neighbourhoods in Canada are unaffordable for low income renters

The CCPA economist analyzes rental affordability and availability by neighbourhood and finds that in most Canadian cities there are zero neighbourhoods -- none whatsoever -- where it is possible for a minimum wage earner to afford either a one- or two-bedroom apartment.

This is as true of the Greater Toronto Area's 117 neighbourhoods as it is of Barrie or Guelph's four neighbourhoods. 

And it is true right across the country from east to west. 

There are 23 neighbourhoods in Halifax, but there are none with affordable rental units for full-time minimum wage workers. The same is the case for Lethbridge, Alberta, with its 11 neighbourhoods, or Abbotsford-Mission, B.C., with its five.

Saskatoon has 16 neighbourhoods, but not a single one with affordable rental housing for full-time workers at minimum wage. Working-class Hamilton has 22 neighbourhoods -- not a single one with rental housing within reach of the minimum wage group. Same for St. John's, Newfoundland, with three neighbourhoods, Vancouver with 65 and Ottawa with 27.

It is a grim picture, relieved only by a few (somewhat) bright spots, such as Windsor, where a full third of the 13 neighbourhoods offer rents within reach of full-time minimum wage earners, and London, Ontario, where 14 per cent of its 22 neighbourhoods are affordable. 

The majority of affordable neighbourhoods for rental housing are in Quebec. 

In Montreal, 18 per cent of the city's 97 neighbourhoods offer rental accommodations minimum wage workers can reasonably pay, while in Quebec City it is 27 per cent. The rental affordability champions are Trois Rivières, Quebec, where 92 per cent of the neighbourhoods offer affordable rental housing, and the municipalities of Saguenay and Sherbrooke, where 100 per cent of the neighbourhoods are affordable for renters. 

Quebec might be friendlier to renters because, traditionally, home ownership has not had the same sacred status there as in the rest of Canada. For many decades, it was considered quite normal and respectable in Quebec to raise a family in a rented flat or apartment. At one time, the majority of Montrealers lived in rental accommodation. The city's urban landscape was filled with small-scale, multi-family units -- duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes -- not found anywhere outside Quebec. That is now changing. Each day, rental units in Quebec are converted to condominiums, while newer housing in the burgeoning suburbs is mostly of the single-family-owned kind. Quebec is becoming more like the rest of Canada, but it is not there yet. 

The public sector must do more to deal with crisis for renters

The big takeaway from Macdonald's study is that a society cannot count on the private sector alone to provide rental housing. The government must play a major role.

As he puts it: "The construction of purpose-built rental units is heavily dependent on public policy as opposed to market forces. As public funding collapsed in the 1990s, both through the end of tax incentives and funding for affordable housing, so did the construction of new purpose-built rentals."

Macdonald adds that "public funding from provincial and new Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) programs recovered somewhat in the 2000s." As a result, there was an uptick in rental starts.  Still, even if the provinces and federal government keep up the current momentum, new rental housing will fall far short of the growing need. 

"If the remaining targets for CMHC programs roll out as planned over the next eight years, and if on-reserve new unit construction continues apace and unilateral provincial programs are maintained, this would result in 15,400 new affordable units a year," Macdonald explains. 

But here is the down side: "While this is more than any year since the early 1990s, it is also still less than the 20,000 high-water mark of the 1970s and '80s."

In 1975, Canada's population was a bit over 23 million. Today it is closing in on 38 million. 

The housing picture is complicated by the fact that much new multi-unit construction is aimed at the affluent or relatively affluent. It consists of condominiums and high-rent luxury units. 

Aside from reviving support for low- and middle-income rental construction, the Trudeau government also seeks to mitigate the crisis for renters through its new Canada Housing Benefit (CHB). It is now in the process of negotiating implementation of that program with the provinces. 

Macdonald explains the CHB this way: "The cash transfer to families who rent is aimed at providing an average benefit of $2,500 to 300,000 families … [But] capping the program at that number leaves far more than 300,000 spending above 30% of their income on rent. In 2020, of the estimated 4.8 million families who will rent their homes, 2.4 million will be considered in core housing need" -- that is, paying more than 30 per cent of income for rent.

The report concludes that not only is the CHB an inadequate response to the challenges facing renters but that rent subsidies are not the best way to go. 

"Ultimately," Macdonald says, "there is no substitute for building new dedicated affordable housing, which would cool down rental prices and increase the stock of housing available to the millions of families who choose or who are forced to rent."

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

Photo: Magnus Larsson/Flickr

 
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[l] at 7/24/19 8:56am
July 24, 2019 Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook Will Greens ever compromise climate for power? Never. The stakes are too large for a typical political cop-out. Greens will never agree to support any government that fails to address the climate emergency.
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[l] at 7/24/19 8:51am
Elizabeth May Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook

"Before voters take her seriously, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May must be frank and clear about what her newfound willingness to partner with the Scheer Conservatives would mean in practice."

rabble reporter Karl Nerenberg is absolutely right. Canadians have a right to know where I stand. If a newly elected caucus of Green MPs were to find ourselves with the balance of responsibility, we would talk with all the other parties. That is the process. But we will never agree to a single confidence vote in favour of a government that is not in lock-step with a commitment to hold to the clear warnings of the global scientific community that we must achieve the Paris target. That target is no more than 1.5 degrees global average temperature increase (above that before the Industrial Revolution). It requires the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels as well as massive reforestation. Small measures, like keeping existing carbon taxes in place, are woefully inadequate.  

It must be noted that Canada's current target was put in place under former prime minister Stephen Harper and is wholly inconsistent with the Paris target. Only the Greens have a plan to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target. None of the others have commitments that come close.

Canadian prime ministers -- even in a minority -- have significant autonomy and power to do huge damage that never requires a vote in parliament. The points made by Nerenberg in arguing that I had somehow missed the inherent dangers of Conservatives in power are exactly the points I made in January 2006 to the NDP telemarketer who caught me at home cooking dinner and tried to convince me to donate. At that time, I was not a member of any party. As executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, I pushed back, expressing my horror at the NDP decision to bring down the minority government of former prime minister Paul Martin. That administration had just brought in a commitment (with all provincial governments buying in) to universal childcare, to the Kelowna Accord with Indigenous nations, and to a real plan for Kyoto (now long forgotten). The telemarketer had pressed on "There's no need to worry about Stephen Harper," he told me. "The most he could get will be a minority." I laid out for that telemarketer all the things a prime minister could do without ever taking them to Parliament, just as Karl Nerenberg did in his article on Monday, July 22. 

Exactly as I had feared, within weeks of becoming prime minister, Harper cancelled our commitment to Kyoto -- without a single debate in Parliament. He cancelled the billions of dollars for climate action announced in the 2005 budget. Just as when Canada is on the right side of history, under Harper, we punched above our weight becoming climate saboteurs. 

We cannot negotiate with the atmosphere. The window on 1.5 degrees is closing. Without a complete shift in direction, we will blow past 1.5 degrees, past two degrees and put ourselves on an irreversible course to the point of no return -- before the next election in 2023. 

What is the "point of no return?" It is going to two degrees and tripping over the red line to unstoppable, self-accelerating, runaway global warming -- in which the worst case scenario is too terrifying to contemplate.  

The stakes are too large for a typical political cop-out. While we have the chance to secure our children's future, Greens will never agree to support any government that fails to address the climate emergency. As we propose in "Mission: Possible, the Green Climate Action Plan," we have to reduce the partisanship, put in place the equivalent of a "war cabinet" and make survival the business of government. 

So "the very best thing" is not propping anyone up. It is serving as prime minister in a nation mobilized and unified to ensure Canada once again punches above our weight and gets us -- humanity -- through the climate emergency to a livable, thriving world grounded in equity and justice.  

Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and its first elected member of Parliament, representing Saanich-Gulf Islands in southern Vancouver Island. Elizabeth is an environmentalist, writer, activist and lawyer, who has a long record as a dedicated advocate -- for social justice, for the environment, for human rights and for pragmatic economic solutions. 

Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook​

 
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[l] at 7/23/19 3:23pm
July 23, 2019 Calgary cityscape. Photo: Wayne S. Grazio/Flickr Calgary opts to cut public services as it subsidizes hockey billionaires Calgary could afford a new arena for the Flames and a decent transit system. But that would mean fair business taxes, among other things.
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[l] at 7/22/19 3:51pm
July 22, 2019 Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm/Flickr Elizabeth May says the Greens could prop up a Conservative government Before voters take her seriously, the Green leader must be frank and clear about what her newfound willingness to partner with the Scheer Conservatives would mean in practice.
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[l] at 7/22/19 3:37pm
Karl Nerenberg Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm/Flickr

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May seems to have shifted from her earlier stated position and now says she could support a Conservative minority government led by Andrew Scheer, if -- and it is a very big if -- it got serious about climate change.

 A July 21 story by Canadian Press reporter Mia Rabson quotes May as saying:

"People change their minds when they see the dynamic of a way a Parliament is assembled and maybe think, 'Killing carbon taxes isn't such a good idea if the only way I get to be prime minister is by keeping them.'"

The chances of Andrew Scheer abandoning his core commitment to scrap the carbon tax might be far-fetched. 

Scheer has stood shoulder to shoulder with four powerful Conservative or Conservative-aligned premiers and solemnly sworn fealty to the anti-environmental resistance. The federal Conservative leader would be taking an enormous risk if he were to cavalierly break that promise. It might be a way to invite a massive rebellion within his own ranks. 

But, for now at least, it is May who is taking the greater risk. 

Those who are considering voting Green in this fall's election should be asking May exactly what her price might be for propping up a Scheer government. 

Would it be sufficient for Scheer to maintain the Trudeau government's carbon tax as is? Is that all it would take for the Conservatives to win Green support?

Could the Greens still support a Scheer government if, for instance, it rolled back the newly enacted and more stringent rules for approving major projects such as pipelines? 

Would May and her party be able to hold their noses if the Conservatives acted on another key pledge: to scrap the current clean fuel standard? 

And what about other Conservative policies, such as imposing tougher restrictions on asylum seekers, or killing the Liberals' fund for local news while radically cutting funding for the CBC? Those are not climate-change related. Would the Greens be comfortable supporting them?

Is Elizabeth May being naive? 

The Green leader told the Canadian Press she hopes for a minority Parliament because it "would be the very best thing;" but she seems a bit naive about how much power a governing party -- even one that only has a minority of seats -- can exercise, in our system, without seeking approval of Parliament. 

When Andrew Scheer's predecessor as Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, governed with a minority from 2006 to 2011, he proved that point. Harper could not get everything through the House that he would have liked to, but he ruled with an iron fist nonetheless. 

The former Conservative prime minister filled thousands of key appointed positions with his ideological soulmates and fellow partisans, and, where the legislative route was closed to him, used the regulatory process (or lack thereof) to enact his vision for Canada.

Those who remember Harper's era might recall his government's ruthless muzzling of scientists and other public servants. The Harper Conservatives even went after public service librarians and picked fights with the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Even though he headed a mere minority government, Harper could surround himself with a powerful coterie of dedicated and personally loyal Conservatives, who applied a narrow and partisan political litmus test to every government decision -- the public service and its so-called experts be damned.

An experienced leader such as Elizabeth May should know that what constitutes a government, in our system, is a lot more than the legislative agenda it submits to Parliament. 

If she and her party were to vote confidence in a Scheer government, they would be giving that government, and that prime minister, carte blanche to take all kinds of crucial decisions over which Parliament would have no say. 

A Canadian PM has even more unrestricted power than a U.S. president

Canada's prime minister gets to make thousands of appointments to boards, regulatory bodies, crown corporations and, of course, the Senate, without Parliament's approval. And every day the federal government makes hundreds of administrative decisions, far from the view of the elected members of Parliament, which can have enormous impact on key areas such as the environment.

Even if a Scheer government were to reluctantly accept currently in place anti-global warming legislative measures, how vigorously would it enforce those measures, in practice? 

The United States has a different system from ours, but the Donald Trump government has provided an excellent role model for a kindred spirit Canadian government that wishes to subvert and undermine an existing environmental framework. Trump has used his executive powers to systematically destroy almost all the environmental rules and regulations of the Obama era -- and many that preceded Obama. 

Canadians should bear in mind that, notwithstanding our parliamentary system, Canadian prime ministers have even more untrammeled power than do U.S. presidents. 

To cite one example only -- Canadian heads of government do not need Parliament's consent for most key appointments they make. It's all up to them and them alone. U.S. presidents, on the other hand, must get their country's Senate to confirm thousands of officials they appoint, from judges to ambassadors to senior public servants. 

And so, voting confidence in Andrew Scheer would mean you were ready to support not only the legislation he might present to Parliament, but the way he would run that vast and powerful entity we call the federal government.

Before voters take her seriously, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May must be frank and clear about what her newfound willingness to partner with the Scheer Conservatives would mean in practice.

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

Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm/Flickr

 
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[l] at 7/22/19 12:02am
David J. Climenhaga Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. Photo: Manitoba Government/Flickr

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau observed back on April 16 that the Ontario provincial government led by Premier Doug Ford was throwing roadblocks in the way of Ontario municipalities accessing federal money for needed transportation infrastructure, Conservatives responded with angry denials, and not just in Ontario.

The prime minister had told a news conference Kitchener, Ontario, that over the previous year Ford's Conservative government hadn't approved a single infrastructure project for which federal funds were available. Trudeau called this an example of Ford's government "letting down Ontarians."

Ontario Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton characterized the PM's comment as "a desperate attempt to change the channel," a phrase that was quickly picked up and repeated by Conservative echo chambers in media and on social media.

But surely this little blip on the political radar, soon forgotten in the news coverage of the Alberta general election results that evening, from which Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party emerged triumphant, seems more credible in light of recent revelations.

I speak, of course, of the news last week that Manitoba's Conservative provincial government has also refused to accept an offer from Ottawa to provide $5 million in federal carbon tax funds to finance green enhancements at elementary and secondary schools. The sum may be small, but, as they say, it's not the lousy five million bucks, it's the principle of the thing.

The offer was part of a broader federal program to use money from Ottawa's carbon tax to upgrade schools in the four Conservative-run provinces that refused to introduce their own carbon-pricing systems and therefore fell under the federal carbon tax legislation, against which Andrew Scheer's federal Conservatives have chosen to campaign.

Manitoba's seldom-seen Conservative Premier, Brian Pallister, dismissed the federal offer as "a hoax," on the grounds "the feds want to have a PR campaign to promote the carbon tax and they're on their own."

While the logic of Pallister's commentary may seem a little strained, as with Ford's policy in Ontario the motive is not difficult to figure out.

As has been said here before, modern Canadian Conservatives don't seem to have many ideas of their own, and take most of their strategies straight out of the Republican Party playbook south of the 49th parallel.

As is well known, in the age of Donald Trump, American Republicans won't do anything that might help their Democratic Party opponents, even if they have to hurt their own constituents to achieve that goal.

Consider the 14 Republican states that refuse to expand the U.S. federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, in large part because they don't want to do anything for which Democrats could take credit, but also because they have a pathological hatred of the former president Barack Obama's policies in general, and his health-care reform in particular.

The growing rural health-care crisis in the United States, New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman wrote in June, "is largely … a direct result of political decisions."

"The simple fact is that the Republicans who run Tennessee and other 'non-expansion' states have chosen to inflict misery on many of their constituents, rural residents in particular," Krugman wrote.

"Rural voters often complain that national elites don't care about their needs," he explained. "Well, one way to make people feel hostile toward those elites is to block their access to federal benefits, and hope they don't realize who's actually causing their misery."

Don't think for a moment the same cynical calculation isn't on Conservative minds in this country, especially with a federal election campaign under way, the economy in pretty good shape, and a Liberal government in Ottawa.

It will be no surprise to see Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan also turn down similar federal offers. As will Jason Kenney's Alberta, one imagines, now that it's in the process of joining the self-styled "resistance" to carbon pricing.

After all, as has been noted here before, carbon taxes are the Obamacare of Canada, an idea invented by the political right, then cynically abandoned and misrepresented when more centrist parties like the Liberals and Alberta's NDP adopted and implemented it.

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

Photo: Manitoba Government/Flickr 

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[l] at 7/19/19 10:16am
July 19, 2019 Economist Jim Stanford. Photo: David J. Climenhaga Canada's fossil fuel industry may soon face the fate of the beaver "Canada is never going to run out of oil, just like we never ran out of beavers." Alas, notes economist Jim Stanford, that doesn't mean there will always be a market for the stuff.
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[l] at 7/18/19 9:32am
July 18, 2019 Alberta Premier Jason Kenney with Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, at cabinet swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Premier of Alberta/Flickr Advice to Kenney's cabinet: curb your enthusiasms, one conspiracy theory at a time If the UCP doubles down and announces another inquiry, this time into foreign pharma funding of propaganda to sell Naloxone kits, we'll know they've gone over the edge.
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[l] at 7/17/19 7:51am
July 17, 2019 Wil C. Fry/Flickr Climate protection is not a partisan issue If we accept the goal of a 45 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, we have to start on it immediately and on an enormous scale. This must be the highest priority for every party.
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[l] at 7/16/19 4:07pm
July 16, 2019 The chuckwagon races at the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" back in the day. Photo: Calgary Stampede Yet another annual message to the Calgary Stampede: don't hurt animals for entertainment This barbaric and pointless activity should be an embarrassment to every Albertan.
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[l] at 7/16/19 12:05am
David J. Climenhaga The chuckwagon races at the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" back in the day. Photo: Calgary Stampede

There will be a "thorough review process surrounding chuckwagon safety" after the deaths of six horses during the 2019 Calgary Stampede, which is now mercifully over.

Oh, please! There will be no meaningful review of the safety of the horses that are abused for fun at the Stampede, just as there will be no meaningful review of the undeniable cruelty to which these animals are subjected.

Pro forma annual claims that "this is as upsetting to us as it is to our community" don't change a thing.

Interviews with professional chuckwagon racers saying how very, very sad they are and what a pal their horses were don't change anything either.

And repeated assurances like this year's pledge "the Stampede's commitment to the safety of animals and the conditions of their participation in our events is paramount to our values and brand integrity" won't change anything at all.

Promises like these don’t change anything because it's plain on the face of it that the only thing the Stampede takes seriously is the bad publicity generated among "bleeding hearts" like me every time a horse has to be put down after a chuckwagon race.

The plain ugly fact is the equine carnage continues year after year at the Calgary Stampede because chuckwagon races are exciting and nobody in Alberta gives much of a hoot.

"The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," they call it, and I guess that's true if you consider pointless cruelty for the sake of entertainment a great show. Horses die virtually every year for the entertainment of the humans who pack the Stampede grounds to witness the thundering excitement of "the chucks," and they're dying in greater numbers than usual this year.

Unlike other rodeo sports, which may be cruel in the sense they're uncomfortable for the dumb beasts involved, chuckwagon races are particularly dangerous for horses because of the nature of the creatures themselves and the tactics used by wagon drivers to cut off competing rigs. The resulting spills are exciting for spectators -- and deadly for horses.

As ever, whenever horses are killed, those who protest this cruelty are sure to be dismissed as sissies and do-gooders. The deaths will be ignored by the Stampede's organizers, and by everyone else in political Alberta. Certainly our new United Conservative Party government will ignore them because they make a cult of trying to look and sound as butch as possible in their Smithbilts, chaps, spurs and Cuban heels. (Just like the NDP did in 2015, come to think of it.)

Me, I'm just sick of it. I'm sick of the learned treatises about how horses love to run and how and if they could talk would surely tell us they’re good with the risk of being whipped around the track for the entertainment of the people of Calgary.

I've got news for you: If Mr. Ed, the talking horse of 1960s TV fame, were still around, he'd tell you he'd rather give the chuckwagon races a miss, this year and every year, thank you very much.

I'm sick of hearing how the Stampede is all about the cowboy's trade and a vital part of our precious western culture, yadda-yadda.

I hope readers will forgive me one more time for the appropriately western metaphor when I say that at least as far as the chuckwagon races are concerned, this is pure bullshit.

You can make a case for calf roping as a worthwhile cowboyin' skill. You can even make a case for riding belligerent broncs, bulls and steers as not being all that dangerous for the beasts, most of the time. You can argue persuasively that both rodeo events emphasize riding and roping skills still vaguely relevant to the Western agricultural sector.

No such case can be made for chuckwagon races.

Racing sandwich trucks and taxicabs around the track through an active pedestrian crossing would have more relevance nowadays to the state of the cattle industry in Calgary -- which hasn't been entitled to call itself Cowtown since the last cattle auction decamped for Strathmore in 1989. (And I was there, buckaroos, covering it for the Calgary Herald.)

What is the relationship between the agricultural industry of 2019 and racing wagons too small to carry sandwiches and coffee pulled by four horses accompanied by mounted outriders around a track, using demolition derby tactics to keep competing rigs from passing?

As I have said time and again in this space, everybody in Alberta knows rodeo activities are cruel to animals, everybody in Alberta knows chuckwagon races are dangerous for horses, and nobody in a position to do anything about it cares enough to bother.

Mostly, we let this go on because we don't care, because we enjoy the spectacle, because there's money to be made doing it -- more than $1.45 million in prizes this year -- or some combination of the three.

The Calgary Stampede ethic emphasizes courage and masculinity. But real men aren't cruel to dumb beasts for no reason but entertainment and money.

This barbaric and pointless activity should be an embarrassment to every Albertan, especially those who think of themselves as a real men.

Will the Stampede's governing board ever man up and do anything about this? Not a chance. I leave it to readers to make of that what they will.

A timely note to readers about the words used above

I admit it, this post is almost word for word the same as the one I published on July 13, 2015, a year in which only four horses died in the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races. Like I said then, it's not plagiarism if you're plagiarizing yourself.

About all I had to do this year was revise the number of equine casualties, note the diminishing size of the prize pot, and change the name of the political party in power that encourages this travesty. Plus update the pious quotes from the Stampede, of course.

Why bother changing anything else? At a time in history when even Catalonia and three Mexican states have banned bullfighting, nothing has changed at the Stampede -- which may not be the Greatest Outdoor Disgrace on Earth, but is certainly in the running -- or ever will without pressure from outside Alberta.

Well, in fairness, some things change. Chuckwagon race prize money this year appears to be down from more than $2 million four years ago. I wouldn't be surprised the declining prize money is an indicator of what consumers are telling companies that sponsor pointless cruelty. Maybe that's a message that should be passed on to this year's sponsor of the event, General Motors Corp.'s GMC truck division.

In addition to the ever-popular suggestion the horses died doing what they loved, the defences trotted out for this annual disgrace keep getting more preposterous. Consider Licia Corbella's column in yesterday's Calgary Herald, which tries to portray criticism of Stampede chuckwagon racing as evidence of "an undercurrent of anti-western sentiment."

She quotes stockbroker J. P. Veitch, the former bull rider nowadays generally known for his supporting role as husband of former Conservative MP and leader Rona Ambrose, saying "the criticism reminds him of the refrains heard about Alberta's energy sector."

In fairness, Mr. Veitch was talking about bull riding, not chuckwagon races. But you wouldn't want to be a horse as lame as this kind of argument. I wonder whatever happened to the spike in the Calgary Herald newsroom we used to use for submissions like this?

Well, this much is true. After 71 years of doing very little to diversify our economy from fossil fuels, Alberta would be in deep trouble if the oilpatch dried up overnight. But ending cruelty to washed-up racehorses sent down to the chuckwagon circuit? I think our economy could stand the blow.

Maybe the hearings by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's House Un-Albertan Affairs Committee into foreign-funded defamation and disinformation will be expanded to include people who think chuckwagon racing is a national embarrassment and cowboy boots make your feet hurt if you're just walking around in them.

What the hell, we might as well be as moronic as possible.

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

Photo: Calgary Stampede 

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[l] at 7/15/19 1:45pm
July 15, 2019 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: Justin Trudeau/Twitter So Justin Trudeau said nothing new, but why did his pipeline presser make Conservatives so angry? Announcements that don't contain much news are absolutely a staple of democratic politics, and Conservatives are masters of the art form.
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[l] at 7/14/19 11:22pm
David J. Climenhaga Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

Conservatives' faux shock at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's relatively news-free pipeline construction announcement in Edmonton last week was a thing to behold.

The tone generally was, "there oughtta be a law," to wit, a law against making announcements when you have nothing to announce. Only with considerably harsher language, of course, because nowadays the Conservative rage machine is, well, fully enraged.

Now, Trudeau may not have had much to announce, and he may have been surrounded by men and a few women in blue boilersuits when he announced it, but two things must be remembered about this in half-hearted defence of the PM:

First, announcements that don't contain much news, and re-announcements of things that have already been announced, are absolutely a staple of democratic politics, employed by all political parties in all democratic jurisdictions.

Second, the Conservative Party of Canada and its provincial farm teams are masters of this political art form, as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his ministers demonstrate regularly in a stream of government news releases that don't contain much news.

Not only that, but using humans as props is standard operating procedure, as Kenney famously illustrated back in his days as federal immigration minister when his department dragooned a dozen professional civil servants into pretending to be new Canadians for a political Kabuki performance put on for the benefit of the Sun News Network.

Say what you will about Trudeau, at least the blue-boilersuited folks standing by supportively Friday in Edmonton were real workers, not, in effect, actors, and unwilling ones at that, as in the case of Kenney's fake citizenship ceremony in 2011. Naturally, Kenney denied that he was responsible for the hoax, blamed his officials and refused to apologize.

Nor were Trudeau's human props actual actors with political science degrees like the once and future roughneck trotted out by one of the multitude of Conservative support groups not so long ago -- although, that's not to say no one in the group with the PM had a university degree, of course.

Meanwhile, as Canadian Conservatives were reacting with weirdly hysterical fury to Trudeau's newser, Kenney was doing essentially the same thing to better reviews from the trained seals in mainstream media.

The same day as Trudeau was in town, Kenney was announcing a meaningless "bold step to increase free trade in Canada" by dropping half of the province's exceptions to the so-called Canadian Free Trade Agreement, a bit of neoliberal inter-provincial folderol cooked up by the usual suspects in 2017.

This was done, I guess, to show that a Conservative federal government would make Canada more prosperous by discouraging provincial public sectors from supporting local businesses. How making sure big corporations in other provinces can shove aside local suppliers is supposed to support hard-pressed regional economies is not entirely clear, despite the market fundamentalist dogma nowadays pretty well universally accepted as gospel among Canadian political parties.

As an aside, it's important to note that most of the exceptions on the list were demanded by Rachel Notley, then the NDP premier of Alberta, to ensure profits from rebuilding Fort McMurray after the devastating fire in 2016 weren't pocketed by companies from outside the community. Many had been recommended to her by then Opposition leader Brian Jean, the Wildrose MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, to protect his community.

So it's interesting that Kenney is willing to toss these useful tools over the side for meaningless symbolism without much thought to future disasters to which his government's climate policies may well contribute.

Regardless, on the list of restrictions "unilaterally" dropped by the United Conservative Government was "procurement of local food under the Supporting Alberta's Local Food Sector Act."

Now, the Supporting Alberta's Local Food Sector Act is a somewhat misnamed bit of NDP legislation passed last year, mainly concerned with ensuring food sold in local markets as organically grown is accurately described as such.

Still, there's something mildly ironic about the idea of unilaterally ensuring that a legislative effort to support local farmers no longer excludes farmers from other provinces!

Lending even more cognitive dissonance to this posturing was the fact, only a week earlier, that Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen was imploring us to "buy Albertan" to save farmers "caught in the crossfire of a bunch of international fights that have nothing to do with them."

"Everyone can do their part and help our farmers by buying Albertan," the MAGA-cap minister pleaded.

I suspect most Albertans will do exactly as Dreeshen's boss is encouraging government officials to do, to wit, look for the best price, regardless of where it comes from.

Of course, a certain amount of policy incoherence from Premier Kenney is not entirely unexpected, as we Albertans are coming to learn.

An appropriate response, however, is one of genial contempt, not the seething fury that greeted Prime Minister Trudeau's newser.

We can only speculate on why this might be, but it suggests that Canada's Conservatives, having talked themselves into the idea they're a deadbolt cinch to win the next federal election, are starting to realize that thanks in part to friends like Kenney and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Andrew Scheer's coronation as prime minister in October may not be the sure thing they'd imagined.

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

Photo: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

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[l] at 7/14/19 9:59pm
Mercedes Allen Screen capture, launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

On July 8, the U.S. State Department announced the launch of a Commission on Unalienable Rights, which is intended to rethink and reshape how human rights laws are applied around the world. This commission was deemed necessary to ensure that "human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes," though in that founding statement, the department failed to explain how this was supposedly happening, or who was said to be hijacking said discourse.

Reporting about this development immediately raised concerns that the commission's mandate could negatively impact and specifically target LGBTQ human rights protections, and there could be dire ramifications for reproductive rights, sex-based rights, and the rights of migrants as well. Although the wording of the announcement is vague to a degree, religious conservatives clearly expect the project "to address concerns about religious freedom and abortion," at the least.

In announcing the Commission, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rationalized that by delineating protected classes in human rights laws, "politicians and bureaucrats... blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments. Unalienable rights are by nature universal. Not everything good, or everything granted by a government, can be a universal right."

This is a common talking point among religious conservatives, who argue that human rights cannot be granted by "politicians and bureaucrats" (i.e. courts and human rights commissions), but by God alone. The given rationale for that thinking is that human rights should be subsumed under "natural law and nature's god." Certainly, when this Commission on Unalienable Rights was first announced at the end of May, the State Department lamented that human rights "discourse has departed from our nation's founding principles of natural law and natural rights" -- although this phrasing proved to be so transparent to media outlets that the word "natural" was absent from this week's launch.

Of course, fixating on nature is a fallacious way of limiting rights to exclude the obvious intended targets. Same-sex coupling occurs in nature. Changing sexes occurs in nature. Reproductive limiting and parental choice occurs in nature (though the means can seem shocking and visceral). Polyamory occurs in nature. What doesn't occur in nature is "one-man-and-one-woman marriage," and life-long monogamous exclusivity is only practiced by three to five per cent of mammals (including humans) and even less so in other species.

But make no mistake: excluding classes of people from human rights law is clearly the intention. Any attempt to more narrowly define whose rights are "unalienable" and therefore legitimate is, by reflection, also an exercise in determining whose rights are illegitimate, and therefore... alienable (perhaps even in the truest meaning of that word.)

While the State Department denied that the Commission would address "policy questions" like abortion rights, they asserted that it would instead "attempt to ground human rights in the founding principles of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'" That said, the Commission's mandate never appeared designed to address specific issues or classes, but rather to create a rationalized hierarchy or criteria through which the exclusion or trumping of disfavoured rights becomes logically inevitable -- which is a bit of semantic sleight-of-hand.

When the Commission on Unalienable Rights was first announced, it was originally to be under the auspices of Princeton professor and co-founder of the National Organization for MarriageRobert George, who reportedly drafted the original concept note and is described by peers as "revitalizing a strain of Catholic natural-law thinking that goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas." Like the word "natural," George is also absent from the launch, but the Commission's roster is so overwhelmingly linked to him that its membership was almost certainly hand-picked by him.

The Commission is chaired by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, the former ambassador to the Vatican and an anti-abortion activist, who served on the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (from 2012 to 2016, with George). She is a board member of the anti-LGBTQ+ funding group, Becket Fund, and is perhaps best known for fighting on behalf of the Holy See to prevent the inclusion of abortion rights at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Glendon has made many troubling statements, such as publicly condemning the Boston Globe's expose on abuse within the Catholic Church, in 1992; referring to marriage equality as a "radical social experiment" and "not a civil rights issue, but a movement for special preference"; complaining that religious freedom is "subordinated to a whole range of other rights, claims and interests"; and calling for a "flexible universalism" in which human rights are not standardized, but contextualized according to (she quotes from the 1993 Vienna Declaration) "national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds."

In her book, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, Glendon clearly sees abortion as an infringement on the rights of the fetus, and no-fault divorce as an infringement on the rights of children. Glendon is also not known for compromise, going as far as rejecting a medal from the University of Notre Dame because that institution also conferred then-President Barack Obama with an honorary degree, despite the fact that he supported abortion access.

For what it's worth, she also a hired Pompeo as a research assistant, when Pompeo studied law at Harvard.

Joining Glendon is a smorgasbord of Robert George-linked and similarly minded academics:

  • Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute who responded to the overturning of sodomy laws by condemning U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy for allegedly failing "to subject the Texas statute prohibiting homosexual sodomy to 'rational scrutiny.'" Berkowitz calls for religious conscience to be "unhampered by government coercion," and has written several other treatises opposed to LGBTQ+ human rights.
  • Paolo Carozza, a Notre Dame law professor and long-time critic of human rights laws who, among other things, advocated for a Vatican-tinged flavour of "human dignity" as a determinate for legitimacy of human rights.
  • Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, an influential American-born convert to Islam and co-founder of Zaytuna College. Yusuf told religion writer Scott Korb that "I don't want to see gay people bashed... But I also don't want it normalized as a healthy thing for a society... I don't want someone to say this is a normal, healthy lifestyle. It's not. It's pathogenic...'"
  • Jacqueline Rivers, a Harvard sociology professor, and co-founder and former executive director of the Witherspoon-sponsored Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies. Rivers is an anti-abortion speaker, and GLAAD also noted that she once "insisted that marriage equality activists are undermining the Black Civil Rights movement [by demanding human rights protections], but comforted the applauding attendees by telling them 'God will not be mocked...'"
  • Rabbi Meir Yaakov Soloveichik, a spiritual leader of Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S. Soloveichik argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to the normalization of bestiality.
  • Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. She has been pointed to as a Democrat involved with the Commission (as though she makes the project bipartisan) -- but Swett is still a "religious freedom" advocate with a Mormon-leaning multi-faith background, who was also on the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, along with Mary Ann Glendon and Robert George -- the latter of whom reassured religious conservatives that "She was the very opposite of a partisan or an ideologue... I did not have a different vision from Katrina, and she didn't have a different vision from me. We were the same."
  • Christopher Tollefsen, a University of South Carolina professor, senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, prolific religious conservative writer, and co-author of the anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research book Embryo (with Robert George). Tollefsen is a devotee of Paul McHugh when it comes to trans issues, and has argued that it is not only not possible to change sex, but also "a mark of a heartless culture" to make surgeries and affirming, non-psychological treatments available to trans individuals.
  • David Tse-Chien Pan (a professor at the University of California at Irvine) and Russell Berman (a Stanford University professor and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute) are less clear, but Pan is a critic of "liberalism" (libertarianism), and Berman (not to be confused with a writer at The Atlantic by the same name) appears to be a critic of Islam, "left-fascism" and "campus anti-Semitism," which may refer to protests in support of Palestinians.
  • Named in only some of the announcements are Kiron Skinner (State Department director of policy planning, who "ignited controversy in May for framing the contentious U.S.-China relationship as 'the first time that we will have a great-power competitor that is not Caucasian'"), and attorney F. Cartwright Weiland (Rapporteur), who was a Council for Life panelist, helped write amicus briefs supporting laws restricting abortion, and is a critic (in an article expounding on board chair Mary Ann Glendon's 1991 writing about Rights Talk) of "identity politics" and LGBTQ+ inclusion in human rights.

It's important to contextualize all of this within the current developments in the United States under the Trump administration. Catholic and Evangelical fundamentalists (who I feel are important to differentiate from other Christians, despite their sadly often successful habit of passing off their political causes as the "Christian" position) are already seeing legal successes in restricting abortion access, and expect an overturn of Roe v. Wade (and perhaps even Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage) by a newly stacked conservative Supreme Court, very soon -- and have been looking for directions to refocus, in order to maintain their momentum, power and following. One of these directions has been to make abortion "unthinkable," while another has been to formalize a means for religious freedom and religious conscience to override LGBTQ+ (and other) human rights protections. A deeply biblical rewriting of human rights law could not only create a license for anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, but also completely undermine reproductive rights and entrench vastly outdated ideas about gender roles, including theological notions like "complementarianism." For example, ThinkProgress recently noted that if a case of the so-called "Billy Graham Rule" (of religious fundamentalist men refusing to meet with women without a chaperone) were to proceed to the rightward-shifting U.S. Supreme Court while using a "religious conscience" argument, it could very well provide the basis for a legalization of sex-based discrimination, at least under specific circumstances.

This Commission is also taking place during a severe, self-inflicted crisis of anti-immigrant policy in the U.S., which has seen detention camps with atrocious conditions rightly criticized and noted for their historical parallels (even if not necessarily identical matches to past atrocities). Religious conservatives have not simply turned a blind eye to these developments, but have actually often collaboratively helped to create rationalizations for these brutal policies (especially when it comes to Muslim migrants). In this context, and under the auspices of a government that has very clearly shown the will to dehumanize migrants and refugees and trample their rights, it is not inconceivable that this Commission is designed to provide a structure by which a lesser human status for migrants is potentially justifiable.

This Commission is also contemporary to Trump's stated intent to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide. This inevitably brought some pushback from his religious base -- but only a little, while other figures took the opportunity to try to appear diplomatic, seeking to realign the centre of the LGBTQ+ rights versus religious freedom (false) dichotomy by "calling for an end to all forms of physical violence against homosexuals -- but [also to] refrain from imposing the values of the sexual revolution on the rest of the world." Although the administration's decriminalization project appears to have been driven more by U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell than by Trump himself, it is also not irreconcilable with a mandate like the Commission's: ending overt criminal prosecution is a far cry from supporting actual human rights protections, which are a far greater level of enfranchised citizenship, and facilitate the ability to participate in society as a whole. The Commission on Unalienable Rights doesn't have to obliterate what it determines are "illegitimate" human rights classes entirely, in order to legalize discrimination against them -- it only needs to create a hierarchy which elevates those rights that it determines are "unalienable."

And finally, this comes at a time when religious fundamentalists have successfully engineered the illusion of several false dichotomies to create the impression that human rights create irreconcilable conflicts: of LGBTQ+ rights versus religious freedom; of personhood rights versus reproductive rights; of trans rights versus sex-based rights; of parents' rights versus children's rights (though this is often treated as though the latter are non-existent); of all human rights classes versus freedom of speech; and more. Of those, personhood rights are based on a faulty premise that an undeveloped fetus that cannot exist on its own is somehow a person, and (for the most part) the remaining dichotomies are only irreconcilable if the party that wishes to do harm to the other inflexibly insists that it cannot compromise under any circumstance whatsoever -- and will do whatever is necessary to frame any particular pressure to do so as persecution.

What all of this points to is a project that appears designed to rethink human rights as a structure in which some humans can be lesser. And this is concerning, if it becomes the template by which the U.S. proceeds to push human rights discussion on the world stage, in the coming years.

If the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is any indication, terms like "natural law" may be stealthily replaced by language that is far more opaque, and carefully designed to appear as though it does not target any specific groups. But in all likelihood, it will nevertheless still prioritize things like religious conscience, "dignity" (redefined as a god-granted status that is infringed upon if we make certain life choices about sexuality, a popular theme in Catholic-based discourse on "natural law"), personhood (a dog whistle that frames the fetus as a person), and (though I have not touched on it here, but it can be seen in the battles over sex education) parents' rights, among other characteristic themes that merit further exploration.

I am sure that we will find out soon enough.

Mercedes Allen is a graphic designer and advocate for transsexual and transgender communities in Alberta. She writes on equality, human rights, LGBT and sexual minority issues in Canada, and the cross-border pollination of far-right spin. This blog also appears on DentedBlueMercedes.

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[l] at 7/12/19 4:05pm
Zaid Noorsumar Locked out janitorial staff. Photo: Zaid Noorsumar

Should a janitor be expected to purchase their own garbage bags if they need more than are provided by their employer? Is it reasonable to ask cleaning staff to use four rags to clean an entire building including washrooms? These are some of the questions being asked by a union representing janitors in Toronto.

Service Employees International Union Local 2 says that working conditions have been deteriorating for the cleaning staff at The Icon condominiums in downtown Toronto since the property management company hired a new contractor last summer. 

The six janitors, all of whom are immigrants and people of colour, have been locked out of their jobs following a breakdown in negotiations with Luciano Janitorial Services. 

Their last contract, which had been negotiated with the previous cleaning company, expired on March 31.

The union has been picketing outside the condo this week and held a rally on Friday, June 11.

Heavy concessions

Jorge Villa, an organizer with SEIU Local 2, says that the contractor has asked for heavy concessions including: reducing two personal days from the current allotment of four; cutting the employer's contribution to the benefits plan (including dental, optical and medical) from 80 per cent to 30 per cent, so that each worker would have to pay an additional $720 per year; and only giving workers a $0.30 hourly increase to $14.80 over three years.

"We successfully negotiated with other contractors in the city," says Villa. 

"And we essentially went to this contractor with the same proposal saying, you know, we expect him to have the same standards as every other employer that has cleaners in Toronto. But this contractor has basically been difficult."

New contractor, lower costs

Luciano took up cleaning operations in the twin condos at 250 and 270 Wellington St. last year. SEIU says that they had better relations with the previous contractor.

Villa believes that the pressure to cut costs is likely coming from Del Property Management which opted for a cheaper cleaning firm.

"It's all an opportunity to cut down costs. And obviously, at the expense of the workers," Villa says. 

"Downtown Toronto is one of the most expensive places in the city and they want to pay peanuts to the people cleaning it."

Both Del and the The Icon's board of directors declined to comment. 

Consequences for workers (and residents)

Joven Velasco, one of the locked-out janitors, says that his workload has increased as at times two cleaners are expected to perform the same work as three workers. 

The provision of cleaning supplies is also an issue, as staff are being forced to limit usage of garbage bags and cleaning rags. The union points out the sanitary risks of recycling supplies.

"[Luciano] says, 'If the garbage bags don't last the whole month, you yourself will have to buy them,'" says Joy Tabap, a union representative.

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.

Photo: Zaid Noorsumar

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[l] at 7/12/19 11:17am
July 12, 2019 Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath. Photo: Ontario NDP/Flickr Where's the urgency in the NDP's politics? Forget the past. What youth are most serious about is the present, in which they're starting to drown. Urgency may be the socialism of today.
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[l] at 7/11/19 9:03am
July 11, 2019 Murray Rankin speaks at 2013 NDP convention in Montreal. Photo: Foreen/Wikimedia Commons NDP remains committed to democratic socialism, despite claims to the contrary A reference to the NDP having removed "socialism" from the preamble to its constitution at the 2013 NDP convention has had surprising longevity -- given that it is not true.
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[l] at 7/10/19 1:47pm
July 10, 2019 Green Party canvasser in B.C. Photo: Vancouver Ghost/Wikimedia Commons Predicting federal election results may be dicey, but discerning the best outcome is not It's possible that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives will win a majority in this election. Many former Liberal supporters may decide to "go Green" instead of voting NDP or Conservative.
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[l] at 7/9/19 1:27pm
July 9, 2019 ibourgeault_tasse/Flickr Passing of Bill 21 is an affront to Canadian pluralism and Quebec values With the passing of Bill 21 into law in Quebec last month, members of several communities are reeling over the decision by the CAQ government to limit freedoms for its citizens.
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[l] at 7/9/19 12:37pm
Zaid Noorsumar Canada Post delivery truck. Photo: Open Grid Scheduler/Flickr

Canada Post spent $21 million to fight pay equity

The Toronto Star reports that Canada Post spent $21 million in legal fees as it resisted attempts to institute pay equity. The company released figures from 1989 to 2013, as the matter went all the way to the Supreme Court. However, Canada Post said it didn't have records going back to 1983 when the complaint was initially filed by the workers.

No more incentives for workers dealing with Phoenix payment fiasco 

The federal government has not renewed an incentive package for workers who have been addressing the Phoenix payment fiasco. The package for compensation advisors had been instituted in August 2017 and expired last month as they worked towards reducing a massive backlog in payments to federal employees.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada criticized the government for letting the agreement lapse, warning that the move will once again increase the backlog.

Over 400,000 jobs created in the last 12 months

The new labour force survey reveals that Canada lost 2,200 jobs last month. However, 421,000 have been added to the economy in the past year. Average wages for permanent employees also rose by 3.6 per cent relative to last June.

Although the unemployment rate rose by 0.1 per cent to 5.5 per cent, the survey attributed that to more people seeking work.

About 3,000 forestry workers go on strike in British Columbia

Workers voted nearly unanimously in favour of a strike as negotiations failed between United Steelworkers and Western Forest Products Inc. The union says that the employer is asking for "massive concessions," according to the CBC.

Ontario union raises issue of unregistered electrical workers after workplace death

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) -- Construction Council of Ontario attributes a recent death of an electrical worker in downtown Toronto to companies saving costs by not registering workers, according to a Global News report.

Construction workers talk health and safety in Newfoundland

Nearly 4,000 construction workers participated in Construction Safety Stand-Down, organized by the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association. 

Two workers have died in the industry in the past 18 months in addition to 300 injuries, according to the CBC.

Read more: Workplace deaths in Canada vastly greater than recorded by official stats

Mexican "temporary" farm worker dies in Ontario town

An agricultural worker died in Leamington, Ont., although the employer says his death wasn't work-related. The man was in his 20s and considered a "temporary" worker despite working for over two years.

82 per cent of BC Ferries workers have been abused by passengers

The majority of BC Ferries workers face abuse on the job from passengers including physical threats and harassment, according to their union. The BC Ferry and Marine Workers' Union (BCFMWU) has launched a public campaign and is calling on the employer to institute a zero tolerance policy.

Hundreds protest legislative assault on public sector workers in Alberta

Hundreds of people turned up to protest outside a Calgary hospital on Wednesday, in response to Bill 9. The proposed legislation will delay wage negotiations and arbitration for 180,000 public sector workers including teachers and nurses.

CLC disciplines union for raiding CUPE

The Canadian Labour Congress has found a union guilty of raiding as it attempted to recruit CUPE members in New Brunswick.

The Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers faces sanctions from CLC for its quest to sign up licensed practical nurses who are currently represented by CUPE.

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.

Photo: Open Grid Scheduler/Flickr

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[l] at 7/9/19 12:22am
David J. Climenhaga Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at provincial legislature. Photo: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Government/Flickr

Here are three predictions about Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's inquiry into that "foreign-funded defamation campaign" against Alberta's fossil fuel industry.

  1. It will be a gong show.
  2. It will cost far more than $2.5 million.
  3. It will end up harming the industry, and Alberta.

The roots of this likely debacle are found in the Public Inquiries Act, an overreaching and authoritarian piece of Lougheed-era legislation that is vulnerable to challenges under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which postdates it by a couple of years.

With the caveat that your blogger is not a lawyer, it seems obvious that the act's sweeping overreach extends to denying witnesses at the whim of the commissioner -- who can be anyone, even a partisan hack -- protections they would have in a court of law.

Health information, sexual preference, secrets divulged to a spouse, a priest, or a physician, or information protected by the privacy statutes of Alberta and Canada would all appear to be fair game under this legislation.

A reader might reasonably ask: then why hasn't it been challenged already? The answer is likely that there aren't many inquiries, and those that have been conducted hitherto under this law have not been intended as witch hunts with a political agenda driven by revenge. But that was then, this is now, and the United Conservative Party is in power, so challenges are likely.

Even a politically motivated inquiry conducted by a retired judge, as alert readers of this blog will recall, ended up being pretty much a fiasco.

Moreover, since Kenney has made it clear in his own speechifying and social media posts that he intends to use the work of the inquiry to criminalize free speech and free association guaranteed by the charter, that opens new avenues of appeal should victims of the planned inquisition choose to take them.

Then there is the question of whether the entire inquiry is an exercise in bad faith conceived to allow the premier to exercise what he has called his "bully pulpit." As Justice Ivan Rand of the Supreme Court of Canada famously wrote in 1959, "there is always a perspective within which a statute is intended to operate; and any clear departure from its lines or objects is just as objectionable as fraud or corruption." (Emphasis added.)

In the case of the Public Inquiries Act, whatever it was drafted to achieve, it certainly wasn't to enable a witch trial based on a half-baked conspiracy theory, nor was it intended to enable any premier to exercise open malice against the environmental movement.

Will the Kenney government's inevitable, and inevitably time-consuming, defences of its conduct in the face of charter challenges be included in the inquiry's supposed $2.5-million budget? They certainly will be part of the true cost, no matter how they are accounted for.

When Premier Lougheed's boys sat down to draft this law, however, they added a bit of democratic window dressing in Section 12, which says parties defamed or put at risk of legal action have the right to cross-examine witnesses, either by themselves or through their legal counsel.

Of course, given the temper of the times, the drafters of the law also gave the commissioner the ability to yank the right to cross-examine away from witnesses, but that in turn presents additional problems for this particular inquiry and the government that has implemented it.

To refuse the right to cross-examine exposes the inquiry as a fraud. Moreover, it invites a witness from a target organization to seek an injunction to halt the inquiry on the basis it will cause irreparable harm while a charter challenge proceeds. Successful or not, that means the meter is going to be running, o taxpayers.

Needless to say, many of the environmental non-governmental organizations that are the intended targets of this inquisition will be ready to exploit this, extending the inquiry's time frame, raising its cost substantially, and publicly shredding the credibility of some of the government's prosecutorial witnesses.

I imagine we shall see performances so theatrical they are worthy of Milo Rau, the Swiss-German playwright-director who has based a career on deconstructing foreign legal travesties and tweaking the noses of dictators. (Even Vladimir Putin failed to stop him!)

It would be very hard for the commissioner, who is an accountant and civic public relations official, to keep this under control.

Moreover, unless the government can find a Court of Queen's Bench judge willing to take part in such a charade (always possible, I suppose) it would appear that the inquiry has no power to hold anyone in contempt for, say, refusing to answer a question on the grounds it violates privacy law.

In addition, the inquiry has no authority outside Alberta, so anyone not from here who is disinclined to waste their time can just ignore it. However, I imagine most ENGO's won't want to squander the opportunity afforded by this soapbox.

More opportunities for drama and legal recourse will arise as the real litigators get their sharp teeth into this matter, of course, as doubtless is already happening.

But the foundation of a legal gong show at a dramatically higher cost, however it is accounted for, has already been built.

As for the damage to Alberta and its industry, I would think a travesty of justice and process as this is obviously intended to be would stiffen the spines and open the pocketbooks of opponents of oilsands development around the world, perhaps turning Kenney's hitherto largely unfounded conspiracy theory into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you're a defender of the Alberta oil patch, no good can come from that.

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

Photo: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Government/Flickr

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[l] at 7/8/19 10:20am
July 8, 2019 Former prime minister Stephen Harper, whose 2008 bitumen export plan sounded suspiciously like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's now-reviled version. Image: Wikimedia Commons Stephen Harper's proposed restrictions on bitumen exports caused no uproar. So why the fury at Justin Trudeau? The principal thing that is different at this moment is simply this: there's a Liberal government in Ottawa.
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[l] at 7/5/19 3:07pm
July 5, 2019 New citizens in Prince George take the Canadian oath of citizenship. Photo: Province of British Columbia/Flickr Survey on Canadian attitudes towards immigration riddled with flaws This week, CBC News released the results of their pre-election online survey. It gives an inaccurate and highly problematic picture of public opinion on Canadian immigration.
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[l] at 7/4/19 9:47am
US Politics World U.S. President Donald Trump addresses military personnel and their families Sunday, June 30, 2019, at Osan Air Base, Korea. Photo: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr

"Axis of Evil" first appeared in former President George W. Bush's State of the Union address in January 2002, describing Iraq, Iran and North Korea months after the September 11 attacks. Fourteen months after the speech, the United States invaded Iraq. The U.S. remains at war there 16 years later.

Now, U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening Iran with "obliteration" while he visits and showers praise on North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. Why the different treatment of these two remaining countries in the "Axis of Evil"? It's simple: North Korea has an estimated 20 to 60 nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them, and Iran lacks nuclear weapons. The lesson is painfully clear: to avoid a devastating war with the United States, develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Despite what many Trump critics are saying, including many of the Democratic presidential contenders, Trump's brief meeting last week with the North Korean dictator was a good thing. Diplomacy is better than war. A war with North Korea would be catastrophic. Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which works globally to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, told CNN in 2017: "You strike North Korea, they are going to strike back, and they have a devastating conventional arsenal built up on the border that could lay waste to Seoul. … Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would die in the first few hours of combat -- from artillery, from rockets, from short-range missiles -- and if this war would escalate to the nuclear level, then you are looking at tens of millions of casualties."

Those are just the predicted deaths in South Korea. Add potential nuclear strikes on Japan, Hawaii and possibly the U.S. mainland, and the casualty figures become unimaginable. 

We should be grateful that Trump is pursuing negotiations with North Korea. We should congratulate him on becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea last week.

One opponent of such dialogue is Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton. While Trump was in the Koreas last week, Bolton was dispatched far away, to Mongolia. After The New York Times reported that Trump was considering accepting a North Korean nuclear freeze, as opposed to complete denuclearization, Bolton tweeted, "Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to 'settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.'"

Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are also widely believed to favour a military conflict with Iran. Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. spy drone recently, alleging it had entered Iranian airspace. Trump ordered a military strike in retaliation, then called it off at the last minute.

Trump should be condemned for launching the attack, but applauded for aborting it. War with Iran would be incredibly destructive on all sides, and would likely spread throughout the Middle East. If it were to happen, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns, Trump could very likely order the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.

In the midst of this geopolitical tinderbox, the Trump administration is attempting to deliver nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, a key antagonist of Iran. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not ruled out using the nuclear power plants he hopes to buy to develop nuclear weapons.

Bipartisan congressional opposition to the Saudi nuclear deal is growing, not only due to the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, but also because of Saudi Arabia's relentless bombing of Yemen, causing the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and its brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. California Democratic Congressmember Brad Sherman told Arms Control Today, "If there's a government that you can't trust with a bone saw, you shouldn't trust it with nuclear weapons." 

Another concern in Congress is the potential conflict of interest of Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner's family business received a massive bailout last year from a hedge fund called Brookfield Asset Management (BAM). BAM also owns Westinghouse Electric, which would profit from nuclear plant sales to Saudi Arabia. Kushner's strong personal relationship with the Saudi crown prince is well known.

With the United States openly gearing up for war with Iran, while actively seeking to empower Saudi Arabia with the technology it needs to develop its own nuclear weapons, is it any wonder that Iran has just announced it will begin amassing and enriching uranium again? Iran had been adhering to the terms of its multilateral nuclear deal, even after Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement. 

President Trump is forcing Iran to follow the route taken by North Korea: build a deterrent nuclear arsenal or be destroyed. We need a grassroots, global response to stop this new nuclear arms race before it goes any further.

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!

Photo: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr

Donald Trump Iran North Korea nuclear weapons Amy Goodman Denis Moynihan July 4, 2019 U.S. rejection of war would be fitting tribute to Jamal Khashoggi The murder of Jamal Khashoggi may sway enough Republican senators to join Democrats in voting to block further U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's destruction of Yemen, and to suspend arms sales. Why aren't we hearing about the growing threat of nuclear war? Unlike the climate change battle, where a worldwide movement is managing to push the issue onto the political agenda, the fight to rid the world of nuclear weapons has become regarded as hopeless. Donald Trump is the biggest threat to U.S. national security As Trump campaigns around the country, he gins up fears of foreign enemies attacking the U.S. But he has shown that the greatest threat to U.S. national security is Trump himself.
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[l] at 7/4/19 9:36am
July 4, 2019 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a federal pollution pricing system. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO Trudeau's climate plan is a dangerous fraud Justin Trudeau's climate package gives us a false sense that we can dramatically increase output from Alberta's tar sands without seriously imperiling the world, and ourselves.
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[l] at 7/4/19 9:32am
Zaid Noorsumar kai kalhh/Pixabay

The Canadian Green New Deal movement is picking up steam, as prominent activists join forces with over 80 organizations to demand radical change.

On June 11, Indigenous lawyer Pam Palmater and journalist Naomi Klein were two of the speakers at a Green New Deal town hall in Toronto. More town halls are planned in the next few weeks, with an open invitation to organize events to anyone committed to building the movement. 

Modeled after the demand for a Green New Deal in the U.S., the Canadian version aims to build a mass movement that can pressure government to take bold actions. 

Instead of implementing temperate solutions such as the carbon tax, the Canadian Green New Deal calls for an economy that redistributes wealth and resources to benefit the vast majority of the population while drastically reducing emissions.

That translates into transformative action on "systems of transit, energy, housing, agriculture, and public services" as well as addressing migrant justice.

"The migrant labour piece needs to be central in that," says Karen Cocq, an organizer with the labour-advocacy group Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Alongside multiple unions such as CUPE, the Green New Deal coalition includes labour advocacy groups including Migrant Rights Alliance for Change

Cocq emphasizes solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Canada and abroad who have been displaced due to corporate extractivism, leading to disruption and forced migration.

Migration due to environmental factors

According to the United Nations, the degradation of the environment plus the effects of climate change are key drivers of migration (along with violent conflicts). 

Between 2008 and 2016, alone, more than 227 million people across the world were displaced due to extreme weather events. 

According to the United Nations, forecasts on "environmental migrants" vary between 25 million and one billion people"by 2050.

Cocq says that environmental issues are inextricably bound with other crises of capitalism, and require comprehensive solutions that fundamentally change our society.

"The climate crisis is created by an economic system that prioritizes profit-making, and commodification of natural resources," she says.

For the benefit of a tiny elite, the same system uproots Indigenous populations, exploits workers and creates massive wealth disparities, she adds.

Canada's role in overseas conflict and environmental degradation

Over 50 per cent of publicly listed mining companies across the world are headquartered in Canada.

However, the interests of Canadian mining companies overseas -- supported by the federal government -- have been linked to environmental damage and human rights abuses including murder and sexual violence

York University's Osgoode Hall Law School released a report in 2016 linking 28 Canadian mining companies to 44 killings and hundreds of injuries in Latin America from 2000-2015. 

Canada's involvement in Honduras is a particularly chilling example. Canadian mining companies profited off the 2009 military coup, which overthrew a democratically elected government that had placed a moratorium on new mining projects.

The coup -- tacitly endorsed by Canada -- was followed by brutal repression, as civil society and activists resisted the "open for business" policies. 

The ensuing violence resulted in displacement of people who have sought migration to safer countries like the U.S. and Canada (and faced vilification in the process).

From mining interests overseas to extracting tar sands at home, Cocq sees the Canadian state as a facilitator of corporate profiteering that disrupts Indigenous populations and pollutes the environment.

"The Canadian government enables that because they are constantly seeking to appease the interests of our industry," she says.

Justice for migrants

Cocq says that capitalism's exploitation of labour particularly targets immigrants including so-called migrant workers.

"The immigration system in Canada is designed to produce workers that don't have access to the same rights and the same equality as other workers," she says, referring to the multiple immigrant streams that create arbitrary distinctions.

While "skilled workers" are granted permanent resident status on arrival, care workers and farm workers' temporary status deny them basic rights such as labour law protections, health care and the ability to change employers,. 

"The role of immigration and migrant work as a tool for exploiting labor for the benefit of a few at the expense of the many is really central to that economic model," Cocq says.

A radical Green New Deal

The Canadian Green New Deal is premised on the requirement of "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society," as warned by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

In other words, there is no choice but to take bold action -- and to transform the way the Canadian government functions.

"We need to be cutting emissions drastically, and transitioning away from the fossil fuel economy," Cocq says. "And the Canadian government is doing the opposite, and Canadian industry is a large part of the reason why."

"Because [capitalism] is a highly exploitative system, that is a fundamental part of what is driving this problem to begin with. And so if we aren't appropriately addressing the exploitation of migrants, we are never really going to get to the heart of [the problem]."

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: kai kalhh/Pixabay

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[l] at 7/3/19 11:28am
July 3, 2019 Fabrice Florin/Flickr We can resolve the climate crisis If we understand the problem and its urgency -- and mountains of scientific evidence amassed from around the world over decades confirms we do -- and we have solutions, why are we so slow to act?
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[l] at 7/2/19 12:37pm
July 2, 2019 Pencil on paper. Image: madca7/Wikimedia Commons Cartoonist fired after Trump cartoon goes viral De Adder's June 26 cartoon was inspired by the shocking photograph of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, who died attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico.
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[l] at 7/2/19 8:37am
OpenMedia

British Columbians (and people across Canada) have been price gouged and misled by cell phone providers for far too long. We continue to pay some of the highest prices for cell phone bills in the industrialized world, and Big Telecom's misleading and aggressive sales tactics make the headlines on a regular basis.

Back in 2013, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) passed the Wireless Code of Conduct in order to help protect customers from Big Telecom's predatory practices and provide more clarity around cell phone contracts. However, its weak enforcement mechanisms and loopholes have left the door open for abuse on behalf of Big Telecom -- ranging from surprising customers with cell phone bills in the thousands of dollars to continuing to charge customers for device subsidies long after the device has been paid off.

Fortunately for British Columbians, the provincial government recently announced a plan to improve cell phone customer protections and launched a survey to gather people's experiences with their cell phone providers. The survey is open until July 5.

This rare opportunity has great potential to result in groundbreaking provincial-level legislation that complements the federal Wireless Code of Conduct and introduce stronger enforcement mechanisms and penalties, so that Big Telecom can't get their way.

But in order to make this groundbreaking change happen we need British Columbians to speak out and make the government feel the pressure. So OpenMedia has launched a petition detailing specific asks to strengthen cell phone customer protections at the provincial level and ensure that British Columbians get a better deal when signing up for a cell phone plan.

OpenMedia has also been invited to meet in person with the B.C. government to present our views. We will be using this opportunity to deliver the aforementioned petition and bring our community's voices straight to key decision makers.

Provincial legislation to protect wireless customers isn't a novelty -- Quebec, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia, have passed laws to better protect their constituents and close some of the loopholes found at a federal level in the Wireless Code.

Ontario had them too through the Wireless Services Agreements Act until Doug Ford's government scrapped it with the passage of the unpopular Bill 66.

Now, it's B.C.'s turn to step up and pass the strongest provincial legislation to protect cell phone users yet.

If you are reading this article and live in British Columbia I encourage you to sign and share OpenMedia's petition as well as take five minutes out of your day to complete the government's cell phone survey. Together we can demand and attain a better deal for B.C.!

Marie Aspiazu is a Campaigner and Communications Specialist at OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. Digital Freedom Update is a monthly column from OpenMedia looking at digital policy issues, including free expression, access to the Internet, and online privacy.

Digital Freedom Update CELL PHONES big telecom BC Digital Freedom Update Marie Aspiazu July 2, 2019 Why is CRTC chair repeating Big Telecom's talking points against net neutrality? If Canada is to remain at the forefront of innovation and freedom, we need a robust net neutrality framework that doesn't benefit those with deep pockets and vested interests. The Big Three's 'low cost' data plans are a bad joke Big Telecom's proposed low data plans are a slap in the face. If the CRTC thinks that this is the solution to wireless affordability that Canada is hungry for, it has clearly not been listening. It's time to bring Canada's wireless market out of the Stone Age -- here's how Why are we stuck paying sky-rocketing bills while Big Telecom's narrative is all about increased investment and providing quality service?
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[l] at 6/30/19 4:27pm
Raluca Bejan Screenshot of web search for the word "whiteness"

Whiteness is a hot topic nowadays. From BuzzFeed to the New York Times, there seems to be a never-ending fascination with discussing privileged societal positions derived from skin colour appurtenance, seen, in return, to universally cut across all imaginable distributive axes of allocating group advantages and disadvantages.

Yet talking about whiteness mainly benefits those doing the talking. Careers are created, such as the one of Robin J. DiAngelo, whose bestseller book on White Fragility aims to show that a white woman can explain to other whites what they "don't get about whiteness and race"; status positions are continually juggled, as shown by many examples of racialized, tenured academics, who fail to see the contradiction between cashing in sunshine list salaries while simultaneously playing the subaltern card (although their class status offsets the adjacent material effects of such racialized positioning); and new markets unendingly affixed, to broadly disseminate the white privilege epistemological rhetoric that sustains the aforementioned salaries, positions, and tenured carriers.

Such is the case with the recent "Historicizing Whiteness in Eastern Europe" conference. The event, organized by a group of British academics, unfolded last week, on June 25 and 26 in Bucharest, Romania. Eastern Europe seems a ripe cultural market for the introduction of the Anglo-American analytical concepts of whiteness and race. The communist modernity of the former Eastern Bloc saw itself in non-racial terms. In the Soviet rhetoric, the term "identity" -- marked as "face" (litso) -- was conceptually entrenched with the markers of class (klassovoe) and political identity (politicheskoe) and not necessarily with race per se, which was considered a concept specific to the West. But now, after the Berlin Wall fell and the post-communist word moved towards the capitalist West, the import of such taxonomies, formed by the Anglo-American word, is no longer deemed flawed.

The main message spread at the conference was that the whiteness-race dialectic has been existent in the region yet hidden from ongoing analyses about racialized subjects. Papers ranged from simplistic accounts on the subject matter (i.e., the Roma are racialized; the Albanians are white), to conceptual incongruences, such as defining whiteness by providing a descriptive characterization of race, or defining it simply as a phenotypical possession (i.e, skin colour), hence a proxy for possessing privileges, to much more complicated chronological accounts with historicized racial formations from Carl Brigham's times. Most of these conceptual accounts were positioned within the Anglo-American analytical paradigm of defining whiteness. There was little engagement, however, with problematizing the taxonomic system that produces definitions of racial formation and, through these definitions, the very same system of racial differentiation.

Two contentious points come into mind.

First, the presumption that there is a universal, global process of racial formation, whereas whiteness is seen to retain an ontological sameness, unanimously manifested across various geopolitical spaces and national referential frames, is historically and conceptually flawed. From a historical perspective, it is important to note that racial taxonomies as well as the societal understanding of what constitutes whiteness, and respectively race, changed throughout time. If Carl Brigham and William Ripley secured their Princeton and respectively Harvard professorships by writing about whiteness and race as expressed by blood or one's shape of the head, our current understandings of the terms (i.e., as phenotypically embodied by one's skin colour), trickled down in the 1940s, from the anthropology field. In writing from an anti-racist standpoint and against the racialization of the Jews, anthropologist Franz Boas made it unquestionable that three major races, White, Asian, and Black, corresponding to the Caucasian race, the Mongoloid race and the Negroid race, would suffice in explaining what identity is all about. Recent taxonomic examples, however, show us that current racial classifications cannot capture this presumed homogeneity of racial identity. Let us look at national official counts, for example.

 The U.S. Census, which generally records three "official" races and an added Native category, classifies the Iranian nationality under the white taxonomy. Systems of classification do matter in the allocation of societal rights. If Iranians, are white, for example, and privileged by inference, Iranian subjects will have no access to affirmative action efforts within the nation. It is absurd to equate an Iranian-born person with a born-American in terms of privileges, only because their skin colour is white.

The official categorization in Canada is a little bit more differentiated as it separates, for example, the Chinese and the Filipinos subjects from within the "Asian" category, yet it still homogenizes the Black classification. Clearly there is a great societal difference between being Black in the U.S. and being Black in Somalia or Kenya, for that matter, or between a Black Ethiopian and a Black Eritrean, given these two countries were engaged in a border-related war.

Within the U.K. Census, the taxonomy of whiteness is much more malleable. The Office of National Statics provides the option to check mark one out of four different types of white identity: Welsh/English/Scottish/Northern Irish/British; Irish; Gypsy or Irish Traveller; and "any other White background." Beyond problematizations of who fits under the Gypsy label or the White-other label, what these official systems of classification bring to light is the impossibility of capturing racial identitarianism. If race and whiteness would be ontologically homogenous, national offices of counting subjects would not have heterogeneous ways of categorizing racial identity.

Second, the taxonomies of whiteness and race, whereas whiteness got defined itself relationally, in comparison with, and by negating Blackness (and more broadly race), have been historically placed in a dialectical relation through North American colonialism and settlers' involvement with African slavery. Such processes of racial formation did not follow the same historical path in peripheral Europe. The colonial expansion in North America was primarily British and not essentially European, despite the common academic jargon that synonymizes Europeaness with colonialism and whiteness. There are 49 nations in Europe but the states actively involved in colonizing represented about 14 per cent of all European countries (i.e., Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain), while five of these nations, Spain, Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands, carried out the colonial expansion of the Americas. At the same time, the "degenerate" whites in Europe were also colonized; by the Tsarists, the Habsburgs, or the Ottomans, just to pencil in some examples.

It is far stretched to infer that eastern Europe is similarly invested in the same processes of global racial formations, where the "global" is seen to unilaterally refer to the aforementioned First World-Third World form of colonialism, although different racial histories have unfolded in the region. A comparable conceptual symmetry simply does not hold. Categories exist as analytical tools for understanding the world. But these tools have not been created in an epistemological vacuum. They have certain histories attached to them; histories that bestowed them with the conceptual adequacy of having been used as explanatory in particular points in time. That is not to say that race is inexistent or irrelevant in eastern Europe. But rather to argue that analyses of racial formation in peripheral Europe should start from the creation of a localized genealogy of race in lieu of importing, and subsequently applying, a pre-determined, Anglo-American system of classifying the world.

Raluca Bejan is an Assistant Professor at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, where she teaches courses in social policy and social movements.

Help make rabble sustainable. Please consider supporting our work with a monthly donation. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

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[l] at 6/28/19 8:22am
June 28, 2019 Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr Despite government reset, Ford's main problem remains That timeworn joke about shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic certainly applied this month when Ontario Premier Doug Ford kicked his A-team ministers below deck and into lesser cabinet positions.
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[l] at 6/28/19 4:47am
Marc Belanger Derek Blackadder RadioLabour ILO Convention C-190 adopted.Image: International Labour Organization. Used with permission. June 28, 2019 Labour Politics in Canada World

THE UN's International Labour Organization has approved a new international convention to help stop violence and harassment in the workplace. The worker negotiator in the talks was CLC Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker.

Also in RadioLabour's Canada report June 28 to July 5, 2019:

  • The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is fighting the Ford government's drastic cuts to education in the province.
  • The LabourStart report about union events in Canada and around the world.
  • And singing: "We Shall Not Be Moved" by Streat Dreama and OBU. Produced by the United Food and Commericial Workers' Union. Used with permission.

Image: International Labour Organization. Used with permission.

ILO CLC sexual harassment workplace violence education cuts Ontario Politics
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[l] at 6/27/19 1:33pm
Politics in Canada Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

That timeworn joke about shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic certainly applied this month when Ontario Premier Doug Ford kicked his A-team ministers below deck and into lesser cabinet positions.

It was not unexpected.

That's because the Conservative government had spent its first year bumbling, fumbling and stumbling through one PR disaster after another, axing critical services including health care and education and even support for autistic children.

Ford's front bench never failed to back him up, with standing ovations at Queen's Park. That earned them the deserved and derisive epithet "clapping seals" because they were so clearly command performances.

What's more, the ministers loyally ventured out into their ridings, tweeting formulaic selfies as they pumped gas into their cars to complain about Ottawa's carbon tax,  or stood in front of convenience stores promising more choice and cheaper beer, or donned Tory blue T-shirts as they raved about the attendance at the premier's freebie Ford Fest.

While they dutifully faced the news media delivering the bad news about public library services, regressive sex education and cuts to student loan programs, der leader skipped from banquet to bun toss delivering more unfulfilled promises of a buck-a-beer and cheaper prices at the pump.

For the people, my friends.

Suckers.

Now we know, of course, that Ford's recently departed chief of staff, his former leadership helmsman and likely puppet master, Dean French, was in the background, overseeing the laying waste of Ontario.

French, as it turned out, was stacking the deck with friends and relatives in government sinecures, reviving foreign positions which included six-figure salaries, expenses, and, presumably, staff, residences and considerations for immediate family. Now these and perhaps other appointments are supposedly under review but journalists seem to be uncovering them faster than Ford's office.

It should come as no surprise that Ford is so inept as premier. His one term as a Toronto city councilor was a disaster. His subsequent run for mayor a failure. He barely won the Conservative leadership.

And he apparently skipped his high school civics class.  Two months into his term at the party's helm, he slammed a reporter who asked if he knew how a bill was passed by angrily dismissing it as "a gotcha question," adding that his government would "pass endless bills."

Then, after winning a majority government, he wasted no time clearing out the hated Liberals from Queen's Park and charged into governing with no transition period and no opportunity for his caucus to learn the ropes.

It was full steam ahead: "endless bills" with virtually no time for debate and discussion. He handed the hinterland to developers. He repeatedly attacked Toronto with cuts to its city council, public health-care budget and its transit system. He eliminated alternative energy programs, killed the minimum wage increase, took away funds for much-needed school repairs … well, the list does go on, and on.

But somehow Ford himself was rarely around to answer for his government's actions. His appearances were carefully stage-managed and he often skipped question period. He had his taxpayer-funded video "network," Ontario News Now, to capture him in the most flattering settings, without pesky questions from actual reporters.

Ford left his wrecking crew of senior ministers, who, unlike him, have years of political experience, to swab the deck he dirtied with his directives probably driven by French. But cleaning up after Ford would prove to be impossible, which is why the premier claimed that the now-demoted cabinet ministers had "communication" problems.

This apparent self-delusion is probably why he seemed so stunned to be booed at public appearances, most notably at the huge welcome reception for the victorious Toronto Raptors.

He really has never had to face his critics. Anyway, in his mind, they are all downtown Toronto latte-sipping elites, not "the people" he thinks are his "friends."

No wonder he avoided Toronto's big Pride weekend, which, conveniently, coincided with his Ford Fest. Of course, there are questions about how much taxpayer money went into that, with its beefed-up police presence, caucus T-shirts and Twitter templates.

(Speaking of which, why hasn't Ford denounced the violent attacks by helmeted far-right squads on Pride participants in both Toronto and Hamilton?)

Now Ford has until after the fall federal election to get his B-team up to speed; to lie low and not blow it for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer; and, to flip burgers at every fundraising barbecue in the province.

He may think he will have reset, refreshed and regrouped his government by the time Canadians go to the polls but his main problem remains.

Himself.

He is the iceberg that his government struck.

He should have gone down with his ship.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

Doug Ford Ontario Politics Antonia Zerbisias Broadsides June 28, 2019 Doug Ford's sinking numbers are weighing down the federal Conservatives Andrew Scheer is caught in a whirlpool between Trudeau, Ford and now even Bernier -- which has him spinning in all directions. Fickle Ontario could be key to the federal election A deeply unpopular provincial regime can harm the prospects of its federal counterpart, a clear and present danger for Andrew Scheer. Ford fakes deficit concerns to justify brutal spending cuts Doug Ford's measures -- despite his claim to be acting "for the people" -- redirect resources from ordinary people to corporations and the rich.

As of 8/23/19 3:40pm. Last new 8/22/19 12:09pm.

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