Thursday, April 26, 2012

To what possible end with ...

... the "human life" thing?

Yes, I'm pro-life.   Yes, I have argued here in the past there is a need to open up a debate -- not necessarily on banning the abortion procedure but how far along a pregnancy is before restrictions ought to begin, as well as to have enhanced criminal penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman (which is now the law in the case of the latter).

But a private member's motion to strike up a committee on when a human life begins?   It is my opinion that this is not coming entirely from the mind of the MP in question,  although he readily admitted he wants to have an "honest discussion" about abortion.   Even more amazing, there'll be a second round of discussion on the floor of the House in June!   To the credit of PMS, he said now's not the time to reopen the hornet's nest (although he claims his hands were tied on the tabling of the motion, saying an all-party committee randomly chose which private motions would come up for debate during this session) and he'll be voting against.

That's all well and good.  But it all goes to what is sinister about social conservatism as opposed to conservatism of the progressive kind.    Here's what gets my goat:

  1. Most of those of the political class who oppose abortion also oppose any alternatives for women in crisis.   Specifically they oppose any increased social supports to make up for the fact a child is being carried to term.   In fact, they already oppose taking away the social supports that currently exist -- including federal and provincial entitlement payments.   This is beyond comprehension.   I'm not the first to say this, but I have said it before and I'll say it again -- it's not enough to talk about family values, we need to value families.
  2. As well, it makes one wonder who the "socons" are appealing to -- is it their constituents (or the ones they prefer to hear from, to be more precise) -- or is it that brand of Christianity that wants to roll back the clock on women's rights, desegregation, fair labour laws and the like?   It's not just the Canadian televangelists (many of whom are even worse than their American cousins in terms of financial hypocrisy); I've been in a few churches as of late where pastors have attitudes out of the paleolithic age.   And I'm talking mega-churches in big cities with a large labour union history which goes to show how narrow minded some of the "little people" can be at times -- whether by choice (pardon the expression) or by being brainwashed.
  3. Finally, it's the good old whitewash all over again.   Remember a few years back when an MP tried to reopen the abortion debate by introducing a private members bill (not just a "sense of the House" resolution as is the case here) saying that a person could be charged if he or she attacked a pregnant woman and ended up making a fetus nonviable in the process but somehow the pregnant mother survived.    All pro-choice advocates, and even many conscientious pro-life people like myself saw right through it -- and thankfully the bill was withdrawn in favour of a government motion that dealt with the issue by protecting the right of a pregnant woman herself to be free from assault (which, as I note above, did in fact become law).
Those of us who are pro-life but disassociate ourselves from this kind of a trap have every right to be worried.    Sometimes some of the best ideas for law do come from backbenchers.  Perhaps one of the best known is a law passed during the Mulroney Administration that banned smoking in federal facilities -- even though every single member of the Cabinet voted against.

But an honest debate means exactly that -- discussing an issue that openly discloses what the discussion is all about and not using a proverbial Trojan horse.   We know what they do to our desktops and notebooks.    We certainly don't need them in our statute books or regulations.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raymond Taavel -- when will enough be enough?

Raymond Taavel, of Halifax NS may not have had the profile that Harvey Milk of San Francisco CA did more than three decades ago; but the fact Taavel was murdered probably because he was gay is nothing short of outrageous.    I was six years old when Milk was shot, but it shook me up.  It made me wonder who was truly safe anymore because of their beliefs or their lifestyle.   And coming as it did just two days after the Jonestown Massacre, I actually wondered what a human life was worth anymore.

I note with some sadness that it did happen in Nova Scotia.    Not that every other province didn't have its own horror stories in recent history about racial or ethnic hatred; certainly they did.

But "Down East" it was an even worse horror.  Until relatively recently in that province, one could identify what your likely political affiliation was simply by your surname -- and heaven forbid if you had the wrong name, especially if you were non-white.   And while the civil rights struggle was leading to major changes in most of North America, in "Canada's Ocean Playground" it was actually regressing.    Viola Desmond, who was charged with tax evasion because she sat in the "whites only" section of a movie theatre, when the tax for the balcony section was one cent less -- and got slapped with a $200 fine.   The destruction of Africville to make way for the MacKay Bridge, with paltry $500 cheques for expropriation.   The race riots that plagued Nova Scotia schools well into the 1990s, such that there had to be separate black and white entrances to avoid further provocations -- when everywhere else such segregation had gone the way of the passenger pigeon.

Replace race with sexual orientation, and you have a basic idea about the attitudes of a large swath of the population in pretty much every province.   One can legitimately object to the lifestyle, but he or she does not have the right to discriminate based on lifestyle or because one feels a need to cater to a bigoted clientele.   We would never seriously deny the women the vote anymore; or prohibit an interracial marriage; or ban a lesbian couple in the military from the right to on-base housing.   Tolerance isn't enough anymore -- it's acceptance or nothing at all.

So why should killing a person because he or she is a member of the LGBT community get any less punishment or be an excuse for killing that person at all?   Any voice that is silenced is an outrage and those responsible must be held to account.   Those who by words or deeds may have contributed to the violence, whether directly or not, need to look at themselves and ask, is it really worth a human life to make oneself more comfortable?

At this rate, I won't be surprised if the shooter when caught will invoke hyperglycemia -- the so-called "Twinkie Defence."   True, high sugar was just one of the causes of Milk's killer's self-proclaimed "diminished capacity" which led to a manslaughter conviction instead of Murder One.    But in this case, crazy as it is, that may be the only defence left; because I think that even most of the committed hardliners against LGBTs will realize enough really is enough.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Some (more) suggestions on income taxes

Maybe it's me but the whole concept of "boutique" tax credits has become something of a joke.

Some items such as making public transit passes tax deductible makes sense as it puts transit users on the same level as those who drive for a living and can deduct those expenses.

However, the fitness and arts tax credits are pointless -- a seventy five dollar drop in taxes doesn't even begin to cover the true costs.   A budding athlete's parents, for instance, may spend ten thousand dollars per year -- but they still get a $75 break, not $1500.   And what is it with having an "education amount" and a "book amount" applied separately for tuition expenses -- shouldn't it be just one lump sum per month of school?

The "Canada employment amount"?   Just raise the personal exemption, jackasses!

The Working Income Supplement?   Nice idea, but again it would be better if the personal exemption was raised instead.

The Volunteer Firefighter Amount?   If they are putting their lives at risk like that, shouldn't they get a full write off for the stipends receive, as Canadian Forces and police officers deployed overseas do?   Not just 15%?

And so on.

On the other hand, there are necessary credits that don't go that far.  For example the disability tax credit -- certainly people who have issues impairing their ability to function "normally" should not have to as much tax.   It can reduce one's income tax to zero, but he or she can't claim the excess as a refund.

Another that should be fully refundable is adoption expenses (as it is in the States).   Instead, the maximum one can claim per child is $11,128.  The write off works out to just under $1670 -- or the amount that reduces income tax to zero, whichever is less.   Anything more, and adoptive parents are out of luck.   Parents should be rewarded for opening up their homes like that.   Money back could do a lot, whether it's home renovations or setting up a trust account for post-secondary education.

Child care expenses are subject to the non-refundable rule.   They shouldn't be.    Home care expenses also.   They should be fully refundable (to a limit, although not an unreasonable one).

And lastly, people should have a choice as to whether to have entitlements such as the GST, working income credit, and child tax credits can be applied against income taxes owing at tax time; or to have it deposited later in the year as a monthly stipend and on one day each month (rather than the confusing two or three right now).

With a bit of tinkering at the individual level, making it fairer for families; as well as getting rid of "corporate welfare" for the truly unnecessary items (for example, how much more write-offs do the tar sands need?) -- we can easily lob off two or three percentage points at each of the bottom three tiers -- in other words 12, 19 and 23%.  There might even be enough room to lower the top rate to 26 or 27% while still being revenue neutral.  And the proposed reductions in the corporate rates could be financed with revenues in the front end rather than being imperiled by rebates (um, "tax expenditures") from "number two."

Who'll clean up Hamilton Airport now?

Just when we thought that it couldn't get much worse for public health in Hamilton, indeed across the country -- yup, it's gotten worse.

In December of last year, I was writing about how the leachate run-off from the fire training facility at Munro Airport (YHM) had high levels of PFOS, the former active ingredient in Scotchgard ™.   At least twenty times the legal limit for the chemical in "safe drinking water."   I also noted how the runoff was ending up in a creek which skirts through the southern rural part of the city, through a popular lake for sunbathing, and eventually to the Welland River.    So concerned is city hall that they agreed with the current private operator of the airport to study how to get rid of the mess on site.   And who knows what's happened at other airports with similar facilities?

Now it got even more interesting this week.   Pursuant to a §22 petition, the Auditor General of Canada has said he will investigate why the Con government hasn't set guidelines for how to clean up PFOS runoff.   The reason for the concern?   A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which suggests that exposure to the chemical decreases the immunity offered by vaccinations.   (Unfortunately, I can't offer a link since the article is behind a firewall -- stupid doctors who think civilians can't understand the truth; of course we can handle the truth!)

 In other words, PFOS makes those vaccines next to useless.   (Maybe this is something Jenna McCarthy should be looking at -- that it was stain retardant that caused her kid's autism, not vaccines!)   There are also demands that the feds impose safe levels of PFOS contaminantion in the food supply -- the same as for mercury and other nasties in fish.

I laugh at times when I read the provincial guides to limits on catches and how much is safe to eat.   For instance, it's legal to catch up to 50 perch a day, per capita, in the lower Great Lakes; but the safe limit for consumption is eight per month (only four for expectant and nursing mothers).    Mercury levels are way down compared to forty years ago; due to major conservation efforts, but increases in safe consumption limits have been incremental at best.   My guess is that the fish and wildlife services don't want to take chances.

What level is truly safe for this one?   PFOS has a half life of five years.  A simple half life calculator shows a half-life of that long means that it will decay to imperceptible levels after, say, one hundred eighty one years.   No wonder 3M ™ changed the formula for one of their top selling products.

Frankly, I wouldn't swim in Lake Niapenco anymore -- let alone eat the fish that run through it.   And if I was swimming in that stuff every year when I was younger, will it affect the immune systems of any kids I may have down the road?   What about the people downstream who use it as a water source?   I said it before and I'll say again, people in rural areas have the right to safe water as much as we "city slickers".

Since the feds ran the airport when all the contamination happened then they should bear the full costs of cleanup.   They also need to step up for public health and safety and set real guidelines -- and more importantly, enforce them prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law.   Voluntary measures just don't work, just look at the Maple Leaf ™ scandal a few years back.    Nightmares like this won't go away overnight but it would be helpful if someone took responsibility.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecticut abolishes death penalty

This is easily the good news story of the day.    Last night, the state legislature in Connecticut abolished the death penalty.    The number of states that have done away with the practice is now seventeen (the first was Michigan in 1846), along with Washington DC and Puetro Rico.   As well, Kansas effectively has no law due to its being struck down by the courts and is considering a bill to throw in the towel, and New Hampshire has maintained a moratorium on the practice since 1939 (there is actually one inmate on "death row" there but there really isn't a secure unit for the condemned to speak of).   California is having a referendum on the issue this fall, and Kentucky is giving serious consideration to the idea as well.

Let the trend continue.    The fact so many abortion rights opponents also support the death penalty for the post partum is hypocrisy, plain and simple.    If even the totally nuts Pat Robertson and the even more conspiratorial Jack Van Impe could see the light on this issue (as both did on the environment after Hurricane Katrina), then there ought to be hope for the more rational conservatives who should see the need to conserve life and reform the guilty.   Even the "vilest offender" should have a hope of seeing the error of his or her ways.   Keep them locked up, by all means.   But it's just plain wrong to legally kill them.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More problems with Ornge

This week it was learned that there could be a nasty side effect (no pun intended) to the scandals that have plagued Ornge, the air ambulance service.   Hamilton could lose on staff air traffic control.   Why?

It seems that the company that was contracted to do air ambulance services, and ended up being a petty cash fund for its senior executives at our expense, was supposed to use Hamilton's aerodrome, John Munro International Airport (YHM), for their operations in Southwestern Ontario.    In a nutshell, Ornge had pledged back in the fall of 2010 to move their operations there.   This would have increased the number of takeoffs and landings at YHM more than threefold.  And for an airport that has been struggling ever since Westjet moved its Ottawa and Montréal flights to Toronto's Pearson, it would have been a huge financial boom, with the city coffers getting a big royalty boost.

Instead, the number of flights has dropped steadily, from 3000 per month four years ago (and that's all aircraft -- commercial, private planes and helicopters) to only 1791 in February of this year.   Last month, it was 536.

Ornge was supposed to start flying out of Hamilton a year ago.    It hasn't yet (whether this is due to organizational issues with the flight equipment or with management, who knows), and it has paid more than $600,000 in rent to a hangar that has sat completely empty.    Is something wrong with this picture?

Perhaps it would have been better to have made the airport a non-profit corporation as was suggested more than a decade ago before the contract was given to a Vancouver company.    At this rate, if Hamilton doesn't meet minimum flights over a sustained period, NavCanada, the company spun off from the goverment some years ago to handle air traffic contral might decide that it's not worth keeping a staff at the airport and have a nearby airport -- say, Pearson -- do it instead.   This has major safety implications, especially given that geographic curiosity that slices Hamilton into upper and lower cities, the Niagara Escarpment.

Bottom line:  If a company promises to fill a hanger and it hasn't yet, shouldn't that company be found in breach of contract?   And if we lose the ATCs because of that, shouldn't the damages be that much higher?

Guest Post: New Progressive Narrative

Today, I'm please to allow fellow progressive Jared Milne write a guest post about how the progressive movement should change the course of the debate between progressives and the right to make moderate policies appealing to the masses in Canada once more.


In the last couple of years, various Canadian commentators have remarked on the new conservative narrative of Canada that Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives have been creating. Much of this narrative centres around a new form of patriotism that emphasizes support for the military, the Canadian North, hockey and Tim Horton’s coffee. i Now, with the Harper Conservatives having formed a majority government in the 2011 federal election, progressive Canadians like Murray Dobbin,ii Jim Stanfordiii and Andrew Jacksoniv are calling for a new progressive narrative that provides an alternative to the narrative offered by the Harper Conservatives and the more general political right. Carol Goar has written about an anti-poverty movement that she says is “out of step” with the people it tries to help,v and Reilly Yeo talks about the need for innovative thinking in how government can work in a networked and global

Unfortunately, there are voices on the left that make this much easier said than done. Prominent American professor and public intellectual Ward Churchill called many of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks “little Eichmanns”, claiming that their deaths were a “befitting penalty” for the corporate oppression they supposedly engaged in.vii Canadian political writer and poet Robin Mathews called Stephen Harper a “psychopath” and compared him to Adolf Hitler.viii Noted progressive blogger Robert Day, more popularly known as Canadian Cynic, commonly directs personal attacks and insults against those he disagrees with. In one post, he has referred to the federal Conservatives as the “Stephen Harper Brownshirt Party” and called retired judge Frank Iacobucci a “cheap hooker”.ix In other posts, Day has referred to various female conservative bloggers and politicians as “cunts”.x Members of the Occupy Movement have bragged about the “fun” they can have protesting on private property rather than working to earn a living,xi made up demonstrably false claims about major historical figures,xii and caused more general violence and hooliganism.xiii

The problem with what these people have been saying and doing is that they make all progressives look bad by association. Their words and actions are used by critics on the right who try to discredit what progressives are advocating and tar all progressives as being hateful towards anyone who disagrees with them, advocating extreme policies and supporting violence when in many cases progressives do not. Progressives like Dobbin and Stanford are exactly right when they talk about the need for a new narrative that can better meet the realities of today’s politics, but any attempt to construct that narrative is only hindered by the likes of Churchill, Mathews, Day and the more radical members of the Occupy movement.

What could a new progressive narrative look like, if it were to have a broader appeal to Canadians than the words and actions of people like Mathews or Day? Much of the conservative narrative today centres around individual freedom, and its opposition to the government “control” that progressives supposedly want to exercise on individuals through government taxes and programs. In many respects, however, government intervention and social programs have actually increased the freedom enjoyed by the vast majority of Canadians.

It’s one thing to for someone to lose his or her job through incompetence, but quite another to lose it because of shifts in the economy or the company needing to downsize through the ineptitude of its management. In the latter case, Employment Insurance can help those unemployed people to pay their bills and participate in the economy while they are looking for work. Socialized medicine has freed many Canadian families from having to pay the incredibly high sums of money that their American counterparts must pay to that country’s private system.

Public education has allowed a greater number of people to better exercise their full talents and increased their career choices. Minimum wage laws have increased the purchasing power of the poorest people in society and allowed them to better participate in the economy. Workplace safety laws have decreased the injuries workers have suffered, allowing them to be more productive for their employers and earn more money for their own use. Environmental regulations can support tourist and fisheries industries and the people who work in them. A judicious combination of publicly available daycare spaces and tax credits for those parents who prefer alternate means of childcare can provide support to more parents than either initiative could alone, thereby allowing a greater number of parents overall to enter the workforce while their children are cared for.

In that way, the social safety net has in fact provided support to Canadians in many ways, providing them with more resources to exercise their talents and individual efforts. However, a new progressive narrative would also need to recognize that government action cannot and should not be the only solution to a problem, and can in fact make things worse if it’s not well implemented. Mel Hurtig and John Ralston Saul have both sharply criticized the conventional wisdom of free trade agreements, tax cuts and privatization. However, Hurtig has also derided the National Energy Program launched by the Trudeau government in the late 1970s as having been “poorly conceived, poorly explained and poorly defended.”xiv Saul has also criticized the slowness, bureaucracy and lack of clarity of the Foreign Investment Review Agency, implemented in the 1970s to review the foreign purchases of Canadian companies.xv

Rather, it could be said that society functions best through a combination of individual initiative and collective action, through the participation of both governments and markets, each complementing one another’s strengths and compensating for one another’s weaknesses. Private charitable donations and government programs can, at the best of times, combine to support a greater number of those in need than either one could on their own. Private citizens with their own sources of power and wealth, independent of any government, can act against the type of government encroachment seen in Communist Russia or China, while government programs and laws, when they’re properly implemented, can support the liberty of the less powerful.

A progressive narrative can offer a strong criticism of the current market-based consensus that has led to marked increases in poverty among Canadians and that by and large has not had the “trickle down” effect that its advocates have promised. However, a new progressive narrative can and should acknowledge also the good that comes of individual effort, independent of government action.

A new progressive narrative can also offer a number of strong rebuttals to the Conservative claim that their party is best suited to managing the economy. It is worth remembering, for instance, that it was the Opposition parties who forced the Harper government to implement the stimulus package that would become Canada’s Economic Action Plan that helped stimulate the economy and create jobs. Many of the sound regulations that have kept Canadian banks from suffering the fate of their American counterparts were not put in place by Harper, but by previous governments.xvi

On the other hand, Stephen Harper claimed during the 2008 election campaign that, if there was going to be a recession, it would have happened by now.xvii The Harper government has broken its promise not to tax income trusts, drastically increased the national debt and made the tax system more complicated to the point where even Finance Minister Jim Flaherty admits that the tax system is more complicated than it used to be.xviii Many of the tax credits introduced by the Conservatives are harshly criticized by conservative pundits and think tanks, who do not believe that these credits are achieving their goals.xix Various conservative pundits and bloggers are also becoming increasingly frustrated with Harper’s fiscal mismanagement.xx

A new progressive narrative would also need to address some of the criticisms directed towards it by the political right. Condemning all capitalists and businesspeople as cruel and uncaring of others is just as unfair and untrue as condemning all progressives and leftists as destructive Black Bloc types. After all, people who own organic grocery stores, occult or bong shops and vegan restaurants may not be known for holding conservative views, but they are risking their own money and capital in setting up businesses that they own and from which they make their living and provide jobs to others. Many Liberal and NDP candidates over the years have been business owners themselves. Vive Le Canada founder Susan Thompson, for example, previously founded and owned Hell N’ Back Welding and later ran for the federal NDP in Alberta. Rather than adhering to the stereotype of the latte-sipping elitist that’s commonly associated with the NDP, Thompson was an entrepreneur who founded her own blue collar company.

These people are, in a sense, capitalists just as much as any business executive who works in a Calgary or Toronto office tower, albeit on a smaller scale. In turn, many of those business executives also donate both their time and their money to any number of worthy causes, their own private initiatives complementing the government’s efforts. Think of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or the work of someone like Melcor president and CEO Ralph Young.xxi Lumping such people in with less ethical and less compassionate businesspeople doesn’t help anyone. Even the likes of Jonathan Kay, managing editor of the conservative National Post newspaper, talked about how reasonable he found many of the solutions advocated by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks in their book The Trouble With Billionaires. His problem was not so much with what McQuaig and Brooks were advocating, but rather the general disdain they seemed to hold for rich people as a whole.xxii

Similarly, blanket condemnations of industries like the Alberta oil patch will not win support for a progressive cause. Most people in the oil industry are no different than anyone else in that their main goal is simply to earn a living. When it comes to changing the way energy is developed in Canada, many people working in the oil industry would want to know how any changes proposed by progressives would avoid damaging or costing them their livelihoods. This perception among many people in Western Canada that progressive parties do not support their regional interests is one of the major reasons they have tended to support conservative parties at the federal level, such as with the rise of the Reform Party under Preston Manning.xxiii

Another issue a new progressive narrative would have to address would be specific issues that the political right has managed to claim as its own and which still matter very much to Canadians. Carol Goar has pointed out that the Conservative justice reforms have a lot of appeal to lower-income Canadians who feel threatened by drug dealers and violent young offenders.xxiv While it is true that overall crime rates are falling, it is still a sickening state of affairs when sexual offenders are sentenced to house arrest and probation for sexual assaultxxv or time served for possession of child pornography.xxvi Many Canadians remain unconvinced of progressive approaches to justice, and a new progressive narrative would need to provide more details on how it would deal with violent and sexual offenders.

Perhaps most of all, however, a new progressive narrative would have to avoid, as much as possible, the type of insulting language used by the likes of Churchill, Mathews and Day cited earlier in this essay. This is in fact an area where open-minded progressives and conservatives could come together in establishing a more constructive dialogue between all parts of the political spectrum. This new dialogue would also work against the more radical elements on both sides whose interest is in demonizing or destroying one another, rather than providing sound governance that benefits all Canadians. It is one thing to have a legitimate political disagreement with someone, but quite another entirely to want to demonize them for having different views, or hating them simply because of their general political allegiance.

Sadly, this tendency remains as strong as it has ever been, indulged in by people on both sides of the spectrum.xxvii The latest manifestation comes in the debate over the foreign funding of Canadian environmental charities, when Senator Mike Duffy accused many of these groups of somehow being “un-Canadian”, impugning their patriotism for having dissenting opinions.xxviii

There is, however, a more positive dialogue that many of us who have a strong interest in politics frequently overlook. It’s the dialogue between many everyday Canadians who live, work and volunteer together, even when their beliefs cross partisan lines. They support the same hockey teams, they volunteer for the same organizations, and attend the same churches, all in spite of whatever political differences they may have.

In talking to many of my fellow Canadians, I’ve noticed how many of them defy the stereotypes one would expect. Self-made entrepreneurs and rural farmers have voted for or even run for the New Democratic and Liberal parties. Conservative supporters have voiced their support of the handgun registry even as they decry the long gun registry, and have voiced support for banning smoking in bars and a fully public health system. University professors and civil servants can support the Conservatives just as readily as the Liberals or the NDP. Political advocacy organizations have had executives made up of Liberals, NDPers, Red Tories and Blue Tories who work together for a common goal. Municipal candidates who are card-carrying members of the federal Conservative party have been supported by lifelong Liberals and NDPers who admire the candidate’s competency. In all these cases, they respect one another’s beliefs and don’t hold the other person’s political beliefs against them.

A new progressive narrative, one that speaks up strongly for itself but that avoids the stereotyping and demonization so common in Canadian politics these days, can make an invaluable contribution to building the new dialogue that is needed and in trying to build common ground among Canadians. It’s important to remember that many people vote for their chosen parties simply because they feel these parties are best suited to managing the country. People who vote Conservative can and frequently do show compassion for the poor and care for the environment, while people who vote Liberal, NDP or Green can and frequently do put in long hours of hard work and show entrepreneurial spirit.

Stereotyping people based on the parties they support doesn’t contribute at all to establishing any kind of a positive dialogue, and in many respects these stereotypes aren’t even true to begin with. From everything I’ve seen, those ordinary, hardworking Canadians who stop at Tim Horton’s for a coffee on their way to work or get up early on Saturday morning to take their children to hockey practice are just as inclined to vote Liberal, Conservative, NDP or Green depending on their individual beliefs. Indeed, a 2010 study by the Globe and Mail specifically found that drinking Tim Horton’s coffee doesn’t necessarily make you a Liberal, an NDPer or a Conservative-it simply makes you a Canadian.xxix

Helping us to remember this is the greatest service a new progressive narrative could do for Canada and for all Canadians, whatever their political views.


i)  Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells, “Coyne vs. Wells on Five Years of Harper.”Video debate available on Maclean’s magazine website, January 27, 2011. See also Paul Wells and John Geddes, “What You Don’t Know About Stephen Harper”. Maclean’s magazine, January 31, 2011, section 2., Thomas Walkom, “A Transformative Prime Minister.” Toronto Star, November 21, 2009., and Jared Milne, “The Conservative Narrative of Canada: Differences and Divergences.” Vive Le Canada, February 11, 2011.

ii)  Murray Dobbin, “Occupy: What Can It Teach The Left?”, October 21, 2011. See also Dobbin, “Listen to the Occupiers,” November 22, 2011.

iii)  Jim Stanford, “Occupy: It’s About Time!” Behind The Numbers, October 17, 2011.

iv)  Andrew Jackson, “A Progressive Alternative to the Harper Agenda.” Behind The Numbers, November 18th, 2011. 

v)  Carol Goar, “Why the Poor Cast Votes for Conservatives.” Toronto Star, May 11, 2011.

vi)  Reilly Yeo, “On Inequality: Is Government The Answer?” The Mark News, January 5, 2012.

vii)  Churchill’s Identity Revealed in Wake of Nazi Comment.” Indian Country Today, February 9, 2005.

viii)  Robin Mathews, “Stephen Harper: A Psychopath In Power?” Vive Le Canada, January 15, 2009. See also Mathews, “Adolf Hitler. Stephen Harper. The Big Lie.” Vive Le Canada, April 14, 2011.

ix)  Robert Day, “Every Man Has His Price, Frank…” Canadian Cynic, March 6, 2010.

x)  Ibid., “The 2007 Canadian Blog Awards: Fuck ‘Em And the Horse They Rode In On.” December 20, 2007. See also “Rancid, Lying Conservatves: The Brenda Martin Chronicles.” March 19, 2008.

xi)  Author with the screen name of “Red Tory”, “99% Bullshit.” Red Tory, November 17, 2011.

xii)  Ibid, “Fact Check!”, October 23, 2011.

xiii)  Ibid, “OCW Vancouver/Victoria Update.” November 8, 2011.

xiv)  Mel Hurtig, The Vanishing Country: Is It Too Late To Save Canada? Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2002. Page 112.

xv)  John Ralston Saul, A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Viking Canada, 2008. Page 215.

xvi)  Stephen Maher, “PM Takes Credit Where It’s Not Due.” Edmonton Journal, January 28, 2012. Page A26.

xvii)  Reuters, “Canada’s Harper Sees Slow Growth, But No Recession.” September 15, 2008.

xviii)  CBC News, “Tory Battle Over Leadership Rules Not Over.” June 10, 2011.

xix)  Ben Sand and Peter Shawn Taylor, Harper’s Tax Boutique: Rethinking Tax Expenditures in A Time of Deficit. Frontier Centre for Public Policy, March 17, 2011. See also John Robson, “Tax Breaks The Same As Spending.” Ottawa Sun, January 14, 2012. See also Kevin Milligan, “Fitness A Worthy Goal-But Not With Gimmicky Tax Credit.” The Globe and Mail, April 3, 2011.

xx)  “Tories Opt For Small Change.” Toronto Sun, March 29, 2012. See also Werner Paltels, “Conservatives Are Irrational and Big Spenders=Liberals!” My Two Canadian Cents, January 15, 2012. See also a poster by the name of “Skippy Stalin”, “Stephen Harper’s Risky Ploy.” Postcards of the Hanging, March 19, 2012.!/2012/03/stephens-harpers-risky-ploy.html

xxi)  Todd Babiak, “Not All Those One-Percenters Are the Cartoon Capitalists Protesters Describe: Melcor’s Ralph Young Accommodating Occupy Edmonton.” Edmonton Journal, October 29, 2011.

xxii)  Jonathan Kay, “The Rich Are Bad For Your Health: Why Income Inequality is a Serious Problem For All Of Us.” The Literary Review of Canada, December 2010.
xxiii)  David Climenhaga, “The Future of the New Democratic Party and Canada: The Real West Wants In.” Alberta Diary, March 24, 2011.

xxiv)  Carol Goar, “Why the Poor Cast Votes for Conservatives.”

xxv)  Ryan Tumilty, “Nurse Pleads Guilty To Sexual Assault.” St. Albert Gazette, November 30, 2011.

xxvi)  Robert Pavlavic, “Lahey Sentenced-Fire the Bastard.” Blast Furnace Canada, January 4, 2012.

xxvii)  Jared Milne, “Mutual Recriminations and Attacks: New Actions as Part of an Old Cycle.” Vive Le Canada, April 25, 2011.

xxviii)  Althia Raj, “Green Charities Clash with Harper Conservatives.” Huffington Post, March 14, 2012.

xxix) Éric Grenier, “Does Easy Access to Starbucks Latte Really Make You Vote Liberal?” The Globe and Mail, November 24, 2010. See also Grenier, “Does the Tim Horton’s Crowd Really Vote Tory?” The Globe and Mail, November 22, 2010.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What price human rights?

The decision this week by the ruling Conservatives to abolish the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development -- also known by the shorthand "Rights and Democracy" -- isn't so much about cutbacks to so-called "unnecessary services" as it is a victory for a right wing regime that has a very narrow view of what rights and democracy actually consist of.    The end was quite inevitable when the Cons while in their minority stacked the committee with hacks that ensured that several major human rights issues -- not the least of which is the Palestinian situation -- would get shoved aside.   Indeed, it was the fact that some NGOs who were pro-Palestinian (and therefore in PMS' view, "anti-Israel) were denied funding that pushed the situation to a head.

The reason why the Centre was created in the first place was to provide independent policy advice.   For that reason, the agency was put under the purview of Parliament, not the PMO.   It's the same reason why the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, and the Commissioners for Official Languages, Information and Privacy are also Parliamentary and not executive agencies.   While these offices technically file their reports with the House of Commons committee which handles their "envelope" (i.e. appropriation), they are in a long sense also advising the government on how to do things better.

If an agency is full of your own hacks, then it really can't be independent.   If the ham sandwiches actually manage to get a brain and say what's on their minds, then of course you would fire them.   It's the same reason why "clemency" boards in the States just rubber stamp death warrants 99% of the time, they don't want to displease their bloodthirsty governor who gave them their meal tickets.

It is entirely normal to put in your own people, that after all is one of the privileges of having patronage.   That may be fine for such things as the Parole Board, but a grouping that is supposed to be independent should be able to retain that independence.   Specifically, if there is a governing board, then the opposition parties ought to be consulted so there is a balance as well as a wide variety of viewpoints.

Ed Broadbent, the founding president of the agency, made it clear in his interview on Radio One's As It Happens last night that a functional agency was allowed to become dysfunctional.    And with the demise of Rights and Democracy has also ended one of the few voices that actually represented the views of all Canadians for freedom and legitimate elections.

But I guess we can leave that all to the Carter Center.    Or Amnesty International.   Or the Red Cross.