John Baird – Bouquets and Brickbats


Political junkies were surprised and excited when rumours began that Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird would resign his position, effective immediately, and also resign as an MP, to take effect within days. Speculations as to woil prices cartoonhy, and especially as to why NOW, filled the mainstream and social media.

Was this the beginning of a Conservative meltdown, as oil prices tanked, the loonie dived, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sabre rattled and proposed new security measures accused of restricting civil liberties?

National Post columnist John Ivison speculated that there was a rift between Baird and Harper over Canada’s sanctions on the Russian government. Some wondered if being pelted with eggs and shoes by dozens of Palestinian protesters in January 2015 had shaken his resolve. (Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Baird Palestineperceived pro-Israel stance, and its opposition to a Palestinian bid to pursue war crime charges against Israel.)

Still others noted that, by not running in 2015, Baird also qualifies for his pension, of $100,00 per year, under an old rule, at age 55. Parliament increased the qualifying age to 65 years old but that policy only covers those who are elected or re-elected in 2015.

Or maybe it was just that, after two decades in public office, he’d simply decided it was time to seek other opportunities, possibly in the private sector. He is said to be finalizing two offers.

Mohamed FahmyOn Monday, Baird reported that Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is in jail in Cairo, would be released imminently, which would be his last diplomatic victory.

Although Baird’s stances were often provocative, even prompting Conservative colleagues to tease him of having a partisan nature, he was well liked by many in the other Parties.

“I quickly learned thoBaird resignsugh to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values,” he said in his resignation speech.

Since being named foreign affairs minister in 2011, Baird has spoken out against controversial issues at home and abroad.

In 2012, he addressed a British audience on human rights, saying that Canada would not stand by while its “Commonwealth cousins” criminalized homosexuality and ignored other fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women, minorities, and the right to practice religion. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of 54 Commonwealth member states.

child marriageIn 2013, Baird spoke at a United Nations session called “Too Young to Wed,” about child brides forced to marry. Baird said “It’s been felt that in some cultures, in some places, this was a social reality. And for the good of the conference, would I mind shutting up,” adding that forced marriage is “unacceptable” and can be ended within a generation.

But he’s made a few gaffes along the way – his request for gold-embossed business cards was outed and ridiculed. He was always on the move, traveled more often, and to more out of the way places than any Canadian foreign minister before him. To his credit, he traveled commercially, but some of his trips didn’t make much sense, and were thought to be a drain on taxpayer funds. He recently flew to Brazil for President Rousseff’s second term swearing in, and attended Persian Gulf conferences that were not important to Canada’s needs.

John BairdIn 2013, a scandal occurred when CTV News reported that Baird and six friends stayed for eight days at the official residence of Canada’s high commission to Great Britain, Macdonald House.

His diplomats were not fond of his frequent, high-maintenance visits. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of them either. In 2014, Baird quietly ordered his department to cut millions of dollars out of a foreign aid program and to call the cut a “surplus.” He blamed the cuts to the program on the bad performance of Canadian diplomats. Associate Deputy Minister Peter Boehm revised the figures in a May 13, 2014 memo, which read “per your instructions, $7 million was declared surplus.”

foreign aid surplusThe NDP Foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, felt the minister was being deceptive. “It’s what I would call a parlour trick, to make it appear like they’re sound fiscal managers, when in fact in this case, Minister Baird is trying to make people believe that his cut of $7 million is in fact a surplus. This is exactly the same thing that they did with regards to lapsed funding.”

Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, wrote  “The Conservative government has managed the austerity program launched in the 2012 budget with deliberate secrecy. They did not inform Parliament of the details of their spending plans…Austerity is difficult and they did not want to pay a political price for making difficult trade-offs…their strategy was to limit planning information to shut down debate and evade accountability.”

baird_IsraelDuring his time as Foreign Minister, his critics have also accused him of selling embassies and ­unflinching support for Israel, diminished backing for multi-lateral institutions and a “distinctly un-Canadian” stance on foreign policy.

However, he leaves behind many who say he played a large part in shaping Conservative foreign policy and personalizing Canada’s diplomatic relations with the international community

NDP MP Paul Dewar, his party’s foreign affairs critic, told Embassy that Mr. Baird brought the Conservative Party’s foreign policy “into the limelight.”

Canada in the world“John Baird made Foreign Affairs—for good or bad—relevant again within the Conservative government. Prior to that, it really wasn’t a portfolio that was important to the government because of the players involved. They didn’t have as much of an interest or an understanding of the role,” he said.

Harper has appointed International Trade Minister Ed Fast as the interim foreign minister.

The Politics of Terror


Harper new security Jan 2015“The world is a dangerous place and, as most brutally demonstrated by last October’s attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism.”

Or so Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed on January 30th, flanked by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, and the largest personal protective detail in the history of Canada.

It would seem that Harper sees himself as a ‘war-time’ leader, who, in the run up to the next election, wants to project a manly, statesmanlike image. While cultivating a culture of fear, he is appealing to those who traditionally will cling to the political status quo in times of unrest.

And in one swell foop, the man who spent the Ottawa siege in a closet ramped up the anxiety harper in closetand fear of a nation, while simultaneously putting into place measures that many feel will result in further loss of civil liberties and reduction of freedoms.

By no means am I minimalizing the two horrible attacks . They were horrific, and shocking to Canadians who rightfully believe themselves to be a part of the world’s peace keepers. But these attacks increasingly seem to have been the acts of self-radicalized, troubled and confused young men, with no evidence connecting them to ISIS. Harper’s proposal sounds less like a desire to protect the nation, and more like the fear mongering of a politician desperate to keep his seat in power. MuzzlingScientists

So much for his vaunted and pious defense of Canada’s Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech after the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France. Our Freedoms were already considered under attack, based on his own government’s track record of secrecy, muzzling, sneaky omnibus bills, a disdain for democratic Parliamentary rules, and the misleading of Parliament.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod called the proposal “the most dramatic package of new laws since the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001.” But .. hang on … who flew into our towers? Three misguided fools in Canada took it upon themselves to mirror the acts of other misguided fools in the Middle East, whom we’ve done nothing but publicize in the media. The same media that attempts to inflame viewers by ramping up anxiety about events in other parts of the world in hopes of getting higher ratings, and very often has the issues completely wrong. fox apologizes

Ironically, terrorism is most effective when it’s target reacts disproportionately to fear. Perhaps those sweeping powers would be better used in policing how media is actually romanticizing terrorism, and making it seem glamorous to impressionable and disenfranchised people who believe they have no voice or impact upon their own democratic governments. There’s a huge difference between planned, organized and directed attacks (terrorism) and a misguided fool whipped up by web sites designed to muster support for a cause.

No matter how often the Conservatives tell us that the attacker of Ottawa’s Parliament was linked to a terrorist network, we’ve still not seen follow up information, or the RCMP background video we are told contains proof of such a link. It’s the politics of fear and terror.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was right when he questioned why Harper is proposing new legislation with far reaching consequences without so much as consulting with opposition parties. Canadian rights, already being pecked away by post-9/11 laws, look to be even more constrained under a grantingcsis_record2 of extraordinary power to Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), with a mandate to “investigate and disrupt” terrorist plots. Canada’s police services will be able to go after online terrorist propaganda.

The line between being branded as an activist or a terrorist is already grey. With these proposals, that line could be even more abused than it currently is, and in fact, simply obliterated. Could a government with a long list of enemies, including labour and environmental movements, simply capitalize upon already existing powers such as restricting the right to remain silent, laws allowing CSIS to spy on Canadians overseas, detainment without charges, and arrest without warrants?

In 2012, Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, wrote an open letter to Canadians on the government’s commitment to the diversification of energy resources (i.e. the Northern Gateway, Alberta’s Tar Sands.) In it, he said “environmental and other radical groups threaten to highjack our regulatory system to achieve their radical and ideological agenda.” He claimed that these ‘radicals’ were employing AmeriJOE-OLIVER Natural Resourcescan tactics to “sue everyone and anyone to delay the project,” and that ‘slow, complex, and cumbersome regulatory processes’ were slowing down the government’s ability to push ahead their own unilateral decisions and agenda.

Those ‘radical’ environmentalists were concerned about 50 square miles of tailing ponds full of toxic chemicals, supposedly lined but actually leaking at the rate of 3 million gallons per day. (Pembina Institute.) Cancer rates are 100 times the norm for the First Nations living on the Athabaska River. Over 80% of BC residents have said NO to oil tankers on their coast, and coastal First Nations have declared a ban under their traditional laws. oliver oil sands copy-002Perhaps these are small concerns to Mr. Oliver, but they are of vital importance to those who actually live in the area.

These ‘radical’ environmentalists could now potentially be charged with terrorism.

(In March, 2014, Mr. Oliver was appointed Minister of Finance. Yes, the same Joe Oliver who recently had to delay our next budget, due to the unexpected downturn in the price of oil. The government had banked on a big payoff on the pipeline, but instead, low oil prices are going to cost provinces nearly $10-billion in lost royalties and tax revenue, and see the government lose $4.3 billion in expected revenues. )

Could there be a better time for the government to ramp up fear and politicize terror? Data Mining

When the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001 was due to expire, the Tories’ Combatting Terrorism Act of 2013 reinstated them, with yet more power, and this new legislation would continue to expand on an overbearing and intrusive presence by government controlled security forces , bringing us ever closer to becoming a surveillance state.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that it’s important “we maintain a proper perspective,” on ISIS, and that they are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.” He added that the U.S. needs to see the threat for what it is and respond to it in a way that doesn’t undermine American values. obama isis

“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears, because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military,” he said.

Contrast this with Harper’s “Stand Your Ground” stance on Canada’s presence in Iraq. As the opposition questioned if Canada was actually at war with Iraq, and what “advise and assist” actually mean to the Canadian soldiers “accompanying” Iraqi troops fighting against Islamic State soldiers, Harper said, safe_image.php

“Let me be clear. This is a robust mission. We’re there to make those guys effective so they can take on the Islamic State and deal with them and if those guys fire at us, we’re going to fire back and we’re going to kill them, just like our guys did.”

Look – I get it. We’re all scared. We’re afraid of ISIS and Ebola, of extreme weather and IEDs, of Monsanto and dirty bombs and oh my lawdy, what’s next! There’s too much crime, we’re told, and draconian systems of justice continue to be put into place at enormous cost, when in fact, crime rates are falling. While some American states legalize marijuana, those in opposition continue to pump out propaganda against pot, and institutionalizing people where the substance has not yet been legalized.

The truth is, “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” as Stephen Pinker concluded in his 2012 book The Better Angels of Human Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. terrorist attacks globally

Terrorism peaked worldwide in the mid-1980s, and in North America around 1970. If you live in Canada or the United States your chances of being killed by terrorism are almost zero. We’ve been sold an exaggerated sense of danger about conflicts and events in other countries, which has allowed those in power to divide and conquer it’s people, alienate North America from war torn nations, engage in wars that profit only those in the military trade, and snip away at Canadians civil liberties, eroding our freedoms.

There are those who will say, “What do I care? I’m not a terrorist! Go get the bad guys!” Those people should perhaps have a chat with the innocent citizens caught up in the police actions taken against the G-20 demonstrators in 2010. g20protestMore than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were involved in policing the protests, which at its largest numbered 10,000 protestors. Over a thousand arrests were made, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. There were no ‘innocent until proven guilty’ dispensations; in fact, Toronto Police and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the summit were heavily criticized for brutality during the arrests. harper controlling

You cannot hermetically seal a democratic society to protect it from violence; doing so actually reduces democracy. Despite the self-inflicted threat fear that Harper is trying to sell us, it’s our own government limiting our rights, not jihadists.  

Target’s Gain, Canada’s Loss


Attention Target Shoppers! Start your shopping carts as Target gets ready to liquidate stock from its 133 Canadian stores! Great news, right?

going out of bizNot quite, actually. In a continuance of mismanagement, and “whatever could go wrong, will,” Target will begin to sell off stock in early February, after receiving court approval of a liquidator. They will not, however, be advertising closing sales with “bankruptcy” or “going out of business” signs. You’ll have to pick through the goods to find the goodies.

But – what goods? Canadians have been faced with lacklustre merchandising from Target stores since they entered the market, with many stores being visibly under-stocked, and shelves either empty or with a few sad items lined up in single rows.

There’s been a problem with Target’s supply chain management since they first arrived in Canada, which resulted in Tony Fisher, the first president of its operation here, being fired in early 2014. CEO Gregg Steinhafel was asked to resign from Target Corp in Juntarget less for moree of 2014 – he’s the one that got a total severance and other benefits package worth about the same as the total amount being offered to all 17,600 of the chain’s Canadian employees.

(Steinhafel’s severance, which includes Gregg_Steinhafel_Golden_Parachuteprofit sharing and stock, will amount to $61 million USD, according to Fortune magazine, a sum greater than the severance package for all 17,600 Canadian Target employees combined ($58 million USD). Target Corp has now agreed to increase the employment trust to $90 million (CDN) to ensure the Canadian employees receive their full severance payout.)

empty-shelvesMark Schindele was parachuted in as president of Target Canada in May 2014 to try and fix the merchandise log jam, and pricing discrepancies that resulted from products arriving at warehouses with incorrect information, thus failing proper price comparison checks. In January 2015, he was quietly moved to Minneapolis to become SVP of Target Properties.

Target’s withdrawal from Canada is going to cost the corporation a bundle – they have said they estimate they’ll take a loss of $7 Billion. But what has been the cost to Canada?

<> on January 17, 2013 in New York City.The total amount of jobs gained across Canada in all industries for 2014 were 121,000 positions, down from the previous high figure of 186,000 reported in November. I’m not great at math, but the loss of 17,600 jobs at Target, spread across 133 stores, is a significant chunk of the pie. Also, our new jobs were concentrated around the oil industry, which is taking a beating as OPEC drops prices.

“The City of Edmonton’s chief economist says 80 per cent of new net jobs in Canada in the last year came from Alberta. “Over the past 12 months, Alberta has generated more new jobs than any other province in Canada and that includes Ontario, which is five times as large as we are,” said John Rose.” (Sept 11/14 http://globalnews.ca/news/1559263/40-of-all-new-jobs-in-canada-last-year-generated-in-edmonton/)

target-continues-to-failAdditionally, those 17,600 jobs were suspect to begin with. . When Target first arrived, they bought 200 Zellers stores, but did not honour the employees union in place. In fact, the first thing it did was ditch the union, eliminate seniority for long term employees, and drop all former Zellers employees to the bottom of Target’s pay scale. Because the majority of Target Canada’s workers were largely part-time, seasonal, or working irregular shifts, they will not qualify for Employment Insurance or other benefits.

The 133 stores, as well as office space leases and the three massive distribution centres in Milton, Calgary and Cornwall, will all be put up for sale at the same time, as early as March 5.

target distribution centreThe distribution centres alone represent a significant real estate investment; each warehouse covers some 1.5 million square feet, or about 26 football fields.

Target came to Canada promising jobs, new shopping opportunities, and a boost to the Canadian economy. In exchange, they received subsidies and tax breaks, along with favourable bank financing. This should have been a win/win situation.

bankruptInstead, it’s one of the biggest corporate bankruptcies in Canadian history.

Target wants to walk away from over $5 billion that is owed to creditors, big and small. They owe cities, suppliers and landlords. It’s such a long list of creditors that it took a 45-page document to list them all. They owe The Canada Revenue Agency and provincial governments millions in taxes ( $12 million to the CRA, $2.6 million to the B.C. government, and $6.5 million to the Quebec government.)

PharmacistGuest With just five stores in Manitoba, they still managed to rack up bills of $850,000 to Bison Transport, more than $450,000 to TransX, more than $200,000 to Old Dutch Foods and more than $1 million in tax owed to the Manitoba government. Beyond that, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to smaller suppliers and pharmacies which operated independently within the stores.

elfe juvenileSuppliers owed hundreds of thousands of dollars are considering ways they can force Target to return their unsold goods that were shipped within 30 days of the filing – rather than have the inventory be included in the chain’s liquidation sales. Target filed under the Companies Creditor Arrangement act, which doesn’t have the 30-day goods provision. After aggressively purchasing stock for anticipated December sales, it entered the crucial holiday season with the highest levels of stock possible. Companies such as Elfe Juvenile Products of Montreal, listed as being owed $38,294, is actually out $147,758, based on stock now in Target’s possession. So is Sager Food Products Inc. in Montreal, which is owed more than $11,000 on the books, but the company estimates as closer to $16,000.

Sager Food VP Santo Fata received its last order the day before the filing. Sager had been happy to fill Target’s orders, which “were steady, regular and getting larger. We were happy.”

Sobeys vegChapman’s Ice Cream is owed $19,987. Coca-Cola Canada hopes to see some of the $339,699 it is owed. $1.7 million is owed to Hillcrest Mall Management Inc. Roots Canada Ltd is owed $433,248 in royalties. Sobeys will have to absorb over $3 million in losses.

But no worries – Canada will take up the slack, in a loss of jobs, and increased prices and taxes to cover the share that Target is walking away from. Over $5 billion.

CANADA-CORPORATE-TAX-RATEThis is not the first corporation that has been invited, even aggressively courted, to bring their business to Canada. Nor will it be the last. It’s just one more corporate experiment that failed, and is ultimately paid for by workers, taxpayers and Canadian companies.

Added March 6/15 …

The gall of these thieves!

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/03/05/suppliers-gear-up-to-chal_n_6809404.html

Use Your Power – Vote!


CANADA-2030Even those amongst us, who are tired of hearing about, and arguing about, politics and the economy know, deep down, that we must take responsibility for how Canada will be governed and represented to the world. It’s no longer enough to whinge and moan about the issues that have snuck up on us while we struggled to keep up with the cost of living; Canadians need to decide what sort of Canada they want to live in. And that means we have to vote.

10.-Represents-the-peopleWe have the right and a duty to vote, but voter turnout has been steadily declining in Canada and the United States, as well as in Western Europe, Japan and Latin America. The world’s highest voting rates, at 95%, are in Belgium, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, which does not.

(Other countries with compulsory voting include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Greece, and Luxembourg.)

Voter turnout among Canadians is at an unprecedented low, and has been declining since the late 1980s. Voter turnout in the most recent election, at 61.4%, was the third lowest in Canadian history. Young voter turnout was 39% in the 2011 federal election. Canada’s youth will often say that there is little in politics that relates to them. If an issue catches their attention, they are more likely to participate in boycotts and demonstrations, groups with like-minded views and passions.

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 14.12.48.jpgThere’s a general malaise about voting. As much as I adore the witty and eloquent Russell Brand, I find his disdain for voting appalling and unhelpful to his more impressionable followers. Even that old reprobate Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols, once famed as an anti-establishment rebel, has called Brand’s refusal to vote “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” adding “You have to vote, you have to make a change. You’re given lousy options, yes, but that’s better than nothing at all.”

In 2013, Brand guest-edited Britain’s “New Statesman” and wrote at length about his views on politics, saying “I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics… I will never vote because, as Billy Connolly said, “It encourages them.””dont-vote

He has since moderated his words. “What I said was, ‘There’s nothing worth voting for.’ If there was someone worth voting for, I’d vote for it and I’d encourage other people if they think that there is a political party that represents their views; if they think there are politicians that are speaking on their behalf, by all means vote for them.”

We’re exhausted with the process. We’ve also lost interest in civic and social participation. Pre-1980’s, more of us were involved with our churches and schools, and we were more likely to be involved with professional or fraternal organizations. Before televisions and computers were available in every home, we met our friends and neighbours socially, to play bridge, or to pit our skills against each other physically in pickup sports and bowling leagues.

When pressed, those who can’t be bothered to vote will say that they’re just too busy. It may feel that way, but studies have consistently shown that we have the same amount of leisure time we have always had – we’re just using it differently.

Statist-voting-logicOthers will say that voting makes no difference; we’re only exchanging one self-serving politician for another. Since the early sixties, we’ve had less trust in government and in politicians in general. The rise of ‘attack ads’ and smear campaigns has left voters with a foul taste in their mouth about politics in general.

There’s an actual formula for figuring out the likelihood of someone voting.

PB + D > C.

P is the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election; B is the perceived benefit that would be received if that person’s favoured political party or candidate were elected; D is for democracy or civic duty, or any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting, and C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. (Wikipedia.org)

One of the issues affecting voters in Canada and the States has been a sneaky tinkering with that C; in the name of efficiency and a feigned attempt to curb ‘voter fraud,’ politicians have made it more difficult for some groups to be heard.

election-fraud-for-dummiesVoter suppression, the ‘dirty tricks’ dreamed up to intimidate, or to make it inconvenient or impossible for citizens to vote are illegal activities. After the Canadian Federal election of 2011, the Conservative Party was accused of having used live calls and robocalls to tell voters that their polling station had been changed. Voters were directed to false addresses, often several hours away from correct stations. These calls claimed, illegally, to be from Elections Canada.

A federal court was asked by The Council of Canadians to look into allegations of Conservative Party voter fraud. The court concluded that fraud had indeed occurred, probably by someone with access to the Conservatives databases, but said that there was no direct proof that the Party or any successful candidates were either directly involved or profited from the fraud. Although the Conservative were criticized for making “little effort to assist with the investigation,” the court did not annul the result in any of the six ridings where the fraud had occurred, concluding that the number of votes affected had been too small to affect the outcome. (Wikipedia)

In 2015, changes to Canada’s voter eligibility have a new requirement, that each voter prove his or her physical address on paper. The long accepted practice of having a second person vouch for a voter’s address will no longer suffice.

native voice“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. While the Fair Elections Act doesn’t trump the Charter and render the right to vote for these groups null and void, the EFFECT of the Act could be just that. The Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand reported in a CTV news article that removing vouch voting could affect over 100,000 people — particularly those who are Aboriginal and live on a reserve.

homeless votePeople who are homeless, whether on the streets, couch surfing or living somewhere temporarily, are also at risk of losing their ability to vote if voter vouching is dismantled. People who are homeless can experience theft, or sometimes misplace their personal identification because of housing instability. This shouldn’t hold them back from voting.

“Irregularities” have been noted with respect to voter vouching in the last election according to a report commissioned by Elections Canada. These irregularities are being touted by the current government as a reason to end voter vouching, however, the report actually states that these issues were ‘administrative’ and made by elections workers — not by voters themselves. In court cases that preceded the report, both the Ontario Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that, “there was no evidence of fraud or ineligible voters being provided ballots.” (Huffington Post Canada)

bc reserveThis change may also become a problem as physical mail delivery becomes a thing of the past. It will definitely be a problem for many First Nations people, who often do not have regular street addresses, and thus relied on vouching. Elections Canada now requires each person lacking identification that includes an address to have a different registered voter swear an oath as to the technical land description of their home or a letter from the First Nation confirming the location, along with a piece of identification with the voter’s name. Elections Canada will not accept Indian status cards alone.

voter-suppressionIn the United States, elections are locally administered, which has often been found to allow the manipulation of elections. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses were used to suppress poor and racial minorities from voting. Today, voter suppression is more subtle, but is an integral part of policy for the Republicans, who have championed voter ID laws, voter caging, and felony disenfranchisement. There is also a sad history of physical intimidation at polling stations, ranging from unauthorized security guards, to simply making voters wait for long hours in gruelling weather.

Some countries are working to improve voter turnout by increasing possible voting locations, requiring companies to give workers paid voting time off, or allowing voters to vote over several days, as they do in India. In France, voting is held on the weekend, so that most voters have no need for time off from work.

internet-voting1France, Switzerland, Estonia, Geneva and the United Kingdom also allow internet voting. The US Department of Defense has been looking into making internet voting secure, but no decisions have been made.

In Canada, federal elections still use paper ballots. There have been some efforts at the provincial level to allow internet voting, and some municipalities, including Peterborough, Markham and Halifax, provide internet voting as an option. We’re still a long way from being wired politically.

ask questionsNonetheless, and despite the best efforts of those who fear we’ll make the ‘wrong’ decision come Election Day, it’s still imperative that we use our votes to demand the changes we want to see in government. Voting is our power. By not voting, you cede that power to whomever’s voices are louder than the peoples, to further their own agendas and gain.

help wantedUnless we want a democracy in name only, we need to get involved, to seriously look at the candidates in our constituencies, and make an informed judgment on those who are seeking to work for us. Politicians are job seekers; they need to present a résumé and an outline of what they intend to do for us before being handed power. And they must be held accountable if they fail to perform up to their claims and our standards.

powerWhile they vie for their ‘job’ as your representative, you have the power. Once they’ve been elected, it’s out of your hands. So tell those who want your vote that they’ve got to work for it. Choosing not to vote, or to vote without understanding whom you’re hiring, only guarantees that Canada will find itself in the same place or worse by the next time the opportunity to make a difference comes along.

If you don’t vote, you just won’t matter. And all your complaints and demands will only be the wasted breath of the unheard and the unempowered.

So – Where Are You From?


everything-affects-everythingI live in Canada, and I am Canadian. However, I am also a citizen of the world. When it comes to activities all over the globe, there are no more borders – all countries are affected by the actions of those in all other countries. You’ve only to look at the recent terrorist attacks, the Ebola outbreak, or the long tail rising from weather or chemical spills at home or half-way around the world to see that we can no longer ignore or be silent about events in other countries.

global citizenshipThe world has become a global village. Understanding that we are world citizens should be creating a new level of understanding amongst countries. We have the ability to stop thinking that it’s “us against them,” to end foolish militaristic posturing, and to work together to solve problems as one, rather than reinventing the world with every new advancement.

Instead, some countries seem to be curling in on themselves, becoming xenophobic, fearful of anything even slightly foreign to their lives. We stereotype each other, with the more fervid extremists creating myths that certain people and races are not only different to us, but evil and subhuman. Some feel it’s not enough to enjoy their own religion; they insist that everyone must adhere to the same beliefs, at pain of death.

nigeria_boko_haramEvery human life is worthy and valuable. The lives of the thousands of Nigerians being slaughtered by Boko Haram are as worthy of being honoured as those of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in France. The world’s leaders marched in solidarity with France, but are strangely silent over everyday atrocities in Africa and the Middle East.

Racism, tribalism, regionalism, religious bias, segregation – these are the beliefs and banners of those who would divide to conquer. In that division, there is money to be made, regardless of how much blood must be spilled. Wars hell-bent on maintaining those divisions kill the young and naive, who sacrifice themselves on these altars of delusion.

bomberman Luis QuilesIn the free world, we raise barriers around ourselves, building ‘safe’ communities where those who are not like ourselves are not granted admission. We wrap our own children in protective cocoons, while children in war torn countries deal with the madness of adults who consider the maiming or death of innocent civilians nothing but collateral damage.

wealthy foodIndustrial complexes rape the land, destroying century old forest growth and rain forests, and pushing the creatures that once lived there further and further away from their natural habitats. Those too wealthy and jaded to have a sense of their place on the planet elect to spend their family vacation picking off animals near extinction for ‘sport,’ while illegal poachers slaughter the last remaining wild elephants for their tusks and temporary riches. Impoverished villagers rise early to secretly haul away the sand from their beaches, which they sell to industrialists for use in manufacturing computer chips – for computers they’ll never have access to in their lifetimes.

Poverty has an effect on us all. 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s.

wealthy never have enoughThe middle class is disappearing, and a new stratum of untold wealth shelters the richest 85 people across the globe who share a combined wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

In a global economy, where we are all citizens of the world, wealth inequality is becoming the most important division of all, threatening political stability and driving up social tensions. The wealthy elites, not content with merely controlling vast fortunes, are now concentrating their efforts on controlling the political process of many free world countries, in an attempt to rig the rules in their own favour.

Oxfam executive director, Winnie Byanyima cautioned that people around the world believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

WealthDisparity“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

trickle_down_xlargeWe global citizens fear an oligarchy, and for good reason. The wealthy wield more and more political influence, allowing them to shape government policies in their favour. Faulty economic principles like the ‘trickle down theory’ have given the lowest tax rates to the rich in 29 out of 30 countries while personal taxes for the poor and middle classes have increased.

world citizenWe can no longer be silent when we see inequality or injustice, no matter where they are happening. “Where are you from?” is no longer applicable in a global village. The only question can be, “What are you doing to help change what is wrong with our society?”   

On a lighter note – here’s a link to my Sunday music column, at Bob Segarini’s “Don’t Believe A Word I Say” blog.

https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/roxanne-tellier-popping-the-top-off-covers/

Target Canada Fails To Hit The Mark


Target Canada launchA mere 681 days since Target Corp. arrived in Canada, the discount retailer announced that the Canadian experiment has been a disaster – they’re taking their finery and going back to the United States.

Fashionistas are torn; on the one hand, Canadians who had enjoyed shopping in “Tar-zhay” in U.S. outlets were delighted to have the option to purchase brands like Merona, Xhiliration, Mossimo, and Up and Up. On the other hand, customers complained that the prices were too high, and selection was limited. Target never really seemed to make an effort to update the former Zellers locations they operated, and failed to include an e-commerce site for Canadian deliveries.

Target, after just two years and an overall $7-billion investment, expects to close all 133 stores within 16 to 20 weeks, with 17,600 employees losing their jobs.

walmart cartsDon’t look to Wal-Mart to pick up the stores; on Thursday it was announced that Wal-Mart would be closing 127 under-performing stores in Canada, 33% of their 382 stores. At least 525 people will become unemployed during this “revamp.”

Target had a shaky start-up, losing nearly $1-billion in just its first fiscal year in Canada. By the end of January 2015, their pre-tax operating losses will exceed $5.4-billion (U.S.), from an opening investment of more than $7-billion since 2011.

Beyond the inconvenience to those who need their shopping fix, that’s a lot of people – over 18,000 – who are going to be looking for new jobs by the beginning of summer … when students will be competing for those same jobs.

wal-mart-sad_-face_When you consider that Canada created fewer than 175,000 net jobs in all of 2013 (not including December 2013,) I wouldn’t be counting on seeing a lot of Wal-Mart happy faces come May 2015.

 

Added Jan. 21/15:

Before firing Gregg Steinhafel as CEO earlier in 2014, Target’s board cut his pay and slashed his severance package. He would only get $15.9 million as a golden handshake, or so said a recent regulatory filing. But according to Fortune magazine, his actual severance, which includes profit sharing and stock, will amount to $61 million USD, greater than the severance package for all 17,000+ Canadian Target employees combined ($58 million USD).

Both Sony and Mexx have announced they will be shutting down their retail operations. Sony is, closing all the Canadian stores over the next 6 to 8 weeks, involving 90 layoffs, while Mexx, the fashion chain, are liquidating all 95 of their stores. Reitmans announced in November 2014 that it would close 107 Smart Set stores, but will convert 76 locations into other banners. Jacob, the womens’ store , announced in October 2014 it would abandon restructuring efforts and close 92 stores across the country. Holt Renfrew, a luxury retailer, will be closing stores in Ottawa and Quebec City at the end of January 2015. (no figures yet given for the soon to be unemployed.at Mexx, Smart Set, Jacob or Holt Renfrew)

Should Obama Veto the Keystone XL Pipeline?


kpIn the United States, the battle has raged for 6 years over the Keystone XL pipeline, meant to carry crude oil over 1700 miles from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska. Canada, and especially Prime Minister Steven Harper, has held its breath as the Democrats, led by President Obama, and the Republicans, have debated the issue.

With the Republicans now holding a majority in the Senate, they’ve decided to make the decision a top priority. Obama has already threatened to veto any such action.

The Keystone would not be the only pipeline Canada has that crosses from Canada to the United States … there are already four major pipelines in existence, with lots of other smaller pipelines crisscrossing through most of the country.

So why the long deliberations? Could it be the ‘dirty oil’ being wrenched from the earth is worse than both the crude oil and tar sand oil already being conveyed?

Wet-tar-sands-537x358Environmentalists have protested Keystone since 2011. The Republicans have told us that having energy coming down from Canada instead of from other oil rich nations prevents the States being held hostage for oil. The Democrats, on the side of the environmentalists have dubbed the tar sands “Extra Lethal.”

But the demand is there. Despite the existing pipelines, oil is being distributed by other means as well – trucks, trains and barges traverse both countries. So, why not this pipeline?

Well, amongst other things, the government has already stopped the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA’s) environmental oversight commission from investigating environmental damage caused by tailings ponds in Alberta’s oil sands twice, this past year alone. Public complaints that Canada is ignoring its own fishery laws have brought the trade organization’s environmental oversight commission on board in an attempt to protect the Athabasca River from industry pollution.

Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence says the Harper government is “blocking” science from getting out information about the oil industry’s harm to the watershed.

watershed“There’s compelling evidence that [industry contamination] is happening and that the federal government is denying it, and not allowing that information to be known to Canadians and the people who live in that area. “It’s disheartening. The Canadian government is more interested in protecting oil sands companies,”

So, it would seem that oil sand protestors, whether led by Canadian musician Neil Young or not, have valid points that are not being addressed, but rather, suppressed.

Recently, Mark Little of Suncor, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, denied that the company’s tailings ponds were leaking into the Athabasca River. The executive even referenced historic “Voyageur” accounts of naturally occurring oil seeping into the river to back up his position.

“Oh, no. Oil goes into the Athabasca River, and it has been for hundreds of years.  There is an enormous amount of oil in the sand, and the river runs across the sand.”

But renowned water scientist, Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta begged to differ.

“That’s totally untrue. One reason I know industry is responsible for some of [the river pollution] is there’s a 1982 well documented spill for Suncor. They watched as it made its way down the Athabasca to Athabasca Lake and caused the fisheries to be closed for two years.”

deformed fish AthabascaAfter the incident, highly deformed fish, never before seen by locals or scientists, began appearing in the watershed.

Schindler also believes that the Canadian government is likely opposed to the NAFTA‘s investigation because it is “worried about more bad press.”

So, with environmentalists and scientists opposed to the project, it’s fair to think that the United States should be worried about possible spills involved with the proposed pipeline.

From CBC News Canada, “Through an access-to-information request, CBC News obtained a data set of every pipeline safety incident reported to the federal regulator in the past 12 years. The National Energy Board oversees cross-border pipelines. The data doesn’t include smaller pipelines within provincial boundaries. The documents reveal details about more than 1,000 incidents that have happened across the country from 2000 until late 2012 and suggest the rate of overall incidents has doubled in the past decade.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/pipeline-incidents/)

But meanwhile, the federal government has essentially gone all in on the promise of oil. Natural Resources Canada spent $438.3 million on programs to support the oil and gas industry — it spent $41.6 million more, or nearly 10 per cent extra, than the amount it was allotted for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As well, an additional $24 million went for an ad blitz in the U.S. Yep, bullish on oil.

environment-1-612x336But what about the $300 million for “environmentally responsible” programs Parliament approved last year? Somehow, Natural Resources Canada failed to spend $298.6-million on programs for “green” programs such as renewable energy development and technology innovation.

The government put all of Canada’s precious eggs in one basket.

And, in Alberta, “the economic promise of the oil sands and their accelerating development are coupled with a curse. The waste gases are flared into the atmosphere, while the waste fluids are pumped into immense tailing ponds. These waste streams contain significant quantities of heavy metals and persistent aromatic hydrocarbons.

As a consequence, human health and local pollution issues are starting to become evident. Democratic governments are entrusted to ensure human health. Economic growth and environmental impacts are balanced in a pragmatic and evidence based manner. But our post-democratic society permits corporations to dictate policy and our government has acquiesced. Laws are now repealed,  allowing low cost development, free from environmental safeguards and at the lowest royalty rates in the world.” (read more here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/oil-sands-promise-and-curse)

With the recent drop in oil and gas prices, Ottawa is also expected to lose $5 billion in revenue, and the provinces even more. OPEC, in a zero sum game, is dropping the price of oil, and that drop is creating a net loss for Canada.

Research, education, public broadcasting, and the future of national health lie in the balance as energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs. And still the price of oil drops, down 57 per cent since last June.

The pipeline is truly a lose/lose proposition.

boehner-ryanBUT – the Republicans will push forward on making it happen. Not because it is a good idea, or good for the United States. But because 6 years ago, on the night of Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries gathered to create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration. They would fight Obama on everything. And after three hours of strategizing, Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan vowed that none of Obama’s presidential aspirations would succeed, if they had anything to do with it.

For Americans, the road to a national health care plan was nearly derailed, and the work may still be demolished, should these politicians continue to follow their path. The pipeline, also potentially lethal to citizens, will be steam-rollered through, regardless of environmental effects. All to stop one man, President Obama. Whether you are a Democratic or a fan of Obama, it must be admitted that this relentless attack on a legally elected sitting leader is abhorrent and incredibly self-indulgent.

Six years later, America and the world still dangles from these puppeteers’ strings.

generation against oil

But Does CANADA Have Freedom of Expression?


On Thursday, while discussing the world’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I said, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect.”

Canada freedom of Expression3I need to correct that, as in fact, Mr. Harper did later add, When a trio of hooded men struck at some of our most cherished democratic principles – freedom of expression, freedom of the press – they assaulted democracy everywhere.”

His original official statement released Wednesday morning, however, lacked those sentiments.

Which is why I was not at all surprised to hear that the Conservatives immediately doubled down on the macho, creating a web page that asked for Canadian support, i.e. a continued dependence upon the Conservative Party in general, and Stephen Harper specifically.

Cons web pageAgainst a background of sepia toned armed men, and headed “Standing Up Against Terrorism,” the message reads, in part, “Canadians can count on Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative Government to ensure the safety of Canadians while protecting their rights. Add your name to support strong leadership:”

Until Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau took to Twitter to complain that “Conservatives fundraising off an ongoing terrorist act is offensive and totally crass,” the page also included a large “Donate Now” button.

When interviewed, NDP MP Charlie Angus added, “They are using for their own political advantage the deaths of innocent people in other countries.”

The button has since been removed, “to avoid confusion,” according to Cory Hann, the Tories director of communications. “This was not, and is not, a fundraising campaign,” he added. “This was to inform Canadians about the Prime Minister’s strong remarks yesterday against the despicable terrorism in Paris.”

To be fair, both the Liberal and NDP main pages also featured donation request buttons above their leaders’ words on the tragedy, although those were quickly removed after the outcry. Yes, all three parties took the opportunity to beg for support and donations for their own cause as the world mourned the dead, and Canadian politicians pumped up their mailing lists for the next election.

But lost in all of the rhetoric over the tempest in a Twitter cup is the hypocrisy of the government in rushing to be seen to protect the rights of people anywhere in the world while denying those same rights to their own citizens.

Harper You Won't Recognize CanadaHarper has consistently used the court system to silence his foes and critics, while implementing funding cuts to groups that would allow ordinary Canadians to have access to legal representation. The national press corps have been controlled and managed, and any dissenters that might shed light on opposing views silenced and arrested. His own cabinet know that to disagree with the Party is to court reprisal.

In 2013, under Harper, Canada removed Section 13(1), the anti-hate provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), which prohibited hate speech on grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., in the name of Freedom of Expression. Canada has stood by while the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled that Al-Jazeera Arabic TV could not be shown in Canada without a censorship mechanism to censor unacceptable or anti-Semitic speech, despite the fact that the service is broadcast in 50 nations, including Israel, without such restrictions.

In 2014, Harper addressed the Israeli Knesset, and equated criticisms of the Israeli state and its policies with anti-Semitism, which raises serious concerns about his government’s commitment to protecting political speech in Canada.

Under the Harper government, Canada freedom of expression2media policies were introduced to tightly control access to Canada’s federal scientists. Once allowed to openly discuss their work with the media and public, interviews must now be approved ahead of time, the scientists’ responses monitored, and in several documented cases, researchers have been prevented from giving interviews on the order of ministers office’s.

The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques won the 14th annual Press Freedom Award in 2012 for their work in exposing how the government has silenced scientists.

PQ Quebec CharterIn Quebec, free speech is a joke under the guise of the Charter of Quebec Values. It’s the Canadian French as decided by the Parti Québécois Way or the highway.

For Harper to declare, as Canada’s representative, Canada freedom of expressionthat he will fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, while denying Canadians such rights, is hypocritical and self-serving.

And ultimately, what is happening in Canada and around the world proves that it is the rich and the powerful that have true freedoms. Those vulnerable groups who need it the most just can’t afford it.