Saturday, February 06, 2016

Let The Debate Begin


Last week, Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans Pacific Partnership. While doing so, she maintained that her signature was in no way her government's ratification of the accord. There would be, she said, extensive public consultation and debate before the Liberals made that decision.

Murray Dobbin writes that, if history is any guide, the consultation will be shallow and the debate short lived:

For many of us who have dealt in the past with the trade bureaucrats promoting these investment protection agreements, it is easy enough to suspect that Freeland is being deliberately misinformed by her own staff. There is no doubt that the Trudeau government is eager to portray itself as open to persuasion on the TPP. To bolster the position that they still might say no, the government has engaged in a flurry of consultations across the country and has made a point of inviting ordinary concerned citizens to send in questions and criticisms to Global Affairs Canada. Sounds good so far. But it is the execution that raises serious questions about how genuine the consultation will be.

First, the consultations reveal that the vast majority have been with groups supportive of these agreements: provincial government ministers, business groups, industry reps, universities, etc. Of 74 such meetings (as of Jan. 31) there have been just a handful with "students" (but no student council representatives who have actually studied the TPP) and a couple with labour -- the CLC and Unifor. There have been literally no meetings with NGOs that have actually taken the time to closely examine the TPP -- not the Council of Canadians, not the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, not any First Nations (whose solemn agreements with governments can be trumped by ISDS), nor any environmental groups.

The real bone of contention has always been the Investor Dispute Settlement Mechanism. And, again, if history is any guide, things do not look good:

Since NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994 it has been subjected to over 35 NAFTA investor-state claims. Nearly two-thirds of these have involved challenges to environmental protection or resource management. Canada has already paid out over $170 million in damages in six cases (lost or settled) and abandoned most of the "offending" legislation and regulations. We currently face additional corporate challenges totalling over $6 billion in potential penalties for NAFTA "violations" such as the Quebec government's decision to ban fracking under the St. Lawrence River.

It's pretty clear that these trade agreements are written to favour large countries with large economies -- specifically, the United States. It appears that the bureaucrats in Global Affairs Canada do not recognize that fact. But, if there is a clear rejection of the TPP among Canadians citizens then, perhaps, Canada will not ratify the agreement. Perhaps.

In any case, let the debate begin.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Beginning To Sink In


The Conservatives are blaming Justin Trudeau for the mess in the oilpatch -- which is, Michael Harris writes exceedingly curious:

The latest nonsense out of the National Post (which is a business partner of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and acts the part on its news and opinion pages) is that Trudeau has somehow failed Alberta. That’s right — you’re meant to believe that the whole thing has unravelled (in three months) because Oprah is now in the driver’s seat. Forty years of provincial Tories and a decade of federal Conservatives had nothing to do with it.

You have to remember that the Conservatives aren't speaking for all Albertans:

That longstanding delusion was smashed by Albertans themselves when they elected an NDP majority government in the last provincial election. Alberta is much, much more than any single industry. More importantly, no single industry can or should dictate its own rules to government, at least not in a democracy.

It’s the oil industry itself that has a lot to account for, not Trudeau. It was the industry’s so-called “hardball” approach to resource extraction and pipeline development that turned off environmentalists, First Nations, unions, other provinces and, finally, an entire country.

Everything Harper did was focused on the oil industry:

Point one: Stephen Harper never did regulate the energy sector, despite his serial broken promises to do so from the day he won government. He carried a brief for the industry from day one. Ironically, his actions turned out to be detrimental to the very people he was trying to help. Harper got a hernia pushing their interests in the wrong direction.

Point two: Harper deconstructed what environmental protections Canada had in place for air, water and land, creating what he must have thought was an obstacle-free path to rapid extraction and marketing of non-renewable resources for his cosseted pet industry. In the process, he drew the ire of President Barack Obama by calling approval of the Keystone XL pipeline a “no-brainer.” Maybe Harper didn’t care about the environment; other people clearly did.

Point three: Harper expanded the powers of the National Energy Board and made a public agency the captive of the oil industry, stocking it with industry players.

And, despite all his help, the oil business is in the dumpster. Harper may have sought to control a lot of things. But he couldn't control the price of oil. And, because the break even point for a barrel of bitumen is $80, nobody is making any money at $30 a barrel. At those prices, all that goo will stay in the ground.

The future is now in wind, solar and green energy in general. The business plan for Alberta, for Albertans and for the rest of the country has changed. That reality is just beginning to sink in.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Another Vessel


This week, in answer to a Conservative question about why the Liberal government was taking its time to examine its role in the war against ISIS, Defence Minister Harjit Sajan told the House of Commons, “I want to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Because every single time we make these mistakes as political leaders, we send our men and women into harm’s way for no reason.”

That brought a request from Canada's pudgy former defence minister, Jason Kenny, to have an English to English translation of what Sajan said. It was a typically nasty response from Kenny. But, Tom Walkom points out, things have gotten worse in the Middle East:

Slowly, inexorably, the war against the Islamic State is widening.
It has moved into Afghanistan, where both the U.S. and the Taliban are taking on ISIS militants.

It is moving into Libya. There, the U.S. is reportedly contemplating airstrikes. Italy is said to be looking at the eventual dispatch of ground troops.

In Iraq, the U.S. has already found itself enmeshed in ground combat — in spite of President Barack Obama’s stated aversion to the notion.

American special forces have also been sent into Syria

Mr. Sajan was a soldier in Afghanistan. Mr. Kenny and his equally pudgy former boss have only played soldier.

Ten years have proven that the Harper government was a ship of fools. We would be wise to book passage on another vessel.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Back To Citizens


Susan Delacourt writes that, when Parliamentary reporters used to converge on Bob Rae to ask him how the issues of the day affected taxpayers, he used to correct them: “You mean citizens,” Rae would say.

 It's interesting to track the use of the word taxpayer:

Google has a little gadget called ‘Ngram Viewer’ (it really needs a better name) which allows you to track the popularity of words over the past couple of centuries. You put selected words into the search engine and it tracks how often they’ve been used in books written since 1800 (all the books Google has archived online, at least).

It’s most useful for noting big trends in word usage. When you feed the word “taxpayer” into the Ngram gadget, it shows some fascinating peaks and valleys over the past 100 years. The graph moves steadily upward all through the first half of the 20th century, dips significantly in 1929 (the Great Depression), and then climbs again up to the 1960s. From then until the 1980s, the word seems to decline in common usage before taking another upward swing from the mid-1980s to the present.

Here’s an intriguing coincidence: The decline in the usage of “taxpayer” roughly matches the era when Trudeau’s father was in politics here in Canada, a time when politics worldwide was more preoccupied with social or identity issues. As politics turned more to economic questions in the 1980s, “taxpayer” started climbing back into fashion.

The website lists the ten MP's who  have used the word taxpayers most since 1994:

  • Former Conservative minister James Moore: 313 uses of the word
  • Treasury Board president Scott Brison: 312
  • NDP MP Charlie Angus: 305
  • Former Conservative MP Paul Calandra: 289
  • Former Conservative MP Ken Epp: 266
  • Former Reform/Canadian Alliance MP John Williams: 265
  • Former Conservative minister/MP Monte Solberg: 245
  • Conservative MP/former immigration and defence minister Jason Kenney: 242
  • Conservative MP and former minister Pierre Poilievre: 236
  • Former Liberal MP Keith Martin: 235

Remember Scott Brison and Keith Martin used to be Conservatives. How Charlie Angus wound up on the list is a bit of a mystery.

However, things seem to be shifting. Delacourt writes that, in a recent interview, Justin Trudeau told her,“The idea of ‘citizen’ involves both benefits and responsibilities, and I like that a bit better.”

Citizenship is a two way street. Not only do citizens receive, they give. It's a dynamic process that has more than one dimension.

Something Conservatives seem to have forgotten.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

A Lot Of Spitballs

There is a difference, Gerry Caplan writes, between a mere Member of Parliament and a Great Parliamentarian. Great Parliamentarians respect the institution. Members of Parliament are like the kid who hides a straw in his desk and uses it to shoot spitballs at his classmates.

In the last parliament, the two biggest spitballers were Pierre Poilievre and Paul Calandra,

who made a mockery of the House of Commons and their jobs on a daily basis. The first never compromised an inch, however extensive the oppositon. The other invaraibaly failed to answer the question he was asked. Yes, they had been MPs, elected as such. But they chose not to be parliamentarians. In the end, almost the entire Conservative caucus were afflicted by those two hazardous superviruses – Calandrism and Poilievritis – fatal for the spirit of parliamentary democracy, and eventually for the entire Harper government.

Caplan says it's easy to spot a great parliamentarian. If you wish to become one, there are certain things you must do and not do. First there's the matter of heckling:

There’s nothing the matter with heckling, as long as it’s relevant, witty, pointed and occasional. Dogs bark. Owls hoot. Two-year olds scream. Parliamentarians are none of the above, though too many MPs make you wonder. Remember Bambi’s wise father in the classic Disney cartoon? Say nothing if you have nothing to say. After last week’s session of Parliament, I guess the Conservative opposition has still not seen the film.

There are two other foretokens of a great  parliamentarian:

1. Do not give your leader an enthusiastic, smirky standing ovation every time she or he puts three sentences together. You look dishonest, sucky and dumb. It just shows you have another agenda. Standing Os are for special performances, which do not come along very often. Don’t debase the currency.

2. Never read your question; it makes you look like an amateur. If you can’t ask a 60-second question without looking at notes you should become a dentist.

Ask a serious question every time; there will never be a shortage of them. Don’t ever ask a minister to “do the right thing;” that’s just sophomoric. Don’t ever ask a minister to resign; they won’t, showing you are not serious about the question. Curb your feigned indignation. Ask a real question that demands a serious, substantive answer, one that embarrasses the minister if she fails to provide one.

Treat the minister you’re addressing as a serious person who wants to do his job properly and is open to constructive questioning. If it proves otherwise, the minister looks bad, not the questioner.

And, finally, if a parliamentarian finds him or herself on a three person panel for television:

Try to have a serious debate with your fellow panelists on a serious issue.

Merely repeating talking points is not debating. The image of Paul Dewar trying to have a serious debate with Calandra -- and giving up in despair -- should be etched in the mind of every Canadian.

Parliament is supposed to be a place where serious issues are debated. We have seen little debate over the last ten years. But we've seen a lot of spitballs.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Misplaced Admiration


Those who pay most dearly for the neo-liberal binge we have been on are children. Chris Hedges writes that, in the United States

Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence.  

Consider the rising murder statistics in the neighbourhoods that Neo-liberalism has left behind:

The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.

The country’s 10 largest cities have seen murder rates climb by 11.3 percent in the last year.  

Criminologist Larry Athens writes that this phenomenon is preventable:

The slashing of state and federal programs for children and the failure to address the poverty that now grips half the country are creating a vast underclass of the young who often live in constant insecurity and fear, at times terror, and are schooled daily in the language of violence. As Athens has pointed out, “[T]he creation of dangerous violent criminals is largely preventable, as is much of the human carnage which follows in the wake of their birth. Therefore, if society fails to take any significant steps to stop the process behind the creation of dangerous criminals, it tacitly becomes an accomplice in creating them.”

Until recently, we had a government which emulated the American model.  Most assuredly, its admiration was misplaced.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

In The Absence Of Hope


Canadians were shocked by what happened in La Loche a little over a week ago. Jeff Sallot writes that the kid with the gun had been picked on:

We’re not surprised to read that the 17-year-old boy accused of rampaging through the small town of La Loche last Friday — shooting 11 people, four of them fatally — had been bullied in school.
The bullies teased the boy relentlessly about his big ears, Jason Warick of Postmedia News tells us in a heartbreaking report from La Loche.

Three people who were inside the school when the teenager arrived with a gun claim the youth dared people to tease him about his ears. Witnesses report the youth passed by some people and fired at others — as if he knew his quarry, who he wanted dead.

Those of us who have spent our teaching careers in high schools have taught maybe a thousand kids like this kid. For him high school was hell. The truth is that, for most kids, high school is hell. Only a chosen few become president of the student's council. Most students dream of escaping -- and eventually they do.

But, what if you live in a community from which there is no escape?

People in La Loche have known for a long time that their children are at risk of falling into despair. Many are suicidal. Residents have been trying for years to establish a youth centre where young people might hang out doing kid stuff, under adult supervision. In such settings — a YMCA, an ice rink, a youth centre — a caring adult just might notice the quiet kid in the corner, take him aside and get him to open up.

Social workers, school nurses and psychologists know that merely having a sympathetic adult to listen can change the life of a troubled kid. But social workers, school nurses and psychologists are too scarce in remote First Nations’ communities. They’re found down south, in larger and more prosperous parts of the country.
This was the point Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tried to make when talking to reporters in La Loche on Sunday.

Justin Trudeau says his government will set course for a new relationship with Canada's First Nations. If he is to do that, he must give native communities real hope that their citizens can lead productive lives.

Because, in the absence of hope, those with nothing to lose turn to violence.